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Beef tenderloin with festival

The Winning Dish From Junior Chef Showdown Will Become a Family-Favourite Meal in No Time

Finding a balanced, hearty meal that your whole family will enjoy isn’t always easy. But thanks to this season’s Junior Chef Showdown winner, Nazaree, this juicy, melt-in-your-mouth beef tenderloin recipe paired with three appetizing sides will have everyone at the table feeling full and happy.

Although the classic beef tenderloin is the star of the recipe, it’s the trio of sides that make this a truly unforgettable meal. Even if you’re not an extraordinarily talented young chef, making this show-stopping meal will leave you feeling like a gourmet cook in no time.

Junior Chef Nazaree’s Beef Tenderloin with Festival Bread

Prep time: 40 minutes
Total time: 40 minutes
Yields: 4 Servings

Plate of Beef Tenderloin with Festival

Ingredients:

Roasted Squash Ajvar Puree
2 cups butternut squash (cut into 1-inch cubes)
1 shallot, peeled, quartered
1 Tbsp fresh thyme leaves
1 tsp smoked paprika
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
¼ tsp ground cayenne pepper
2 Tbsp olive oil, divided
1 garlic clove
½ cup roasted red pepper
1 Tbsp white wine vinegar

Jus
1 cup beef demi-glace
2 cloves garlic
3 sprigs thyme

Festival
¾ cup flour
¼ cup cornmeal
1 Tbsp sugar
2 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 Tbsp butter, melted
½ cup milk
Oil for frying

Beef Tenderloin
4 beef tenderloins, about 1-¼-inch thick
1 Tbsp canola oil
Kosher salt
Freshly cracked black pepper

Charred Broccoli Rabe
12 stalks broccoli rabe
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp chili flakes
1 clove garlic, smashed
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper

Related: Double-Stacked Patties + Secret Sauce Make for Jordan Andino’s Perfect Burger

Directions:

Roasted Squash Ajvar Puree

1. Heat oven to 425°F.

2. Combine squash, shallots, thyme, smoked paprika, salt, pepper, cayenne and 1 tablespoon of oil on a large rimmed baking sheet.

3. Roast for 30 to 35 minutes, until squash is golden and tender, stirring and adding garlic clove after 20 minutes.

4. Transfer to the bowl of a food processor and add roasted red peppers, remaining tablespoon oil and vinegar. Pulse until blended and smooth.

Jus
1. Combine demi-glace, garlic and thyme in a small saucepan.

2. Cook, covered over medium-low for 30 minutes to infuse the demi-glace.

3. Discard garlic and thyme before serving.

See More: 3 Classic Sauces From Lynn Crawford That Will Be Instant Staples (Plus Recipes!)

Festival Bread 
1. Heat 1-½ inches oil to 350°F in a heavy-bottomed pot or fill a deep fryer. Line a rimmed baking sheet with a wire cooling rack.

2. Whisk together flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl. Add butter, stir to coat. Add milk gradually, stirring until combined.

3. Spoon two tablespoon portions of batter into oil and fry until deep golden, for about 3 minutes. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet to cool slightly.

Beef Tenderloin
1. Season steaks liberally with salt and pepper.

2. Heat a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil and steaks and cook for 4 to 6 minutes per side, until deep golden and medium-rare. (Note: If you’re using an instant-read thermometer, the centre of the steak will read 130°F).

4. Set steak aside to rest for 10 minutes.

Charred Broccoli Rabe
1. Heat oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add broccoli rabe, chili flakes, garlic, salt and pepper into the skillet.

2. Stir occasionally until the broccoli rabe is charred and tender, about 5 minutes.

3. Divide the puree, festival, broccoli rabe and steaks among four plates. Spoon demi glace over the beef, and serve!

Watch Junior Chef Showdown Sundays at 9ep and stream Live and On Demand on the new Global TV App, and on STACKTV.  Food Network Canada is also available through all major TV service providers.

Steve Hodge on the set of Project Bakeover

What Baking Ingredients Are Best to Buy for Home Bakers

In today’s competitive home baking world, where aspiring pastry chefs think nothing of churning out macarons or elaborate, gilded creations traditionally bought in a bakery, there’s a certain sort of bragging rights in doing it all yourself—right down to the core ingredients. Sometimes, however, using those ingredients involve complicated methods, access to specialized equipment or a level of expertise that comes through years of tradition and are best left to the professionals.

Let’s take a look at some of these things that home bakers can buy from a local bakery (such as the ones on Project Bakeover) or grocery store, and a couple of items that are easy to make in your own kitchen.

Pastry Chef Steve Hodge on the set of Project Bakeover

See More: Expert Food Photography Tips for Baked Goods

Phyllo Pastry

Watching professionals produce phyllo by hand is a mesmerizing experience—achieving those gossamer-thin sheets without breakage requires a light touch and nerves of steel. Although there are recipes to make phyllo at home, it requires a fair amount of space and a knowledge of texture and timing that can be tricky. Buy a high-quality phyllo pastry instead, either frozen or fresh from a local Greek or Middle Eastern bakery or even a large chain supermarket. Be warned that phyllo dough dries out in a snap, so keep it covered as you work, and try to work quickly.

Deconstructed Baklava Butter Tart with fresh berries and mint

Get the recipe for Baklava Butter Tart Bake

Puff Pastry

Much like phyllo, flaky, multilayered puff pastry is a delight, and the basis for many last-minute appetizers, desserts or tarts. Achieving those layers, however, depends on a multi-step process where you fold and roll dough around butter repeatedly—a simple but time-intensive process that varies depending on the heat of your kitchen and your rolling speed. The freezer case at your local grocery store will hold puff pastry options, from flat sheets to pre-formed tarts, ready to bake with your best homemade fillings

Fondant

Although hacks abound to make fondant with melted marshmallows, the real deal involves a gelatin-based dough with glycerine and glucose that involves kneading and resting for rolled fondant or a candy thermometer and bain marie for poured fondant. Save yourself some time and effort, buy ready-made fondant and spend your energy making pretty hearts, delicate flowers or perfect petit fours.

Cookie Dough That Requires Specialized Presses or Decorating Equipment

If visions of ornately decorated cookies dance through your head, spurred on by Spring Baking Championship and images of a benevolent judge beaming at you, take a moment and consider how often you’re actually going to use this equipment. The best-laid plans to make pressed or extruded cookies and finish them off with a decorating kit more involved than a surgeon’s array of tools can go awry, especially in the heat of holiday planning. Consider borrowing these tools from a friend, buying a set to share with family or adding to this collection over the years rather than purchasing a complete kit with all the options right off the bat. And unless you’ve got very steady hands, icing that elaborate piping or calligraphy onto your cake might be best left to a local baker.

Steve Hodge on the set of Project Bakeover

Vanilla Extract

Homemade vanilla extract is far from difficult—it’s a basic method of pouring spirits over vanilla beans and letting time do the rest—but it’s included on this list due to the cost of ingredients versus buying a bottle in the store. For most people, a smaller amount of vanilla extract will last for months through the most frenzied of baking booms, so making it in bulk may not make sense for your household. Plus, once you factor in buying the alcohol and the vanilla beans, it may be worth spending your money on a high-quality store bought extract or paste (look for versions that contain real vanilla bean from reputable manufacturers, rather than “flavoured” extracts that can contain filler).

Vanilla and Calamansi Macaron stacked on a white tray

Related: Try These Vanilla Calamansi Macaron

“Handle With Care” Ingredients

If you’ve got little ones around or working in a cramped space, consider outsourcing some of your components to the pros. Heating sugar for caramels or candy creates a molten, sticky substance that requires vigilance and precise movements to avoid spills or spatters. The liquid nitrogen so beloved by cooking show contestants for instant ice cream requires knowledge of how to handle it and protective gear. You know your space (and yourself) best – if there’s a risk of injury when working with these items, think about buying a quality pre-made caramel, dulce de leche or candy for your baked goods.  

Watch Project Bakeover Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT. Watch and stream all your favourite Food Network Canada shows through STACKTV with Amazon Prime Video Channels, or with the new Global TV app, live and on-demand when you sign-in with your cable subscription.

Afrim Pristine's Stinky Cheese Bread recipe from For The Love of Cheese

This Jalapeno Appenzeller Bread is a Cheese Lover’s Dream

I love using Appenzeller cheese when cooking because of its melting properties and the distinctive aroma it gives off when it’s melted. Image a beautiful summer day on a dairy farm in Appenzell, Switzerland. Flowers are blossoming, and the lush vegetation all around you is waving in a slight breeze. There’s a beautiful scent in the air and then a cow comes along and passes some gas. That’s exactly what your house will smell like after you make this recipe. I call that “pleasant pungeantness”.

Related: Irresistible Grilled Cheese Recipes

Afrim Pristine's Stinky Cheese Bread recipe from For The Love of Cheese

Embrace the Stinky Bread

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes
Servings: 4 (or 1 hungry Afrim)

Ingredients:

1 clove garlic, coarsely chopped
½ small white onion, coarsely chopped
1 small jalapeno pepper, seeded
½ cup (125 mL) cilantro
1 can (28oz/796 mL) whole tomatillos, drained
Juice from 1 fresh lime
Fine sea salt
1 ½ lb (700g) round loaf or sourdough rye bread
10 oz (285g) grated Appenzeller cheese

See More: Get to Know Afrim Pristine

Directions: 

1. Preheat the oven to 375°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. To make the salsa verde, combine the garlic, onion, jalapeno and cilantro in a food processor. Process the ingredients until finely chopped. Add the tomatillos, and pulse until combined, but don’t pulse the living daylights out of it; be sure to leave some texture. Mix in the lime juice and season to taste with salt. Should you have any leftover salsa verde, transfer it to an airtight container and refrigerate up to 5 days.

3. To assemble, place the loaf of bread on the prepared baking sheet.

Related: BC Wines You Need On Your Radar (Plus Drink Pairings)

4. Using a knife, make cuts 2 inches (5 cm) deep and 1 inch (2.5 cm) apart in the loaf. Rotate the loaf a quarter-turn and make the same cuts again to create 1-inch (2.5 cm) cubes.

5. Pour some salsa verde into each of the cuts. Then take the cheese and stuff it into each of the cuts. Cover the loaf with aluminum foil and bake for approximately 20 minutes. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 7 minutes or until golden brown and cheese has melted.

6. Serve hot and tear this cheesy bread to shreds.

Excerpted from For the Love of Cheese: Recipes and Wisdom From the Cheese Boutique by Afrim Pristine. Copyright© 2018 Afrim Pristine. Published by Appetite by Random House®, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

For the Love of Cheese: Recipes and Wisdom From the Cheese Boutique, Amazon, $30.

All products featured on Food Network Canada are independently selected by our editors. For more products handpicked by our editorial team, visit Food Network Canada’s Amazon storefront. However, when you buy through links in this article or on our storefront, we earn an affiliate commission.

Watch Cheese: A Love Story with Afrim Pristine and stream all your favourite Food Network Canada shows through STACKTV with Amazon Prime Video Channels, or with the new Global TV app, live and on-demand when you sign-in with your cable subscription.

Top Chef Canada season 9 final four wait for the winner to be announced

Top Chef Canada Winner: Exclusive Interview With the Season 9 Winner

From the moment Erica Karbelnik stepped into the Top Chef Canada kitchen, she was a force to be reckoned with. The Toronto-based executive chef came in hot with the season’s first Quickfire win, and she continued to impress in a series of tough challenges throughout the entire season.

Of course, it probably helped that one of her fellow competitors was her husband, Josh Karbelnik, a chef de cuisine in Toronto. The duo supported each other through thick and thin throughout their season 9 run, and as a result, they proved to be among the best of the best. No one was really surprised when they both made it to the top 4.

Unfortunately though, Josh stumbled with the amuse bouche and appetizer during the last cook, and he was eliminated alongside fellow top 4 finalist Andrea Alridge in the finale. The good news was that Josh got to stay behind to help Erica finish her menu against Kym Nguyen (and their new sous chef Andrea).

It all led up to one of the closest calls ever on Top Chef Canada, but in the end judges Mark McEwan, Chris Nuttall-Smith, Mijune Pak and Janet Zuccarini awarded Erica $100,000, a Lexus RX Hybrid Electric SUV, and the title of Top Chef Canada.

Following Erica’s big win we caught up with the chef to get her hot take on this year’s competition, working with her husband, and what’s next for the winning couple with a baby on the way.

Chefs often say doing this show is harder than they expected, but what was the hardest part for you?

I’d say not knowing what to expect when you get there and what’s going to come your way. I’ve been a huge fan of Top Chef and Top Chef Canada for over 15 years, and I’ve watched every episode. But it doesn’t really prepare you for what it’s like when you’re actually there and how real it is. When the judges say you’ve got 30 minutes on the clock, you have 30 minutes on the clock, and you want to make the best things that you possibly can make. There’s no room for error and that puts a lot of pressure on everybody.

On the flip side of that, what was the most rewarding part—other than winning!?

It was really finding myself and finding who I am as a chef and as a person. I’m classically French, Italian trained. But going on the show, I was pulling out things from my backgrounds and cooking with a lot of Moroccan flavours, which I don’t normally do. So it’s definitely helped me find my stride in who I am as a chef.

What was it like to do all of that alongside your husband?

Honestly, it was amazing. We’re each other’s biggest support system. Being there together, this is something that both of us have always wanted to do. So to make it on the show together is a huge accomplishment. Like we never thought in a million years that would happen. It was really cool. It’s an accomplishment for us. And it’s something that we both get to look back on years down the road and have the laughs about, have some cringes about. But honestly, I loved every minute.

You two shared such a positive rapport on the series, with each other and with your competitors. Does that speak to how we’re maybe moving away from some of the negative perceptions of all kitchens being this pressure-cooker environment?

Not necessarily, I think Top Chef Canada really wants to show everybody in their best light. They do a good job in that. I had some rough times in that kitchen, and they definitely showed a few moments of weakness for me… I guess you can say not my best moments. But that’s what it is to be a chef. Nowadays, we want things to be a lot calmer in the kitchen than they once were, a lot nicer. And I guess I could say things are a little bit more sugar-coated. But at the end of the day, our kitchen is the kitchen, it’s a high-stress environment, it’s a tough industry, and you have to have a really tough backbone to be able to do this job.

The judges and Top 4 contestants cheers to the winner of Top Chef Canada season 9

Related: The Season 9 Chefs Talk Eating Local

In nine seasons, you’re the second female to win Top Chef Canada (Nicole Gomes was the first). What is it like to be a female working in the industry these days?

I’m so proud to be the second female to win Top Chef Canada. I really am. But I’m also the person that, when I walk into a kitchen, I don’t see gender, I don’t see colour, I see food. And food is what matters at the end of the day. And whether you’re male or female. It’s about if you can cook, and how you cook, and how you represent yourself. The food is what speaks for itself.

I’m extremely happy to represent women in the kitchen. We do have a hard time because of that reputation. So that makes us have to work harder. Let’s show them that there is no difference. We are just as good. We can do the exact same job. I’m currently four and a half months pregnant and I’m still working every day. Still pulling 12-hour shifts sometimes to try and kick butt in a kitchen because I don’t think that being a female should get in the way of that. It’s something to be very proud of. But it doesn’t matter whether I’m male or female. One of my favourite chefs, Dominique Crenn, [who is] one of the most respected women in the industry, says, “I am not a female Chef. I am just a Chef.”

Related: Mijune Pak Reflects On Reinventing Her Career

Congrats on the pregnancy! Have you and Josh thought about what you’ll do if your kid winds up being a picky eater?

I really don’t think the kid will have a choice in the matter! I don’t think it’ll be a picky eater though, because I have to say my cravings are like left, right and center. I’ve been eating everything and anything under the sun. So I think we’ll be okay.

Erica and Josh Karbelnik on the set of Top Chef Canada

You watched every episode of Top Chef Canada leading up to your season, so of the former competitors who would you say is your inspiration?

Dale Mackay from Season 1 is the one who really struck my nerve to want to be on this show. And to put my best foot forward and to be that competitive person… and to go for it and just do you. He’s an extremely talented chef. He’s very accomplished. And his food was spectacular on the show. When he was on Top Chef Canada I was an apprentice, so he opened so many doors for so many chefs for us to say, “Hey, we can do that, too!”

How much did your knowledge of previous seasons help you out when it came time to plan and execute your final menu?

Watching the show previously definitely had an advantage. You do learn what the judges are looking for. But at the end of the day, when we’re doing challenges, there’s a box that we’re placed in and there’s restrictions. You have to follow guidelines on exactly what the judges are looking for in that dish. So you don’t really have free rein to kind of create whatever you want to create.

Going into the finale menu, I said it in the semifinals: “If you let me into the finals, you’ll be able to read me like an open book. Let me show you who I am in my cooking.” At the end of the day, that’s what I do every day. I want people to understand me through food. I am not always able to express myself fully in words. And a lot of people misunderstand me. So food has always been my go-to, it’s always been like my voice. But I really wanted to showcase myself in that menu. Those dishes are dishes that I would put forward over and over and over again. I’m so insanely proud of who they represented. Each dish represented something that was extremely close to my heart and really told the story of who I am and who my family is and where I come from.

Other than Josh, who else did you originally expect to go all the way to the finale?

To the honest, Galasa. From the moment Galasa started cooking, just the way he carried himself in the kitchen, the way he understood flavours. I think that dude is a force to be reckoned with. He’s going to do really great things in his future culinary career. He was definitely one that I was a little scared of.

See More: Top Chef Canada Judge Janet Zuccarini Talks Resilience in the Restaurant Industry

You and Josh have been doing catering while your current gig with Elmwood Spa is on hold because of COVID. And you talked about opening up your own place if you won. Is that still the plan?

We would love to have our own restaurant, we really would. We would love to also have our own catering company. With COVID, a lot of chefs had to rethink and pivot their ideas and their future plans. Unfortunately, restaurants at the moment really have an unforeseen future and we don’t know what’s coming our way. So it’s always good to have a backup plan. That’s been our backup plan for now and it’s been working really well for us. And, as I said, we did get pregnant. So, our little sous chef has a nice college fund started. We’d like to use that money to create a stable home and a future for us and for the baby.

Is there anything you’d like to add?

Competing on Top Chef Canada was awesome and I’m very happy with the outcome and to be able to do it with my husband. I’d like to thank him for being my support system there, and for helping me through the finale. And also just for being an amazing partner. There’s nobody else I would have rather have done this with.

Watch Top Chef Canada and stream all your favourite Food Network Canada shows through STACKTV with Amazon Prime Video Channels, or with the new Global TV app, live and on-demand when you sign-in with your cable subscription.

Harry Eastwood’s Quick and Healthy Substitutes for Baking

Spring has sprung, and with it comes a plethora of bold and beautiful baked goods, recipes and seasonal veggies that brighten our spirits after a long, dreary winter. And, like many of us, The Big Bake judge Harry Eastwood is excited to change things up in the kitchen — and incorporate more healthy substitutes into her baking.

“Most of my favourite seasonal ingredients are linked to what’s out in the garden,” she says. “I get quite strong urges for things that are bright and fresh, like lemons.”

Watch: Sweet Substitutes from Joy Wilson

The British-born, Paris-based chef and cookbook author knows more than her fair share about baking hacks and substitutions — not to mention how to seamlessly weave together healthy substitutes and seasonal ingredients. “I’m done with [recipes] that are long and slow,” she says. “I crave foods that are a certain colour more than a certain flavour this time of year.”

Related: 20 Comforting Baking Projects That Deserve a Pat on the Back

So, as the talented teams on The Big Bake continue to wow us with their spring-inspired cake creations, we look to Harry for her easiest healthy baking substitutions for when you’re in a pinch.

Farewell to a Baking Staple

One of the easiest baking ingredients to swap out? Butter. Although that might be a little difficult to hear for those with a serious sweet tooth, the truth is that you won’t actually miss it all that much in your favourite baked goods. (We promise!) “You definitely don’t taste the butter in a sponge cake,” Harry points out as an example. “You taste the buttercream icing. [Butter is] the easiest thing you can lose without noticing so long as you replace it with a healthy fat, like ground nuts, because there needs to be a balancing act with what you put in.” If you’re doing some spring baking, consider replacing butter in our most crave-worthy carrot cake recipes in every form. Other healthy butter substitutes include applesauce, Greek yogurt, buttermilk and avocado.

Related: Anna Olson’s Quick Guide to Ingredient Substitutions

Make it Moist

If you’ve got a variety of veggies on hand and you’re looking to make an epic cake that has some real moisture to it, Harry suggests adding in some of those sweet seasonal veggies. Not only will your cake come out soft and spongy, but it’ll be a whole lot healthier to boot. “I think vegetable cake is so underrated just because it’s healthier,” she says. “But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t taste good! If you have a vegetable cake with buttercream icing on top, I defy you to tell the difference. The point of a vegetable cake is that people don’t know it’s a vegetable cake.” Psst, it also comes in handy if you’ve got a few picky eaters on your hands and are looking for novel ways to get them to eat their greens.

Harry’s Go-To Secret Ingredient

As for Harry’s all-time favourite healthy baking substitute, one need look no further than the nearest produce aisle. Surprisingly, it’s not avocado. “Zucchini is probably my favourite ingredient to add into cakes because it’s very easy to introduce without anybody having a clue,” she laughs. “If you’ve succeeded at [sneaking it in], then you’ve done a good job. You’ve nailed it.”

For more inspiration, try these Common Ingredient Substitutions That Will Bring Your Recipes to Life or enjoy these Underrated Spring Vegetables That Belong in Your Meal Rotation.

Duff Goldman Tweets

Hilarious Things Duff Goldman Tweets That Will Make Your Day

Anyone who watches Duff Takes the Cake — and has seen Ace of Cakes or Buddy vs. Duff — knows Duff Goldman is a funny, goofy dude. Yes, he’s all about the cakes and can create just about anything from flour and sugar (and all the other necessary ingredients), but it’s his colourful personality that really makes him something to behold.

Now, if you think he’s only like that on television, then you don’t follow him on social media. And if you don’t, then why aren’t you? Whether it’s Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or all of the above, here’s proof that the charm (Goldman’s studio isn’t called Charm City Cakes for nothing!) we see from Duff on TV isn’t far off from real life. In fact, based on these tweets, perhaps what we see on the small screen is just a taste of the real Duff.

Our minds don’t even want to go in the vicinity of a place this desolate.

If Duff is implying that he will send cakes north of the border, then excuse us while we email our orders in.

He’s a big dude who makes big cakes but little staircases can be a challenge.

Hmm, perhaps Duff needs to address Geof this way from now on.

Oh, Mrs. Goldman. We’re with Duff.

Huh. Goldman might be the best baker around but sometimes it’s the simpler things in the life that make for the yummiest things.

Duff might not be a dad yet but this might be the daddiest joke ever.

The biggest pizza debate and Duff has taken sides …

… though even he has his limits.

Duff may be self-deprecating but he won’t tolerate being made fun of.

Hmm, guess Duff isn’t as close with this pal, Carl Ruiz, as he thought.

Apparently bull riders are wild in more ways than one.

It’s a team effort. To 17 more years! And another 17 on top of that. And another … well, you catch our drift.

Tune in to Duff Takes the Cake on Sundays at 9 and 9:30 PM E/P.

Top-Chef-Canada-Eden-Grinshpan-Mark-McEwan

Mark McEwan and Eden Grinshpan Dish on Why the New Season of Top Chef Canada Will Give You Serious Food FOMO

Some of the most promising young chefs—representing a culinary coming-of-age for Canadians across the country—are about to congregate in the Café kitchen for the contest of a lifetime. With a hefty cash prize, a trip for two to anywhere in the world, and a fully stocked kitchen on the line, these competitors are among the strongest and fiercest we’ve seen to button up the chef’s jackets over seven seasons of the culinary competition.

Host Eden Grinshpan and head judge Mark McEwan agree. They promise that this upcoming season, the 12 selected chefs will present some of the most impressive dishes (throughout a bevy of challenging cooks) that showcase all of the great ingredients and techniques Canadians have to offer.

Here we sit down with the dynamic duo to preview what we can expect when the competition fires up.

Top Chef Canada Mark McEwan and Eden Grinshpan

What are you most excited for fans to see this year?

McEwan: Just the food. The food this season was great. The chefs really stepped up to a new level. They nailed the timelines and they nailed the products. That what was most impressive to me.

Grinshpan: All the judges were just floored this season. It feels like it’s getting better, and better, and better. This season we all looked at each other and we were like, “We eat very well!” It’s just such a joy to be a part of. And also this season, in particular, the locations we shot in were just really fun. We showcase Toronto in a new way and the actual challenges the producers put together are extremely hard and extra creative. A lot of people are just going to really enjoy watching them unfold.

McEwan: The chefs were super competitive. In a nice way, but this season the competitive side was a little more obvious to me. Some seasons were a little more kumbaya; a lot of hugging. Not as much hugging this season.

Top Chef Canada Season 7 Episode 1 Watch

See More: Meet the Season 7 Top Chef Canada Competitors

What advice do you have for the chefs in cooking their first dish on the show?

McEwan: At the start of the game, you want something that’s really flavourful. I tell the chefs this every season: “The last memory I have of your plate is the flavour that’s on my palate.” So, a beautiful presentation is one thing, but if it didn’t eat well it goes downhill from there. Whatever you’re going to choose, it should be really punchy flavour-wise and then it should incorporate some interesting technique. Whether you’re making dumplings or fresh pasta, you’re not just sautéing a piece of meat or fish and saucing it. I like to see different levels of techniques on a plate.

Grinshpan: This isn’t a dish that you should be trying to challenge yourself with necessarily; it’s a dish you need to reach into your back pocket and go, “I know it’s successful, everyone that I’ve given it to loves it, it’s a crowd-pleaser.” It’s something that you’ve tested out numerous times and people love. Don’t try and think outside the box when you’re trying to get into the competition. Show us who you are and what you know. That’s what you should fall on.

Out of all the locations the show travels to this year, which one was your favourite?

Grinshpan: Obviously Canada’s Wonderland. Watching Mark on the roller coaster was a huge highlight for me.

McEwan: I screeched. For the first time in my life! It was a new moment for me.

Grinshpan: Also being at Canada’s Wonderland they had to set up the challenge in an interesting way, so it was cool for the chefs and also really challenging for them to cook in that space.

McEwan: We had great food that day.

What’s scarier—a giant Canada’s Wonderland roller coaster or facing the judges of Top Chef Canada?

Grinshpan: Facing the Top Chef Canada judges, to be honest. These chefs… listen, this is their livelihood, this is their passion. When you become a cook, when you become a chef, it takes over so much of your life. In order to get to that next level, it really takes priority over other things, and they want to show who they are. They feel like they’ve made it to a certain place in their careers and they want to put themselves out there. Having Mark McEwan eat your food and give feedback, that’s huge for these chefs. So it’s extremely intimidating, and also really great. When you get that positive feedback you’re on cloud nine. You’re already a winner.

McEwan: The criticism comes at you in waves and it can be inconsistent. One [episode] you’re flying and everybody is loving your product and you have confidence. And so you go into the next one with confidence and maybe that’s what screws you up. And then all of a sudden, you’re on the bottom of it. We’re trying to be constructive in telling you why we hate your food. It’s kind of the roller coaster of Top Chef Canada that is really hard for them.

Top Chef Canada Season 7 Chris Mijune Janet

Have your judging styles changed or evolved over the years?

Grinshpan: This is my third season on Top Chef Canada, and what I have learned working with [these guys] is you can’t learn that stuff. Basically what I’ve picked up… their approach to food, their opinions of food, the way they look at food when it hits the table, it’s amazing. Listening to them talk about food and watching them taste it has really affected the way I look at food and judge and critique it. Because we’ve judged food together for the last three seasons, we’ve found this rhythm and genuine respect for each other’s opinions. Look at the level. This is chef Mark McEwan. I want to hear what he has to say about food and how he looks at food because that affects his entire career and how he has viewed the restaurants and businesses that he’s put out there. I’ve learned a lot.

McEwan: It’s a fun judging table. Everybody brings their own unique style and viewpoint. Chris Nuttall-Smith is very studied about food and food writing and [he] is very articulate. Mijune Pak has eaten everywhere.

Grinshpan: She’s eaten everywhere, everything and everyone under the table.

McEwan: It’s amazing there’s a tree standing anywhere in Canada… but in terms of my judging, I’ve not really changed my format in all the years, it’s always been the technique and style and cleanliness. The flavour side of it is always 50 per cent of the roster for me. But what I don’t do, is I don’t tell the other judges how I really feel about everything, I kind of bottle it up and keep my thoughts in my head and then I let it out. You don’t want to change someone else’s opinion. I like to hear their virgin idea of what the food was rather than base it on a conversation.

Have you ever been surprised by a winner or did they catch you off guard?

McEwan: Last season, season six, I did not expect Ross Larkin to be in the finale.

Grinshpan: I second that.

McEwan: He had some really disappointing days and he seemed to be spinning his wheels and not clicking, but he saved himself. He stayed in the competition and all of a sudden he started to shine. He caught fire very late, and the fact that he won still surprises me.

Grinshpan: I agree. This is the thing… you either have people that have extremely high highs and extremely low lows throughout the competition or you can have people who play the middle ground until the end and then they just hit you with their talent. There are so many ways that this can go, because when we judge it’s not based on, “Oh their dish was good last time.” It’s, “Is their dish good this time?” It doesn’t matter how good you’ve been the entire time, if you make a crappy meal, you’re being judged on that, unfortunately. That’s just the way it goes. You start to see where the talent is at the beginning, and you read up on the chefs and have these expectations, but the competition gets to them. You have the cameras, the crazy challenges. All that pressure adds up.

Have you ever had to resist the urge to jump in and do a challenge yourself?

Grinshpan: Naw. Nope. No. Honestly, cooking in the Top Chef Canada kitchen is probably the most intimidating thing to do. Mark McEwan could take them all down.

McEwan: It’s challenging. At my age, my eyesight is not what it used to be. I find that to almost be a disability, having to take glasses on and off. I can’t cook with my glasses on because it’s foggy, but I can’t read a label without them. So to run around and be in the Top Chef Canada kitchen, I’d be the slowest chef without a doubt. The way they bolt—they’re like gazelles, running around. It’s a little bit intimidating.

Grinshpan: Even sometimes after I give the Quickfire challenges and I’m walking out of the kitchen it’s like, dangerous. Whoever is a guest, I have to hold them close to me, and it’s like we’re dodging traffic. It’s really intense.

McEwan: They’ll knock you over.

Grinshpan: They will! It’s a pretty wild environment.

Top Chef Canada debuts Monday, April 1 at 10 PM E/P on Food Network Canada. 

Ross Larkin One Year Since Winning Top Chef Canada

Ross Larkin: Life Since Winning Top Chef Canada

Ever since Ross Larkin showcased Newfoundland on a plate to winning results on the sixth season of Top Chef Canada, he’s made quite the name for himself in the Canadian culinary scene. We’d expect nothing less—who hasn’t been dreaming about the chef’s jaw-dropping display of east coast ingredients like diver scallops, moose, and winter chanterelles? And don’t even get us started on that whiskey-compressed apple and snowberry concoction he whipped up in the finale.

It’s hard to believe it’s been almost a year now since Larkin won the show, so we caught up with the chef to find out what his life has been like since season six. As it turns out he’s been quite busy in and out of the kitchen.

Chef de Cuisine at Raymond’s

Even before entering the Top Chef Canada kitchen Larkin was impressing the culinary community as the chef de cuisine at one of the country’s top restaurants, Raymond’s. Jeremy Charles’ world-class spot draws in tourists from all over (the late Anthony Bourdain even visited it on his series, No Reservations). These days though, it’s not just Jeremy Charles that tourists are seeking out: diners have been increasingly asking to meet Ross, too, ever since his big win.

“The restaurant has had an amazing showing following the series, people coming here from all over,” Ross says. “That was very flattering and different, going into the dining room and talking to people who are so excited and asking for pictures. I didn’t realize how big it was. It’s wild.”

 

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???????????????????????? Radish and flower tart | cattail with sunchoke

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He bought his first house

Ross has been renting his whole life, so following his big win he and his wife Celeste, who is the pastry chef at Raymond’s, finally bought their own space. It closed at the end of October.

“That was a whirlwind. I had no idea what went into buying a house, and there’s a lot more than I thought. Thankfully my uncle is a real estate agent here in Newfoundland so he helped us immensely with everything,” Ross says. “Pretty much every day we walk around the house and see something that needs painting or fixing, but it’s been great. Having a home of my own is something I never thought would happen.”

And, it’s also a home decked out with all of those amazing kitchen appliances he won on the show.

 

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House hunting.

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He had his first magazine spread

Last fall Ross experienced another first when the quarterly publication Pie Digest asked if they could feature him following his Top Chef Canada win.

“I was flattered. I’d never been in any sort of publication, so to be featured in a magazine was huge. I was just so excited,” he says. “They did a really good job of representing me and the food in the restaurant and Newfoundland and Labrador. It was incredible.”

He’s been sharing Newfoundland cooking with the rest of Canada

In the past 12 months Ross has travelled extensively, bringing his culinary expertise to places like Calgary, Winnipeg, PEI, Vancouver and Montreal, where he’s shared unique ingredients and techniques with other chefs and patrons. One of the coolest things he says he’s done was participating in Winnipeg’s annual Raw Almond event last February alongside Jeremy Charles and the rest of the Raymond’s team.

The event, which started in 2013 and hails from Joe Kalturnyk and Mandel Hitzer, takes place each year when the river freezes and two temporary dining rooms are constructed. There, chefs from across Canada and the rest of the world congregate for special, sold-out dinner services.

“There are very select few events that being such a different group of chefs together,” Ross says. “It was so inspiring. Like yeah, it’s really cold in Winnipeg in the dead of winter, but it was so inspiring to be there. The people working with Joe are hands-down some of the nicest people I’ve ever worked with. They’re so passionate and they’re there to help with anything you need. We were really fortunate to be invited to that, and hopefully we can return.”

He took Newfoundland to Chicago, too

When Chicago’s famed Blackbird restaurant threw a chefs series to celebrate 20 years in the business, they asked Jeremy Charles and the staff of Raymond’s to host the closing night. It was Ross’ first time ever visiting the renowned culinary city, and he loved the overall Midwestern charm, unique architecture, and of course, the myriad of restaurants.

“We brought a little piece of Newfoundland down to Chicago and we did [dinner] how we do it at the restaurant,” he says. “It was very well received and people loved it. It’s always interesting to see what other restaurants are doing, especially Blackbird, which is such a high caliber, Michelin-star restaurant. Everybody was so amazed and excited and there were so many questions about what we were doing and the ingredients. They’re so different. There’s nowhere else in Canada, let alone in Chicago, where you’re getting ingredients like we’re getting here in Newfoundland.”

He’s getting really into beeswax

Living in Newfoundland, Ross says they don’t always have access to imported goods—especially when ferries carrying ordered fare shut down. In ths spirit of embracing what’s local and fresh, he and Celeste have been experimenting with that concept recently.

Some of their experiments have included encasing roots in salt dough to cure them or aging beef in beeswax, which Ross says eliminates some of that “blue cheese” flavour you traditionally get with air-curing. Meanwhile, it also creates less waste.

“It just gives the meat a very mild sweetness and almost makes it a bit richer in taste and consistency. And you don’t lose as much product—when doing the whole ribeye [the traditional way] you lose so much because you have to trim it. This way you just knock off all the beeswax and you have 100 percent yield on aged beef,” he says, noting that Celeste has been having similar success with plums in beeswax.

“She dips them in a couple of different layers of beeswax and lets them age for different lengths of time for various flavours, but it gives them a very fermented flavour, almost like a port. Beeswax just breaks them down in a very incredible way.”

 

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Ever wonder what 18 kg of bees wax looks like ?????#savethebees #bees #honeypot#eatlocal#supportlocal #supportfarmers #winniethepooh

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He and Celeste celebrated three years of marriage

This August marks Ross and Celeste’s third wedding anniversary, but the duo have been a culinary dream team for longer than that.

Not only did Celeste originally encourage Ross to apply for Top Chef Canada, but it’s also because of her that Ross got his gig at Raymond’s in the first place. When the pair were both working at former Top Chef Canada winner Dale McKay’s Ayden Kitchen + Bar in Saskatoon, Jeremy Charles called Celeste to see if she wanted the pastry chef job. Ross also knew Jeremy so he called him up asking for a gig too, and the rest, as they say, is history.

“We finished up our time in Saskatoon, went back to Vancouver, packed up everything, and we drove across Canada” he says. “I think we landed in St. John’s on a Friday and we started work on a Tuesday. Like I started at Raymond’s at the bottom and now I’m the chef de cuisine… I pinch myself every day. It’s incredible.”

 

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2018 was a fucking rollercoaster no doubt. Some of the most nerve wrecking, exciting, rewarding moments of my life to date. I was fortunate to have accomplished an amazing task of winning #topchefcanada a title that a only a few hold , not only that but to see how much it meant to the entire island of Newfoundland and how proud we are of this provinve and the beauties that it holds. This year I met so many amazing, talented people that I now have the pleasure of calling my friends. @cellymaemah and myself purchased our first home. Was able to travel and show people what it means to cook the food of Newfoundland on a world stage. I’m still in shock of everything that happened this year and am so grateful of the amazing people that surrounds me every day. 2018 one for the books, the new year has no idea what is comming…

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Watch a new season of Top Chef Canada, premiering April 1 at 10 PM E/P.

Food Network Canada spring schedule

8 Reasons You Need to Watch Food Network Canada This Spring

Winter is finally behind us, which means it’s time to trade in the hearty soups and casseroles for crisp salads and grilled fare. It’s been a long haul, but we’ve officially made it through the ice storms and sub-zero temperatures, and now we can’t wait to get out there and celebrate all the delicious things spring has to offer.

That includes some downright delectable selections coming up on Food Network Canada. The spring lineup is jam-packed with new and returning personalities, a few fun new competition series, and the return of Top Chef Canada, to name a few. Read on for all the reasons you’ll want to tune in to watch Food Network Canada this spring.

Buddy-Valastro-and-Duff-Goldman

Buddy vs. Duff

Premieres: March 10

Who’s your favourite pastry chef, Buddy Valastro or Duff Goldman? Both guys have been hitting us with their insider baking knowledge for years, but for the first time ever they’re going head-to-head in the kitchen for what might be the greatest feud in baking history.

Over the course of six pastry-filled episodes, Buddy and Duff compete in an intense selection of themed bake-offs that tackle everything from carnival treats and beautiful pies to plated desserts and doughnuts.

Along the way, they’ll also participate in six “cake-offs,” in which the chefs and their hand-selected teams try to outdo one another in a bid for bragging rights.

It all culminates in a massive showdown at Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute, where the chefs help execute two decadent wedding proposals before crafting special space-themed cakes that put all of their skills on the line.

Spring Baking Championship season 5 with Clinton Kelly

Spring Baking Championship

Premieres: March 18

Get those convection ovens ready because the fifth season of this seasonal baking competition is back, baby! Ten new bakers are ready to mix, whisk and purée their way to a big $25,000 win, and they’re willing to pull out all of their best baking tricks in order to nail this thing.

The competition kicks off with celebratory challenges, in which the competitors invoke their inner artists to create animal-themed doughnuts and, later on, watercolour cakes featuring all of spring’s best fruits and veggies. Decorative pies, marshmallow treats, and nutty desserts are also in store throughout the rest of the season.

Joining returning judges Duff Goldman, Lorraine Pascale and Nancy Fuller is new host Clinton Kelly, of What Not To Wear fame. We have faith that the lifestyle expert will be just as deft at handling these new hosting duties as he is the latest fashions.

Family Food Showdown

Premieres: March 21

There’s nothing quite like the act of cooking to bring families together, whether it’s through a secret family recipe, weeknight dinners at the table, or even a Sunday afternoon bake-session with the kids. But in this new competition series hosted by Valerie Bertinelli, we’re about to meet a series of families for whom food is everything.

In each episode, two foodie families (think restauranteurs, food truck operators, competition cooks and relatives) face off in a series of challenges that are designed to put their cooking, communication, and creativity to the test for a weekly $10,000 prize.

“With these contestants it’s not just about the money,” Bertinelli says. “There was a lot of pride involved, and so that’s when you’d see the fires really start to happen on the grills and in their personalities. So I would get close to them immediately, and it was really hard to watch the ones that didn’t get to go through. You start to fall in love with these contestants.”

Fire-Masters

Fire Masters

Premieres: March 21

The kitchen is about to get lit with the debut of this brand new Canadian competition show, which ditches the traditional oven in favour of all things grilled, charred and ‘cued. In 10 fire-fuelled episodes chefs from across North America come together in a sizzling, three-part cook-off for a rotating panel of established judges.

In the first round, three chefs must present an impressive signature dish to stay alive in the Napoleon grill arena. In the second round, the two remaining chefs go head-to-head by incorporating one of two featured ingredients into their dish. And then in the last round, the “Feast of Fire,” the last man or woman standing will take on one of the Fire Master judges.

Considering this year’s roster of experts includes former Top Chef Canada competitors and some of the greatest pitmasters around, we’d say the contestants have their work cut out for them. Canadian chef Dylan Benoit hosts the fireocious new series.

Burgers-Brew-and-Que

Burgers, Brew & ‘Que

Premieres: March 21

What’s better than a perfectly grilled burger and a fresh pint to go with it? Not much, according to Iron Chef Michael Symon. The chef and personality is back for a fourth season of his grilled-meats-based travel show, and we can’t wait to see what he’s going to uncover next.

Follow along as Symon searches high and low for the best barbecue and burgers in America, from elaborate cheeseburgers and perfectly smoked brisket, to fall-off-the-bone ribs and ridiculous roasts. Of course, he’ll also need some hoppy local brews and bevvys to wash it all down with, giving us some serious barbecue envy. In fact, a few episodes in, and you’ll probably want to start crafting your own food-based road trip, too.

Top Chef Canada Season 7

Top Chef Canada

Premieres: April 1

This is not a drill — Canada’s most prestigious culinary competition is back, and this season the “steaks” are higher than ever. Join 12 up-and-coming chefs, each representing the coming-of-age in the Canadian food scene, as they battle in some of the most intense Quickfires and fiercest Elimination Challenges to-date. On the line? A $100,000 cash prize from Interac, a design-inspired Café kitchen, a culinary tour of Italy for two from Air Transat, $5,000 worth of Cuisinart products, and the title of Top Chef Canada.

The action kicks off in the premiere episode with an “In-Cook” twist, when the 11 named competitors are asked to judge dishes from the three chefs vying for the last spot in the competition.

That inaugural challenge certainly sets the tone for the season to come, and we can’t wait to dig in. Host Eden Grinshpan is back to helm all the action; she’s joined by returning head judge Mark McEwan and resident judges Chris Nuttall-Smith, Mijune Pak and Janet Zuccarini.

Restaurant Impossible

Premieres: April 23

We have a soft spot for the owners of failing restaurants… after all, who doesn’t appreciate a foodie who is trying to put his or her dreams into action? So we’re all in when the 14th season of Robert Irvines restaurant-saving series returns in April following a two-and-a-half-year hiatus. After all, who doesn’t want to watch a new slew of restaurant owners that just need a little help in turning things around?

With a mere $10,000 and only two days to do it, it’s all hands on deck as Irvine attempts to muscle his way through the overhauls, teaching these owners the dos and don’ts of the industry so that their eateries can ultimately survive.

It’s a tall order, but if anyone has proven his salt over the years it’s gotta be chef Irvine.

Best Baker in America

Premieres: May 19

Sure, you can do better than store-bought goodies for the bake sale, and you’ve been known to roll out the fondant on occasion. But do you have what it takes to be classified as the best baker in the country? That’s the question this series poses when it returns for a hefty third season of elevated buttercream frostings, airy meringues, and modern takes on some tried-and-true classics.

Follow along as a brand new batch of contestants prove they have the baking skills needed to impress the all-star judges — and each other — in their rise to the top.

Top Chef Canada Season 7 Feature Image

Top Chef Canada is Back for a New Season — with a Never-Before-Seen Twist

Sharpen those knives and brush up on your culinary skills because Top Chef Canada’s Café kitchen is open for business. An all-new season of the Food Network Canada series—along with one pretty big twist—kicks off Monday, April 1 at 10 PM E/P.

Top Chef Canada Season 7

Joining returning host Eden Grinshpan, head judge Mark McEwan, and resident judges Chris Nuttall-Smith, Mijune Pak and Janet Zuccarini are some of the brightest culinary talents Canada has to offer. This season they’re lighting up the kitchen with some incredibly competitive challenges and cooks for panels of world-renowned chefs, all in a bid to win this year’s grand prize: a $100,000 cash prize from INTERAC, a design-inspired Café kitchen, a culinary tour of Italy for two from Air Transat, and $5,000 worth of Cuisinart products. Oh, and did we mention they’ll also join the select few to earn the coveted title of Canada’s Top Chef?

These contestants represent the culinary “coming of age” in the Canadian food scene and this year that includes several award-winning chefs, the first Quebec City representative, and some who have even studied under former Top Chef Canada winners. Given all that, we can’t think of anything more cutthroat or coming of age than one lemon of a twist.

This season, 11 chefs will enter the competition, but the coveted 12th slot is still up for grabs. And so in the show’s first-ever “cook-in” challenge, three chefs will cook for their lives.

Top-Chef-Canada-Season-7-Cast

No pressure or anything. Just whip up the best dish you’ve ever served. Yeah, we’re stressed out just thinking about all the delicious optics, but we also can’t wait for that kitchen to heat up.

For now, here’s a peek at the chefs putting it all on the line.

  • Tania Ganassini from Niagara-on-the-Lake, ON – Chef/co-founder of Staff Meal Niagara
  • Takeshi Horinoue from Montreal, QC – Chef/partner at Restaurant Park, Lavanderia, Café Bazin
  • Hayden Johnston from Toronto, ON – Chef de Cuisine at Richmond Station
  • Sebastien Laframboise from Quebec City, QC – Executive chef at District Saint-Joseph
  • Renee Lavallee from Dartmouth, NS – Chef/owner at The Canteen
  • Paul Moran from Tofino, BC – Executive chef at Tofino Resort + Marina
  • Dennis Peckham fromPort Moody, BC – Chef/owner at Fraice Sheet Foods
  • Phillip Scarfone from Vancouver, BC – Head chef, Nightingale
  • Erin Smith from Toronto, ON – Chef (on maternity leave)
  • Max Straczek from Vancouver, BC – Chef de Cuisine at Fable
  • Wallace Wong from Toronto, ON – The Six Pack Chef

Top-Chef-Canada-Season-7-Cook-Ins

And here are the three chefs ready to throw down for that coveted 12th spot:

  • Alexei Boldireff from Edmonton, AB – Head chef at Baijiu
  • Benet Hunt from Saskatoon, SK – Executive chef at Ayden Kitchen and Bar
  • Paul Kim from Toronto, ON – Chef/owner at Doma

It sounds to us like this season has all the ingredients for the most delicious run yet. We know we’ll be bringing our appetites.

Lasagna dish on a table

One Dish, Four Ways: Our Hosts Put Their Own Spin on a Classic Lasagna

Is there any dish more synonymous with comfort food than a good old fashioned lasagna? Fresh pasta, ooey gooey cheese, a rich sauce… It’s no wonder this dish is a fail-proof staple for beginner cooks and seasoned chefs alike. With the weather outside making us want to stay in and indulge, we’re thinking it’s time to gather around the table and put a spin on this classic meal. To get you inspired, we’ve lined up four irresistible variations on lasagna from our Food Network Canada hosts.

1. Anna Olson’s Roasted Vegetable Lasagna with Four Cheeses

This meatless recipe for roasted vegetable lasagna by Anna Olson, host of Fresh with Anna Olson, ups the ante on traditional lasagnas by including a four-cheese blend and delicious roasted carrots, parsnips and Roma tomatoes. You’ll be wondering how you ever managed with one-cheese recipes as you taste the distinct flavours of ricotta, Parmesan, Asiago, and Swiss Gruyere blended into a sauce and mixed with the vegetables between sheets of fresh lasagna.

2. Ree Drummond’s Slow-Cooker Lasagna

Plated lasagna dish

Chef and host of The Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond offers up a delicious slow-cooker lasagna that’s heavy on flavor and light on prep work. A simple three-step recipe that has you combining your meat and cheese mixtures with layers of lasagna noodles (broken to fit your slow cooker), there’s little left to do but sit back in anticipation of this fool-proof dinner that’s sure to become a family favourite.

3. Giada De Laurentiis’ Spicy One-Skillet Lasagna

Lasagna in a skillet

Fans of easy-cook recipes will love this delicious one-skillet lasagna from Giada De Laurentiis of Giada Entertains. This recipe combines a medley of unexpected flavours ingredients like spicy Italian sausage, lemon zest and red pepper flakes to turn up the heat on this classic dish. With just one skillet needed to pull off this savoury spin on traditional lasagna, you’ll love the quick prep time – and easy clean-up!

4. Ina Garten’s Portobello Mushroom Lasagna

Portobello mushroom lasagna dish

Looking for a meatless lasagna recipe that doesn’t skimp on that hearty texture? Chef Ina Garten of the Barefoot Contessa has you covered with her Portobello mushroom lasagna . With rich ingredients like whole milk, butter, flour, Portobello mushrooms and Parmesan, this lasagna is every bit the indulgence you’d want from this classic dish, minus the meat.

Looking for more crowd-pleasing comfort food? Check out these must-try slow-cooker recipes and the cheese-stuffed recipes  that will have you drooling!

Iron-Chef-Susur-Lee-tile

Why Iron Chef Canada’s Susur Lee Loves a Little Friendly Competition

Iron Chef Susur Lee has long been an icon in the culinary world, helming Lee, Luckee, Lee Kitchen and Kid Lee in Toronto and TungLok in Singapore.  That’s on top of serving as a celebrity judge on Chopped Canada and Masterchef Asia. With 45 years of culinary experience under his belt,  a healthy love of competition, combined with his obvious passion for food, Lee is a perfect choice to step into Kitchen Stadium as an Iron Chef.

We caught up with Iron Chef Susur Lee to chat about falling in love with food as a young boy in Hong Kong, cooking with family and the surprising secret ingredient he wants to see in Kitchen Stadium next season.

Iron-Chef-Canada-Susur-Lee

Did you always want to be a chef?

No, actually as a kid I wanted to be a Kung Fu master! I studied with a Kung Fu master for years from the time I was a small boy until a teenager. Cooking and kung fu have similar philosophies about mentality and discipline. Being a chef is kind of like being a kung fu master though, it requires agility and thinking on your feet!

Where does your love of food stem from?

I fell in love with food as a young kid, when I’d walk through the markets of Hong Kong.  Hong Kong is a food city, and southern Cantonese is one of the most important cuisines in the southern part of China. I was really intrigued by all of the smells. My mum wasn’t a great cook so she’d give me a little bit of money and I’d buy myself little bites of food on my way home from school. From the open windows of our home, we could smell the street vendors down on the street, I think this is where I fell in love with food but also developed a deep interest in learning more about food.

How did you realize that cooking could be your career?

I really started in the kitchen as a way to make some money. Hong Kong has always had more restaurants than any city in the world. I started washing woks because I enjoyed the liveliness of the kitchen. I had the drive to move up and I had a deep desire to learn. The hotel kitchens of Hong Kong were very intense. To learn, you had to be observant. No one was taking you under their wing so-to-speak. That’s why I really value my young cooks who want to learn—it’s important to be a strong leader.

How did coming to Canada influence your culinary career?

Canada is such a multicultural place. I felt at home almost immediately. Back home I was exposed to classic French cooking but as a young cook, I didn’t get to travel much. Before coming to Canada my wife at the time and I took a year to travel. We went to France, Italy,  the Middle East, and India. When we arrived in Toronto, it was so multicultural, I almost didn’t need to travel. I worked in kitchens with Jamaicans, Trinidadians, Thai, Irish. I really got a global education here. It gave me a hunger to travel even more and really immerse myself in other cultures.

What was it like opening your first restaurant?

Exhausting! I really did everything. I was going to the market every day and I had a new baby. My family and I lived above the restaurant so it was really, truly a 24/7 job. But at the end of the day, it gave me joy and I knew I was building a life for my family.

What’s your favourite dish to make? 

Honestly, I love cooking Asian food. It really brings me home. That said, whatever my kids ask me to make I always love, usually because we’ll work together in the kitchen to make it. It means the dish is all that more pleasurable to eat.

Do you have a favourite local ingredient?

I always say garlic is my favorite, but really anything grown in Ontario during its peak season. We grow such great produce here.

You were the second Canadian to enter Kitchen Stadium in 2006, and now you’re breaking ground as one of the Canadian Iron Chefs. Is it a full circle moment for you?

It kind of is, but I don’t really think of it that way. Every day I feel honoured to be able to do what I love and sometimes I get to do that on national TV! I was grateful to be asked as one of the Canadian Iron Chefs. Iit validates how hard I’ve worked.

How does Iron Chef Canada showcase uniquely Canadian cuisine?

I think Canada deserves it’s own food shows, we are a unique country with so many talented people cooking in so many different ways. The secret ingredients and the curve balls are what make it Canadian but you really see it in the dishes that are produced as well. They’re not distinctly Canadian but they have flavours from all around the world… which I think is very Canadian in itself.

How did you prepare for the competition?

I basically lived in the kitchen for a few weeks and cooked with my sous chefs. We’ve worked together for over 10 years but we haven’t cooked together in a while. Jonas (Lee) and Bryan (Kid Lee) and I just experimented, tested and got comfortable with each other again. We brought Kitchen Stadium to us!

Iron-Chef-Canada-Susur-Lee-with-Jonas-Lee-and-Bryan-Kid-Lee

What can we expect from the competitors this season?

I am sure they are all accomplished in their own way and they all love to cook. The competition will be tough—I’m really eager to see all of them compete!

 How did it feel to be competing again rather than being behind the judging table?

Well, I did compete in the Chopped judges’ episode, where the judges had a choice to judge their peers or compete and I chose to compete. That really gave me that rush again and I loved it! I love being in the heat of the kitchen so I was thrilled when I was approached to be an Iron Chef. I still work in my restaurant kitchen but it just doesn’t compare to the pressure of a competition like Iron Chef Canada. I’ve worked as a chef for 45 years now and I’m still learning and getting opportunities to put my knowledge to use. It’s such a rush!

You’re known for your fusion food. Do you think your culinary style gave you an advantage over the competition?

Perhaps because I am very versatile. I have always felt that  “fusion” is a name given to me by others that I didn’t really even like at first, but I accept it now. I am a chef first and my style is just me. I am extremely technical and that’s very French, I am extremely creative and that is Chinese.

How do you create an Iron Chef Canada menu once you’ve found out the secret ingredient?

You have to think very quickly. Having cooked for 45 years myself and 15 with my two sous chefs, we have a lot of tricks in our bag. We began by discussing how the ingredients can fit into what we know. You can’t “re-invent” the wheel on live TV.

Did any of the secret ingredients throw you for a loop?

The curve balls were actually what threw me for a loop the most. With the time constraints, the menu already planned out and the unfamiliarity of the kitchen, it’s a challenge, that’s for sure!

If you could pick one secret ingredient for your fellow iron chefs, what would you choose?

I was recently in Thailand and ate quite a few insects—so maybe insects! They say it’s the food of the future so why not introduce it to the world on the big stage!

Canadian Restaurant Locations from Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives

Guy Fieri’s road tripping adventures on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives have taken him all across the United States and beyond. More recent seasons included stops in Cuba, Spain and Mexico, but before he ventured to those countries, he headed north of the border to Canada.

Guy has sampled some of the most eclectic cuisine that reflects our country’s diversity, from Chinese hand-pulled noodles to Jewish deli-smoked meats. Here are the Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives Canadian locations that you can visit in Toronto and Vancouver.

Jethro’s Fine Grub (Vancouver, BC)

In Season 12, Guy was treated to homemade pulled pork with slaw at Jethro’s Fine Grub. When you’re in Vancouver,  stop by for breakfast and try the Gold Rush; pancakes stuffed with bananas, pecans and streusel.

The Rosedale Diner (Toronto, ON)

Season 17 brought Guy to Toronto with a visit to the Rosedale Diner for Asian pork ribs. Brunch is a popular time to visit this diner for a classic Eggs Benny or scrumptious chicken and waffles.

No waffling about today’s brunch choice.

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The Tomahawk (Vancouver, BC)

Season 13 included a visit to Vancouver’s Tomahawk for some roast beef, a French dip, and a steak and mushroom pie. This legendary diner is also known for its Skookum Chief Burger, made with an organic beef patty, Yukon-style bacon, a free-run egg, aged Cheddar and a sliced hot dog.

Have you ever tried our Skookum Burger? #Tomahawk BBQ #Burgers #North Vancouver

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The Stockyards (Toronto, ON)

The Stockyards was one of Guy’s Toronto stops in Season 17. They were excited to show off their burgers, fried chicken and mouth-watering BLT, but their BBQ smoked ribs are one of the main reasons that locals flock to this smokehouse and larder.

Falconetti’s (Vancouver, BC)

While in Vancouver during Season 13, Guy sampled the handmade Thai chicken sausage at Falconetti’s. This east side bar and grill is known for its delicious eats and live music to entertain you throughout the week.

The Ace (Toronto, ON)

A Season 16 episode, ‘Layers of Flavor’ included a visit to The Ace in Toronto. Guy tried their pork belly, the mac and cheese burger, and a Christmas burger, but their Clubhouse is where it’s at when lunchtime rolls around.

Meat and Bread (Vancouver, BC)

In Season 13’s “Old Faves, New Craves,” Guy paid a call to Vancouver’s Meat and Bread. The porchetta sandwich was on the menu, followed up by a decadent maple bacon ice cream sandwich.

The Lakeview (Toronto, ON)

During Guy’s Season 16 trip to Toronto, stuffed French toast, a cornflake chicken club and a pie milkshake were ready to be devoured at The Lakeview. This restored diner serves up diner classics, including a banana split perfect for sharing.

Peaceful Restaurant (Vancouver, BC)

Family kitchens were the focus of the Season 13 episode that brought Guy to Peaceful Restaurant in Vancouver. Some of their recipes have been passed down from generations, including their fresh hand-pulled noodles and beef rolls.

#dandannoodles #foodie #fodgasam #chinesefood #spicy #delicious???? #sichuan #nomnom

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The Red Wagon Cafe (Vancouver, BC)

Guy dug into some pulled pork pancakes with a side of Jack Daniels syrup at Vancouver’s Red Wagon Cafe in Season 13. The savoury shredded pork is featured in other dishes on the menu, including their ooey, gooey mac and cheese.

Caplansky’s (Toronto, ON)

Authentic Jewish deli fare was the star of Season 16’s ‘Real Deal Roots’ that brought Guy to Caplansky’s Deli. Their College Street location has closed, but you can still sample smoked meat sandwiches, knish and brisket at Toronto’s Pearson Airport.

The Reubenesque @ #caplanskys #reuben #deli #meaty ????: @hmdfood666

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Save-On-Meats (Vancouver, ON)

Vancouver’s butcher shop, turned bakery and diner, Save-On-Meats, welcomed Guy in Season 13. Their menu includes classics like turkey pot pie and decadent burgers, but selections like this Ranchero Shrimp Benny really shine.

Ranchero shrimp benny for the win!

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Butter Tart Cheesecake

The Best Maple Butter Tart Cheesecake Recipe

The classic Canadian butter tart has many variations – pecans or raisins, firm or runny filling, crispy or flaky pastry — and everyone has their favourite combo. If there’s one thing that all Canadians can agree on, it is the fact that butter tarts are one of the most delicious desserts out there. So why not go one step further and combine your favourite Canadian sweet treat with another indulgent dessert — cheesecake. The result is a sweet and salty combination that gets topped with butter tart filling and lots of pecans for extra crunch!

Butter Tart Cheesecake

Maple Butter Tart Cheesecake

Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cooking Time: 1 hour 20 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 50 minutes + chill time
Makes: 10 slices

Ingredients:

Crust:
1-1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
5 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
3 Tbsp granulated sugar
1/4 tsp salt

Cheesecake:
1 (250g) pkg cream cheese
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
3 Tbsp maple syrup
1/2 cup 35% whipping cream
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
1/4 tsp salt

Maple Pecan Sauce:
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 Tbsp maple syrup
2 Tbsp 35% cream
1/8 tsp salt
1/2 cup chopped pecans

Butter Tart Cheesecake

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter an 8-inch round springform pan.
2. In a large bowl combine graham cracker crumbs, melted butter, sugar and salt. Firmly press graham cracker crumb mixture into bottom of greased pan and push 1 inch up the side. Bake until golden brown, about 10 to 12 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 325°F.
3. In a large bowl combine cream cheese and brown sugar. Using an electric mixer beat until well combined and fluffy, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Beat in eggs one at a time. Beat in maple syrup, cream, butter and salt.
4. Wrap bottom of the pan with aluminium foil. Pour in filling and place in a roasting pan. Pour boiling water into roasting pan about 1 inch up the side. Bake until edges are set and middle still has a jello-like wobble, about 1 hour to 1 hour 10 minutes. Remove pan from water and let cool, about 1 hour. Remove from tin, cover and refrigerate for at least four hours or overnight to chill completely before serving.
5. When ready to serve, make the sauce. In a small saucepan combine brown sugar, maple syrup, cream, salt and pecans. Bring to a boil and let bubble for 2 minutes, until slightly thickened. Serve drizzled over cheesecake.

Butter Tart Cheesecake

Looking for more butter tart goodness? Try our Best Butter Tart Recipes.

The Baker Sisters’ Piping Hot Tips for Running a Truly Great Bakery

Bakeries may be a dime a dozen (every neighbourhood seems to have one, after all), but that doesn’t mean they’re all successful. In fact, we’ve been to our fair share of dives and hidden gems over the years, experiencing everything from so-so bread and non-existent customer service to desserts from the nicest bakers we’ve ever met that basically knocked our knickers off.

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Jean Parker and Rachel Smith enjoy coffee and dessert at Proof Bakeshop in Atlanta.

Odds are that if a bakery exists, it’s there for good reason: the bakers involved know their way around a confection oven. But skills are just the first building block to a successful storefront. Here, Canada’s own The Baker Sisters, Jean Parker and Rachel Smith, divulge their top 5 tips that any bakery owner simply kneads to know.

Nail the Environment

Some bakeries are sit-down affairs while others are more about the counter service. Whatever type of establishment you’re running, you want to do it with a warm and friendly face because that’s what’s going to keep people coming back for more.

Just look at those smiles behind the counter at Vancouver’s Purebread bakery:

“(Have) a warm smile right off the bat,” Jean says. “Be really welcoming, because people will want to stay. There should be no rush.”

While you’re at it, it might not be a bad idea to offer a good cup of coffee or a strong pot of tea. Complete with a freshly baked scone or biscotti, of course.

Display Your Goods

Everyone knows that you eat with your eyes first, so that makes playing up the visual aspects of a bakery an important pillar of success. According to the sisters, it’s not just important to display your goods for customers as soon as they walk in, but you also want to share a variety of goods that showcase your awesome selection.

“One of our first trips away, we went to the West Coast in Canada, to Purebread in Vancouver, and this bakery was amazing. You walked in and it was like a bounty of desserts,” Rachel recalls. “Your eyes bugged out from how much of a selection they had, and they were all on different plate sizes. They weren’t hidden under a counter. They were just like, ‘Look at this bounty.’”

Purebread-Vancouver-Display-2
Purebread’s bakery display is a sweet sight to behold.
Photo Credit: Rachel Smith and Jean Parker

Foster Your Clientele

We’ve all heard how the customer is always right, but customer service should go beyond that approach. Making your clients feel welcomed and appreciated will only keep them coming back for more, and in the end, isn’t that the goal? That’s why the sisters feel it’s important to not only get to know the people who frequent your shop on a personal level, but to go that extra mile for them too. Rachel goes back to Purebread as another example of exemplary customer care following a day they happened to be closed to the public.

“Purebread stood at their front door and gave people sweeties for free to say, ‘I’m so sorry we’re closed today,’” she recalls. “At one point, they were giving gift cards.”

Purebread-Vancouver-Display
One more delicious shot of Purebread’s deliciously over-the-top display.

Be a Community Cornerstone

If you want to become a community staple, giving back to that community is probably a good start. Attend community events and get to know the residents, but also donate to local charities and organizations to really stand apart from the other establishments in town.

“Give day-olds to the community, like shelters. That stands out to me,” Jean says. “There were a handful of bakeries that I knew, maybe a lot of them did that, and they become a community cornerstone.”

Sugar-Bakeshop-Charleston
Sugar in Charleston, South Carolina donates its day-old baked goods to community shelters.

Go for Gold

If you’ve nailed the other pillars of bakery excellence, there’s still one pretty big step to keep in mind—making sure you stand out from other bakeries with unique ingredients customers just can’t get elsewhere.

Nugateau-Display
Toronto’s Nugateau prides itself on using high quality products and no artificial flavourings.
Photo Credit: Rachel Smith and Jean Parker

Have fresh, quality ingredients like chocolate and vanilla,” Jean says. “A lot of the bakers were using Kentucky bourbon vanilla, Madagascar vanilla came up a lot. Himalayan salt.”

“New Zealand butter,” Rachel raves. “It’s like using these ingredients that are really rich and special and luxurious. New Zealand butter has more fat content than regular butter, so it really lends to a buttery sweetie.”

Now that’s a pastry we can get behind.

Beginning October 20th, watch Rachel and Jean indulge in some of North America’s most delicious baked goods every Friday at 10 E/P in back-to-back episodes of The Baker Sisters. Visit foodnetwork.ca/thebakersisters to get the recipes and find all the bakeries Rachel and Jean visit in the series.

For ‘The Baker Sisters,’ Baking Is In Their DNA

Whipping up delectable desserts isn’t just a passion for Canada’s baking duo, sisters Rachel Smith and Jean Parker; it’s basically in their DNA. They were helping their mom whip up butter tarts, cookies and a “green pie” they still rave about to this day, since before they could even stand at the counter, inherently fostering their love of all things sweet and sugary. It’s a love that launched the sisters on a pretty sweet career path, and now, an exciting new TV series The Baker Sisters, premiering October 20th at 10 E/P.

TheBakerSisters1
Rachel reaching for her first birthday cake, made by her mom Heather.

“Our mom, even from the very beginning, really tried to get us to help,” Rachel remembers. “We would make cookies on the floor. She started doing it on the floor because when I was a baby, I fell off the counter. She was like, ‘I’ll put you on the counter in one of those seats,’ and unfortunately I fell off while helping her make cookies.”

TheBakerSisters6
Jean on her first birthday, getting her own from-scratch birthday cake from mom Heather.

Jean jokes that Rachel has never been the same, but it’s obvious that their mother’s love of baking and their fond memories of her concoctions still resonate with their palates to this day.

“The one thing I remember asking for a lot was this cinnamon coffee cake. It was marbled, it was beautiful, it was moist,” Rachel raves, recalling how her mom was always covered with flour and that the house usually smelled like baking, attracting the neighbourhood children. “The cinnamon and butter throughout the cake was thick, so you’d get that buttery piece of cinnamon. We’d always eat it with crunchy peanut butter. Whenever she said she was going to make a coffee cake, I was like, ‘Is it that one?’”

TheBakerSisters11On Rachel’s third birthday from left to right: older sister Brittany, Jean, mom Heather and Rachel.

“My mom would have her bake days and then freeze everything,” Jean chimes in. “The problem is things just taste really good in the freezer. Frozen chocolate chip cookies are up there as one of my favourite things… I remember being a kid, watching the cookies rise was like TV. Sitting in front of the oven with the light on watching the cookies rise. ”

To be fair, there was a period when these sisters thought they were over baked goods… well, for good. They refer to themselves as “broody teenagers” who had little interest in butter tarts and the butter tart business their mom ran at the time, complaining that they’d smell like their mom’s signature treat.  And while they have early memories of whipping up brownies, chocolate chip muffins and snickerdoodles out of spare tart dough (they were given free reign to shape those scraps the way they wanted), they also yearned for regular kid treats like Flakies, Twinkies and Jos Louis.

Jean and Rachel shared a family photo from when their mom started her own butter tart business:

Where it all started.. The original photo from 90's #familyofwomen #maplekeytartco #canadianbakers #canadiantarts

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“I never wanted to eat another butter tart again. And now here we are,” Jean shrugs.

Here we are indeed. It’s memories like those that have made the sisters closer and perhaps even unified them over the years as they’ve expanded their own baking skills and launched their own butter tart empire, Maple Key Tart Co.

While some siblings in that situation would inherently bust out the rivalry when asked who was better at the craft, these sisters are nothing but complimentary, pointing out their strengths with affection. Rachel is quick to reveal that Jean is better at nailing the precise measurements and recipes needed to be a successful baker, but Jean says that when it comes to kitchen efficiency Rachel reigns supreme.

“I’m staying at her house right now and at dinner last night she was making four separate meals at one time. It’s (her) speed and (her) confidence in the kitchen,” she explains.

The-Baker-Sisters

Today, Rachel and Jean both try to continue the baking tradition with their own kids. At Jean’s house, cookies are always a safe bet (the kids love anything with chocolate while she likes rolling peanut butter cookies in sugar), but Rachel takes a slightly different approach by sneaking extra vegetables into muffins.

“Muffins, like a carrot cake muffin, because I love jamming vegetables in it. With a carrot cake muffin, I’m grating a whole zucchini in there. Vegetables are tricky. Also, scones or biscuits. You can put broccoli in there and totally trick your kids.”

The kids may be tricked into eating veggies or baked goods for now, but if they’re anything like their moms, baking will eventually hold a strong, familial place in their hearts too.

It is, after all, in their DNA.

We’re Sweet on The Baker Sisters and You Will be Too!

Rachel and Jean are sisters and lifelong bakers who live by the motto “Eat dessert first!” They’re also the stars of the new Food Network Canada series The Baker Sisters, premiering October 20th, where they’ll hit the road to find the most delectable sweets at bakeries and restaurants across Canada and the U.S.

The Baker SistersIntroducing The Baker Sisters: Rachel (left) and Jean.

Rachel Smith and Jean Parker grew up surrounded by the sweet smell of baked goods in Bayside, Ontario. Before they could even reach the counter, their mom, a baker extraordinaire, had them helping her in the kitchen. As kids, their single mom started a butter tart business to supplement her income and the girls, earning 10 cents a tin, helped their mom fill the tins full of delicious tarts. Inspired by their mother, Rachel and Jean went on to establish the Maple Key Tart Co., tweaking their mother’s award-winning recipe to create their own delectable butter tart formula. Now they’re taking their baking know-how on the road to get the sweet scoop on some of this continent’s most blissful treats.

If you’d like to really indulge, we’ll be posting the recipes and locations featured in the series to the show’s website so you can create confectionery magic in your own kitchen or plan one sweet road trip! Throughout the season, we’ll get to know Rachel and Jean better with exclusive interviews on the baking secrets they learned on their journey, their favourite desserts and have them answer the most controversial dessert question ever: “Do raisins belong in butter tarts?”

We’re sweet on The Baker Sisters and we’re positive you will be too!

 

12 Times The All-Stars Chefs Were Just Like Us!

If you’ve been tuning into Top Chef Canada: All-Stars then you’re well aware that these chefs are like culinary super heroes. There’s no onion they can’t slay without shedding a single tear. No hunk of meat they can’t butcher to the most precise cut. No flavour profile they can’t deconstruct and build back up quicker than The Flash.

That’s why when we look back over the course of the season we’re reminded that, while these guys and gals killed it in the kitchen, they’re prone to all those real life foibles and emotions regular folks deal with all the time. Whether it was a hair-pulling mishap, an eye-rolling rivalry or over-the-top excitement, here are 12 times the All-Stars showed us they’re just like us.

1. How Does This Thing Work?!Having access to all of the latest and greatest kitchen tools and appliances is pretty gravy… if only one can figure out how to use them. Heads up Nicole, that mixer only works if you actually plug it in.

2. Slaying the Budget in the Grocery Check Out Line

Sure, sure… any of these guys could create a wonderful meal in the kitchen if they had unlimited access to amazing ingredients. But doing that while coming in under budget? Well that’s priceless.

3. Actually Admitting You’re ScaredBut really, how do you react when a panel of culinary experts that scares the crap out of you tastes your food at a world market? Do you cry? Puke? Huddle down under the table and bawl your eyes out?

4. High-Five Freeze OutAndrea, we know you didn’t mean to freeze Curtis out over that conciliatory handshake when he beat your mother sauce in front your mentor John Higgins, but um, #AwkwardTurtle much?

5. Hating the Idea of Facing Your PastWe mean… would you want to cook for Lynn Crawford again after she previously called your Italian Wedding Soup a divorce before the wedding?

6. When You’re Too Excited to See That Not Everyone is Feeling You

A quick lesson in how to (not) make friends and influence people: Win a string of immunities and then have THE BEST TIME prepping your dish in front of the other chefs competing for their lives.

7. Being a Fanboy

We totally get it: Daniel Boulud is the real deal, and cooking for him is stomach-dropping scary. To be honest, we’re actually kind of proud of Dennis for not fainting when he heard that he’d have to whip up a fancy French dish for one of his idols.

8.  When Someone Mentions Snacks

This is the only appropriate reaction when someone tells you that you have to create a Top Chef Canada-caliber dish using good old-fashioned beef jerky.

9. Needing to Smash Something. Now.

Sometimes when you’re under an insane time crunch and your regular old knife just isn’t smashing garlic the way you need it to, you have to resort to other measures. Like cathartic bottle smashing, for example.

10. I’ll Have One of Each, Please.

What would you want to eat the night before a big battle? Not one, but two dishes: Spaghetti Puttanesca and Grilled Steak with Salsa Verde. Heck, why not make it three? We’re not driving. Now that’s a girl after our own heart.

11. When You Make Something DE-LI-CIOUS.

It’s okay Nicole, if we made tortellini that good we’d probably be licking the spatula clean, too.

12. It’s All About Family.

As Mark McEwan told us, this thing was Dusty’s to lose. And while the disappointment of actually losing it was obviously in every inch of his body language, there was one pretty nifty thing in store: hugs from his wife and baby girl, whom he missed so much this season. And in the end, isn’t that the best prize of all? All together now: Awwwww.

Top Chef Canada: All-Stars Episode 9 Recap

The Fab Four. The Fantastic Four. The Ghostbusters. And now, the Top Chef Canada: All-Stars Top Four. Dustin, Nicole, Trevor and Dennis may be our new favourite squad in the kitchen. Now if only they were all on the same team to fight hunger and squash appetites across our great land, rather than competing against one another for the title of Top Chef Canada.

For now we’ll have to be content with these finalists fighting the good fight solo… or at least with a little help from some other notable all-stars. That’s because no penultimate episode of a reality series is complete without looking back at the past, and in the case of this culinary contest that meant bringing in the past four winners for some help in the Monogram Kitchen during the Quickfire Challenge.

Top-Chef-Canada-Episode-9-Four-Former-TCC-Winners
L-R: Dale McKay, Carl Heinrich, Matthew Stowe, and Rene Rodriguez with Eden and Mark.

The task at hand? Create as many All-Stars caliber dishes as possible in a mere 35 minutes. Our former winners went back to their roots and served as sous-chefs for the top four in the glutinous battle, which seemed destined to-be, despite the random drawing to determine the pairings. Luscious-locked Rene Rodriguez was back and a perfect match with Dennis’s independent style; the pair banged out three presentable dishes together. Season 3 winner Matthew Stowe was finally able to return a favour and help Nicole present three entrees after she helped him with his path to the championship back in the day. Meanwhile Trevor was reunited with second-season winner Carl Heinrich where they worked better than Batman and Robin to pump out six passable dishes that were “perfectly seasoned” according to Mark McEwan. That left Dusty and Dale McKay, our #BeardedBros to cobble together seven dishes—six of which were deemed All-Star worthy.

Top-Chef-Canada-Episode-9-Dustin-Gallagher-Dale-McKay
Dusty and Dale with their beards.

It’s a good thing these guys don’t have to do their own dishes because everything in our “clean-as-you-go” fibers was screaming at the… well, the screaming and general running around that was happening. Appliances were flying, chefs were sprinting and chaos ensued. Nicole was screaming nonsense and the contestants may have forgotten to scream “behind” more than once. (We miss you, Curtis.) Forget whichever poor sap has to do all of those dishes at the end of the day; we’re surprised no one lost a limb.


Classic Nicole.

Anyhow with a tie in place the challenge came down to what it should always come down to: flavour. And with his tastebuds still singing, Mark easily awarded the winning title (and $3,000 from the Monogram Kitchen) to Trevor, who is quickly gaining momentum heading into the finale. Obviously, Nicole and Dennis were pretty angry at themselves for not doing more while Dustin was probably wishing he stroked Dale’s “old-timey moustache” a little for good luck.

Trevor-Bird-Roasted-Salmon-Hollandaise-Asparagus
One of Trevor’s Six Top Chef Canada-caliber dishes: Slow Cooked Salmon, Hollandaise and Roasted Asparagus.

With their duties officially out of the way the four winners bid the chefs adieu for now, switching from kitchen elves to tasters for the Elimination Challenge. It was a contest more weighted than most, since this was the last hurdle before the finale; whoever went home was probably going to be kicking themselves for the foreseeable future. No one wants to be the guy who went home before the end, especially when you’ve been concocting dishes for the finale in your head for the past few weeks. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves here.

For this week’s Elimination Challenge, the final four went back to the classic drawing of the knives to determine which game meat they’d have to prepare and serve family style for a group of 10. (And yes, we could feel Jesse face-palming from the sidelines over the fact that he was eliminated right before a game challenge.) The catch? The dish needed to be prepared on a grill, by the lake of all places at Toronto’s Palais Royale. How very Canadian. Ah yes, and because grilling venison, bison, duck and boar through the Canadian winds and uneven heat wasn’t challenging enough, the chefs had $150 and 30 minutes to frantically run through Kensington Market and find their ingredients. It was like watching the Tough Mudder of grocery shopping—who knew you had to have a certain level of physicality in order to cook?

Oh, and because the pressure of cooking to get into the finale wasn’t enough on the line, there was also a huge trip to Beringer Vineyards in California at stake for the winner. That’s right, not only would he or she get to participate in the finale, but they’d be able to relax afterwards by sipping wine overlooking a Napa Valley sunset with a loved one. Heck we’d sign up for that any day of the week.

Knowing all of that, the chefs got to grilling for their table of 10: judges Mark, Mijune Pak and Chris Nuttall-Smith, along with host Eden, guest judge and James Beard Award-winner Normand Laprise, and guest-tasters Steffan Howard, Dale, Carl, Matt and Rene. Now that’s a dinner party!

So with the wine flowing and the plating precariously presented, everyone dug into the “wild dinner.” Oh Eden, don’t ever change.

Dustin-Gallagher-Grilled-Venison-Birch-Glazed-Apples-Mustard-Apple-Jus
Dustin’s Grilled Venison with Birch-Glazed Apples, Mustard and Apple Jus

Dustin’s Grilled Venison with Apples was deemed classic, delicious and “safe,” while his pretty Potato Pave was a showstopper with all of its impressive potato layers. As for his Sweet and Sour Squash with Endive Salad, Brown-Butter Hazelnuts and Pickled Onions? The judges all agreed that it was a gamey dish they’d be happy to find on any menu.

Dennis-Tay-Whole-Roasted-Juniper-Cedar-Bison-Striploin
Dennis’s Whole Roasted Juniper and Cedar Bison Striploin

Next up was Dennis and his Whole Roasted Juniper and Cedar Bison Striploin. You could tell he was fighting hard to come back from the last hunk of meat he served tableside in this competition, which almost sent him home. Unfortunately he overcompensated and served meat that was too rare for some, although others at the table defended its cut. (Later, Mark would say Dennis got “lucky” with his piece of meat and that this wasn’t necessarily a result of skill.) As for his sides? His grilled cabbage and creamed leeks didn’t feel like a cohesive offering, and only served to confuse the judges in the end.

Trevor-Bird-Wild-Boar-Country-Sauage-Brined-Smoked-Boar-Loin
Trevor’s Wild Boar Country Sausage with Brined and Smoked Boar Loin

As for Trevor, well he went into the challenge more confident than most, having just won last week’s challenge as well as this week’s Quickfire. He wanted to recreate a version of a pork dish he serves at his restaurant and so he went with boar several ways, including a Kale Salad with Grilled Boar Belly, Wild Boar Country Sausage and Brined and Smoked Boar Loin. Oh yes, and he had a Wild Mushroom Polenta to top it all off. Unfortunately his cutting board presentation—a self-professed “gamble”—really didn’t strike the judge’s fancy. Both Mark and Mijune were visibly disappointed there wasn’t more on the plate, and no one was completely sure how to eat it or what went with what. From our couches it was hard to see the problem (we were eating the heck out of those sausage patties with our eyes), but then again we also think store-bought potato chips are the food of gods. Wait… or is that those little black salty olives from the olive bar?

Nicole-Gomes-Brined-Smoked-Cinnamon-Duck-Breast-Confit-Duck-Legs
Nicole’s Brined and Smoked Cinnamon Duck Breast, Confit Duck Legs and Cherry Jus

Anyhow last but not least was Nicole, who had the difficult challenge of grilling duck—apparently that’s the last way anyone wants to cook the bird, since the fat is kind of a huge fire hazard. (Perhaps the show should have come with a “don’t grill this at home” disclaimer?) So Nicole showed some smarts and came up with a workaround instead: she smoked her duck breast on the grill with some cinnamon and paired it with confit duck legs. She then served the dish with a Cherry Jus,  Creamed Savoy Cabbage with Braised Chestnuts and Bacon, for an overall offering that was largely applauded at the table, despite the flabby duck skin.


When Normand Laprise drinks your Cherry Jus straight from the pitcher, it’s safe to say you’re not going home.

Heading into Judge’s Table it was pretty obvious which direction things would go. It turns out playing things safe was a good bet in this case, because Dustin was the night’s overall winner. Unsurprisingly Nicole also joined him for a secure spot in the finale, meaning it all came down to Trevor and Dennis.


Mark and Chris can’t believe what they’re hearing from Trevor.

As the judges explained their reasoning and critiques, Trevor was all-around defensive, proving that even nice guys get snippy when they’re tired and missing their family. This competition grills on you, guys. (Pun intended.) But while Mark didn’t really like Trevor’s “posture,” he was quick to point out it wasn’t a popularity contest and that this decision came down to the food itself. Sadly, that meant Dennis would not get his chance to cook a Filipino feast for the crowd in the finale, as his convoluted side dishes cost him the competition in the end.

“What a cool guy,” Mark said as Dennis walked out to go and pack his knives. We thought so too, Mark. We thought so too.

“I’m pretty disappointed… The worst part is not executing under these circumstances. This was the biggest day and I just didn’t produce. Being so close is a tough pill to swallow,” Dennis said afterwards. “I hope people look at food a little differently after experiencing what I have to offer. I approach food to broaden people’s minds. There’s a big world out there with a lot of opinions and different ways to eat and enjoy. I hope people get that from me and what I’m trying to do.”

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Dennis’s final judges table.

“Dennis is one of the most likable young chefs you’ll ever meet. He’s always got this big smile on his face. He’s incredibly modest. He’s helpful with the other chefs, very genuine,” Mark told us later on. “He’s competitive by nature, otherwise he wouldn’t be on Top Chef Canada, but he doesn’t show that. We had some good moments with him and he leaves you with this feeling where you want to give him a big hug.”

“Oh, my god, Dennis has such a fantastic perspective. He brings such incredible and really rare influences into his food, influences that you often don’t find in kind of downtown Toronto fine cooking,” Chris added. “That’s one of the things that makes him such an exciting and interesting chef. He wanted so badly to do a Filipino feast for the finale and I would give just about anything to eat that food. He brings such a smart touch to just about everything he does… he’s an artist who has been painting other artists’ canvases throughout his career and I think as soon as he gets his own canvas, he’s going to do something impeccable.”

Until then we’ll always have those crispy prawns. Good luck Dennis—we want to give you a hug, too.

Next week? The finale. Hard to believe we’re here already, isn’t it? Will it be Tasmanian Devil Nicole, Defensive Nice Guy Trevor or Smiles-For-Days Dusty? The countdown to the big reveal is on.

Want more Top Chef Canada?
Watch this bonus scene from Episode 9.

Top Chef Canada: All-Stars Episode 6 Recap

You know who else was shocked by Andrea’s elimination last week? Every. Other. Chef. Yup, Top Chef Canada: All-Stars was back with a new episode on Sunday night and the remaining competitors were pretty freaked out that an early front-runner had left the competition so soon. Connie even had a bad dream about Judges’ Table as an indirect result of it. But let’s be honest: the chefs were freaked out but also probably slightly relieved. Because we all know that the master plan in doing this show is to eliminate the competition, one by one. Mr. Burns, rubbing his fingers together muttering “excellent,” styles.

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Josh Elkin (left) with Eden Grinshpan

But on Sunday night there was other business to attend to first: namely the chefs had to jerk around. That’s right, the night’s Quickfire Challenge revolved around everyone’s favourite road trip snack: jerky. Guest judge Josh Elkin, A.K.A. the Sugar Showdown host who’s known for being creative with his culinary quests, joined Eden Grinsphan in a Krave Jerky cook-off in which the chefs had to incorporate the beefy snack into an appetizer. Cue the awesome train of facial reactions, ranging anywhere from utter disgust (oh, hey Dennis) to delight (what up, Jesse?). Oh, and did we mention there was a $5,000 prize on the table? We could practically see Nicole’s eyes light up.

So what did cooking with flavoured jerky entail, exactly? While we probably would have hid in the corner and stuffed our faces with the stuff, rugged outdoorsman Jesse opted to rehydrate a pot of jerky in order to wrap it around some scallops and white asparagus. (Side note: we don’t care how great white asparagus tastes; it does not photograph well. Can we all just please agree on that?) Unfortunately, his plan didn’t exactly pan out when the jerky became gross and soggy, and he had to go with a backup Jerky Coated Scallops with his poached asparagus instead.

Sadly the dish failed to impress Josh, as did Connie’s Vietnamese salad and Dennis’ Jerky Pork Dumplings, which he meticulously crafted. We actually felt kind of bad for the guy; he worked so hard on that dish and was clearly upset to fall into the bottom (especially for something small like using too much soy). Dennis has got to be in for a revival in the near future, we can feel it in our jerky-loving bones.

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Nicole’s Arancini with Sticky Rice and Jerky 4 Ways

On the other end of the spectrum Trevor knew how to play to his audience and created a riff of a Jalapeño Popper that we would totally order in a bar. His strategy of a swank-free plate earned him a spot in the Top 3, but it wasn’t enough to edge him into a win. Dustin seemed to take the opposite strategy and transformed a Beef Tartare via pickled jerky, but while that also impressed Josh it was Nicole’s “balls, balls, balls,” or what was more properly known as Arancini with Sticky Rice and Jerky 4 Ways, that impressed the guest judge most.

So Nicole walked away with yet another cash prize. Shocker, right? At this point she’s won so much money she almost doesn’t even need to win the show. We wonder if she did end up giving Trevor his requested thousand bucks. Are sharesies even allowed on this show?

Anyhow, you can’t really blame Nicole for feeling on top of the world, or assuming that she had this thing in the bag. After all, as she pointed out to the cameras at one point she’s never actually been on the bottom. Which meant that the tide was about to turn, or the sauce was about to thicken… or whatever the culinary equivalent of that expression would be.

Top-Chef-Canada-Episode-5-Canadian-History-Book

So with the Quickfire behind them and immunity no longer on the table the chefs were asked to get patriotically creative with Canada’s 150th birthday for the Elimination Challenge. The show, in turn, got creative too and swapped out the traditional drawing of the knives for a drawing of the history books. Each chef had to pick a book that represented an important piece of Canadian history and then create a dish (an appetizer, entrée or a dessert) assigned to that moment.


We’re not surprised this was Curtis’s reaction when Eden mentioned book reports.

Obviously the chefs who drew desserts—Nicole and Connie—were less than impressed. “Chefs don’t want to do desserts, that’s why there’s pastry chefs,” Nicole lamented over her selection. Um, to be fair, didn’t Nicole just wow the judges with her riff on a carrot cake that she made of her own volition in the last episode? Yeah, we thought so.


When mere mortals are feeling stumped in front of the fridge they just end up ordering a pizza.

Either way, with the tasks assigned and the 15-minute shopping frenzy at McEwan foods done, the chefs had the prerequisite two hours to prep in the Monogram Kitchen before heading to this week’s hot spot, the ROM. There, guest judge Jeremy Charles and guest taster Ken Lister joined Mark McEwan, Mijune Pak, Janet Zuccarini and Eden at the table for an all-around Canadian feast.

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Jeremy Charles ready to taste Canadian History.

Dustin, who grinningly pulled the Gold Rush and had no idea what to do (“Do I look like a history buff?”) impressed the entire country yet again with his Cod Fritter Stuffed with Quail Egg. Between the flecks of gold on his plate and the golden hue of the runny yolk the judges definitely awarded the plate a gold star. Meanwhile Dennis’s comeback and Trevor’s resurgence were also present-day themes of historic proportions when the latter’s Red Fife Fry Bread impressed a raving Mijune and the latter’s Striploin was perfectly executed in puff pastry with a “150” carved into the side. Oh Curtis. And here you thought it was going to be cheesy.

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Dustin’s Cod Fritter Stuffed with Quail Egg, Baked Cod and Sea Buckthorn Vinaigrette

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Trevor’s Roasted Striploin with Mushrooms, Pearl Onions and Porcini Foam in Puff Pastry

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Dennis’s Birch Syrup Bison Carpaccio, Sea Asparagus, Pickled Ramps and Red Fife Fry Bread

In the end it was Dustin’s dish that won again, leading to another megawatt smile from the fan favourite. (Seriously, that guy could power his own kitchen.) And with Connie’s Apple Crisp with Candied Bacon landing in the middle of the pack, that left Jesse’s (Not-So) Braised Short Rib, Curtis’s Roasted Cod and Nicole’s Apple Rhubarb Compote as the worst dishes of the night. And here Nicole thought she was “killing it.” Whoops.


Never say never, Nicole.

As conflicted as the judges were at all of the dishes, it was Curtis’s over-thought plate that stood out as the worst. He obviously had a feeling he would be sent packing, which is maybe why he told his fellow chefs that “feeling good is for stupid people” during the challenge. His confidence just never got there and he kept over-thinking all of his plates.

“If we’re going to go by my feelings, I knew there were certain issues I wish I could have solved,” Curtis said following his exit. “I was certainly disappointed that I didn’t execute every aspect as I exactly wanted to. You almost always mentally prepare yourself to be sent home. Now that I’ve been through Top Chef Canada twice, it’s perhaps not my greatest strength in terms of the environment or the context of how we compete. But that doesn’t mean I didn’t want to win more than anyone else.”

“What I love so much about Curtis is he’s not your typical chef… He never went down the normal route,” Eden revealed to us afterwards. “He gave us something that was always unique and calculated in his own way. Sometimes it really worked out. Sometimes it didn’t, but sometimes it really did.”

“I always call Curtis the mad professor,” Mark told us later. “He really has a process that he goes through mentally when he does a dish. I don’t always get it, but the stories are good. Oftentimes, they work, but I think Curtis would do better if he just had a slightly less complicated theory, in terms of how he lands on the plate. He really tries to have a lot of different formulas going in one game and sometimes it gets to be a bit much. Oftentimes, his textures were just not there.”

Textures or not, it was another rough exit for everyone involved. We’ll miss Curtis, his bromance with Trevor and that wicked slick ponytail. But as they say the show must go on.

Watch Episode 6 Bonus Scene:

 

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