Tag Archives: Top Chef Canada

Where to Eat in Toronto: Top Chef Canada’s Erin Smith’s Top 5 Restaurants

Cooking for a large crew can be daunting, but for Erin Smith that’s just any other day that ends in the letter “y.” The mother-of-three is currently on maternity leave, so she figured what better time to step up in the culinary world and show what she’s got than now, on Top Chef Canada.

Related: Read Erin Smith’s full bio here.

The Toronto chef is no stranger to her city’s food scene, having landed a gig at Mark McEwan’s Bymark restaurant straight out of culinary school at George Brown College. So she’s certainly aware of all the great options when it comes to dining out.

“Toronto has always had such a vibrant culinary scene,” she says. “I truly love that Toronto has something to offer to everyone. It really is a melting pot of cultural and culinary diversity.”

So where does Erin like to eat out when she gets a rare night on the town? Here she breaks down her Top 5 spots.


It’s all about the tasting menus at this dining experience, which features either a five- or seven-course seating. All of the dishes are inspired by seasonal ingredients with a strong focus on seafood, vegetables, and wild mushrooms, and come truffle season there are special menus to match. The place is also known for its robust cheese menu, which features a curated selection of Canadian and European offerings.

As for Erin? She vouches for “the entire tasting menu.”


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4th Course – Wild Nunavut Arctic Char with Baby Leeks and Wild Grape Sauce Vierge.

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See more: Top Chef Canada Restaurant Guide

416 Snack Bar

This utensils-free eatery features an ever-changing menu from former Top Chef Canada All-Stars contestant Dustin Gallagher, and since its opening in 2011 has become known for its reasonably priced but tasty snacks. Erin is hard pressed to pick just one of the “great late-night bites” available, but with offerings like Korean Fried Chicken, Fully Loaded Dips in Chips and Morels on Toast with Cognac Cream, we’d have a hard time picking one menu item to single out too.


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morels on toast, cognac cream

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Erin may be a little biased in selecting her former stomping grounds as one of her favourite restos, but let’s be honest—who in Toronto hasn’t heard of McEwan’s famous truffled Bymark Burger, which she names as her must-have menu item whenever she stops by. At this point, just the thought of that original craft burger with its meat patty and various adornments is enough to make us salivate.

Maha’s Egyptian Brunch

Toronto has no shortage of brunch places, but for something truly unique and delicious Erin names this Egyptian eatery as her favourite. The no-reservation establishment closes its kitchen down by 4:30 p.m. on weekends so that it can focus solely on the brunch crowd, feeding them everything from Eggs and Foole and Date Grilled Cheese, to the vegan Betengan (a roasted eggplant dish).


Erin names “everything” when it comes to the short and sweet menu featured at Chef Jay Carter’s critically acclaimed Queen West restaurant, and we can’t say we blame her. Simple but bold flavours are the key to the resto’s ongoing success. Here, guests enjoy top nosh and a quaint dining room complete with an exposed brick wall, which has inadvertently become an Instagram backdrop lately. Even the bread, which is made from a starter the chef got going years ago, is worth raving about.


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I finally crossed Dandylion off my list of restaurants to try ! The restaurant is currently no.12 on @canadasbest100 restaurant list for 2018 and the menu is small with 9 dishes in total when I went in Aug. What’s on the menu is basically what you will see on the plate lol. The overall meal was really good, albeit the prices . The price for the appetizers were roughly the same as the mains (approx. $24-$30), though portions were pretty much the same . Also, I have heard of mixed reviews regarding the service here so take that into consideration when you go. The service for me that night wasn’t the best but not the worst either lol . Amberjack, Cauliflower, Shrimp Sauce ($30) – I usually have amberjack raw in sushi form so this was my first time seeing it on the menu as a cooked item . The preparation is similar to tuna and I actually prefer to have it this way, rather than the regular sushi/sashimi style lol Preserved Berry Tart, Pastry Cream ($13) – so so good — . . . . . . #HangryFoodies #torontolife #blogto #curiocitytoronto #dishedto #to_finest #tastetoronto #dailyfoodfeed #goodeats #hypefeast #bestfoodworld #buzzfeedfood #torontofood #tofoodies #starvingfoodseeker #fbcigers #lovetoronto #FeastON #culturetripfood #torontoblogger #toptorontorestaurants #topfoodnews #queenstreetwest #Canada100sBest #theartofplating #gastroart #myfujifilm

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Watch Top Chef Canada Mondays at 10 PM E/P on Food Network Canada. 


Where to Eat in the GTA: Top Chef Canada’s Wallace Wong’s Top 5 Restaurants

Unlike the other competitors in this season of Top Chef Canada, Wallace Wong (a.k.a. the Six Pack Chef), didn’t have a traditional culinary upbringing. He holds a culinary and business administration diploma, and today he run san athletic nutrition company that helps people realize their body’s full potential while fuelling them through healthy but delicious plates.

Of course just because Wallace likes to eat healthy on the regular doesn’t mean he can’t indulge every now and then. The chef loves the cultural diversity of the Greater Toronto Area food scene and counts many places and dishes as his favourites. Here he breaks down his Top 5, and what he most recommends to order at each.

Jeon Ju Hyang

The popular Korean restaurant is nestled into a Scarborough plaza and features an array of noodle, rice and barbecue options. Whenever Wallace eats there he loves to order the Gamjatang, otherwise known as the pork bone soup.

“It’s comfort food at its finest,” he says. “It comes with nine panchan (side dishes), rice, and large portions of stewed, savoury, and spicy pork bones.”

Keung’s Delight

Nestled into a Markham plaza is this Asian eatery with a super affordable menu and plenty of tasty, authentic options. The resto’s philosophy includes shared plates and full tummies, which Wallace seems to agree with.

“My favourite dish is their mustard green and white pepper pork bone soup,” he says. “It’s a large pot almost served at your table with tons of pork bones, mustard greens, corn, carrots, and fried tofu. The broth is out of this world umami.”

See more: Top Chef Canada Restaurant Guide


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Photo by @hk.to.food Pepper pork bone with mustard greens in hot pot at Keung’s Delight

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Cafe Hollywood

This Hong Kong style restaurant first opened its doors in 1994 in Mississauga, but now it’s made a permanent home for itself in Markham. The pub-like atmosphere is just as popular as their chicken wings, which Wallace will dive into any time he’s there.

“Their daily chicken wing special [includes] over a pound of fried chicken wings (drummette, wing and tip attached which is a major score!), Costco fries (yes, Costco fries!) and then cowboy style gravy and choice of sauce for the wings,” he says. “I get the sauce on the side because I hate saucy wings.”

Adamson Barbecue

“I am a huge fan of barbecue and when Adam Skelly and Alison Hunt opened this place up it was love at first bite,” Wallace raves of this meaty Toronto joint. “It’s a true, wood-fuelled barbecue and everything is done in house. I also don’t use utensils here because it just tastes way better.”

When Wallace stops by he invokes his inner “fat kid” and goes for a full, customizable platter to get the most of the “sticky, meaty, smoky” flavours of brisket, spare ribs, pulled pork and poultry. Sounds like a dish worth getting the meat sweats for.

Fishman Lobster Clubhouse

Come hungry if you plan on visiting this seafood restaurant, which is famous for its enormous seafood towers. While Wallace admits the Toronto eatery isn’t as great as it was when it first opened, it still speaks to his seafood-loving heart.

“It is still one of the styles of food I love the most and places I like to go eat,” he says. “I grew up eating seafood so for me this is the spot. From eel, tilapia, striped bass, lobster, crab, Alaskan king crab, shrimp, squid… I’ll eat it all. I do hate the fact that they use Costco French fries as the base of their seafood towers versus when they strictly used fried garlic, shallots, onion and white fish though.”


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Lobster Tower anyone!? ???? . . You have to make sure you check out Fishman Lobster Clubhouse if you love seafood. This is a really unique restaurant where the walls are lined with tanks filled with crab and lobster. They offer a variety of set menus you can try based on the number of people in your party or you can just order a la carte. The one thing you have to order is the Lobster Tower! The lobster is deep fried with garlic and it comes on a bed of fries. The lobster was juicy and full of flavour and you kept wanting to grab more. This was one of my favourite things we ordered along with the King Crab Tower! This is a great place to come with a large group because you can try more items! I really enjoyed this place and will definitely check it out again!!!

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Watch Top Chef Canada Mondays at 10 PM E/P on Food Network Canada. 

Where to Eat in Vancouver: Top Chef Canada’s Dennis Peckham’s Top 5 Restaurants

Taking a raw ingredient and transforming it into something “beautiful and delicious” for someone that he loves is the whole reason Dennis Peckham pursued culinary arts in the first place. And when it comes to what inspires him in the kitchen, he’s equally ready to follow his heart and forego “stuffy” rules in favour of flavour and passion.

Related: Read Dennis Peckham’s full bio here.

The same could be said for the way he chooses his top restaurants. When eating out and about in the bustling Vancouver food scene, here are Dennis’s Top 5 picks for where to get good grub.


At Chef David Hawksworth’s Vancouver hot spot, modern Canadian cuisine is served with a lively personality—think crisp salads, seasonal veggies, house-made pizza and pasta, and fresh crudo and charcuterie to share. The large menu boasts small and large plates alike, along with an impressive raw bar that showcases some of the best seafood the city has to offer.


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Swimming through the week. // Grilled arctic char, lemon braised potato, chive beurre blanc, and smoked roe. #NightingaleRest

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In the heart of historic Gastown lays this ambient eatery, which once served as a 19thcentury jail and as a buttress to Vancouver’s main butchery and meat-packing district—hence the resto’s name. These days chef and owner Lee Cooper offers a more refined (but never pretentious) dining experience through hearty staples and original mains. We totally get why Dennis counts this place among his favourites.


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•Dinner Feature• Braised venison with turnips, grilled radicchio + chestnut purée

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See more: Top Chef Canada Restaurant Guide

Bao Bei

It’s no secret that Asian cuisine is a hit in Vancouver, but this Chinatown staple is a definite must-try, according to Dennis. The menu comes from a philosophy that small plates should be shared among friends and family, and is infused with Taiwanese and Shanghai influences. Round that out with a robust drink menu and this place has all the makings of a classic night out.

Cotto Enoteca

This North Burnaby pizzeria isn’t just critically acclaimed; it’s customer approved. Settle in for some updated Italian classics like Tagliatelle Carbonara or Veal Milanese, which showcase simple ingredients done right. Or, go old-school with a gourmet pie… an authentic, VPN certified Neapolitan pizza pie, that is. Oh, and did we mention that you should come hungry?

Taps & Tacos

Taps and tacos—it’s a simple concept but this resto down the street from where Dennis lives delivers big, he says. “It’s just solid food and great service.”

Inside the sun-soaked dining room is a rustic vibe as “locally focused, globally inspired” tortillas stuffed with edibles like carnitas, jackfruit, Korean pork or yellowfin tuna make their way to the table. Of course, what is a tortilla without something cool to wash it down? This place features an equally impressive drinks menu, including signature cocktails and sudsy, local brews.

Watch Top Chef Canada Mondays at 10 PM E/P on Food Network Canada. 

Where to Eat in Nova Scotia: Top Chef Canada’s Renee Lavallee’s Top 5 Restaurants

As the sole Nova Scotia chef on this season of the culinary series, Renee Lavallee is here to represent what she calls the tight-knit East Coast culinary scene.

The chef and owner of The Canteen & Little C in downtown Dartmouth says that what she loves most about that scene is the fact that everyone supports one another, whether it’s eating out at each other’s restaurants or collaborating on a diner.

So where does the chef like to frequent when she isn’t busy in her own establishment? Here she shares her Top 5 picks.

See more: Top Chef Canada Restaurant Guide

The Beach Pea

As the name suggests, this Lunenburg restaurant is quite seasonal and closes down for the winter. However once spring is in bloom guests can cozy in for a Mediterranean-inspired meal or some summer cocktails while drinking in the view from a spot above the harbour.

The menu itself is a fresh mix of sea- and land-offerings, with pasta and an array of shared plates rounding it out. Come for lunch, dinner, or the hand-crafted cocktails, but stay for the airy ambiance and friendly service.


“Eat, drink, nourish always” is the motto of this Halifax resto, which doesn’t take reservations and features a fresh menu full of seafood like the Cold Water Shrimp Chowder or the Seared Scallops with Duck Fat Fried Beluga Lentils.

Other land items, like Grilled Lamb Chops with Israeil Couscous or the vegetarian Parisienne Gnocchi—with sweet potato cream, blue cheese, and toasted nuts, round out the insightful menu.


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Fried Cornish hen w/ crunchy veg slaw & Gochujang mayo

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Qiu Brothers Dumplings

As the name suggests, this dumpling house is owned by two brothers from China who wanted to bring traditional and authentic dumpling-making to Halifax diners. The result is a selection of steamed and fried dumplings stuffed to please a variety of palates.

We’ll take one of each, please.

I Love Pho

Traditional Vietnamese and Chinese flavours intersect at this pho house, which offers a variety of soups, hot dishes, and appetizers in a fully licensed eat-in, or take-out setting.

So what does Renee go for whenever her need for pho hits?

“My favorite dish has to be the Bun Bo Hue. It’s a bowl of hot, spicy goodness that always fills me up and leaves me wanting more,” she says.


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The perfect rainy day dish. #bunbohue #mondayluncheswithrenee

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Bite House

If it’s an experience you seek, the 12-seat Bite House in Baddeck is certainly one to boast about. The restaurant is only open from May to December, during which time it showcases a nine-course tasting menu inspired by ingredients that are from independent farmers, foraging, or grown in the restaurant’s gardens.

Reservations for the entire year are already sold out, but there is a waitlist you can sign up for. No wonder Renee counts this place as one of her favourites.

Watch Top Chef Canada Mondays at 10 PM E/P on Food Network Canada. 

Where to Eat in Niagara Falls: Top Chef Canada’s Tania Ganassini’s Top 5 Restaurants

Tania Ganassini may be a vegetarian chef, but that doesn’t mean she can’t work with meat proteins like the best of them. She did, after all, previously work at restaurants like Canoe in Toronto and at Arco Antico in Rome. These days though, the chef runs her own shop with Staff Meal Niagara.

“Cooking is my entry point to spreading the message of conscious and compassionate consumption, because our food choices impact the welfare of the environment, ourselves, and all other inhabitants of this planet,” she says.

Living in wine country comes with many perks, including an emerging culinary scene and many vegetarian options. Here Tania picks her Top 5 ultimate destinations when she’s in need of a hearty veggies-first snack.

MA Chinese

Enjoy the comfort of mom’s home cooking through a technical chef’s eyes. That’s the philosophy behind this traditional-meets-modern Chinese spot. The menu is comprised of a wide-range of ingredients, flavours and techniques, but Tania is particularly fond of the dumplings with mushrooms and snow pea shoots.

“Their dim sum is so spot-on every single time,” she says. “I eat there once a week, easily.”


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“They are the real deal, with certified VPN pizza,” Tania says of this authentic, handcrafted pizza joint in Niagara-On-The-Lake. Each pie is constructed using imported non-GMO Napoli flour, hand-crushed San Marzano tomatoes, and local, fresh mozzarella.

The restaurant does a menu of bianche pizzas as well, but all ‘zas are finished with a selection of gourmet toppings that are further glorified through the custom, imported Napoli oven, which burns hard wood, weighs 5,000 pounds, and cooks a pie at 750 degrees F in less than two minutes.

“The California Dreamin’ is salty and dreamy and perfect,” raves Tania. “I often add arugula to it, because I’m obsessed with leaves like the hippy that I am.”

See more: Top Chef Canada Restaurant Guide

Masaki Sushi

There are plenty of sushi joints out there, so how does a chef weed out the good from the bad? It all comes down to the details. This Niagara-On-The-Lake spot certainly has that rolled up, from its serene setting and the beautiful plating to the dishes themselves.

“They ferment their own miso and soy sauce in house,” says Tania. “I love the delicacy of the miso soup, which is usually an afterthought at many sushi restaurants in Ontario.”


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Brushfire Smoke at Oast House Brewery

The menu at this barbecue joint is a mix of southern flair and Asian flavours, which culminates in some truly tasty bites. The menu stems from the brain of former Toronto chef John Vetere, who when he first saw the space accompanying Oast House Brewers, knew he had to cook there.

Brushfire Smoke is certainly known for its meaty options, but the spot also happens to have one of Tania’s favourite vegetarian sandwiches: the Triple Decker Smoked Collard Green Reuben.

“It might be my favourite sandwich of all time,” she says. “It’s on local sourdough, is vegetarian, and is enjoyed by even the most devout meat-lovers because of its smoky umami-ness.”

Yellow Pear Kitchen

Reservations are highly recommended at this brunch spot, although hungry customers can also follow the joint’s food truck or order its catering as well. Their menus are constantly changing to keep up with the seasons and locally available produce, which makes them a hit with locals and tourists alike.

“I always opt for their vegetarian options, they’re consistently really delicious and perfectly seasoned,” says Tania.

Watch Top Chef Canada Mondays at 10 PM E/P on Food Network Canada. 

Where to Eat in Vancouver: Top Chef Canada’s Phillip Scarfone’s Top 5 Restaurants

As the head chef at popular Vancouver hot spot Nightingale, Phil Scarfone is accustomed to the fine-dining experience. But while he loves the creativity and “pursuit of knowledge” in the kitchen, he’s also a guy who knows what he likes—and that includes pasta, pasta, and more pasta.

When it comes to eating out in the city, Phil cites the amazing diversity of the food, and counts everything from fried chicken and sushi to classic Italian sandwiches and ramen as some of his favourites. Here are Top 5 restaurant recommendations when hitting the town.

Marutama Ramen

Is there anything better than a big bowl of comforting ramen? At this high quality noodle shop, which originated in Japan, it’s all about authentic flavours. Homemade noodles soak up all of the goodness that the equally delicious broth has to offer, making this joint a must-try for noodle and soup lovers alike.

“Their chicken ramen is ultra-rich and stacked full of umami,” Phil raves. “The noodles are off the charts.”


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Thank you ????@judy.thefoodie ????We love your beautiful photo????

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See more: Top Chef Canada Restaurant Guide

Phnom Penh

On the city’s east side sits this family run establishment, which hocks buzzworthy Cambodian and Vietnamese fare. The award-winning dishes have developed quite the following since the restaurant’s opening in 1982, back when it was just a little noodle shop down the street. Phil certainly counts himself among those followers.

“The chicken wings are ridiculously delicious,” he says. “Try the butter beef as well!”

La Grotta del Formaggio

High-quality products line the shelves of this upscale deli in the heart of Little Italy, where locals congregate and hungry citizens stop in for all kinds of nibbles. Phil notes that the eatery, which has been around since the late 70s, uses the same supplier as Nightingale and slices all their meat to order.

He recommends the Full Focaccia, “with extra meat, all the veggies, and no red onion.”


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Thank you @teamchomp! #sandwichinthecity #lagrottadelformaggio #stacked #vancouver #nationalsandwichday #panini

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The Downlow Chicken Shack

When it comes to hot chicken sandwiches, Phil says the medium spiced “Sando” at this popular chicken shack (which features never-frozen, hormone- and antibiotic-free poultry) is probably the best he’s ever had.

“I’ve heard their ‘Side of Milk’ is no joke,” he says. “[This place has] proper chicken and genuine hospitality from my man Doug Stephen.”


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The Chicken Sando with some of our Signature Pulled Ribs, only available on Thursday’s!! A necessity when hungry!

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Temaki Sushi

Vancouver boasts a slew of sushi restaurants, but when it comes to picking just one, Phil is all about Temaki Sushi. “Hilary is the sushi chef there and he’s a genuine bad-ass behind the counter,” he says. “The rice, the fish, and the seasoning are always spot on.”

Not a fan of raw fish? This spot also features a slew of elevated Japanese staples, like tempura, udon, and barbecued proteins.

Watch Top Chef Canada Mondays at 10 PM E/P on Food Network Canada. 

Where to Eat in Tofino: Top Chef Canada’s Paul Moran’s Top 5 Restaurants

Cooking is clearly in Paul Moran’s blood—that’s probably why he spent so much time scrubbing pots at his first job as a dishwasher at a small West Kelowna eatery when he was young. Since then he’s graduated to Red Seal status, has travelled the world in search of new techniques and flavours, and won myriad culinary competitions along the way. Now he’s hoping to include the title of Top Chef Canada among those achievements.

Paul currently resides as the executive chef at Tofino Resort + Marina, where he still tries to forage as many ingredients as he can and celebrates the tight-knit community of the Vancouver Island district’s culinary scene. 01

The Pointe Restaurant at the Wickaninnish Inn

Executive chef Carmen Ingham serves guests intricate plates of locally sourced seafood, game and produce as they overlook the water at this elegant eatery. Along with using farm-fresh and organic ingredients the featured recipes boast handcrafted techniques and creative alternatives to your standard fare.

See more: Top Chef Canada Restaurant Guide

Wolf in The Fog

Honour the ingredients and let the food speak for itself. That’s chef Nicholas Nutting’s motto at this upscale, lodge-inspired restaurant where gorgeous views and seasonal fare abound. It’s not out of the ordinary to find locally foraged mushrooms or salmon from a town fisherman on this diverse menu, and the eating experience is one to phone home about as a result.


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New to the dinner menu… Albacore tuna, pork jowl, seaweed, bok choy, sesame mayo #wolfinthefog #wolffood #tofino #wolfpack

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Shed Tofino

Local farms and waters help inspire the fast-casual fare at this hot spot, where all eggs and poultry are free range and beef, pork and chicken come from sustainable sources. The menu features cheeky items like “Brittany’s Spears” (deep fried dill pickles) and international offerings like Soto Ayam (Indonesian style chicken soup), but it’s the soft serve ice cream that gets Paul every time. He counts the Soft Serve Pink Unicorn Daiquiri among his favourites.


This popular “sophisticated bohemian” eatery started as a food truck in 2003 and grew from there. Today Chef Lisa Ahier’s grassroots cooking is complimented with biodynamic wines, craft brews and local producers. So what does Paul dive into when he has the chance to frequent the place? “[The] key lime pie is the deadliest,” he raves.

Lil’ Ronnie’s BBQ

Head to one of this barbecue joint’s two locations—the seasonal one downtown or the year-round beach resort location—for some authentically smoked brisket, ribs, turkey and sausage. These guys offer meat by the pound or hand-held sandwiches stuffed to the brim, making this place a must-stop for any and all carnivores.


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Our smoked Hollandaise will blow your mind and sooth your soul. Pictured here being spooned over the Brisket Benny!

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Watch Top Chef Canada Mondays at 10 PM E/P on Food Network Canada. 

Where to Eat in Quebec City: Top Chef Canada’s Sebastien Laframboise’s Top 5 Restaurants

This is the first season of Top Chef Canada to feature a contestant from Quebec City, and Sebastien Laframboise is ready to represent. He loves the feeling of creating something delicious with quality ingredients, and he’s excited when a restaurant’s menu reflects the same.

According to Sebastien the culinary scene in Quebec City is welcoming, open-minded, and mindful of the local products, which are considerations he undoubtedly puts into his own, curated selection of Top 5 spots in the city.

Arvi Restaurant

There’s nothing pretentious about this high-concept restaurant, where the philosophy is breaking down the wall between chef and diner. The open kitchen allows guests to view the chefs as they concoct their plates before they bring them out, which makes visiting this place an actual experience.

“[Chef propiétaire] Julien Masia is a former colleague of mine, he has a very delicate touch about cooking,” Sebastien says. “I love the concept of the cooks serving the food as well.”

Restaurant Initiale

Sebastian is so high on this fine-dining experience that he calls it “by far, the most amazing gastronomic, beautiful, precise experience you can get in Quebec city.”

That’s certainly noteworthy praise, but given chef Yvan Lebrun’s Grand Chef Relais & Châteaux certification and AAA/CAA Five Diamond rating, we’d say it’s worth the hype.


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This foie gras cut like butter. Never had it so perfect.

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Sebastien praises this small, 20-seat Italian joint as being run by “a super talented chef (chef Guillaume St-Pierre) and his acolyte, a mad scientist pastry chef (Paul Croteau) that makes the most amazing pasta in the city.”

Indeed, the rotating menu of items and an evolving wine list by sommelier Pascal Bussières indicate intricate, handcrafted attention, a feat that is only topped by “pro service” that’s “amazingly friendly but very professional.”

Bistro B

There’s something about this resto and its evolving menu that “feels like home” every time Sebastien steps through the door there. He loves eating at the kitchen counter and chatting with the chefs, noting that “the food’s great with a very nice selection of wines.”

With menu items like Beef Cheek Tagliatelle, Summer Flounder, and Argentina Shrimp Fritto, our tastebuds agree.


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#patesfraiches #bistrodecartier #pur #bistrob #lapineffiloché #noisettes

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Soupe & Cie

If you’re looking for a warm bowl of comfort, Sebastian highly recommends this spot for soup any and every day.

“It’s my favourite all-time spot in Quebec,” he says. “They do soup, don’t ask for a sandwich. The Indian soup there his mind-blowing, I recommend the Bœuf Saignant as a starter too, but only if you like cilantro.”


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Bien terminer le week-end.

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Watch Top Chef Canada Mondays at 10 PM E/P on Food Network Canada. 




Where to Eat in Toronto: Top Chef Canada’s Hayden Johnston’s Top 5 Restaurants

Like many of us, eating is pretty much one of Hayden’s favourite activities. So the Toronto resident likes to joke that becoming a chef was really just a glamorous way for him to eat for a living. (That sounds pretty good to us!)

When he’s in the kitchen, Hayden loves utilizing all of the best ingredients a season has to offer, from fall’s bountiful squash to spring’s fresh asparagus. Whatever is available at the market is pretty much what inspires him on any given day.

Outside of the kitchen, Hayden loves digging into all of the culinary options the city has to offer. Here are his Top 5 picks on where to eat when in The Six.

Enoteca Sociale

The Roman menu at this hot spot is designed to bring people together through bright flavours and simple food. With layered ingredients and a carefully curated wine list, chef Kyle Rindinella is all about reminding guests to live in the moment—a moment involving delicious plates of food, of course. So what does Hayden recommend?

“Try a double order of the Cacio e Pepe with a glass of Chianti,” he says. “Chef Kyle is a really good guy and ask to sit in Gary’s section; he’s the best!”


Chef and co-owner Guy Rawlings shines a spotlight on Canadian ingredients and innovative cooking techniques with his Queen West spot, and the critics (and customers) have certainly responded. Hayden counts it as one of his “neighbourhood favourites” at this point.

“Guy Rawlings is creating some pretty unique dishes using only Canadian ingredients,” he says. “Try the bone broth with grilled lettuce.”

Pizzeria Libretto

When it comes to the slice of all slices, Hayden is down with this Toronto pizza chain. With five locations across the city featuring a wide assortment of pies—including gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free, vegetarian, and vegan—these pizza makers are hoping to convert guests into raving fans, one slice at a time.

Hayden certainly counts himself among them. “House Made Sausage Pizza for the win,” he raves about the popular topping. “Libretto’s prix fixe lunch is the best value in town.”

The Good Son Restaurant

Hayden is a fan of this resto-bar and its mission of embracing the local Queen Street neighbourhood. While the establishment’s focus on local and seasonal ingredients makes it a hot spot to be sure, Hayden reveals the handcrafted drinks are a large reason to make reservations.

“It has one of the most underrated cocktail/drink programs in the city,” he says. “Sit at the bar and ask Connor (the bartender) to make something special for you!”


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Take a seat at our bar and enjoy one of our Handcrafted Cocktails at #TheGoodSonTO tonight.

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Richmond Station

Obviously, Hayden couldn’t leave out his own eatery when talking about all of the best culinary options the city has to offer. So he included Richmond Station (co-owned by former Top Chef Canada winner Carl Heinrich) as one of his must-try places—“I’m not biased at all!”

Specifically, he’s all about the Station Burger, which comes with a beet chutney, aged cheddar and a side of rosemary fries.

Watch Top Chef Canada Mondays at 10 PM E/P on Food Network Canada. 

Where to Eat in Saskatoon: Top Chef Canada’s Benet Hunt’s Top 5 Restaurants

Benet Hunt is a man of many flavours and world experiences, but full, meaty dishes with an elevated flair are certainly his forte. The chef doesn’t hide his love for meat, and even cites beef as the dish he’s most likely to make for loved ones.

Living in Saskatoon, Benet has his share of protein-hocking restaurants to choose from. Indeed, he says the food scene there is “a real melting pot,” with “so many great diverse restaurants for every occasion.” So where does the guy, who is currently the executive chef at season one winner Dale McKay’s Ayden Kitchen and Bar, break bread when he isn’t eating as his own place? Here are his Top 5 picks.

Sticks and Stones

The food at this Korean/Japanese resto includes a variety of elevated comfort-classics, from ramen and dumplings, to maki and kimchi items. Meanwhile it also boasts a well-stocked bar for plenty of accompanying cocktails. Benet declares that “everything [on the menu] is knockout,” but the steam buns are his go-to. The eatery offers a variety of them, including pork belly, bulgogi, prawn and mushroom.

Of course Benet may be a bit biased—Sticks and Stones hails from the same culinary team behind Ayden and Little Grouse.


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Little Grouse

Another one of the restos from McKay’s team, this establishment is all about casual Italian fare and shared plates. The simple menu features an array of homemade pastas and classic meat and seafood options, along with a six- or nine-course tasting menu.

Naturally, Benet is all about the Aged Beef Meatballs, which come with Pomodoro, basil, grilled ciabatta and pecorino.


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The things we’d do for these meatballs…

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This upscale spot is as popular for casual nights out as it is for private dinners and celebrations. The menu (from Chef Marco Canora) is a market-driven affair that is just as likely to embrace veggies as it is whole animals, with items like warm Italian butterbeans, Pan-Fried Skate Wing and Marinated Winter Carrots gracing the menu.

As for Benet, he’s always a fan of the liver and onions.

See more: Top Chef Canada Restaurant Guide

The Night Oven Bakery

In terms of bakeries, Benet claims this place has the “best bread in town,” but he’s also a big fan of the cannoli, which he calls “something else.”

Indeed, the bakers here treat breadmaking like the true craft that it is. They use organic, seasonal ingredients sourced from local producers before handcrafting the loaves and baking them in a brick oven. Simple, wholesome, and delicious.


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Thirteen Pies Pizza & Bar

Everyone has a favourite pizza joint, and Benet’s is this place, which hocks Brooklyn style ‘zas with a variety of fresh and seasonal toppings. There are 13 signature pizzas on the menu here (hence the name), along with a fair number of cocktails, wines and brews. Benet’s go-to pie is No. 9, “Pies Have Eyes.” It marries pepperoni, provolone, mozzarella and tomato sauce into one delicious, pepperoni-packed slice.

Watch Top Chef Canada Mondays at 10 PM E/P on Food Network Canada. 

Where to Eat In Vancouver: Top Chef Canada’s Max Straczek’s Top 5 Restaurants

Max Straczek is no stranger to the Top Chef Canada competition—he has worked under All-Star competitor Trevor Bird for half a decade, after all. So this chef knows his way around a kitchen—and a restaurant.

Max says he lives for the adrenaline rush you get from a good service and he is continually influenced by the Asian food scene in Vancouver: “I love the food scene here,” he says. “Anything from sushi, to dim sum, to ramen.”

So what does this chef chow down on when he has some spare time to frequent other restaurants? Well, anything involving ramen, but also these Top 5 spots:

The Downlow Chicken Shack

Who doesn’t love a well-done fried chicken? Max certainly wouldn’t say no to one. He counts this fresh chicken shack (which features never-frozen, hormone- and antibiotic-free poultry) among his favourites. So what does Max lean towards on the jam-packed menu of items like handcrafted sandwiches or indulgent chicken and waffles? Anything goes!

“Pretty much all of the menu is delicious and is my favourite,” he admits.


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Breakfast of Champions!

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See more: Top Chef Canada Restaurant Guide

Suika Snackbar

Don’t let the name deceive you—there are more than simple snacks on this loaded menu, which features abundant subsections like “Cheese Lovers” and “Pressed Sushi.” We’re salivating over the Truffle Chawan-Mushi—a savoury egg pudding with prosciutto, camembert, sundried tomato and black truffle, but Max reveals the cold ramen noodle salad is his go-to dish.

“It’s just the perfect balance between spicy and refreshing,” he says. “It’s perfect.”

Cacao Restaurant

There’s room for at least one other cuisine on Max’s restaurant bucket list, and that comes in the form of this Latin-American fushion hot spot. Chef Jefferson Alvarez’s unique plates (think Smoked Elk Tartare or Beef Tongue Taco) have earned him ink in publications across North America, and in Max’s heart.

“I don’t know if they still have it on the menu, but this black rice flour, deep-fried sweet bread dish was absolutely amazing,” he raves.

Their There Café

Aromatic coffees and fresh, rotating pastries like the Chocolate Malt Cronut or Mushroom Gruyere Croissant are the lifeline of this new, playful café, which also boasts a small menu of breakfast and lunch sandwiches. Having only opened last year, it’s already become a must-visit for Max, who counts the Smoked Meat Sandwich—a fresh offering crammed with sliced smoked meat, fried egg, pickled cabbage and cheese—as one of his favourites.

G-Men Ramen

If you’re going to go for a big, comforting bowl of ramen, you want a ramen done right. Enter this Japanese noodle soup shop that locals have been loyally lapping up for years. The dinner menu features six different bowls to please a variety of palates, but it’s the Shoyu Ramen (a pork bone broth) that Max congregates towards unabashedly.

“I just really like ramen!” he reiterates.

Watch Top Chef Canada Mondays at 10 PM E/P on Food Network Canada. 


Where to Eat in Montreal: Top Chef Canada’s Takeshi Horinoue’s Top 5 Restaurants

Chef Takeshi Horinoue now calls Montreal his home, but the Cordon Bleu graduate has a world of flavours under that chef’s jacket of his. As the chef and partner at Antonio Pak’s Argentine cuisine eatery Lavanderia, Takeshi takes flavours to the next level through his passion and drive.

Naturally, he expects the same heartfelt cooking at his favourite local restaurants. We grilled the chef to find out his Top 5 spots to visit whenever he wants to hit up the town in search of soulful plates.


This spot, which is the second from Olive et Gourmando owners Dyan Solomon and Eric Girard, is named after the pair’s dog. The intimate dining room allows guests to catch up over a simple but meaty menu of items like the aged rib steak or duck confit, while starters like the fresh oyster selection or grilled Boston calamari are definitely meant for sharing.

Meanwhile, ordering the grilled anything translates into an actual fire-cooked experience.

Tuck Shop 

It doesn’t get much more seasonal than this upscale bistro, which recently revamped its service with an upgraded kitchen (including a raw bar), a sleek new dining room, and a rotating daily menu showcasing anything and everything from Chef Theo Lerikos’ mind.

That includes hearty dishes like braised beef cheeks or golden, crusty pies. Basically, all of the things you just want to tuck into head first when you’re having a really hungry day.

See more: Top Chef Canada Restaurant Guide

Le Vin Papillon

First there was Joe Beef and Liverpool House and now, completing the trifecta, is this vegetable-loving restaurant. Chef Marc-Olivier Frappier foraged his menu from a plant-based mind but his creations are anything but vegetarian—the veggies here serve simply as a launch point.

So what does Takeshi tend to order when he stops by? Go for the Carrot Pastrami Éclair, he recommends.


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Carrot Eclair at Le Vin Papillon was to die for #levinpapillon #carroteclair #montreal

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Maison Publique 

At this pub house once financially backed by Jamie Oliver, Chef Derek Dammann (who worked under Oliver in London) is intent on bringing the pub experience to guests while serving elevated and uniquely Canadian dishes like rabbit or locally sourced fish. As such the menu is constantly changing, but we—and Takeshi—are totally here for it.


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Pork loin and garlic sausage

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Triple Crown

Takeshi swears by the smoked brisket at this Montreal jewel, which features a curated selection of sandwiches, fried chicken and meat à la carte. Meanwhile the robust sides (think mac-n-cheese, hushpuppies and bean soup) are as filling as they are comforting.


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Un lunch parfait!! #macncheese #ilovemontreal #montrealfood #mtl #petiteitalie #brisket

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Watch Top Chef Canada Mondays at 10 PM E/P on Food Network Canada. 

Top Chef Canada Nordic Ingredients

Your Guide to Mastering Scandinavian Recipes the Top Chef Canada Way

Top Chef Canada has celebrated a rich world of cuisines over the seasons, from street- and market-inspired fare to classic French, Italian, Mediterranean and Japanese dishes. Of course, there have also been myriad fusions and new techniques in between.

On Monday night the series revved up our palates for yet another kind of feast when host Eden Grinshpan welcomed guest judge Marcus Samuelsson and chef Emma Bengtsson (of New York City’s two-Michelin star Aquavit) to help guide the remaining chefs through a three-course Nordic feast—served on the Toronto Island, no less.

“[Nordic cuisine] is very raw, it’s very pure, it’s taking what the land is giving and bringing it to the table,” Bengtsson explained to the remaining chefs. “It’s making sure the natural flavours of the food is coming through.”

“The Nordic Cuisine was my favourite challenge because what I know about Nordic cuisine is actually very little,” Grinshpan tells us. “I got to learn from the best of the best. Marcus Samuelsson was able to come in and teach us a little bit about it and eat the food while we were eating it and give his critique. Nordic cuisine has specific ingredients that get used often and the location was beautiful.”

So what are those ingredients and how can you use them like a Top Chef Canada contestant? Let’s have a look at the specific components the chefs were working with Monday night.



Dennis picked this dried fruit, which grows on—you guessed it—roses. Rosehip is traditionally picked in the fall when it’s bright red or orange, and then dried until ready to use (usually in a soup, jam or even tea). It’s said to boost immunity and help heart health, comes packed with vitamin C, and tastes tart, like hibiscus.

Bengtsson advised Dennis to rehydrate his in order to bring out maximum flavour, and then to grind it and use it as a powder. In turn he created a Rosehip-Roasted Venison with Beets, Celeriac, Rosehip Jus and Foraged Wood Sorrel that the judges were down with as a main.

Try: Quail in a Rosehip Raspberry Sauce


Bengtsson straight up told Hayden that he picked a hard one when he chose lichen as his featured ingredient. The moss varietal is traditionally cleaned off and fried in order to add texture and a slight mushroom undertone to a plate.

Some types of lichen are toxic to humans, although the edible kind has also been used to help fight inflammation. For his part, Hayden wowed the judges with his beautiful Helbredt Oksekød: Cured Beef with Beer Bread, Oyster Cream and Crispy Lichen, propelling him to the night’s big win.

Sea Buckthorn

These bright orange berries grow on spiky bushes typically found near sandy soil or on rocky mountain ledges and are packed with vitamins C, B12, A and E, not to mention magnesium, iron and calcium.

Sébastien was tasked with transforming this Nordic superfood into a super dish. He described the fruit as sour and acidic, or basically “lemon juice times 10.” So in order to balance out the flavours, he pared it down with maple syrup, presenting the judges with a Scallop & Pork Belly With Rye Bacon Crumble and Sea Buckthorn Beurre Blanc.

Try: Venison Carpaccio with Cedar Jelly and Sea Buckthorn Jam

Autumn Olive

In North America, autumn olive is considered an invasive species as a result of the deciduous shrub’s ability to grow up to 20 feet high and to spread quite quickly. Despite the name, the berries are actually sweet and tart (like lingonberry), and can be eaten raw or cooked.

Paul had some trouble working with his autumn olive juice, and found it didn’t heat up the way he wanted. But he still managed to pull out an impressive dish of Autumn Olive-Marinated Duck Breast with Beet Sausage and Crispy Giant Puffball. The judges, at least, were impressed.


This spice, which is also used in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisines, is slightly more familiar to North American palates. The pods and seeds can be used whole, or it also comes ground up. Cardamom is an antioxidant with a minty, spicy, fragrant flavour that makes it an easy dessert pairing, although it’s also used (sparingly!) in stews and curries.

Wallace, who worked briefly at Denmark’s renowned Noma restaurant, went the sweet route with his dish, and presented the judges with a Cardamom Spice Cake with Fennel, Carrot and White Strawberries.

Try: Cardamom Shortbread Tarte


Most of us have heard of allspice, although we may be hard-pressed to identify exactly what it is. Turns out it’s a spice made from dried pimenta berries, and it has a flavour reminiscent of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and pepper. It’s strong and pungent, and in Nordic cuisine it’s sometimes used instead of black pepper in savoury dishes like fish or sausages.

Phil went the opposite route and embraced allspice and the Scandinavian use of veggies in desserts for his dish, which was a show-stopping Celeriac Crepe Cake with Wild Grape Mousse, Crispy Parsnip and Buttermilk.

Try: Allspice Rubbed Pork Tenderloin with Rum Raisin Sauce


Benet lucked out when he drew dill, one of the better-known flavours on a Nordic plate. Dill is considered one of Scandinavia’s most important herbs, and it’s often paired with fish and fresh veggies like potatoes and cucumbers. It’s also a standout in Dillkött, a lamb or veal stew.

Benet steered clear of seafood for his dish for the Elimination challenge and coupled the herb with his love of meat instead. He concocted his own outdoor meat house and presented the judges with Moss & Birch-Smoked Beef with Mushrooms, Dill Mayonnaise and Pickled Berries. The plate was Samuelsson’s favourite of the night—he even likened it to “Heart and Abba doing an outdoor concert in one.”

Try: Slow-Roasted Salmon with Cucumber Dill Salad


Sorrel may have a fancy name but it’s really just another herb that happens to be popular in Nordic fare. It’s tart and sweet, or as Tania described it when she drew it on Sunday night, it, “Tastes like rhubarb meets apple.”

Traditionally the herb has been used in France both medicinally and in soups and stews, but in Nordic cuisine it’s embraced in a variety of dishes, from pestos and sauces to pairings with mushrooms, meats and fish dishes. Tania showcased the herb in a controversial Root Vegetable Cake with Sorrel Apple Puree, Toasted Oat Ice Cream and Lingonberry Chantilly, a dessert that had the judges spinning. The dish sent her home, but it may have more to do with it being dry and vegan rather than Tania’s creative use of sorrel.

Try: Bread-Crusted Chicken with Morels, Young Leeks, Sorrel and Hay-Infused Jus


Most martini lovers have probably experienced the juniper flavour of gin, given that the alcohol is derived from juniper berries. But that isn’t the only use for this aromatic ingredient, which is also an antioxidant and good for digestive health. In Nordic cuisine, it’s paired with chicken, salmon and game meats or in sweet dishes like fruit cake, but Bengtsson was quick to warn Renee that a little goes a long way.

With that in mind, Renee concocted a savoury Juniper Panna Cotta with Roasted Buckwheat, Rye Crumb and Parsnip Chips as an appetizer, but the simplicity of it confused the judges, who wanted to see the ingredient pushed a little farther.

Try: Blueberry, Sumac & Juniper Preserve


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

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

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

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

Top Chef Canada Mark McEwan and Eden Grinshpan

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

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

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

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

Top Chef Canada Season 7 Episode 1 Watch

See More: Meet the Season 7 Top Chef Canada Competitors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

McEwan: We had great food that day.

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

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

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

Top Chef Canada Season 7 Chris Mijune Janet

Have your judging styles changed or evolved over the years?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grinshpan: I second that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

McEwan: They’ll knock you over.

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

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

Ross Larkin One Year Since Winning Top Chef Canada

Ross Larkin: Life Since Winning Top Chef Canada

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

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

Chef de Cuisine at Raymond’s

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

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


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

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He bought his first house

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

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

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


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House hunting.

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He had his first magazine spread

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

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

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

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

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

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

He took Newfoundland to Chicago, too

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

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

He’s getting really into beeswax

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

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

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

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


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

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He and Celeste celebrated three years of marriage

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

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

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


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

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

Food Network Canada spring schedule

8 Reasons You Need to Watch Food Network Canada This Spring

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

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


Buddy vs. Duff

Premieres: March 10

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

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

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

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

Spring Baking Championship season 5 with Clinton Kelly

Spring Baking Championship

Premieres: March 18

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

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

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

Family Food Showdown

Premieres: March 21

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

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

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


Fire Masters

Premieres: March 21

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

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

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


Burgers, Brew & ‘Que

Premieres: March 21

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

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

Top Chef Canada Season 7

Top Chef Canada

Premieres: April 1

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

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

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

Restaurant Impossible

Premieres: April 23

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

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

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

Best Baker in America

Premieres: May 19

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

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

Top Chef Canada Season 7 Feature Image

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

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

Top Chef Canada Season 7

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


Exclusive Interview With The Winner Of Top Chef Canada Season 6

In a sixth season that featured next-generation talent, Top Chef Canada ran the gamut in terms of competitors. But it was Newfoundland’s Ross Larkin who rose to the top with his simple plates and bold flavours, taking down “mad-scientist” Mark Singson in the big finale. Not only did Larkin, the Chef de Cuisine at Raymonds, bring the win home to The Rock, but he proved that even a chef without formal training can impress judges with the right combination of ingredients, flavours and raw talent.

Although he faced elimination on several occasions (often with an immunity in his back pocket) Ross eventually went on a winning streak in the back half of the season and didn’t look back.

We chatted with the chef about the pressure he faced after winning immunity, why Nathan Guggenheimer leaving the show surprised him most of all, and what he plans to do with his winnings.

Mark congratulating Ross on his win.

 What made you enter the competition?

A big part was my wife pushing me to do it.

Did you do anything special to prepare? Or more accurately did your wife make you do anything special to prepare?

Yes, my wife is a pastry chef here at Raymonds so I did some training with her. I built on the foundation of flavours more than methods and recipes. I memorized a couple of ratios for shortbread and things like that, but I’m not a trained pastry chef by any sense of the imagination so I didn’t want to overstep my reach by doing all these things I knew I couldn’t execute properly. I approached pastry in a way that I knew I could execute flavours that would meld well together and be comfortable in what I was doing. If you’re not trained in desserts or have some sort of pastry background in your repertoire it’s difficult. It’s not like savoury cooking where you can kind of put things together and wing-it, so to speak. You need to know temperatures, you need to know ratios… you need to know a lot.

Ross in Episode 5 of Top Chef Canada

Did you learn anything from watching past seasons of the show?

I knew going into it that there’s no real training, no real preparation that can get you ready for the mental side of things. We can all cook—everyone that was on the show is an amazing chef. Their skills are great and they’re very talented. It’s the time restraints, and the challenges, and everything you’re not allowed to do that you can’t train for. In your own kitchen, you’re in your comfort zone. You know where everything is and how your kitchen flows and how your equipment works. Being taken out of that comfort zone is more than half of the show. It might sound weird to say, but I didn’t think too far ahead, other than the challenge at hand. There’s no point in thinking about tomorrow because you might not be there tomorrow. With what you know how to do, trust yourself, trust your instinct. We were all chosen to do Top Chef Canada because of the people who cast us, or the judges felt like we were the best to be there. They wanted to see what we had to offer and how we cook and who we are. That’s what I did; I never changed the way I cooked or the ingredients I used. I never second-guessed myself one step of the way.

You bring up the mental aspect, which we really saw with Nathan when left this season. Were you surprised he made that decision?

Yeah. Nathan was my best man at my wedding. I worked with him in Saskatoon at Dale McKay’s restaurant Ayden’s Kitchen and Bar. I know Nathan and I know who he is. He’s an amazing chef and his food is great. But he has so many ideas and so many thoughts running through his head that he sometimes has a hard time just picking one because he wants to do everything. He’s thinking way too fast and his speed can carry him and it can get the best of him.

Ross’ first entrée: skin on pan-roasted cod with onion soubise, charred onions, leek and sea urchin beurre blanc

Did you have a favourite challenge?

Even watching it now and trying to remember it, you’re not focused as much as you wish you were. In the moment when you’re doing it, I don’t think I ever had a favourite, except the last challenge because those flavours were close to me and so close to home. I brought the island and what I love to the judges, finally. That was definitely my favourite meal, because I had control. I knew my ingredients, I knew what I was doing, I knew what I was using. It wasn’t like, okay, how quickly can you make a dessert out of dried ingredients? I’ll always go back to that one because that was… ridiculous. They’re all tough no matter how simple people think they are. Yeah, it’s only fried chicken but it’s fried chicken on a fryer you’ve never used in a kitchen you don’t know for Nicole Gomes, who has one of the best fried chicken restaurants that I know. It’s not easy. Nothing was easy about the show.

Ross’ amuse bouche: moose heart tartare, whelk skewer and cod chitlin with capelin gold leaf

If you weren’t looking ahead, at what point did you conceptualize that meal?

When they told me I was allowed to source whatever I wanted, that’s when I knew exactly what the menu would be. Other than that I remember talking amongst ourselves and some of the others knew what they were doing for the final meal. I remember thinking, man I don’t know what we’re doing tomorrow so I don’t know why you’re thinking so far ahead. But once it was known that this was the meal you’re allowed to use whatever ingredients you wanted, like make a wish list, I knew what I was going to cook. I was going to cook food from the island.

Ross and his mentor Jeremy Charles putting the finishing touches on Ross’ final meal

What did it mean to have your boss and mentor Jeremy Charles beside you to cook that meal?

That was like a day in the kitchen. By saying that it was like any other day cooking at the restaurant with Jeremy; it was a huge weight lifted. I knew then and there whatever the outcome was, it was going to be a great day. I was cooking with one of my friends, it was going to be fun, everything was going to be beautiful. We know each other. I’ve learned so much from him like less is more. Cooking simplistic, beautiful, ingredient-driven food is a major thing I’ve learned from him.

Let’s talk immunity. Did you feel extra pressure once you had it?

Oh of course. As soon as it was bestowed upon me, immediately I could feel everyone look at me in a different way. Everyone was there to win, but then having this immunity, everyone really stepped up their game that much more. Once there was one immunity for the entire season and I had it and you could only use it within four other challenges, it was like you have a target on your back.

Matt Sullivan, in particular, kept gunning for you after that.

Yeah! [Laughs.] I had no idea! We’re all there and friends and joking but you don’t know what’s going on in the interview rooms or what people are saying or thinking until we’re all watching the show. It’s like ‘Wow.’ Even my friends and family were like, ‘Did you know Matthew was out for you?’ I don’t feel like he was out for me but like he said, he felt I was a threat and he wanted to make sure that was known. It was funny because he sent me a text and he was like, ‘You must hate me.’ I don’t hate anyone. It’s a competition and I think sometimes people forget that. It’s like this is a competition, we’re all friends walking away from it, but going into it everyone wanted to win.


Was it like Murphy’s Law that once you had the immunity you wound up on the bottom three times?

I’m going to say yes, I’ll take that. That was more than ironic I guess. The first time I didn’t use the immunity, I just knew. I knew what I cooked, I stood by it and didn’t second guess myself. Even if I was eliminated on that challenge I would have been eliminated happy with what I did. I wouldn’t serve food that I wasn’t happy with, so I just felt that I was happy and confident with what I did and that it wasn’t the worst dish of the day. The second time, for Restaurant Wars, I was the team captain (chosen by Matt) and you can’t do that to people—in whatever reality you’re in. You’re the team leader, you’re the captain, you go down with the ship. You don’t throw your teammates or coworkers under the bus because you have this immunity card. That’s not a real thing. Karma is a real thing and that will get you. You just don’t treat people like that.

Was it a no-brainer when you did use it?

It was the last time I could use it, so why not use it as a strategy to send two people home and ironically save the two people that went to the final? Unfortunately, I had to send home two great chefs. Being in the situation, not knowing about Matt, it wasn’t my thought to use it as a strategic advantage against him; I wanted to save myself and my partner.

What does it mean for you to bring this win back to Newfoundland?

It’s huge. Being the only chef on the show from the Atlantic provinces, winning by making the actual food I do and ingredients that are only available to serve in Newfoundland is huge, it’s major. Newfoundland is still pretty young but it’s also old in a sense where we know our heritage and where we came from. The ingredients I use and food I make is food I grew up with. I grew up hunting with my dad, I grew up berry picking with my grandmother and now it’s come full circle. It’s simple food. It’s local and fresh and organic and beautiful.

What has Jeremy Charles thought of the win?

He thinks it’s great. It’s great for me, for Newfoundland, for the island, for the food we make.

How will you use your winnings?

I have no idea. I haven’t thought that far ahead. I should. I’m sure I’d save some and I’d love to take a holiday. That probably won’t happen in the middle of summer. Realistically I don’t know. Everything is about timing. Right place, time, people. I’d love to open a restaurant but it’s all about timing. We’re not going to rush into anything.

Top Chef Canada Season 6 Episode 8 Recap

It’s hard to believe we’re already here: the very last episode of Top Chef Canada season six. It’s been a pretty shocking season to say the least, what with contestants returning to the game only to quit (oh, Nathan), frontrunners being sent home in a pretty dramatic fashion and some of the coolest and most innovative plates we’ve ever seen put out on this show.

That basically made it anyone’s game heading into Sunday night.

Jinhee, Mark, Ross and JP remain out off 11 who began this journey

The episode opened with a brief reminder of this year’s Top 4: Jinhee, whose Korean-inspired plates had Mark referring to her as the “silent assassin;” Mark, whose foams and bold flavours made him an early target; Ross, whose real-world experience in the kitchen rivaled any classically trained chef’s; and JP, whose French training is something to be reckoned with. I don’t think I’ve ever been this torn about who I wanted to win.

Learning From Your Mistakes

It seems the judges felt the same way. And so for the very last Quickfire challenge of the season (which also happened to be a double elimination), Mark McEwan, Eden Grinshpan and Janet Zuccarini were all on hand to taste the food. The task? To take a dish that put the chefs on the bottom and transform it into a winning plate. Talk about the past coming back to haunt you. None of the chefs were particularly pumped about the task, but they knew it was time to pull out all the stops if they wanted a spot in that final dinner service.

Jinhee’s birch shrub and lemongrass-marinated duck with coconut red curry and frozen foie gras

Jinhee never really came in the bottom in terms of the Elimination Challenges, but as we saw during the food trend Quickfire in episode three, “frozen” and “coconut” were not her forte. So she recreated her dish by plating a coconut red curry and injecting it with frozen foie gras in a move that McEwan deemed genius. The plate’s only downfall? The curry tasted a little too much like something the chef had previously served the judges.

JP’s ravioli in brodo: chicken and chicken liver stuffed ravioli in clarified broth

For his part, JP had an epic fail in the Canadian farmer Elimination Challenge in episode two, despite his cool concept of what came first, the chicken or the egg. So he tried to recreate his Ravioli in Brodo by improving on the pasta’s texture and making the stuffing itself tastier. Unfortunately, he still missed the mark and the pasta was slightly too thick for the judges’ liking, which meant he was clearly on the bottom.

Mark’s roasted lamb saddle with bread emulsion, blistered tomatoes and apricot relish

Meanwhile, Mark had failed to impress during the more recent pizza Elimination Challenge in episode six, so it was back to the dough for him. In an hour he whipped up a Roasted Lamb Saddle with Bread Emulsion, Blistered Tomatoes & Apricot Relish that impressed the judges so much they seemed giddy. It’s not often you get to eat a deconstructed pizza at that level, I suppose. Give this guy all the points for creativity.

Ross’s lobster bisque with butter-poached lobster, roasted corn and confit fennel

That left Ross, who was asked to recreate the lobster bisque he served up during the hockey Elimination Challenge, and this time he made sure to crush those lobster bones even harder to get the brilliant red colour (not to mention flavour) you want in a bisque. It was the ultimate redemption for East Coasters everywhere when the judges said he nailed it.

By the time the judges were ready to decide, it was obvious JP was going to be sent knives packing and that Mark was going to move on, but it seemed like a toss-up between Jinhee and Ross. Maybe they just wanted to see an East versus West coast showdown, or perhaps they were less impressed with Jinhee’s curry than they let on. But the judges deemed Ross and Mark as the two finalists, which meant Jinhee had to say farewell to her brothers.

Goodbye, Jinhee. I’d still love to grab that glass of wine with you.

The Final Dinner

Mark and Ross listen to the judges before beginning preparation on the final challenge

It was poetic, in a way, that Ross and Mark should cook together at the very end. They made for a pretty cool team in the hockey challenge, and it was because of Ross’s immunity that they were both left standing at the end. I guess Matthew was right after all when he predicted that Ross was one of the top competitors.

But that’s the past, and we had a challenge to get to in the present: show the judges your personality on a plate. I’m always super jealous of these judges for getting to try so many yummy things during the competition, but the tasting menu in the finale always makes me the most jealous of all. It’s like they’re sampling so much fare they don’t know what to do with themselves when I’m sure all of us at home would love a bite… or two.

This year, not only were Mark and Ross going to be whipping up a feast in the kitchen, but the judges asked season three winner Matthew Stowe and Ross’s boss Jeremy Charles to come out and help the guys as their respective sous-chefs. That’s a whole lot of star power taking over the kitchen at the OMNI King Edward Hotel.

Matthew Stowe (left) will assist Mark and Jeremy Charles (right) will help Ross

Right away both chefs realized how important their overall story would be in terms of impressing the judges with their food. For Ross, he wanted to showcase his Newfoundland heritage with simple ingredients that spoke for themselves. Meanwhile, Mark wanted to pay homage to his own Filipino roots, and in particular to his mother who left home when he was one to come to Canada. He didn’t get to even meet her until he was eight, when he followed her to our home and native land. Now that’s how you make it personal.

Ross’s Menu

Anyhow, let’s start with Ross’s offerings, shall we? He literally put heart on a plate with his amuse bouche, which was a trio of moose heart tartare, whelk skewer and cod chitlin with capelin gold leaf. “We eats it all in Newfoundland,” he and Jeremy joked as they assembled the bites.

Amuse bouche: moose heart tartare, whelk skewer and cod chitlin with capelin gold leaf

For an appetizer, Ross then moved on to a sea urchin and diver scallop offering that Janet said showed a lot of restraint—something that’s sometimes harder to do in a competition like this than to go all-out.

Appetizer: sea urchin and torn diver scallop with dashi and dried seaweed

But what really seemed to be best-sellers for the judges were Ross’ cod, and his wild hare and partridge entrees. When Ross poured sauce from that flower vessel they were falling all over themselves at how cute it was. It’s no wonder Ross was chuckling to himself in the kitchen afterwards—that has got to feel pretty damned good at this point in the finale, no? All that was left was an equally innovative dessert, which was a roasted parsnip concoction that was just sweet enough to satisfy the judges.

First entrée: skin on pan-roasted cod with onion soubise, charred onions, leek and sea urchin beurre blanc

Second entrée: wild hare and partridge with partridge heart, artichoke purée, winter chanterelles and glazed beet

Dessert: roasted parsnip cream with parsnip chip, whisky-compressed apples and creeping snowberries

“This would be your worst seller but your best experience,” McEwan declared of the dish.

Mark’s Menu

Then there was Mark, who went for a totally different style (only two foams!) but was equally impressive in his offerings. He absolutely wowed the judges with his amuse bouche, a kusshi oyster with lightly smoked crème fraiche and pickled shallots to bring it all together. Every single one of the judges’ faces lit up when they popped that thing in their mouths, proving that this was going to be one competitive final dinner service.

Amuse bouche: kusshi oyster with dill oil, smoked crème fraîche and pickled shallots

“I can’t handle what he just gave us,” Eden said.

“Oh my God you’ve got places to go,” Chris Nuttall-Smith raved.

The highs kept on coming with Mark’s deconstructed burger appetizer, which was a beef tartare with all the elements of his favourite burger, like charcoal mayo, toasted bread and tomato bacon jam. “It’s just like eating a burger,” Eden declared.

Appetizer: beef tartare with charcoal mayonnaise, tomato bacon jam, iceberg lettuce and toasted bread

Personally, I was curious how McEwan—the burger king—would respond to the dish, because isn’t that the real challenge when you serve up a burger? Turns out he wasn’t just impressed with the food, he said it also brought back memories of him eating burgers in the backyard. Chalk one up for Mark, folks.

First entrée: cured tuna with truffle soy, cilantro relish, crispy nori, salted cucumber and shaved white truffles

Where Mark stumbled was with his mains. Janet was critical of his tuna and “make it rain” white truffle shavings, claiming the flavours melded together a little too much. The other judges disagreed and said the flavours actually worked together quite well, but then again they didn’t exactly rave about the dish either. As for Mark’s second, the duck entrée? That was just all-right too and maybe even a little dry, according to the judges. Considering that dish looked like the simplest one Mark has put out to date, I have to say I was a little disappointed in it watching from home, too.

Second entrée: seared duck and scallop with rose petal xo, bbq jus and fried rice

That left Mark’s dessert, which was an elevated take on Halo-Halo and another Filipino classic. It managed to put Mark back in the judges’ good graces again, with Mijune Pak even declaring that Mark should open his own Filipino restaurant.

Dessert: Halo-halo with coconut sorbet, pandan syrup, coconut and grassroot jelly, toasted coconut and crushed iced tea

Well, yes—that’s the idea, and why this guy entered the competition to begin with. He’s been pretty clear about needing that cash to get out of the catering business and to open his own brick and mortar spot.

Canada’s Next Top Chef Is…

With the eating aspect out of the way, and considering how well received both menus were, I still thought it was really anyone’s game. McEwan himself declared that this was the toughest showdown ever, proving even further how conflicted everyone was. And while the chefs were supposed to be judged on this one service alone, I imagine you can’t help but be influenced by past performances too. Mark was steadily at the top this whole time, while Ross stumbled through the first half of the season. That has to factor in, no?

Perhaps, but in the end, it was the Newfoundland chef who impressed the most, and Ross got to hear those magic words: “You are Canada’s Top Chef.” He quickly fell to his knees (as one does in that kind of a situation), realizing that his life had just forever changed.

Cue the biggest smile we’ve seen from the stone-faced chef all season long.

“This is a life-changing event for me because I believed in the food I was cooking,” he said. “I never second-guessed myself… it paid off. This is for so many people. It’s for my wife, for my son and myself… it’s for everyone on that little island on the East Coast that kind of gets forgotten about.”

“I was surprised it took Ross so long to get going because I knew he was a much better cook than what he was showing us,” McEwan said. “He’s kind of a shy individual, it just took him longer to get out of his skin and actually do it. And when he did, he was really creative. The finale meal was unbelievable. He was the clear winner and we said, ‘We’re not looking back on the rearview mirror. We’re not analyzing.’ He won the day.”

As for Mark? It seems like he’s destined to always be the bridesmaid and never the bride. At least in this season of Top Chef Canada.

“So close!” he said to cameras afterwards with his chin up. “I know I’m a good cook and that’s why I am feeling like this is just the beginning… I can’t wait for the next step.”

“Mark is brilliant with making incredible flavours in tiny little dishes. You have one bite of his and there’s more flavour a lot of the time in that single bite that you’ll find in an entire meal from other chefs,” Chris Nuttall-Smith said. “He’s going to land extremely well… He’s learning and waiting to see where can he go that will make a real impact. I have absolutely no worries that he is going to wind up doing something huge.”

And just like that, another season of Top Chef Canada was in the books. Bubbly for everyone, y’all, because what a season it’s been.

Top Chef Canada Season 6 Episode 7 Recap

In order to appreciate how far you’ve come, sometimes you have to look back to the past. That seemed to be exactly what the remaining chefs were doing heading into Sunday night’s penultimate episode of Top Chef Canada; with Darren eliminated that meant things were really going to heat up for the Top 5 and they knew it. Each one of them reflected as much to the cameras as they pondered what winning this thing would actually do for them, especially Jinhee, as she reminded us all what a win would mean to her.

The remaining five chefs; only four will move onto the final episode

But there’s a time for reflection and there’s a time for action, and with a Quickfire to get to there wasn’t much time for reflection. Not when Eden Grinshpan and guest judge Amanda Cohen (of New York City’s Dirt Candy restaurant) were ready to sample some special French fare.

Amanda Cohen joins Eden Grinshpan to judge the Quickfire Challenge

But Make it Vegan

When you think of French cuisine what comes to mind? For me it’s creamy, buttery goodness, rich, meaty textures, and of course robust flavours (why do you think it pairs so perfectly with wine?). What French cuisine is not as well known for is its plant-based goodness. But with a vegan master like Cohen ready to judge the challenge, of course that was the Top Chef Canada twist of the week.

Obviously, none of these carnivores were impressed at the thought of turning things like tartare and coq au vin into delightful vegan plates. Ross basically called it an oxymoron when he was asked to create a vegan foie gras parfait, while Jinhee’s face at being tasked with a vegan beef bourguignon was pretty much the entire reason to tune into the show. In fact, only Mark seemed excited about the prospect of a plant-based dish, because it’s something he does all the time through his catering company.

The challenge left Jinhee almost speechless

One thing that everyone seemed to be able to agree on is that after having gone through a competition like this and surviving each dish together, this fab five felt more like a family than ever before. Jinhee even began referring to the other guys as her “brothers,” solidifying how they all felt about one another. In a world of cut-throat competition shows, it’s nice to see one in which the contestants genuinely seem to have one another’s backs, isn’t it?

Mark’s Vegan Coquilles St. Jacques: seared potato, potato skin jus, chive oil, white wine onion foam and torn bread

Anyhow, the level of innovation was pretty freaking spectacular. As someone who totally subscribes to eating more of a plant-based diet on the regular, I’m a total trend-follower in that regard. But that doesn’t mean I make good vegan food—usually, my creations are watery dishes with lots of beans and disappointed faces at the dinner table from Hubby and Toddler. So every single one of the dishes these chefs put out really impressed me. I thought it was pretty cool how Mark used seared potatoes to look like scallops, while Ross’s mushroom custard sounded ridiculously delicious. JP managed to piece together a really cool “tartare” of plum and beets that I’d kill to try, and Jinhee’s mushroom concoction turned out to be pretty fancy looking too.

JP’s Vegan Steak Tartare: marinated plum & beet tartare with horseradish tarragon aioli and charred bread

Jinhee’s Vegan Beef Bourguignon: roasted lobster mushrooms, maitake mushrooms, carrots, potato confit in mushroom stock

But while all of those dishes were fine and fancy, it was good old Nate, who once again went into this thing with little confidence, who managed to come out on top with a rustic offering of “Champignons Au Vin.” The flavours completely impressed Amanda Cohen—who declared that all of the chefs nailed this thing, by the way—and Nathan finally landed the big W after being in the Quickfire bottom every week since his return.

Nathan’s Vegan Coq Au Vin: roasted maitake mushrooms with portobello and porcini mushrooms and root vegetables

Sorry Mark, your own streak of making it to the top but never winning continues.

“Boom, I’m on top! It’s great… I was aiming for the middle,” Nathan told the cameras afterwards.

Bottle of Red or Bottle of White?

Unfortunately for Nate, he didn’t have long to celebrate, not with an Elimination Challenge to get through. And what an Elimination Challenge it was—not only would the winner get an all-expense paid trip to Napa Valley, but he or she would also secure themselves a spot in the finale. You could feel the tension mounting.

Top Chef Canada: All-Stars’ Dustin Gallagher

So how do you get a group of tense chefs to relax? By bringing in Top Chef Canada: All-Stars runner-up Dustin Gallagher, of course. He waltzed into the kitchen with that signature smile as a guest-judge for the big challenge: to create a canope that pairs with a Beringer wine. Dusty won this same challenge last year, so he was able to give the chefs some sage words of advice: keep it simple. Easy words when you’re also trying to impress a boatload of judges with just one fancy little bite, if you ask me.

Even though Nathan had the advantage of selecting which wine he’d pair with his dish (pinot, because that’s what he “drinks the most of”), you could tell he still wasn’t really on his game. Anyhow, Nathan decided to prepare a chicken and foie gras canape, but even before he was putting it out he was asking Ross whether he should add more parsley. Don’t get me wrong, I love that these guys are willing to help each other out, but at this point in the game Nate should be confident in his own skills. He’s there for a reason.

Mark’s Kilawin: ahi tuna with XO sauce, cilantro jus, apple kombu relish, crispy nori and smoked oil

Mark was certainly confident, in a mad scientist meets Top Chef Canada kind of way. It really looked like things could go either way for him at McEwan Foods, when he spent so much time waiting in line at the seafood counter that he barely paid attention to the rest of the things he threw in his cart. As a result, for the first time that I can remember in the show’s history, a contestant was over the limit at the checkout and had to actually put some stuff back. See that? Those numbers aren’t just an empty threat.

Ross’s scallop crudo with grilled pear, apple, thyme jelly, cucumber foam and smoked scallop roe

Actually, huge kudos to the entire editing team in general on this episode because I would have bet it all on Mark going home. Between the disaster at the grocery store and then Mark McEwan’s advice that the chef needed to add a little more punch to his tuna dish because it wouldn’t stand out against the wine pairing, it looked like Mark’s risks wouldn’t pay off. So it was a huge surprise when he was named the night’s overall winner (Dustin declared his dish even made the wine taste even better), landing himself a trip to Napa and an immediate spot in next week’s finale. Also on top was Jinhee, whose red wine and pork pairing was unexpected and delicious, according to the judges. In fact, Mijune Pak called the sauce she served it with “MSG 2.0.” In a complimentary sort way. Meanwhile, Ross took a page from Mark and served up a cucumber foam with his scallop crudo, resulting in McEwan declaring that Ross has finally found his sea legs. It’s about time, if you ask me. I’ve been curious what Matt saw in him as his hardest competitor.

It’s genuine happiness (and relief!) when Jinhee, Mark and Ross found out they’re going to the finale

Oh. Nathan.

That left Nate and his chicken meat log, and JP, with his basic duck magret, in the bottom fighting for their lives. Or at least I thought they’d be fighting for their lives; as it turns out Nathan was just plain old ready to fall on his sword.

Before the judges could really dig in and criticize either dish, Nathan asked to speak.

“I would like to disqualify myself from this competition,” he said to the shocked faces over at the judges’ table. “I know I’ve struggled, and it’s not just cooking. It’s mentally. There’s been a lot of things that I’ve put up that I’d never, ever put up. Even when I’ve won I haven’t been happy or satisfied with my dish.”

Talk about a shocker, huh? Okay so maybe not a complete shocker, given that Nathan clearly has been struggling, but why would he just opt out before the finale? Especially since I’m pretty sure someone like Felix or Ivana would have killed to be in his spot.

Nathan voluntarily withdraws from the competition; JP can’t believe what he’s hearing

Even JP seemed upset by the decision, noting that he didn’t feel like he had earned a spot in the Top 4. McEwan was quick to reassure him, but I understand his feeling like he’d won by default. Let’s just hope he moves on and proves himself next week when the real prize is officially on the line.

“Nathan put so much heart [into it], he doesn’t know where to stop,” Mijune said afterwards. “You end up just getting something that’s super confusing as your end product and that’s not what you’re about or what you wanted to present… If Nathan worked at finding his voice and what to listen to from others and [to strike] that balance between what people are telling you to do and what you actually want to do, that is something that he would benefit from hugely.”

Sadly, it obviously won’t be on a reality show where we can all see it.

“I do apologize for doing this but at the same time it wasn’t making me feel good in my own self,” Nathan said following his elimination. “To me, that was more important than any money could possibly offer me. I just couldn’t go on. I feel happy even though there’s a lot of people around me that are very sad. This was me, this is my choice and it was my time to just sort of move on.”

What. A. Game.

And just like that, we’re almost at the end. The Top 4 return one more time next week for the final showdown. At this point, it feels like anyone’s game.