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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.

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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.”

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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

A post shared by Maple Key Tart Co (@maplekeytartco) on

“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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:

 

How to Win at Dessert: Use Versatile Pâte à Choux for All-Stars Treats

From profiteroles – or, as we more commonly know them, cream puffs – to savoury, cheesy gougeres, towers of spun-sugar caged croquembouche and chocolate eclairs – all are built on one simple recipe: pâte à choux. This pastry is airy, light and hollow – which makes it ideal for filling with delicious things. Top-Chef-Canada-Episode-6-Nicole-Gomes-Paris-Brest Nicole Gomes’s Paris-Brest with Apple-Rhubarb Compote and Ginger Pastry Cream celebrating Canada’s 150th Birthday. When it doesn’t work out, as chef Nicole Gomes unfortunately had happened to her in the sixth episode of Top Chef Canada: All-Stars, the pastry was dense, heavy and hard to cut. The difference here between the two comes down to technique. Croquembouche Anna Olson’s impressive croquembouche.  Pâte à choux’s name reflects the dough’s cabbage-like appearance when baked. A fundamental part of the world of French pastry, it forms the backbone of many a dessert, including:

    • Profiteroles or Cream Puffs – small puffs of choux pastry, often filled with pastry cream, ice cream or sweetened whipped cream and dipped in a chocolate glaze.
    • Chouquettes – essentially profiteroles, but topped with pearl sugar before baking.
    • Croquembouche – A tower of profiteroles, held together by caramelized sugar and typically encased in a spun-sugar cage.
    • Eclairs – like profiteroles but oblong in shape.
    • Paris-Brest – named for the famed bicycle race, it is shaped like a wheel.
    • Honore Cake – A dessert with a puff pastry base that is topped with pastry or whipped cream and encircled on top with profiteroles.
    • Gougeres – a savoury profiterole, the choux pastry is augmented with cheese and sometimes herbs.

So, how to ensure you’ll have a Top Chef Canada-worthy pastry? Well, understanding the science behind pâte à choux is a good place to start. Whereas cakes and cookies rely on baking soda and baking powder to give them lift – created by a chemical reaction between the leaveners and other ingredients – the puff in a cream puff comes from steam being released. The water in the dough is heated as they bake and starts to expand, but the shell of the pastry has already started to cook, so that steam creates a ballooning effect. The result is a hollow dessert waiting to be filled. Laura-Calders-French-Food-At-Home-Gougeres A savoury treat: Laura Calder’s Gougeres made with gruyere cheese.

The ingredients are simple: butter, water, flour, eggs and a bit of salt. It’s the technique here that matters. Think of pâte à choux as a four-step process: two parts for making the dough and two parts when it’s baking.

The dough starts with one part butter and two of water – or a water-milk combination – that are brought to a simmer and then combined with flour. It’s key to add the flour all in one go and then keep stirring the mixture without stopping for several minutes to cook out that raw flour flavour and start drying the dough a bit. Good news: this is an excellent arm workout.

If you want to keep working your arms, you can transfer the dough to a bowl and add the eggs while continuing to stir, but feel free to move to a stand mixer or pull out your handheld one for the next step. The addition of eggs is where intuition needs to take precedence. Adding too much egg will lead to a runny dough and that means flattened pastries. Instead, add them one at a time while mixing and resist the last one if the dough is glossy and soft, but holds its shape when scooped.

Bake-with-Anna-Olson-profiteroles-eclairs Baking Queen Anna Olson’s eclairs and profiteroles.

A piping bag can be used to make the desired pastry shapes, but dolloping the dough with a spoon to make profiteroles works just as well. If piping, dip the end of your finger in a bit of water and smooth out any tips on the dough that could overbake.

Now the dough is ready for the oven. The key here is to start at a higher temperature and then reduce it. That initial blast of heat will help them puff as the water evaporates; the lower temperature will help them finish baking without overcooking. For best results, the tip of a sharp knife should be used to pierce the bottom of the pastry as soon it’s out of the oven to let any residual steam escape and keep it from getting soggy. These vents are perfect for then piping in pastry cream. The result should be a light and crisp outer shell with a virtually hollow interior. All choux pastries are best when eaten on the same day they’re made – which, really, is the perfect excuse to finish them all off.

Spring-Pastel-Eclairs Try these eclairs with pretty pastel-coloured glazes.

Pâte à Choux
Cooking Time:
45 minutes
Serves: 20 to 25 profiteroles or about 10 eclairs

Ingredients:
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup skim milk
1/2 cup butter
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 large eggs

Directions:
1. Preheat the oven to 400°F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. In a medium saucepan set over medium-high heat, bring the water, milk, butter and salt to a simmer. Remove the saucepan from the heat and add all the flour at once, stirring vigorously until the dough is no longer sticking to the side of the pot.
3. Transfer the dough to a bowl and, using a stand mixer or handheld beaters, mix in the eggs, one at a time, making sure they are fully incorporated before adding the next one.
4. Scoop or pipe the dough into mounds on the parchment paper-lined baking sheet for profiteroles, smoothing over any points with a wet finger. (For eclairs, pipe oblong shapes.)
5. Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce the oven temperature to 375°F and bake for another 15 minutes or so. The pastries should be puffed and nicely golden.
6. Using the tip of a sharp knife or a toothpick, poke a hole in the side or the base of the pastry to vent any extra steam.
7. Cool completely before filling with ice cream, sweetened whipped cream, pastry cream or even savoury fillings.

Filling Recipes:
Laura Calder’s Pastry Cream
Savoury Cream Cheese Profiteroles

Want more tips? Watch Anna Olson make her version of pâte à choux along with her recipes for Profiteroles, Croquembouche and Gateau St. Honore.

Make Daniel Boulud’s Top Chef Canada Cod Basquaise at Home

Creating a dish from memory is one thing, but it was a whole different game in the fifth episode of Top Chef Canada: All-Stars when competitors were asked to blindly taste the four favourite dishes of famed chef Daniel Boulud and then attempt to recreate them. Added to the pressure? They would be cooking for the master chef himself.

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Daniel Boulud with Mark McEwan in the Monogram Kitchen.

While others tried to parse out the ingredients in a Mussel and Cauliflower Veloutè, Poulet Chausseur and Steak Tartare, Andrea  and Nicole  were presented with Cod Basquaise, a fish dish flavoured with ingredients that region is known for, including tomatoes, Espelette peppers and chorizo.

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Nicole and Andrea blind tasting Boulud’s Cod Basquaise in the Episode 5 Quickfire Challenge.

Andrea was praised for her version which had all the key components, while Nicole neglected to add peppers – to Boulud’s surprise. (Ultimately, Boulud and head judge Mark McEwan, awarded Andrea the Quickfire Challenge win – and earned the coveted advantage going into the elimination round.)

TCC-Episode-5-Andrea-Cod-Basquaise
Andrea’s interpretation of Boulud’s Cod Basquaise 

The Basque Country region overlaps the border between France and Spain, at the western edge of the Pyranees mountain range and along the Atlantic coast. Unsurprisingly, seafood is a chief ingredient in the Basque people’s celebrated cuisine, which shares some commonalities with Spain, including the use of olive oil and tomatoes. Peppers are also frequently seen in dishes. But, while we in North America will likely reach for red peppers, those in Basque use the Espelette, a variety grown in the Basque area.

Espelette-Peppers
Espelette peppers

This trio – tomatoes, peppers and olive oil – are key ingredients in Boulud’s celebrated Cod Basquaise, which takes the fish and cooks it with the vegetables, oil and onions, along with some garlic, naturellement.

While chicken is often on the ingredient list for Basque-style recipes, Boulud uses it and cod in seemingly equal measure. In his Café Boulud Cookbook it’s all about the fish (along with chorizo and clams), while on his website, he has posted his recipe for Poulet Basquaise with Artichokes, Peppers and Chorizo.

Fish is such a treat to make a meal from because it cooks quickly and, when done right, is flaky and light. Boulud’s Cod Basquaise takes about half the time to prepare and cook compared to the chicken version – even quicker if you consider the famed chef recommends seasoning the chicken the night before cooking the recipe.

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Daniel’s Cod Basquaise from Top Chef Canada: All-Stars Episode 5

A fish like cod, known for its mild flavour and versatility, does well when paired with most flavours, including the bold ones associated with Basque cooking. However, fish can seem intimidating to many of us because for lack of experience cooking it, fear of committing the cardinal sin of overcooking.

Cooking fish at a lower temperature – whether roasting or pan-frying – makes it easier to catch it when it’s cooked to perfection and before it’s gone too far. For Boulud’s recipe, the temperature of the pan is turned down to low once the cod has been added to the pan, for example.

While Andrea fairly accurately recreated Boulud’s memory only from taste, those of us wanting to attempt Cod Basquaise at home have a little help – Daniel Boulud  shared his recipe with us! This recipe has been modified slightly for the home cook.

Daniel Boulud’s Cod Basquaise

Total Cooking Time: 15-20 minutes
Servings: 4

Ingredients:
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, split and sliced thin
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 bell peppers, red and green, cut into thin strips
Salt
1 tsp piment d’Espelette
1 tsp smoked paprika
1/4 cup white wine
4 plum tomatoes, peeled, split, seeds removed, cut into thin strips
4 5-oz filets of cod
2 Tbsp chopped parsley

Directions:
1. In a shallow braising pan set over medium heat, warm 2 Tbsp of olive oil and add the onion, garlic and bell pepper.
2. Season with salt, piment d’Espelette and smoked paprika. Cook for 5 minutes, until the onion and peppers have softened, then add the white wine, tomato and cod.
3. Cover, reduce the heat to low and continue cooking 8 to 10 minutes, until the fish is opaque and flakes easily with a fork.
4. Top with the chopped parsley and serve with crusty baguette.

You can also try these delicious cod recipes:
Ling Cod with Clams

Granadian Cod and Orange Salad with Black Olives

Pan Braised Cod with Puttanesca Sauce

Top Chef Canada: All-Stars Episode 5 Recap

When you’re a chef who has spent your entire life perfecting the food you present and your dishes are essentially your soul on a plate, it’s easy to question your own value or worth when you do a competition like Top Chef Canada: All-Stars. How could you not — given the constant critiques and top-notch competitors that constantly force you to up your game. At some point, you may or may not want to curl up into a ball with a bottle of wine or the biggest pint of ice cream you’ve ever seen in your life. Rocky Road might be an appropriate flavour, judging by this week’s episode.

Head judge Mark McEwan seemed to realize this at the beginning of the episode, because with just eight competitors left and heavyweight Trista sent packing, he stepped into the locker room to have a little heart-to-heart with the finalists. “There’s no knives, right?” he joked before sitting down and telling everyone to try and pick themselves up. Easier said than done, Mark. Easier said than done.

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Daniel Boulud, left, with Mark McEwan.

Of course it’s hard to feel too sorry for yourself when you get the chance to cook for a world-renowned chef as a little pick-me-up. And that’s exactly what happened when Daniel Boulud stopped by the Monogram Kitchen to help Mark execute the Quickfire Challenge, when pretty much everyone geeked out over his appearance. The French chef (who just so happens to have more than a dozen restaurants around the world), stopped by to make his favourite dishes for the contestants, who were then paired off and tasked with recreating them. The catch? (Isn’t there always a catch?) They had just 60 seconds to taste Boulud’s dishes… and they were blindfolded. It was a crime, to be honest, watching these guys manhandle the beautifully presented plates and not be able to actually enjoy the elegant food. Man, competition is fierce.


Seeing a dish treated like this just hurts.

For their part, Trevor and Dennis drew Steak Tartare, garnished with some lattice-cut potato chips that we’re still dreaming about. While Dennis’ first instinct was to do an Asian riff on the classic, he got in his own head and opted for a rustic take instead — a move he fully regretted when Boulud revealed he had been hoping for an Asian influence. And so the mini-victory was handed to Trevor and his more refined version instead.

Nicole might be having the most fun this season.

Meanwhile, Dustin triumphed over Curtis with his take on a Mussel and Cauliflower Velouté (Mother sauce alert!), Jesse took down Connie with his riff on a Poulet Chasseur, and Andrea squared off against Nicole in a battle of Cod Basquaise. Speaking of, apparently Boulud makes such a perfectly cooked cod that it actually tastes like sablefish, because that’s the protein both ladies chose for their dishes.


Go ahead, Andrea. You totally deserve that smug feeling after beating Nicole.

In the end, it was Andrea who edged out Nicole when the latter missed the peppers in the dish, but she also wound up winning the overall Quickfire — her second win so far this season. Given the building tension between Andrea and Nicole, which started last week when Nicole won back-to-back Quickfires and then basically couldn’t stop talking about it, it seemed like a pretty personal win for Andrea. But you know, receiving the praise of a world-renowned chef will do that do a gal.

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Andrea’s winning dish based on Daniel Boulud’s Cod Basquaise.

However, there was another twist this week: with the competition narrowing down, this was the first time winning the Quickfire didn’t come with immunity. Instead, Andrea became a team captain for the Elimination Challenge, and her advantage was to pick her opposing captain. This was our first clue that the rest of the night wouldn’t necessarily go so well for our girl crush. But we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves here.

Andrea automatically picked Curtis to head up the other team, explaining to the cameras that she didn’t want to work with him in the upcoming challenge: Retail Wars. That’s right, Restaurant Wars are out this time around, and a new challenge, in which the chefs were asked to prepare on-the-go products, is in. Sorry Dusty, we would have loved to have seen those menus you’ve been dreaming up.

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Regardless, in the end, Andrea selected Dustin, Connie and Dennis to be on her team, Global Goods, while Curtis chose Nicole, Trevor and Jesse on his team, Nosh Urban Eatery. Mark announced that this week’s special guest judge would be non other than Italian retail queen of Eataly, Lidia Bastianich, and with that the chefs were off to McEwan Foods where they had 15 minutes to shop and $150 each in their Interac accounts. We don’t know about you, but it takes us 15 minutes to find parking when we go grocery shopping — grabbing all of your ingredients in that kind of a time frame has got to be stressful.

All the judges were besotted with Lidia Bastianich, even tough-guy-but-he’s-really-a-softie Mark McEwan.

Not as stressful as working on a team that doesn’t gel, mind you, and it certainly looked as though the Nosh folks weren’t exactly having a cohesive night. Between Curtis’s mess of a mise en place and Nicole’s Tasmanian Devil coming out in full force, there was a lot of yelling and near-accidents to be concerned about. Meanwhile, it was The Get Along Gang over at Global Goods, where it looked like Andrea’s background in retail with her Killer Condiments line and marketing experience would all but ensure a win.

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Lidia Bastianich with Eden Grinshpan and Janet Zuccarini judging the chefs’ Retail Wars to-go offerings.

Andrea’s seafood salad looked elegant and creative, while her giant Mozzarella-Stuffed Veal Meatballs had us salivating (how do you pronounce “mozzarella” anyhow? The judges had us second guessing ourselves). Meanwhile Dennis’ Compressed Watermelon Salad was gorgeous, Dustin’s Black Currant Pate as the impulse buy was fancy-schmancy, and Connie’s Garlic Dressing for her Tuna Conserva looked like something we’d slurp up with a spoon. As it turns out, there’s a reason we eat with our eyes first, because while all of those dishes looked killer, they were all among the judge’s least favourite offerings of the night. That’s right, those dishes were the worst and everything we thought we knew is a lie.


That exact moment you find out the other team won…

Further proving that fact was the praise that Nicole’s impulse buy, A.K.A. the heavy-looking Pineapple Carrot Cake with Brown Butter Frosting, received from the judges. While we would probably never impulsively buy that cake ourselves going on looks alone, we totally underestimated the power of brown butter. In a frosting, no less. Judge Janet Zuccarini called it the best carrot cake she’d ever had.

“It’s such a simple and ubiquitous dessert that I almost feel slightly embarrassed at my reaction,” Zuccarini told us later. “I still think about it today. In fact, I’m going to see if I can buy that recipe off her to use in my Jamaican restaurant. It’s such a simple, almost pedestrian dessert, yet I just can’t believe how delicious [it was]. At the end of the day, delicious is delicious. And that was delicious.”

Meanwhile Nicole’s Panang Curry was equally praised, which meant that she wasn’t just the night’s overall winner — she also got to walk away with the $10,000 prize. Add that into her $2,000 winnings from last week and this Tasmanian Devil has a nice little nest egg going on. She should really be buying everyone drinks.

With Nicole on top that could only mean Andrea was on the bottom. Those two are kind of like the kitchen equivalent of Joan Crawford and Bette Davis, only they’re way nicer to each other. (They are Canadian, after all.) Anyhow, it brought us back full cycle to the second episode, when Andrea revealed that even though she had immunity, she wouldn’t be surprised if a bad dish sent her packing. Well, with no immunity to protect her and two dishes that failed to impress, the judges had no choice but to send her home in a shocking turn of events. It really was (meat) balls. Especially since Andrea — who used to work at Zuccarini’s Trattoria Nervosa — is so renowned for her delicious pockets of meat.


We’re just going to leave this here. 

“I still use her recipe for meatballs at my restaurant, she’s almost known for her meatballs,” Zuccarini said later on. “And she lost on making meatballs. There was some kind of complication with timing on that dish, but I could not believe she lost on meatballs.”

Us, either. And for those keeping track, that makes two early front-runners gone faster than we can say “a la cuisine!”

“I’m devastated and shocked… I mean I’ve been doing really well. So to be kicked off on a retail challenge is super brutal; it’s what I built my business on so it sucks,” Andrea said afterwards. “I’m not happy with it because I’ve been on the top so long. To come to the bottom and just be kicked off, it really hurts. It’s a really hard pill to swallow.”


We so feel this.

“Andrea had amazing days, like she was blowing my mind with what she was cooking and then in retail wars she made a soggy seafood salad” Mark told us. “I felt bad the way she left… it was tough. It just wasn’t her day and someone had to go. Those decisions are never clear and they never sit very well. I’ve felt bad about that.”

TCC-Ep5-Losing-Team-at-Judges-table
Andrea’s red team Global Foods at their reckoning in front of the judges.

“A lot of criticisms were pretty hard… Chefs have bad days and today was a bad day for me. I still really stand behind the food I produced today and I’m proud of that,” Andrea, who just opened Butchie’s restaurant in Whitby, Ont. added. “I’ve shown some really amazing dishes, I’ve been on top for 90 per cent of the challenges. So I’m proud of what I’ve done but I would be much prouder if I was in the finale. I’m a fierce competitor and I want to win. Not winning hurts to my core.”

As for us, we knew all bets were off the table heading into this thing, but Andrea leaving on the heels of Trista’s exit was another blow. We’re almost too scared to watch next week and see who goes home, but at the same time we’re just oh-so-hungry for more.

Iron Chefs Reveal Their Secrets to Winning in Kitchen Stadium

When seven chefs enter Kitchen Stadium to earn the chance to cook against three Iron Chefs in the new series, Iron Chef Gauntlet, they will need focus, good time management and solid flavours in their dishes.  So say the chefs the competitors will have to topple in order to earn the Iron Chef title.

Iron-Chef-Gauntlet-Competitors-Group
A new generation of Iron Chef hopefuls enters Kitchen Stadium in the new series. Find out who they are here.

Iron Chef Gauntlet – airing Sundays at 9 E/P – features seven superstar chefs competing first against each other in Kitchen Stadium, until one is left to face off in separate battles against Bobby Flay, Masaharu Morimoto and Michael Symon for a chance to earn the right to be called an Iron Chef.

Iron-Chef-Gauntlet-Flay-Simon-Morimoto-Kitchen-Stadium
Iron Chefs Flay, Morimoto and Symon getting ready to battle in the Gauntlet.

The competition will be fierce; the trio of Iron Chefs have a combined 103 wins in Kitchen Stadium. Through all those battles on both Iron Chef America and, for Morimoto, on the original Japanese show, the three have learned a thing or two about how to come out on top.

Iron-Chef-America-S10-Symon-Battle-Octopus
Michael Symon competing in an octopus battle in Iron Chef America Season 10. 

“The last five minutes goes really quick,” says Michael Symon, who holds the highest rate of wins compared to his fellow Iron Chefs, with 34 first-place finishes out of 42. “Don’t underestimate how quickly it goes, and start getting your food on the plate as quickly as you can.”

Symon understands what it’s like to be on the other side of Kitchen Stadium; on his first appearance on the show, back in 2005, he lost to Morimoto who created a series of stunning dishes featuring asparagus, including his signature ‘stained glass’ sushi.

He advises competitors to rely on their cooking strengths.

“Cook the food that got you here,” he adds. “Not the food that you think someone else wants you to cook.”

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One of Flay’s losses was to challenger Chuck Hughes in a battle using lobster.

Flay, who was been triumphant 43 times out of 60, echoes Symon’s advice about not venturing too far out of the culinary box.

“Do something that is simple,” is his advice. “Something really well-executed is important, [because] these judges know what they’re tasting. So, taste, taste, taste.”

Morimoto may have the longest history with the Iron Chef show, but he keeps his advice succinct. “Focus,” says the chef who has won 26 times in his 44 appearances. “Don’t have too much focus and forget about normal potential.”

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In Iron Chef America season 10, Morimoto battles with the secret ingredient paiche fish.

No matter how well they manage their time is or how focused a chef is on presentation and creativity, ultimately it all comes down to the flavours of the dishes.

“Make sure you have a contrast of textures and then some surprises as they’re eating it,” says Flay.

Symon points out that because it’s a competition, the judges are faced with eating a number of dishes and competitors will be smart to keep that in mind.

“Keep your flavours very simple and clean, but remember that the judges are only going to take probably one or two bites of your dish, so … you can’t cook subtly,” says Symon. “I think you have to have nice, poppy flavours that are going to excite the judges with one bite.”

Host Alton Brown takes you behind-the-scenes of Iron Chef Gauntlet:

 

Top Chef Canada: All-Stars Episode 4 Recap

There have been more than few epic bromances in our time. Brad Pitt and George Clooney. Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. Chuck Hughes and Danny Smiles. But after watching the most recent edition of Top Chef Canada: All-Stars, we’d like to add Curtis Luk and Trevor Bird to that list.

Because this is a competition and all, it’s easy to forget that many of these contestants are actually friends in real life. So it escaped our memories that Curtis and Trevor not only both competed in the second season of Top Chef Canada, but that they also worked together afterwards to open Trevor’s Fable restaurant in Vancouver.

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Season 2, Episode 6: No one looks this happy at judges table unless they had the best dishes.

So when the pair found themselves on the bottom of the competition after last week’s Middle Eastern Feast, they took their “Walk of Shame” back into the Monogram Kitchen in a friendly fashion. So naturally we felt torn as to whether we should hug them or fist bump them; either way watching the chefs band together like that made us really, really want them to do well in this week’s Quickfire Challenge.

Luckily, the duo proved the culinary powers of bromances are actually a real thing, and they did exactly that. Tired of being on the bottom, the guys buckled in and sucked up the night’s Quickfire challenge better than most: create a memorable brunch.

You see, as anyone who knows a chef in their life can attest, chefs hate (or in Trista’s words “f—ing hates”) the brunch shift. It can be repetitive, stressful and involves getting up at a ridiculous hour like 4:30 a.m. in order to serve it. It’s basically the hell of all shifts for chefs, and so when host Eden Grinshpan announced that she and Brunch Queen, guest judge Maneet Chauhan, wanted the contestants to create an ultimate brunch dish utilizing a Braun multiquick hand blender… well let’s just say it looked like a few of them wanted to knock back a few non-celebratory mimosas first.

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Maneet Chauhan advising the chefs of the theme of the Quickfire Challenge.

Trista, who went into the whole thing with a self-professed negative attitude, attempted an updated Croque Monsieur with smoked salmon and béchamel that Chauhan thought tasted gummy, and it landed her at the bottom of the pack. Dennis, meanwhile, fulfilled the creative part of the challenge with his Filipino brunch of European bass and garlic rice, but an overly grilled fish was less than desirable to the judges. As for Jesse’s potato pancakes? Well there was just way too much going on with that plate, which meant he rounded out the bottom three.


Be careful not to get a contact buzz, Trevor.

And that brings us back to our boys of the kitchen, Trevor and Curtis. The former really impressed us by smoking his own salmon on the coolest looking hot-box inspired smoker we’ve ever seen. His resulting Salmon Pancakes were a true highlight, elevated even further by the picked shallots and horseradish crème fraîche. Meanwhile Curtis made the most mouthwatering-sounding Shrimp and Grits, which were topped with a perfectly poached egg crusted in cornmeal. Please. Get. In. Our. Bellies.

Unfortunately for the guys but fortunately for Nicole, it was her riff on Pain Perdu with decadent almond croissants and cheesy duck eggs that made her the ultimate winner for a second week in a row. That meant she not only lucked out with immunity in the Elimination Challenge, but she also nabbed $2,000 from Braun and a De’Longhi Automatic Espresso Machine. Maybe Nicole can use it the next time she’s got to get up early for brunch.

For now she’s pumped up enough, it seems. Heading into the Elimination Challenge, the chefs were asked to create dishes inspired by some of Canada’s great cities. And Nicole was obviously feeling pretty giddy since she had immunity and would automatically make the Top 8 next week. You know what they say about the view from the top though; it can be pretty lonely—especially when you keep reminding everyone else facing potential elimination that you have immunity. So you could forgive Andrea for not having any of Nicole’s friendly banter while they were prepping their dishes, explaining to the cameras that she just wanted Nicole to shush and do her work already so that the rest of them could cook in peace.


You can almost hear giddy Nicole’s cackle…

Maybe Andrea was a little crankier than she let on earlier in the episode, when she said the real Quickfire was having kids? Or maybe she just felt extra stressed out about Lynn Crawford being the guest judge of the night. The last time Andrea cooked for her in season one, she made an Italian Wedding Soup and Crawford said it tasted like a divorce before the wedding. Ouch.


Andrea’s feeling about the Elimination Challenge are a bit different than Nicole’s.

It wasn’t all animosity though; in fact it was pretty cool watching the chefs collaborate on their dishes despite only having 15 minutes to shop at McEwan Foods. With so many different palates from so many different regions, everyone was giving each other tips about their respective cities and flavour profiles… it was such a Canadian thing to do.

Connie, whose mom was diagnosed with stomach cancer and was given eight months to live, has understandably been off her game so far this season. But she too was in the “Walk of Shame Club” and also tired of being on the bottom, so she went into this thing intent on getting her groove back. When she drew St. John’s as her inspiration city, she was determined to prove her worth and create a dish that would blow the socks off of Eden, judges Crawford, Mark McEwan, Mijune Pak and Chris Nuttall-Smith, along with guest taster Victor Barry who was hosting everyone at his swanky Toronto spot, Piano Piano.

Blow their socks off she did, with a beautifully crafted marrow chimney on top of her St. John’s-inspired Hunter’s Pie. That plate could have been straight from a Tim Burton movie and made us just as giddy about the food as Eden. (Side note: Eden’s sheer joy and excitement at sitting down to these dishes is infectious, even if we ourselves get to taste none of it.)

Obviously the concoction landed Connie in the Top 3, alongside Dustin for his Ottawa-inspired smoked duck and maple-glazed apple, and Nicole for her gluttonous Montreal meat pie consisting of bacon, duck and veal (Crawford confidently deemed it the best meat pie she’s ever had, it was that good). At the end of the day the theme seemed to be repeat winners though, and so it was Dustin’s dish—complete with that hot-box smoker contraption that Trevor used earlier in the Quickfire —that landed him the big win for the second week in a row. Maybe Dustin should thank Trevor for the inspiration in his Academy speech.

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Eden on Connie’s dish: “That marrow chimney! Can that happen every day, please?”

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Chris on Nicole’s dish: “An absolute French-Canadian fever dream.”

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Chris on Dustin’s dish: ‘I’ve come to your restaurants as a critic… this is the best thing I’ve ever had of yours.’

As for Trevor and Curtis? Well they found themselves in the middle of the pack with their respective Toronto Prawn Mousse-Stuffed Halibut and Saskatoon Braised Short Ribs. Since Trista’s Vancouver-inspired dish made Mijune want to “cry for her city,” and Jesse’s Winnipeg pierogis were likened to cardboard, those two were easily placed at the bottom of the night. Dennis had a tough go of it as well when his Calgary inspired, tableside-carved Tomahawk Steak went beyond medium rare, giving him that (dis)honour as well.

There was just no saving Trista though. Between the terrible squid ink presentation on her BC Salmon and Dungeness Crab and the Asian components that the judges said lacked any actual Asian flavours, Mark declared, “this dish would close your restaurant. It’s that bad.” That meant Trista’s time was glaringly up in this contest, and all for over thinking it. Well, at least she wasn’t sent home for serving up plastic wrap this time.


Trista should have listened to Professor Curtis.

“She made such a confused, weird, frankly not-really-edible dish and when she was describing to us what she’d done, she just said, ‘I kept going and going and going and I didn’t know when to stop,’” Nuttall-Smith said. “It’s not ever a happy moment when you see a chef kind of fall on their face.”

“Trista has such heart, such soul. Her cooking is often really personal and really smart and at its best it’s really breathtaking stuff. I think the piece that she’s not missing but could use more of in her career is confidence,” Nuttall-Smith told us. “Trista second guesses her cooking, she second guesses her flavours. The thing that would help her the most is to get out to do some exploring and then to come back and confidently cook her food. When she cooked her food, I think she was brilliant. If she can do that, I think she’s going to be unstoppable.”

“Of course it sucks. I said to myself when I came onto All-Stars that I’m not going to get as upset as I did last time and I’m not going to let a technical thing come in the way,” Trista said later on. “I had a bad day. I sh*t the bed on a plate. It didn’t make sense and I have every right to go home.”

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Not as delicious looking as the top 3 dishes: Trista’s Vancouver-inspired Salmon and Dungeness Crab with Squid Ink.

And here we really, really thought she was a frontrunner. It just goes to show you that no matter how great you’ve done in the past, you’re only as good as your last dish on this show. It seems like these judges know it, too.

“Trista came a long way. She understood what it was to win, which was fabulous because she’s always buckling at the knees at Judges Table.” McEwan recalled. “And it was so much fun to see her have those great successes. There’s a young chef that brings her all, every time she comes. She doesn’t always hit it, she can really miss, but when she swings for the fences, once in a while, she hits it and it was fun to watch.”

Enjoy that bottle of wine you took with you, Trista. We’re certainly raising a glass to you.

Remaining chefs take note: ride your highs as they come because you never, ever know when one small misstep will send you packing. And someone will definitely be sent packing next week.

How Iron Chefs Flay, Morimoto and Symon Dominate Kitchen Stadium

In the fight for culinary supremacy, there is no greater arena than Iron Chef’s Kitchen Stadium. Here, chefs have sweated and swore as they sliced and diced their way to victory (or defeat!) by conjuring up a series of dishes all using a mystery ingredient. Each dish is presented to a panel of exacting judges and the chef with the highest total score in taste, presentation and creativity wins.

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Iron Chefs L-R: Masaharu Morimoto, Bobby Flay, and Michael Symon

In its next iteration, Iron Chef Gauntlet, premiering  Sunday, April 23 at 9 E/P,  the original cooking competition show takes a new turn as seven chef superstars face off first against each other in kitchen stadium. The last one standing then challenges three Iron Chefs – Masaharu Morimoto, Bobby Flay, and Michael Symon.  Should they be successful against the acclaimed trio, the challenger earns the title of Iron Chef.  That will be no small feat.

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These three were guest judges on The Next Iron Chef: Redemption’s Final Battle “Heritage.”

Morimoto, Symon and Flay are all accomplished chefs that have earned their way into Kitchen Stadium, building up restaurant empires that dot the United States and beyond.  Their varied backgrounds show there’s no one way to become an Iron Chef.

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Masaharu Morimoto as Iron Chef Japanese in the original Iron Chef series.

A chef trained in the art of sushi, Masaharu Morimoto has combined his instruction and heritage with his years of cooking in the U.S. to create his own fusion approach. His first restaurant opened in 1980 in his home city of Hiroshima. After running it for five years, he left Japan for the U.S. where he was ultimately tapped to be the head chef of famed restaurant Nobu.

Morimoto joined the original Japanese version of Iron Chef in 1998, while still leading the Nobu kitchen.  After the series came to an end, Morimoto eventually left Nobu and opened his own restaurant in New York City  – the first of many, including ones in Napa Valley, Mumbai, New Delhi and Tokyo, for which his restaurant earned a coveted Michelin Star in 2008. When Iron Chef America was created and filming was moved to New York, Morimoto returned to kitchen stadium to battle once again. He also served as a guest judge on The Next Iron Chef.

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Masaharu Morimoto working with the secret ingredient salmon  in season 10 of Iron Chef America.

He would ultimately take 42 wins out of 68 head-to-head battles in both the original series and Iron Chef America, showcasing his out-of-the-box thinking and fusion approach with his dishes. While he won more than he lost, his battle against Homaro Cantu was an upset when he was bested by the chef known for his technological and molecular gastronomy approach to cooking the humble beet.
But perhaps the most noteworthy battle pitted him against now-colleague Flay in the first of four episodes across different iterations of the show. That first time, Morimoto was horrified at Flay’s behavior after he jumped on the counter at the end of the cooking time. He stated that Flay was “not a chef” because of how he behaved. (Flay lost that battle, but won the next against Morimoto in a rematch in Japan. They’d each win one more round against the other.)

Watch Worst Mishaps on Iron Chef America, including one from Bobby Flay.

 

Flay is known for his brashness – after all, one of his most popular shows, Beat Bobby Flay, has him challenging chefs in culinary competitions. However, with several Food Network shows under his belt, not to mention numerous restaurants across the U.S. and in the Bahamas, Flay has earned the Iron Chef title.

Bobby Flay came into prominence as the Executive Chef at Mesa Grill and not long after opening the spot, he  became a partner in the southwestern-focused restaurant. Other Mesa Grills, along with Bolo Bar and Restaurant, would follow, including one in Las Vegas which earned a Michelin Star in 2008.

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Bobby Flay and Michael Symon team up in a Thanksgiving themed episode of Iron Chef America.

While he continued to build his restaurant empire, Flay joined Iron Chef America in its first season in 2005, racking up 43 wins out of 61 battles. Among them, a battle that saw his competition, Hiroyuki Sakai (who had the most wins under his belt in Japan) make ice cream from trout – and serve it with a trout skin crisp. (Being a judge on Iron Chef America would never be dull.)

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I
ron Chefs Symon and Flay team up against Alex Guarnaschelli and Geoffrey Zakarian in Iron Chef America’s Thanksgiving battle.

Compared to those two chefs, Michael Symon is a relative neophyte, only joining Iron Chef America in Season 5.  He opened his first restaurant, Lola, in Cleveland in 1997, followed by Lolita and his B-Spot burger joints in the same city.  Roast, in Detroit, began dishing up meat-centric meals starting in 2008. His latest restaurant, Mabel’s BBQ opened last year. Symon was named best new chef by Food & Wine Magazine in 1998 and Bon Appetit named his burger joint as one of the country’s ten best. His food has a Mediterranean focus – something he comes by honestly, having grown up in a family of Greeks and Sicilians.

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Michael Symon and Masaharu Moritmoto meet again in Kitchen Stadium in an Iron Chef America Holiday Battle.

His first foray into Kitchen Stadium was as a competitor on Iron Chef America, trying to best Morimoto in a battle featuring asparagus. The Japanese chef showcased a stunning dish of “stained glass” sushi, wowing the judges with all his plates and taking the win. Symon may have lost, but clearly did not lose his fire for competition.
Three years later, he competed on The Next Iron Chef, coming out on top and earning a spot on Iron Chef America alongside Morimoto and Flay. Although the newest of the three to join the show, Symon has the highest rating of the trio with an impressive 34 wins out of 42 battles.

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Michael Symon (third from left) with the cast of The Next Iron Chef.

Go behind-the-scenes of Iron Chef Gauntlet:
Watch Iron Chef Gauntlet Set Tour
Watch Tools for Iron Chef Gauntlet

Five All-Star Knife Skills Every Cook Should Know

The secret to a smooth restaurant service is perfect mise en place.
With each ingredient prepped properly and literally “in its place,” chefs have everything they need on hand to prepare a dish as soon as it’s ordered. For the Quickfire Challenge in this week’s episode of Top Chef Canada: All-Stars, chefs’ prep skills were put to the test through a series of tasks that had them filleting fish, finely dicing shallots and shucking oysters — all to the exacting standards of head judge Chef Mark McEwan.

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Those shallots aren’t going to brunoise themselves, chefs!

“Every great dish demands accurate preparation,” he says before the challenge is launched. While those cooking at home aren’t under a clock or McEwan’s watchful eye, there’s no doubt making a meal is faster and easier when all the ingredients are ready to go. Knowing how to properly slice and dice underpins all that prep; uniform cuts guarantee even cooking and also makes it all look like you’re a professional.

Here are five knife skills essential to perfect mise en place:

1. Julienne
Julienne simply means to cut food (usually vegetables) into long, thin strips, some 1-2 mm square and 4-5 cm long. This cut is also sometimes known as alumette, which refers to their matchstick shape. Squaring off the edges of round vegetables like carrots helps keep the julienne precise, and you can pop those trimmings into stock or soups. Once squared, simply slice the food into slabs and then again into strips.

Julienned-Carrot
A perfect carrot julienne.

 

2. Batonnet
The big brother to julienne, batonnet uses the same technique of cutting food into strips, but to a more robust size. Food cut into batonnet (literally batons) is about twice the size of a julienne, with the sticks some 6 mm square and 6 cm long. Just like for julienne, it’s best to start by squaring off the vegetable, then slicing into slabs and then into batons.

3. Dice
Dicing vegetables is a snap once you’ve learned the basics of batonnet. There are a few different sizes of dicing, which are essentially cubes of food. Depending on the recipe, it may call for a large dice (20 mm cubed), medium dice (13 mm) or small (6mm cubed), which is the size of dice you will get when starting with the batonnet cut above. The smallest type of diced vegetable, the brunoise, gets a category of its own (see below).

To go from a batonnet to a dice, simply take the item that has been cut into batons, turn it 90 degrees and slice cross-wise. This will make the right-sized cubes. (For larger dices, simply start with larger batonnet-type cuts.)

Diced-Vegetables
Different sizes of diced vegetables.

4. Brunoise
The smallest of the dice cuts, brunoise is a mere 1-2 mm square. Just like dicing starts with batonnet, a brunoise begins with food cut into julienne. Then, it’s a simple matter of turning it 90 degrees and slicing it cross-wise to make the small squares.

Brunoise is particularly great for things like shallots, where tiny cubes of the allium go a long way. Pop them on top of salads, to flavour a vinaigrette or use as a base for pan sauces, like Andrea Nicholson did in the Quickfire after finely dicing an impressive 273 grams of them in three minutes.

Watch How to Brunoise an Onion:

5. Chiffonade
This knife skill is generally used for herbs or leafy vegetables (think spinach or chard) that cuts them into ribbon-like strips. A larger chiffonade of leafy greens is great for cooking, while using the technique on herbs like basil or sage makes a beautiful garnish.

Start by stacking the leaves one on top of the other and then rolling them tightly, like a cigar. Slice through the stack cross-wise (across the cigar shape). The narrower the cut, the more fine your ribbon strips will be.

Watch How to Chiffonade Basil:

Going for the Gauntlet: Iron Chef Returns with All-New Series

It’s been four years since chefs stepped into Iron Chef’s Kitchen Stadium to determine ‘whose cuisine will reign supreme,’ but the epic wait is finally over. Chefs will battle it out for culinary supremacy in the premiere of Iron Chef Gauntlet on Sunday, April 23 at 9 E/P. 

In Iron Chef America, a competitor and an Iron Chef go head-to-head, cooking a series of dishes using the dramatically unveiled Secret Ingredient. Each dish is judged by a panel of esteemed judges on all things taste, presentation and creativity. Whoever has the highest combined total score is the winner of the challenge.Iron-Chef-Gauntlet-Bobby-Flay-Michael-Symon-Masaharu-Morimoto
Iron Chefs L-R: Masaharu Morimoto, Bobby Flay, Michael Symon

But it’s a new era in Kitchen Stadium and the battle to win the Iron Chef title is tougher than ever.  Over the course of five episodes, seven culinary superstars will first face off against each other in Chairman’s Challenges and Secret Ingredient Showdowns until they are whittled down to just one. In the finale of this six-part series, the last chef standing enters the gauntlet where he or she must face off against three Iron Chefs — Bobby Flay, Michael Symon and Masaharu Morimoto — and cook with three Secret Ingredients. No good work goes unpunished in Kitchen Stadium! If the chef succeeds against the Iron Chef trinity in taste, presentation and creativity, he or she will earn the title of Iron Chef…and will have our unwavering awe and admiration until the end of time.

Alton-Brown-On-Set-Iron-Chef-Gauntlet
We miss the Iron Chef drama! Alton Brown unveils the secret ingredient.

Alton Brown returns as the host of Iron Chef, but this time he has a new task on his plate: he will be judging the Chairman’s Challenge; the first test that decides which chef will go onto the next round. Alton told Foodnetwork.com that in this elite culinary competition, he will not stand for sloppy technique.
“One of the first things that falls off when the clock is running is knife work, is consistent knife cuts and I won’t put up with that.” You’ve been warned, chefs!

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Click here for Iron Chef Gauntlet competitor full bios.

Meet the chefs who have the stomach to take on this grueling challenge:

  • Stephanie Izard (Chicago):  Top Chef season 4 winner and James Beard award winning chef and restaurateur.
  • Nyesha Arrington (Los Angeles): Named Chef of the Year by Eater L.A. in 2016. Combines French technique with Southern California cuisine.
  • Michael Gulotta (New Orleans): Named 2016 Best New Chef by Food & Wine magazine.  Executes Southeast Asian cuisine using the Louisiana pantry.
  • Shota Nakajima (Seattle): Won the Seattle round of the World Washoku Challenge in 2014. Creates Japanese comfort food with Pacific Northwest ingredients.
  • Jason Dady (San Antonio): 2012 James Beard award semifinalist for Outstanding Restaurateur. Runs a Texas-sized empire of Italian, Spanish, BBQ and seafood restaurants.
  • Jonathan Sawyer (Cleveland): 2015 James Beard award winner Best Chef: Great Lakes. Worked for Michael Symon before opening his own French, Italian and Asian restaurants.
  • Sarah Grueneberg (Chicago): Chef/Partner of Monteverde Restaurant, named a Best Restaurant by Food & Wine, Bon Appetit and GQ. Travelled the world and has global approach to cuisine.

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Sarah Grueneberg setting Kitchen Stadium ablaze.

And there’s more Iron Chef!  The one-hour special,  Legend of Iron Chef, airing Sunday, April 23 at 8 E/P right before the Iron Chef Gauntlet premiere, relives the most memorable Iron Chef moments and gives you the inside scoop of this culinary phenomenon.  Iron Chef Eats premieres Monday, April 24 at 9 E/P with back-to-back episodes each week, and will recount where the stars from the world of Iron Chef eat when they’re not in the kitchen.

Chuck and Danny Get Schooled On Acadian Caviar

This week, Chuck’s got a family connection to the chefs’ destination: his grandfather hailed from New Brunswick, and his best food memories stem from out east. “When I was growing up, we’d always have lobster and oyster parties,” says Chuck. “It has a lot to do with my love of food.”

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Chuck and Danny’s million dollar view of the Bay of Fundy.

Danny’s also excited about their campgrounds at Fundy National Park (“How did we score this campsite?” he says, surveying the incredible view) as well as meeting the local artisans behind the products they cook with on a daily basis. “A lot of what we use in the restaurants back home is from New Brunswick, so it’s fun to come here and connect with the guys that are bringing us the ingredients that we love,” says Chuck.

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Caviar expert Cornel Ceapa talks to Danny and Chuck.

One of those producers, world renowned caviar expert from New Brunswick, Cornel Ceapa, founder and owner of Acadian Sturgeon and Caviar Inc., joins Chuck and Danny for breakfast — and he’s brought along a tasting of three caviars, an excellent start to the day. “He’s the king of caviar,” says Chuck. “He’s the doctor of caviar,” Danny corrects him, since Ceapa has a PhD in sturgeon studies.

Caviar can come from a variety of sources, but sturgeon eggs are particularly prized. Ceapa settled in New Brunswick — where sturgeon is native to the Saint John River — to farm it in captivity. “When you think of sturgeon, you think of Iran or Russia, not New Brunswick,” marvels Chuck.

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That’s not a surfboard — it’s a sturgeon skin! Ceapa shows Chuck and Danny how large a sturgeon can get.

Similar to cheese, caviar changes from day one to the end of its life cycle as it matures into different flavours. Ceapa prefers an aged caviar, so he’s brought along two young wild caviars (one week old and two months old) and a third one from aquaculture for the lucky chefs to compare.

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Ceapa walks Chuck and Danny through the finer points of enjoying caviar, with tips that you can use at home:

  • Caviar is delicate, so keep it on ice. Spoon a bit onto the back of your hand and tilt it to look at the shine, colour and shape.
  • Put it in your mouth and don’t swallow it right away — feel the eggs in your mouth and swirl it around a little bit to let the taste develop.
  • The taste will grow on you; the salt will be the first taste you register, as that is the first sensory element on the tip of your tongue. Then, the butteriness will build, as a base flavour, as the other tastes develop.

Acadian-Green-Caviar-Chuck-and-Danny

The two month caviar has more of a complex, ocean vibe, while the younger version is grassier, says Danny. Chuck prefers the feel of the eggs in the Acadian Green caviar from aquaculture, that has a vibrant dark green hue and slightly larger eggs with a nice shine, so they decide to use all three types in a classic egg-on-egg pairing: a caviar omelette.

Watch how Danny makes his omelette:

 

“Everybody has their own technique,” says Chuck, who is vigorous in his egg mixing. Chuck keeps the eggs constantly moving in an almost scramble, and then, instead of flipping the omelette out, uses a plate held over the pan to invert the omelette in one move — a method that home chefs may find less stressful.

Savouring their omelettes, topped with all three types of caviar, the chefs and Ceapa concede that these are “best omelettes I’ve ever had.” With the salty notes of the caviar playing counterpoint to the creamy eggs, the group finishes every bite of their caviar creations.

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Here’s the recipe for the Caviar Omelette.

“This has ruined omelettes for me for the rest of my life,” says Danny.

Caviar is a luxurious treat for breakfast (you’re so fancy Chuck and Danny!) and can make a dinner très special. Kick off dinner with an hors d’oeuvre like a devilled egg with caviar or a blini made from buckwheat flour (another Acadian ingredient) and topped with caviar and crème fraîche. For the main event, serve this impressive plate of sturgeon two-ways: seared sturgeon with nori and sturgeon caviar.

Missed the episode? Catch it online at Chuck and Danny’s Road Trip.

Chuck And Danny Discover a Salty Paradise on Salt Spring Island

 All aboard the ferry to Salt Spring Island, as chefs Chuck Hughes and Danny Smiles head out to one of Canada’s premier growing destinations, 20 minutes off the coast of British Columbia.

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Brooke Winters, center, with Chefs Danny Smiles and Chuck Hughes

After meeting up with Brooke Winters, chef and owner of BNurtured Farm to Fork Food Trailer, to get the lay of the land, Chuck and Danny fall in love with the Salt Spring Island Saturday Market — in order to sell here, you have to have grown it, made it or raised it yourself — and immediately add it to their list of must-visit destinations in Canada.

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Chuck and Danny enjoying the vibes at the Salt Spring Island Farmers Market.

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Gorgeous vegetables from the Salt Spring Island Farmers Market

The island’s specialty is sea salt, which comes from evaporated sea water. Fleur de sel is made from the prized salt flakes that form on the top of the water during the evaporation process.

The chefs learn some salty language from local expert Philippe Marill, owner of Salt Spring Sea Salt. “As a chef, as a cook, you’re nothing without salt. It boosts the flavours in all your ingredients,” says Chuck. Fellow francophone, Philippe, who hails from Montpellier in southern France, teaches them his method for salting food: holding your hand high, sprinkle the salt, rubbing it between three fingers to crumble the flakes. “Don’t touch it on the plate,” he warns. “Accept the chaos — that’s what you want to create, a little roller coaster of taste and also, emotion.”

Chuck is impressed. “Philippe is deep,” he says.

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Chuck’s salt guru: Philippe Marril, owner of Salt Spring Sea Salt

The salt will be a big theme for the dinner — with five different flavours, including  jalapeno-lime and blackberry, it’ll be a saltapalooza, promises Chuck.

The menu is ambitious, with Philippe’s salt in every dish. To take the edge off of people’s appetites, guests roast salt sprinkled spot prawns over a campfire, while the chefs stay hard at work, packing a salt crust around ling cod (thanks to Chuck’s fishing prowess), and working on the pièce de résistance: lamb three ways. Chuck and Danny are more than up to the task as they prepare rack of lamb with garlic sea salt, lamb loin chops and thinly sliced barbecued lamb for lettuce wraps.

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Chuck and Danny’s grilled lamb chops with fresh herbs and lemon.

Danny shows how to make his smokey and creamy baba ghanoush.

 

A key component to their DIY lettuce bundles is a unique baba ghanoush, made Chuck and Danny style by placing the  eggplant directly onto the hot coals to pick up the smokey flavour and aroma. The chefs are using a few types of local eggplant, including a Turkish variety, from EcoReality Co-op — an organic permaculture farm in Salt Spring Island’s Fulford Valley — to lend a riot of colours, tastes and textures to the dish. Eggplants are widely varied in terms of bitterness, firmness, thickness of skin and number of seeds, and roasting them on a barbecue is a forgiving cooking method that allows home cooks to try an assortment of shapes and sizes. After roasting, the eggplants are covered with plastic wrap, which allows the steam to soften the flesh, making the eggplant skin easier to separate.

In the RV, Danny blends the eggplant with roasted garlic, tahini, cumin and Salt Spring’s smoked mesquite salt. Home cooks can steal Danny’s secret ingredient — a touch of plain yogurt — for a creamy consistency. “It’s almost like a cheat to add richness to it,” he says. A final drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of more salt to garnish, and the baba ghanoush is ready to pair with the lamb, lettuce and pickled garlic scapes for a sweet and savoury parcel.

Long after the salt celebrations come to a close, Chuck is still consumed with their new discoveries on Salt Spring Island. “I think you were even talking in your sleep about that salt,” teases Danny. “You’re obsessed with salt on this trip — it’s changed your life.”

Find out more about how sea salt is made.

Where to Find Chuck and Danny’s Favourite Canadian Ingredients

When it comes to shopping for ingredients, chefs are often looking for the same things as their customers: freshness, value (hey, restaurants have food costs, too), and local and sustainable products. Chefs Chuck Hughes and Danny Smiles spill their sourcing secrets, from their best spot for vegetables to some must-have Canadian libations.

  1. Organic Ocean Seafood

BC-Spot-Prawns
When Chuck and Danny aren’t able to catch spot prawns off the coast of Salt Spring Island, B.C., they get them from Organic Ocean Seafood. 

Sustainable seafood has been a hot topic among chefs for years now, and Chuck and Danny take this issue very seriously. At their Montreal hot spot Le Bremner, the chefs use West Coast seafood sourced from independent fishermen at Vancouver’s Organic Ocean Seafood. “They’re dope guys,” says Chuck. “They’re amazing and they have great product. We get mostly halibut, but also tuna and British Columbia spot prawns when they’re in season.”

Try using Canadian seafood in this Pan-seared B.C. Halibut and Spot Prawns with Morel, English Pea and Chorizo Ragoût.

2. Birri at Jean Talon Market

Jean Talon Marche
Jean Talon Market photo credit: Creative Commons/@mouses_motor

Jean Talon Market has been a Montreal institution since 1933, and local shoppers and chefs can be found prowling its aisles looking for the best local produce, baked goods, meats and other amazing eats. Chuck and Danny’s favourite place to stop is the Birri brothers’ family-run produce stall. “We have a lot of great markets in Montreal, but my favourite is Jean Talon, and Birri has some of the best vegetables there,” says Chuck. “I love to get cherry tomatoes, and tomatoes in general — we don’t use them all the time, but in the summer, when they’re good, we get them from Birri. They have a selection of fresh herbs, and their zucchini is phenomenal. A lot of our stuff in the restaurants come from them.”

Try this sweet and savoury recipe for Colourful Cherry Tomatoes, glazed with apple cider vinegar and maple syrup.

3.  Norman Hardie Winery 

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Norman Hardie, centre, with Chuck and Danny

A former sommelier at the Four Seasons and a well-known champion of local product, winemaker Norman Hardie is no stranger to Canadian chefs from coast to coast. Chuck and Danny made a point to stop at his winery during their tour through Prince Edward County to snag some freshly made pizza from the wood-fired oven, and sip some of Norm’s chardonnay. “We’ve got to be proud of what he’s doing right now,” says Danny.

Watch Chuck and Danny scarf down some of Norm’s pizza, made with locally-produced water buffalo mozzarella, on the first episode of Chuck and Danny’s Road Trip.

4.  Walter Craft Caesar

the perfect caesar

Although the origin of the Caesar can be a hotly-contested issue, it’s safe to say that Canadians have claimed this cocktail for their own, spiking it with everything from chicken wings to grilled cheese. Chuck likes the all-natural Caesar mix from Walter Craft Caesar, a locally produced, small-batch, ready-made mix that’s even on the Ocean Wise partner list for approved suppliers. “Their Caesar mix is good stuff,” says Chuck.

Try this recipe for a classic version of the Caesar, perfect your mixing technique with this infographic, or take a cue from Chuck and top your libation with a snow crab claw for an ultra-luxe finish.

Discover Chuck and Danny’s Must-Visit Canadian Destinations.

Figs

Fun Ways to Eat Fresh Figs with Chuck and Danny

It’s a day of land and sea ahead as Chuck and Danny wheel into Vancouver Island. Briny, spiny sea urchins and 100-foot bull kelp seaweed pulled fresh from the ocean are saline superstars of tonight’s feast, but the chefs are thinking sweet thoughts for their morning repast — and for that, they head off to find fabulous, fresh figs.

Figs-on-a-Tree

Figs ripe for the plucking on ALM Organic Farm, Vancouver Island.

Within walking distance of their campsite at Goldstream Provincial Park, Chuck and Danny discover Mary Alice Johnson’s ALM Organic Farm , which operates year-round and has 15 acres of fruits, vegetables and flowers. Mary Alice is eager to show Chuck — who has never eaten a fig just off the tree — how to pick ripe figs off her precious plants. “When they’ve got a shine on, they’re ready. You don’t want to tear them at the top, so just give them a twist,” she advises. Sampling these “fruits of the gods”, the chefs are surprised by the texture and sweetness of the organic figs. “Usually the figs that you get are wet on the inside, but these are drier, with distinct pulp and are so tasty,” says Danny. Although quite perishable and easily bruised, this versatile B.C.-grown fruit is simple to use in a multitude of ways: fresh, dried, roasted, candied, preserved, paired with prosciutto or added to baked goods.

Chuck Hughes and Danny Smiles

Not far from the tree, Chuck and Danny get ready to whisk up a batch of camping-style cardamom fig muffins to give to Mary Alice, pressing their trusty barbecue into service. They gather eggs from the happy hens at Jesse and Evelyn Pereira’s local farm Terra Nossa, and are using a few unexpected ingredients — cardamom, orange, mint and almond flour — for a unique twist on a breakfast staple. “The figs will add that floral, honey flavour,” says Danny, who adds chopped figs to the batter and places halved figs on top. All that fruit keeps everything moist, with a finished texture in between a cake and a muffin. Home cooks looking to make this recipe without a muffin tin can borrow a technique from the chefs by pouring the batter into ramekins, then placing them into the centre of a preheated barbecue with a closed top, which works as a makeshift oven. Served with creme fraîche and drizzled with dark buckwheat honey, these beautiful baked goods will be the star of your table, whether at home or to start out an outdoor adventure.

Cardamom Fig Muffins

Danny Smiles whipped up these fig muffins spiced with cardamom.

“This is the part of camping that I love,” says Chuck. “You may not have everything, but what you do have, you use in a unique way, so maybe you’ll discover something new.”

For more fun with figs, check out Chuck Hughes’ Sticky Fig Pudding With Candied Fresh Figs, Christine Cushing’s Fig and Armagnac Preserves, or Laura Calder’s Pistachio-Stuffed Figs.

Missed the episode? Catch it online at Chuck and Danny’s Road Trip.

Watch the recipe video below to learn how to make Cardamom Fig Muffins.

Chuck and Danny’s Guide to Cooking with Sumac

After a long day on the road in Hastings and Prince Edward Country, chefs Chuck Hughes and Danny Smiles set out to create a succulent feast from the bounty of local Ontario ingredients they’ve gathered.

After foraging for wild juniper,  harvesting local beets and squash and securing tender buffalo mozzarella, plus a bone-on tomahawk ribeye roast,  the pressure’s on to create a campfire feast for the local farmers and purveyors.

With the help of a custom-made barbecue grill on loan from Enright Cattle Company, they’ve got the perfect vehicle to cook the 43lb ribeye roast. Sounds impressive, but the menu doesn’t end there. They’re also roasting Golden Nugget Cups, candy-sweet squash from Earth Haven Farms, halved and stuffed with Ontario buffalo mozzarella (a gift from winemaker Norman Hardie.) The squash holds another local secret: sumac foraged from chef and local resident Justin Cournoyer’s back woods.

This citrus-like star ingredient is widely used in Middle Eastern cuisine, which is why the chefs were surprised to find it growing in the wild in Ontario.

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Chuck and Danny’s sumac-spiced golden nugget squash cups. 

Neither Danny or Chuck are strangers to the flowering plant: Danny uses it in his homemade za’atar mix with sesame seeds and thyme, and it’s part of Chuck’s arsenal at his restaurants as a citrus substitute. “It’s like a Canadian lemon,” says Chuck.

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Justin teaches them how to find the best plant by looking for a vibrant red hue in the berries, and to store it by drying it whole in the sun and making a powder, which can be used to braise beef or put on raw bread.

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Chuck and Danny use their collected sumac to sprinkle on the golden nugget squash, tempering its sweetness with a slight pucker. The cups rest just above the coals, collecting the succulent drippings from a 43 lb. bone-in tomahawk style side of beef rubbed and spritzed with juniper, and juniper branches are tossed onto the fire, creating fragrant smoke. The food’s so good, even a slight drizzle can’t dampen the mood, and the feast goes on under the stars for hours.

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Chuck and Danny begin cooking the bone on tomahawk ribeye roast hours before their guests arrive.

Home cooks can take a walk on the wild side with sumac in their own kitchens. In the warmer months, ground sumac gives flavoured butter an extra kick, lending a slight tartness to balance out summer-sweet corn on the cob. Paired with juniper, sumac steeped in tea and poured over wild Canadian blueberries from British Columbia makes for a spread-worthy preserve to liven up breakfast at home or the cottage. And for lazy nights any time of year, a potent sumac infused potion, sweetened with maple syrup, uses whole sumac clusters — combine it with vodka for a Canadiana martini, a true sweet and sour sipper.

Missed the episode? Catch it online at Chuck & Danny’s Road Trip.
Watch video below to learn more about sumac.

Meet the Celebs Competing in the Chopped Canada Kitchen

They can sing, they can dance, they can act — but can they work a kitchen as well as they can work the camera? Four homegrown stars show off their hidden culinary talents on a special episode of Chopped Canada Celebrities. Let’s meet the four celebrities vying for the title of Chopped Canada Champion.

Roz

Roz Weston: Most of us know him as an entertainment reporter for ET Canada, and the co-host of Kiss 92.5’s The Roz and Mocha Show. Roz has covered the biggest entertainment stories on the planet; he’s even crawled inside the Great Pyramid in Egypt, and stood right smack in the middle of Moscow’s Red Square.

How do you define your cooking style?
I’m not an adventurous cook at all. I don’t like dessert, I don’t like sweets. So I’m nervous about the dessert round because I’ve never made a dessert in my life.

What’s one dish you cook well?
I make really good soups! I could live my life off soups. I don’t enjoy when people in my house are sick, but I kind of do, because I get the opportunity to make soups.

What ingredient would you hate to see in a basket?
If I got a basket of just fruit, I wouldn’t know what to cook with it. I don’t know how to make a pie or a reduction. Any sort of fruit would give me a hard time.

Who’s your biggest competition?
I don’t want to see anybody go, but I would say Steven and I are on the same level. What I find intimidating is he’ll start referencing names of foods and dishes I’ve never even heard of, let alone make.

What charity are you playing for?
I’m playing for SKETCH. It’s an organization that helps underprivileged  kids by introducing them to the arts. When kids don’t have a lot, the first thing that’s usually cut in schools or at home is any sort of artistic outlet. Sketch helps kids develop an eye for art and lets them shine in a place they wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to.

Keisha Chante

Keshia Chanté: A singer, actress and philanthropist, Keshia’s known internationally as a television personality having co-hosted BET’s 106 & Park for two years. Keshia has released three albums and received numerous awards including a JUNO Award for R&B/Soul Recording of the Year.

How do you define your cooking style?
My attention span is short, so when I’m in the kitchen, my mind wanders off. I try and do as many meals at once. When I cook, I go for classic comfort foods.

What’s one dish you cook well?
A lot of people seem to love the beef stew I make. I get good feedback from that.

What ingredient would you hate to see in a basket?
I really don’t want to see a fish head. I don’t even know where to start. I’m finicky with seeing eyes of fish.

Who’s your biggest competition?
Roz makes me nervous because he cooks a lot. And I know Mary knows how to work a deep fryer, which is intimidating!

What charity are you playing for?
I’m playing for Free the Children, part of the WE Charity. They’ve made a huge impact on kids’ lives. They put kids in school and give them resources that we [take for granted].

Steven Page

Steven Page: A well-known singer/songwriter, Steven is one of the founding members of The Barenaked Ladies with whom he toured the world and sold millions of albums. On his own, Steven continues his artistic evolution with an array of solo projects.

How do you define your cooking style?
I love to go to the farmers’ markets and buy fresh ingredients to cook with. I like to cook comfort foods but I lighten them up with fresh, healthy ingredients.

What’s one dish you cook well?
I make really good homemade vegan pâté. I don’t eat vegan all the time, but I like the things that are more labour intensive. It’s fun when you try and challenge yourself to create something flavourful that’s not full of fat.

What ingredient would you hate to see in a basket?
Durian. It’s an Asian fruit that smells like a dumpster. But they wouldn’t do that to us, would they?!

Who’s your biggest competition?
Roz is my biggest competition. He’s someone who really knows his way around the kitchen. But that doesn’t always mean it’s a recipe for winning.

What charity are you playing for?
I’m playing for the The Steven Lewis Foundation’s Grandmothers to Grandmothers Campaign. They work with community level organizations in Africa to give grandmothers all the help they need to raise their children.

Mary

Mary Walsh: Creator and star of This Hour Has 22 Minutes, CBC’s wildly popular take on current affairs, Mary is also the recipient of the Order of Canada and the Governor General’s Lifetime Achievement Award in the Performing Arts.

What’s one dish you cook well?
I make a great roast. At home I make a roast and three-veg, salt meat and cabbage. It’s quite massive!

What ingredient would you hate to see in a basket?
I don’t want to see chickpeas. They’re not my favourite.

Who’s your biggest competition?
My biggest competition is Keisha. But I’m an old hippie. I want everyone to win and everyone’s charity to get money.

What charity are you playing for?
I’m playing for Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health in Ottawa. It provides all levels of healthcare for Aboriginal people. They have outreach workers looking to see who needs help round the clock. I admire them greatly.

Turn in to this exciting episode of Chopped Canada Celebrities, airing Saturday, December 17th at 9 E/P.

Get in the Holiday Spirit with Must-See Specials

‘Tis the season to sit cozy up by the fire, sip on some eggnog and enjoy your favourite holiday shows! This winter, Food Network Canada sees the return of festive favourites and the launch of new specials that’ll whet your appetite for the season.

Put on your favourite ugly Christmas sweater and get merry with the return of Cake: Wars: Christmas, premiering Monday, November 14th at 9 E/P. Host Jonathan Bennett, and judges Charles Phoenix and Sherry Yard are back to find the most over-the-top holiday cake display.

A new set of pastry chefs are throwing on their aprons and getting their hands in the dough on a brand new season of Holiday Baking Championship beginning Sunday, November 6th at 9 E/P. Hosted by Bobby Deen, this baking competition is the sweetest way to celebrate this holiday season.

Get ready for the most adorable four-way cook-off ever! Cameron Mathison hosts the new series Clash of the Grandmas, premiering Wednesday, November 16th at 10 E/P. Each week, four grandmothers will battle in a series of holiday-themed challenges. But these ladies aren’t your average grannies; Fiercely competitive with undeniable cooking chops, these ladies use old-school tricks to impress the judges in the kitchen!

Celebrate all things sweet and delicious with a brand new season of Sugar Showdown . Hosted by Josh Elkin,  four holiday episodes kick-off Wednesday, December 7th at 9 E/P. 

For the first time in Chopped Canada history, some of Canada’s most humble grandmothers, bravest firefighters, most-loved celebrities and revered judges battle it out in a special series. The 4-week stunt begins Saturday, November 26th at 9 E/P with judges Susur Lee, Michael Smith, Mark McEwan and Anne Yarymowich competing for charity. The kitchen has never been hotter!

We’ve been waiting patiently all year for this! A brand new season of Top Chef premieres Thursday, December 1st at 10 E/P.  Season 14 finds new and returning chefs in a high-stakes competition set in Charleston, South Carolina. Cooks vs. Cons judge Graham Elliot joins the judges table this season, alongside veterans Padma Lakshmi, Tom Colicchio and Gail Simmons.

For our full show lineup, visit our schedule page.