Tag Archives: Top Chef Canada

How to Spice Up Your Fried Chicken — Plus Tips for Frying at Home

In the kitchen, it’s often the classics that elude us, as we search for the ultimate chocolate chip cookie, mac and cheese or in the case of the Top Chef Canada chefs, fried chicken. For their latest Quickfire Challenge in Episode 6, the chefs were tasked with creating fried chicken with a twist. Seemingly straightforward, fried chicken can often fall flat on flavour and texture, turning out bland and greasy if not approached with a skilled hand. These chefs were in for a bigger challenge than they thought.

While a classic, buttermilk fried chicken recipe was presented by one of the chefs, the rest of the chefs chose to use their fried chicken and side as a blank canvas for big flavour. A seven-spice take on chicken and waffles garnered praise with its double-crunch factor from fried chicken skin (like a potato chip). And a Southern BBQ-style fried chicken plate brought the heat with a hot oil pour-over. But it was Chef Jinhee Lee’s nod to her mom’s fried chicken that reigned over the rest: an anchovy glazed fried chicken.

But don’t be intimidated by the chef’s impressive dishes. Fried chicken can be easy, crowd-pleasing and well worth the effort. Have a go at home in your own kitchen with these pro tips and recipes that will guarantee success.

Why You Should Marinade Your Chicken Before Frying

Not only will fried chicken be more flavourful when marinated, it will be juicier as well. Buttermilk is traditionally used for this as it’s slightly acidic and salty, which keeps the chicken moist and tender – even the white meat. If you don’t have buttermilk, plain yogurt, kefir, even pickle juice will produce a similar effect. Typically, you’ll want your chicken to marinade for at least a couple of hours, but the chefs didn’t have time for this in their 40-minute Quickfire Challenge.

Get the recipe for Skillet-Fried Buttermilk Fried Chicken

This recipe for fried chicken is a brilliant example of what a slightly acidic, salty and tenderizing marinade can do for your homemade fried chicken.

How to Layer Flavour When Frying Chicken

A marinade is the best way to ensure a juicy outcome, but it’s also a great place to begin building flavour. Add a dry rub of your choice, like a Cajun or BBQ mix to the chicken before letting it hang out in the marinade. Or, skip a step and add your spice mix right in the marinade. The more flavour you impart at this point, the more dynamic the final result will be. One of the chefs built their chicken around a seven-spice blend, which created an exceptional result. Now is the time when you want to go big with spices and seasonings– chicken can take it and much of those tastes will dissipate in the heat.

Fried Chicken with Dill Salt Recipe from Guy Fieri

Get the recipe for Fried Chicken With Dill Salt

This recipe is like a dill pickle chip in fried chicken form, infusing the marinade with dill pickle juice and a finishing salt with fresh dill. A three-layer process ensures a bold end result.

Transform Fried Chicken With the Help of the Spice Cabinet

The chefs used the herb and spice pantry in the Top Chef Canada kitchen to help their fried chicken and sides stand out, and you can do the same. Open your spice cupboard and explore a range of add-ins to jazz up your fried chicken rub, marinade, flour and dip. Almost anything goes.

Chili Powder or BBQ Spice Mix: Add zip to the rub, marinade and flour coating.
Curry Powder: Infuse the flour coating for a gorgeous yellow tint and earthy taste.
Harissa: Stir into the marinade and mix up with orange juice and honey for a sweet and spicy drizzle.
Herbes de Provence: Mix into the flour coating for a hint of freshness.
Lemon Pepper: Mix with flaky salt for a vibrant finishing touch.
Ras El Hanout: Mix the North African spice blend into your rub and coating.
Sriracha: Stir into mayo with lime juice for a fiery sauce.
Sumac: Swirl into buttermilk with lemon juice before marinating.
Za’atar: Add to your flour mix for a pop of flavour.
Pesto: Stir into mayo and yogurt for an herby dip.

Tips for Deep-Frying Chicken at Home

Having everything laid out and ready to go (your mise en place) will not only make things run more smoothly when frying, but it’s also safer and cleaner.

Frying Vessel: If you don’t have a deep fryer, deep-fry in a Dutch oven, deep cast-iron skillet (traditional) or enamel-coated cast iron pot for the best heat control. Deeper pots will reduce splattering.

Thermometer: Keep a deep-frying or candy thermometer in the pot while frying to monitor the temperature. As the chicken goes in, the temperature drops, and you need that sweet spot temperature for crispy, juicy, never-greasy chicken.

Cooling Rack: Set a wire cooling rack over a large rimmed baking sheet and transfer your chicken there when it’s done frying. Chicken can be kept warm in a low oven as you work through the batch this way, and, it reduces a soggy underside, so every corner of the chicken is crispy.

Oil: Choose an oil with a very high smoke point – this is not the place for the fruity extra-virgin olive oil you make salad dressing with. Shortening, lard and peanut oil are the best oils to fry your chicken in and are relatively inexpensive for the large quantity needed.

Contrasting Flavours Make Fried Chicken Delicious

Every chef offered a contrasting side or sauce for their fried chicken dish. The apple, fennel and corn slaw, as well as the compressed cucumber salad, were well received by the Top Chef Canada judges. Something acidic, like lemon or pickles (as one of the contestants chose), helps to cut through the rich fried chicken for a balanced dish. You can achieve this by keeping it simple with a lemon wedge or sweet-and-sour pickle served on the side, or whip up a tangy sauce for dunking, which is yet another place to spice things up.

Spicy Fried Chicken with Waffles

Get the recipe for Bobby Flay’s Fried Chicken and Wild Rice Waffles With Pink Peppercorn Sauce

This recipe speaks to the concept of contrasts perfectly, mixing sweet, heat and sour elements to tease out every ounce of flavour in your perfect fried chicken.

Top Chef Canada Season 6 Episode 6 Recap

You don’t get to be one of the Top Chefs in Canada without learning a few basics along the way, so in that vein the latest episode of Top Chef Canada was all about bringing the chefs back to the beginning—fried chicken and classic pizza beginnings, that is.

This episode picked up following last week’s shocking double elimination, in which Jesse and Matthew were sent packing. The elimination proved that anyone could go home anytime for one bad plate, but while the remaining chefs seemed shocked at Matt’s departure, it also gave the Top 6 a little more spring to their steps. Mark flat-out admitted that Matt being gone gave him a better chance in this thing, while Darren told cameras the game has changed.

Every one of the chefs was excited to see last year’s Top Chef Canada winner

Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner

That didn’t mean the remaining chefs could just phone it in though. With no more immunity on the table and a Quickfire to get out of the way, Eden Grinshpan introduced the next task: to recreate a Top Chef Canada version of a classic fried chicken, complete with one side dish. Cue saliva glands around the country, folks, because who doesn’t love a piece of perfectly fried chicken? Well, vegetarians and vegans, obviously. But apparently also Jinhee, who made as much known to the cameras after the challenge was announced. I really love how that woman doesn’t hold back.

Eden Grinshpan and Nicole Gomes on Top Chef Canada
Welcome back, Top Chef Canada: All-Stars winner Nicole Gomes! 

To judge the dishes (and to potentially inspire the chefs as they head into the home stretch), Eden welcomed Top Chef Canada: All-Stars winner Nicole Gomes back into the kitchen. Since her time of making it rain in the Monogram Kitchen, she’s gone on to open Cluck N Cleaver alongside her sister Francine, and if you’re ever in Calgary I hear there’s no better place to eat fried (or rotisserie) chicken.

I forgot how much I love watching Nicole and hearing her candid remarks, which she brought back in full while judging the Quickfire Challenge. She and Eden were kind of the dream team, with Eden noshing on the chefs’ offerings using her fingers and doing her version of the chicken dance, and Nicole joking about wearing her stretchy pants. I smell a chicken-loving spinoff, folks.

Anyhow, it was clear right away that some chefs nailed this thing while others were just destined to run around like a chicken with their heads cut off (sorry, I had to). JP had a good base with a basic buttermilk batter, but he burnt it and wasn’t fooling anyone with his dusting to hide the fact. He knew it too, which was probably why he was so angry at the whole situation. Meanwhile, Nicole declared Nathan’s batter to be thin and his double-fried chicken dry, which will probably lead the chef to reconsider the way he does it in his restaurant in the near future. Poor Nathan. And I here I thought he might finally be done double-guessing himself.

Mark’s Seven-Spice Buttermilk Fried Chicken with Waffle Emulsion, Charred Shishito Peppers and Corn Salad

Not all of the dishes were bad though. Mark zigged with his waffle emulsion while almost everyone else zagged with some sort of a slaw for a side. Nicole also declared his chicken to be perfectly breaded. While Mark certainly impressed, it was fried-chicken-hater Jinhee who surprisingly came out on top. Her chicken with an anchovy glaze was a homage to her mother, who never approved of her being a chef. Jinhee revealed to cameras that she hid her job from her mom for six whole years and that to this day her mom still hasn’t tasted her food in her restaurant. That made the win a nice full circle, as it potentially proved to her mother that she does have the chops to make it in her chosen profession. Now if only there were an Elimination Challenge advantage or a cash prize to go with her win. Sadly, Jinhee only walked away with Quickfire bragging rights.

Jinhee’s Fried Chicken with Anchovy Glaze and Mango, Carrots and Compressed Cucumber

It’s Not Delivery…It’s Top Chef Canada

But even those were short-lived, because next up was the Elimination Challenge, and one of the top six was about to be sent home. Cue the ominous music, y’all. The task at hand? To create a memorable, Top Chef Canada calibre pizza with an international flair, and then to pair that pizza with two complementary sides. Did I mention the taskmasters behind-the-scenes were a little fast-food obsessed this week? It made me pretty damned hungry because that kind of food I do have access to at my fingertips.

Related: Go behind the scenes to learn how challenges are created

To find out which country the chefs would be representing on their pizza, the six had to select cardboard pizza boxes. Once again Jinhee, whose face said it all when she picked India, was clearly not pleased with her selection and revealed she’d only ever made a couple of curries in her life. Does anyone else get the feeling that girl doesn’t play much poker during her time off?

A blessing and a curse: picking Italy for the pizza challenge

Meanwhile, JP seemed equally scared to have picked Italy. While you’d think the country would be the perfect inspiration for a pizza, this week’s guest judge, Evan Funke of L.A.’s Felix is basically renowned for his Italian food. So not only was JP facing the pressure of cooking for an Italian food master, but he knew Italian pizza would probably be judged a little more harshly by all of the judges, especially Janet Zuccarini who is a  AVPN certified Pizzaiola.

Related: Janet Zuccarini and Evan Funke’s Felix Trattoria Up Nominated for Best New Restaurant

Conversely, Darren, a.k.a. the “Swedish Chef,” really didn’t seem to hesitate at picking Sweden for inspiration—not when he had his pickled-fish-loving grandfather to inspire him. I guess that’s why he decided to top his pizza with a series of seafood selections, namely prawns and anchovies. Throw a few chanterelle mushrooms on there and his pizza was complete, along with his Swedish meatball (obviously) and pickled mackerel sides. Maybe Darren never actually watched The Muppets to realize what a terrible chef The Swedish Chef really is, but unless you’re a hardcore lover of “slime on slime” (as Mijune Pak described the pizza), you’re probably not going to be lining up for a slice of that unique concoction anytime soon… no matter where you live. The fact that Darren kept the bones in his pickled mackerel side for extra crunch really, really didn’t go over well with the judges either.

Darren and JP present their pizzas to the judges

The self-proclaimed youngin’ wasn’t the only one who faltered though. Mark has been on a bit of a tear this season while trying to win some extra cash so that he doesn’t go broke, but his Turkey-inspired spiced lamb “flatbread” pizza was so flat and dry the judges were masticating it. They were definitely not going back for seconds on that one either. As for JP and his Italian pizza? That was a  pass for the judges too thanks to the overly complicated way he approached it. Apparently, you a white pizza with potatoes and artichokes can fall flat by not seasoning the crust or adding enough olive oil, and then topping it with an arugula salad. I mean, obviously I can only see and dream about what that would have tasted like, but to be perfectly honest I would have been down to nosh on that. But that’s why I’m not a judge.

Winner, Winner, Pizza Pie Dinner

Actually, the judges (and Eden, who downed her ‘za using her hands like a regular person) didn’t have a lot of positive comments about most of the pizzas this week, proving that the classic dish is actually a lot harder to make than you’d think. Jinhee tried hard with her curry pizza and integrated paneer cheese, but the judges declared that it lacked flavour. JP’s Italian pizza also lacked flavour and the judges didn’t feel his meal represented Italy at all. Mark McEwan declared that Mark’s pizza wasn’t crispy.  Ross, whose German Speck, Onion, Mushroom & Gruyere Pizza (and potato salad and sweet fried rye bread) managed to capture their imaginations, making him the night’s big winner and $5,000 richer.

Ross’s German Inspired Pizza with Speck, Mushroom, and Gruyere

Experience Does Matter

Sadly, that meant Darren and his young blood was the one to say arrivederci this week. The guy had everything to prove as the youngest chef this season, and while he did really well by landing in the top six it looks like he won’t be ultimately slaying that dragon and saving the princess anytime soon. I’m definitely going to miss his one-liners, video game references, and his overall antics in the kitchen.

Darren’s last time at judges’ table

“What I lacked wasn’t talent, it wasn’t passion… it was experience,” he told cameras afterwards, with tears in his eyes. “You don’t have to win to conquer something. That’s what experience is, it’s learning from your mistakes.”

Well way to conquer my heart, Darren. Okay guys, let’s add Darren to our list of Top Chef Canada: All-Stars season two contenders, shall we?

“He’s a very, very capable young chef. He’s at the developmental stage where when he’s outside the element of the restaurant, he maybe didn’t have enough to bring to the table to create his own, new story that day,” Mark McEwan said. “He had his moments. I just think he needs a couple more years to really work on his base knowledge so that he has those instinctive skills and a repertoire to fall back on. That would give him better choices under pressure.”

Speaking of pressure, next week the chefs are tackling another food trend: veganism. Is anyone else excited to see how Jinhee’s face feels about that one? Personally, I can’t hardly wait.

Sugar and Spice is Everything Nice: How to Make Desserts With Fragrant Spices

You may be familiar with your spice cabinet when it comes to savoury cooking, making curries, soups, burgers and salads with a confident hand. But desserts, from classic cookies to show-stopping sweet centrepieces can also benefit tremendously from a smack of fragrant spices you may not have usually considered. It was Top Chef Canada’s competitors that inspired us, as they were put to the test in the fifth episode’s Quickfire Challenge, being asked to create desserts with an eyebrow-raising twist using blindly chosen herbs and spices from the McCormick spice rack. The winning dish – Jalapeño and Sriracha Beignets, Burnt Orange Jalapeño Ice Cream and Caramelized Banana with Bone Marrow Caramel – wowed judges, rousing us to perhaps be a bit more adventurous in our dessert making at home.

Matt’s Jalapeño and Sriracha Beignets, Burnt Orange Jalapeño Ice Cream and Caramelized Banana with Bone Marrow Caramel

Of course, it doesn’t have to be as extravagant as this winning Top Chef Canada creation to be just as delicious. Here’s how you can infuse your desserts with unexpected flavours when baking at home.

How to Add Spices to Desserts

Spices taste best when they’re bloomed or expressed by exposing them to fat, liquid, heat or a combination. If you’re making bread, dough or truffles, steep spices in milk to draw out their full potential. For cooked puddings, like rice pudding, add the spices halfway through the cooking time to infuse your recipe without overpowering it. For cookies, cakes and frostings add your spices when creaming or melting butter or oil instead of with the dry ingredients; you’ll get more bang for your buck and a richer, rounder spice flavour as the fat coaxes out the fragrant oils of the spices.

Add Heat to Your Sweets

Like this week’s Top Chef Canada Quickfire Challenge winner, dessert makers around the world frequently introduce a sizzling kick to desserts with dried hot peppers. Take Mexico, for instance: their chocolate desserts are often pepped up with chili, adding depth to ignite and excite the palate. A stunning example of this is shown in Helloflavour.ca’s recipe for Flourless Chocolate Chili Cake, combining cayenne, cocoa, sugar, eggs, and dark chocolate. It has just a touch of bite, but not too much that it’s overwhelming, and it’s easy to accomplish at home. Click here to get the Helloflavour.ca recipe.

The Dessert Spice Cabinet

You know vanilla bean, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, but there are other ways to spice up your sweets with flavours like star anise, thyme, and black pepper. What’s more, you can use the same black pepper or thyme in dinner as you do dessert, keeping things simple.

Valerie Bertinelli’s Black Pepper Walnut Biscotti

Black Pepper: Black pepper can elevate desserts, adding a gentle warmth and earthy quality to citrusy sweets. A Top Chef Canada competitor paired black peppercorns with sage, making a mango black pepper curd with sage candies, matching sweet and earthy flavours with aplomb. For something a bit more home cook friendly, try black pepper in crusts for lemon meringue pie and grapefruit curd tarts. Or, whip it into cookies, like this recipe from Valerie Bertinelli for Black Pepper Walnut Biscotti.

Valerie Bertinelli’s Mexican Hot Chocolate Layer Cake

Chipotle: For desserts with a real kick and exceptional fortitude, add smoky chipotle chili pepper powder. The spice is outstanding in dark chocolate desserts, like in this recipe for Mexican Hot Chocolate Layer Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting, but would also work in strawberry shortcake, grilled pineapple sundaes and tiramisu.

Giada De Laurentiis’s Parma-Style Carrot Cake

Fennel Seeds: Fennel seeds make appearances in many Italian and Indian desserts, offering a gentle and welcome anise tang that’s both naturally sweet and digestion promoting, especially after a large meal. This structurally impressive recipe from Giada De Laurentiis for Parma-Style Carrot Cake includes fennel seeds, pine nuts and mascarpone cheese for a comforting Italian dessert.


Anna Olson’s Chocolate Spice Cupcake with Chocolate Swirl

Five-Spice Powder: With warming notes of star anise, cloves, cinnamon, fennel and Szechwan peppercorns, Chinese five-spice transitions seamlessly into the realm of desserts. Use it to imbue heavy cream when making truffles, switch up homemade masala chai, roast with rhubarb to top a pavlova or add it to cake batters for a stylish twist. This Chocolate Spice Cupcake with Chocolate “Swirl” Frosting recipe incorporates five-spice in a moist and tender cake base.

Ayesha Curry’s
Easy Saffron Crème Brûlée

Saffron: Impart earthy elegance to your desserts and make them jump off the plate with saffron. In Scandinavia, sweet St. Lucia buns are infused with saffron and dotted with dried fruit during the holidays. In Middle Eastern cuisine, saffron is added to rice pudding, custards, doughnuts, ice cream and cookies. Here, it’s given the French treatment in this 4-ingredient recipe for Easy Saffron Crème Brûlée, proving that crowd-wooing desserts don’t need to take all day.

Sponsored by McCormick. For more great dessert recipes go to helloflavour.ca.

Top Chef Canada Season 6 Episode 5 Recap

I wonder what was going through Nathan’s head as he reentered the Top Chef Canada locker room on Sunday and found his things exactly where he left them after he was eliminated in episode two. The judges had no choice but to send him home the first time around thanks to his complete lack of confidence, but earning himself a second chance in this thing should surely bolster his mettle a little, no?

Related: Watch Nathan’s Exit Interview After Episode 2 Elimination

It certainly seemed like Nathan was ready to face a new day as he put his jacket back on and sported that big, signature grin, but then again so were the other remaining chefs. Maybe it was just me, but with Restaurant Wars out of the way, everyone seemed to stride back into that Monogram Kitchen with purpose this week. It was almost like they were ready to spice things up with their newfound confidence.

The remaining chefs await the next Quickfire challenge

Let’s Start With Dessert

In that case, it was a good thing the Quickfire challenge happened to feature a whole whack of spices from McCormick. Eden Grinshpan revealed the spicy task was to blindly pick two seasonings and then create a Top Chef Canada calibre dish showcasing them. The bittersweet twist? That dish had to be a dessert. You could physically see the chefs’ spirits crumbling; if this season has taught me anything it’s that most chefs would rather eat their own arm than make a dessert. And creating a dessert out of spices was just preposterous.

Mark says what every other chef is thinking

However, if you want to prove you’re the best of the best, you’ve got to be able to do dishes of all different types, so these guys trudged along as best they could for Eden and this week’s guest judge, Brandon Olson of CXBO Chocolates fame. (It didn’t hurt that $5,000 from McCormick was on the line for the winner.) Brandon came decked out in his awesome banana button-down shirt to explain the importance of innovation when it comes to sweets, and how any regular old dish just won’t do in this kitchen.

Don’t try this at home

So, once again the chefs scrambled over one another to get to their stations first, gathering at the fridge and completely emptying the liquid nitrogen in their bids to make frozen treats. Some of them, like Mark, really went for it. Although he pulled the unlikely combo of rosemary and ancho chile pepper, he managed to impress Brandon with his Apricot Ancho Chile Purée with Rosemary Ice Cream, Shortbread Crumb & Fried Crickets. In fact, Brandon asked Mark if he had any pastry training, that’s how good it supposedly was. Me? I’m still getting over Ivana serving up fried crickets two episodes ago. I don’t care how high-protein or trendy crickets are, at the end of the day they’re still fried bugs to me.

Ross’s equally unlikely combo of turmeric and cilantro seemed impossible to work with (has anyone in the history of cooking ever purposefully used them together?!) but his Turmeric Shortbread with Cilantro Cream, White Chocolate, Sea Buckthorn Turmeric Sauce, Mango and Pear was tasty and elegant. It’s hard to make the most of the strong yellow tint of turmeric, but somehow Ross managed to pull together a modern plate that Brandon said “brought it home without being overbearing.”

Matt’s Hat Trick

Matt’s sriracha beignets, burnt orange jalapeno ice cream and caramelized banana with bone marrow caramel

But once again the night’s winner was Matthew, despite the fact that Brandon actually choked from the heat of his jalapeno and sriracha pairing. He whipped up Sriracha Beignets, Burnt Orange Jalapeno Ice Cream and Caramelized Banana With Bone Marrow Caramel, pulling full inspiration from Brandon’s shirt. Did you know that bone marrow could make for an excellent dessert? Yeah, me neither but there you have it. In this competition, anything goes, and Matthew proved yet again that he’s a huge frontrunner in this thing; this was his third win in a row. He’s certainly won more money than any other current competitor, at this rate, and I can’t help but pull for him given that he’s got a pregnant wife at home. Well, that and he’s got everything to prove, considering he’s more of a corporate chef than the others in this competition thanks to his gig at MLSE.

As for the other competitors, once again Jesse and Nathan found themselves in the bottom. Jesse’s Chinese five-spice and smoked paprika dessert was entirely too smoky for Brandon, whereas Nathan’s celery seed and ginger doughnuts were doughy and undercooked. Not a great start to his grand re-entrance, but as he said, “keep on trucking.”

Toot, toot. Hopefully that means he’ll finally stop over-thinking things?

Chefs Hit the Ice

Some of the chefs’ skating skills were a little less impressive than their cooking skills

Anyhow, with the Quickfire complete, it was time to move on to the most nerve-racking part of the evening: the Elimination Challenge. As we’ve seen in the past four episodes these things are always stressful, but this week was particularly brutal because not one, but two chefs were going to go home. I suppose that’s the Top Chef Canada gods balancing the scales after allowing Nathan back in; we’ve got an episode number to stick to, people.

It wasn’t all doom and gloom though. How can it be when the chefs were asked to celebrate Canada’s national pastime by teaming up to create post-game meals for the players, parents and coaches of a kids’ league hockey team? Plus, the chefs had lots of inspiration thanks to the four signature Canadian proteins they were to implement in their dishes: Ontario pork, Atlantic lobster, Alberta beef or Pacific Coast salmon.

Jinhee’s pork and tiger prawn dumplings with chili peach mango chutney

Nathan’s soy-braised pork belly with fried rice and Saskatoon berries

For me, it was fun to see some of these teams being forced to work together. Jinhee was obviously not happy to have selected pork alongside nervous Nathan, but the guy handled her obvious concern in stride and in the end #TeamSweetheart (sorry Jinhee but that name is sticking) ended up working really well together. I’d eat Jinhee’s dumplings anytime (not just after a hockey game) and I could practically taste Nathan’s pork belly from the TV screen. Maybe we shouldn’t count Nate out just yet, after all, working with Jinhee he really seemed to come into his own.

Teamwork is dream work: Jinhee shows Nathan how to pinch dumplings

Meanwhile, it was equally fun to see this season’s jokesters, JP and Darren, team up and take their beef dishes in a different direction by invoking home-cooked comfort foods. Although I was unsure how a beef bourguignon would play in a hockey rink, JP nailed it with perfectly cooked beef and a savoury broth, and Darren’s overindulgent meatloaf sandwiches had Mark McEwan singing his praises. That three-cheese sauce on the homemade bread must have met McEwan’s “high performance” cheese standards, which these chefs are still joking about. Personally, I thought it was just cool to see that chefs can have fun in the kitchen together and still come out on top.

Given how different those two menus were, the judges must have been in a tough position. I thought it could have gone either way based on the comments, but I guess when Mijune Pak dances in happiness while eating your pork belly, you’re probably going to be the winner. Sure enough, Jinhee and Nathan came out on top, giving Nathan the ultimate reassurance that he deserves to be in this competition after all. Now if only he could work with Jinhee every day. Maybe we could pitch a #TeamSweetheart web series?

#TeamSweetheart celebrates with an awkward hug

With the winning dishes determined, the judges then set their sights on the night’s worst offerings. Matthew, who has been on a huge winning streak, managed to impress with his Bibimbap salmon, but his partner Jesse really didn’t think through his own salmon tartare. The dish felt out of place in the hockey arena (to be fair when does salmon anything feel right at a rink?), but he also loaded it up with so much salmon roe that it was completely over-salted. Even Matthew, who was so sure of himself heading into the challenge that he was swigging beer while prepping (hey, what goes better with hockey than beer?) agreed when pressed that it wasn’t something he’d put on one of his MLSE menus. Poor Matthew… why did the judges have to put him on the spot like that? Obviously, he was trying his best to stick up for his teammate.

“He had a harder time putting ingredients together in a meaningful way,” said McEwan of Jesse’s performance in general. “Some [of the ingredients] he used were very creative, but it didn’t necessarily work for me.”

Then there was Ross and Mark, another completely unlikely match. It came out in the episode that all of the other chefs make fun of Mark for doing foams and using gadgets in the kitchen, which would explain why no one has been taking him seriously as a contender in this thing so far. But the dude continued to do his own thing with a poached lobster potato salad with charred garlic foam that positively lit up Chris Nuttall-Smith’s face when he tried it, proving that the haters gonna hate but taste reigns supreme. Unfortunately for them Ross’s lobster bisque just didn’t do it for the judges though, and that landed the duo in the bottom.

Ross’s lobster bisque was pretty but lacked substance

The Most Shocking Elimination Ever?

That meant both teams landed in the bottom, where they defended each other’s choices in the face of elimination. And while I really wasn’t sure which way the judges would swing on this one, Ross—who refused to use his immunity the last two weeks after finding himself on the bottom—finally used it to save himself and Mark from elimination. And why wouldn’t he? This was the last challenge he was allowed to use it so he had everything to lose.

But what using that immunity meant was that Jesse and Matthew had to pack their knives and leave, which felt totally unfair given Matthew’s performance. I really, really thought he was going to take this thing all the way to the end considering how many challenges he’d already won. I honestly thought the judges might take Ross’s immunity back and send him and Jesse packing instead. Aren’t they allowed to bend the rules in situations like this?

“I didn’t see this coming, I was on a bit of a roll,” Matthew said to the cameras afterwards, confirming everything that was running through my head.

“Hopefully I didn’t make two new enemies,” Ross added. “Having this immunity was a very sharp, double-edged knife. Unfortunately it sent home two great chefs, but fortunately, I’m still here.”

That’s all fine and dandy, I suppose, but you’ll have to forgive me if I start mounting the campaign for Matthew’s return in the next All-Stars season, should it come to fruition. As it turns out I wasn’t the only one upset about his elimination. Janet Zuccarini, who wasn’t present for the challenge, was also shocked to hear that he was eliminated when she returned to judge her next Elimination Challenge.

“I actually thought that Matthew could almost do no wrong. And he was on the top with almost every challenge,” she said. “It was just a shock to learn… He understands what people want, but he also had this amazing ability to make the dishes super unique and have these twists, which I think is what you need to do when you’re in a competition like Top Chef Canada.”

Matt surprised head judge Mark McEwan with his skills and ability to thrive in the competition. “He cooked more like a hands-on restaurant chef than a corporate chef,” said McEwan. “Kudos to him for being able to manage both those angles because neither one is easy.”

Like I said, #MatthewForAllStars, y’all. But before then, we have a competition to get back to when the show returns next week. Judging from the previews there’s a pizza party in store, so let’s all bring our appetites.

Watch Matt and Jesse in their exit interview after elimination:


Top Chef Canada Season 6 Episode 4 Recap

They say those who can’t do, teach. But obviously whoever “they” are, have never met this season’s remaining Top Chef Canada competitors. Because sometimes, teachers are actually the masters of their craft, and any student would be kinda psyched to have them.

Learning is Not a Spectator Sport

The latest episode of the culinary competition kicks off with the remaining eight chefs apprehensively stepping back into the Monogram kitchen, where mysterious dividers had sprung up at the cooking stations. The crew immediately knew something was up, and sure enough, Eden Grinshpan reveals that it is up to them to teach a culinary student a signature dish of their creation. The catch? They have to do so without actually seeing the chef or what he or she is doing. Talk about a blindside.

Jinhee teaches her culinary student how to make her dish

Obviously, communication was as much a factor in this challenge as the dish itself, which is why JP wanted to “get jiggy with it.” The trick seemed to be picking a dish that wasn’t too hard to make, but that also tasted great and could be easily described through a wall. Of course, the actual cooking wasn’t the only challenge; there were other factors, like the language barriers for some, and then also the noise. The noise… the noise, noise, noise. As someone who can’t stand numerous conversations going on around me, having people frantically shouting instructions is basically my worst nightmare. I would have been hightailing it out of that kitchen.

Elia can’t quite connect with her student

None of the chefs had the same inclination to bolt, but Elia certainly felt the pressure. While she tried to teach her student the ways of Mexican cuisine, the poor guy really had no clue what was going on. At one point she was trying to pass him a bowl of ingredients and he wasn’t even at his station, making for one of the most comedic moments of the series to-date. Jinhee had a tough time with her student as well, but rather than getting flustered she calmly talked it out and forgave the kid when she accidentally marinated her fish in the sauce rather than the juice, and in the end, the pair had one of the best—not to mention prettiest—dishes.

Jinhee’s dish is on the left; her student’s is on the right

But no one could compare to Matt, whose experience training staff and running kitchens through MLSE gave him a huge leg-up in the challenge. His Gochujang-Marinated Ribeye with Burnt Cauliflower and Mint Puree showcased enough technique to be of Top Chef Canada quality (unlike what I thought was an overly simple tomato salad from Ross,  which the student still under-seasoned), but he was also a pretty great coach to his student. If you think about it, his win (as determined by Mark McEwan and guest judge Rob Gentile of Buca in Toronto), basically foreshadowed what came next.

Matt’s dish is on the left; his student’s on the right

By the way, if you followed any of the previews leading up to the episode, you already know what came next: Restaurant Wars. Obviously, this particular Elimination Challenge is a favourite of all the participating chefs, because it’s a chance for them to showcase their own menu and create a restaurant of their choosing. It’s the “Big Enchilada,” as Mark explained to the cameras.

Picking Sides

Matt’s advantage for winning the Quickfire Challenge was being named the captain of the first team, and having the power to choose who would be his opposing captain. Once again, Matt gave Ross all the credit in the world and picked him, saying that Ross was his biggest competition. And once again, I’m going to point to Jinhee and Mark as two other competitors to watch in the coming weeks.

Speaking of Mark, the dude was the last one picked, which for the life of me I couldn’t understand. The chef has been impressing since he arrived in the kitchen, which makes me think the others are underestimating him. That schoolyard pick twist wasn’t the biggest twist though, as Eden made one more announcement: Felix, Nathan and Ivana all had the chance to return and get themselves back in the game. The captains were to pick one extra player, and if their team won the challenge then that player would re-enter the kitchen as though he or she never left.

To add more stakes to this challenge, culinary legend Ruth Reichl (pictured right) is the guest judge for Restaurant Wars

Holy high stakes, Batman. And because that wasn’t enough motivation, the chef who created the best dish of the night would also take home $10,000 from Interac. If I were Ross and Matt at that point, I’d be pretty smart about who I picked to round out my team. Matt immediately asked Nathan to join his team of JP, Jinhee and Darren, while Ross asked Felix to join his roster of Elia, Mark and Jesse. That meant poor Ivana was left in the dust again, without even the chance to cook her way back into the competition. I guess they figured they already had desserts covered?

There is No ‘I’ in Team

With that business out of the way, it was time to get into it. Right away you could see the difference in leadership styles between Matt and Ross. Matt solicited opinions from his team (like their name, Alloy), whereas Ross told everyone they were going with “Henry’s” as a team name because it was his grandfather’s. Matt wanted to put together a cohesive menu that featured Canadian ingredients with a slight Asian flair, whereas Ross told everyone to make whatever Canadian food meant to them. Not to be negative, but it was pretty obvious that Team Henry was the one that was going to go down.

Team Henry’s on the line

And go down they did. At resident judge Janet Zuccarini’s Gusto 101 restaurant, for judges Zuccarini, McEwan, Grinshpan, Mijune Pak and guest-judge Ruth Reichl, Ross opted to let Felix do the front of the house gig while naming Jesse as his executive chef. In turn, Ross opted to do two dishes, but they kind of flamed out. To be fair, his main course of seared lamb was decent, but the judges were completely hung up on how salty his Cod Sound and Pil Pil amuse bouche was. (Who knew you could eat fish bladders anyway?) It was like they didn’t have enough water at the table to go around, judging by some of the salty comments they shared.

Team Alloy leader Matt prepping his dish in the kitchen before heading to  front of house duties

Meanwhile, Elia decided to pair tuna with blueberries and passion fruit for some strange reason (never would I order that combo on a menu… ever), and Felix dished up a savoury broth that somehow ended up tasting sweet. Seriously, I have no idea why these guys couldn’t get it together because it seemed like bad piled on top of more bad. To make matters worse, Elia also served up a green mango ice cream with chocolate that no one at the table wanted to eat, making her 0 for 2 for the evening. If it weren’t for Jesse’s panna cotta and “underdog” Mark’s sablefish, I believe the judges might have just gotten up and left.

The Dream Team

That meant Team Alloy (or Team #BringBackNate) didn’t have to do much better, but it seems like their cohesive menu was in fact much, much better suited to these judges’ taste buds. Jinhee created this tapioca squid ink cracker that Ruth Reichl adored, while McEwan was completely raving over Darren’s fried chicken and caviar amuse bouche (and here I thought McEwan was just a burger guy).

Jinhee’s beet and beef tartare with squid ink tapioca crisp

Mijune was tickled pink at Matt’s “smart” red fife noodles with lobster and bacon and kimchi (obviously Matt used his favourite ingredient, kimchi), while McEwan admitted that he ate the entire short rib Nathan served him. That latter dish was my favourite, because it finally showed what Nathan can do when he isn’t up in his own head.

Nathan’s ginger and soy-braised short rib with butternut squash puree and kimchi

In fact, the best part about Alloy winning the Elimination Challenge was the fact that Nathan gets to return to the show, and hopefully this time around his nerves won’t get the best of him.

What redemption looks like

As for the winning dish? Well, that went to Matt, despite the fact that he kind of falsely advertised his pasta as a surf and turf. Hey—the buds want what they want and that was one tasty dish, said the judges, proving the theory that bacon makes everything better. And because Matt’s that great of a guy, he gave each of his other four team members a thousand bucks for all of their hard work and commitment. “I wouldn’t be here without them,” he explained. Now that’s what leadership looks like, y’all. Let’s just give the competition to this guy right now.

Matt’s red fife noodles with lobster dashi, bacon and salmon roe

In Poor Taste

Unfortunately, Alloy’s win left Ross, Jesse, Elia and Mark on the chopping block, and Felix’s shot at re-entering the competition was toast. He was sent knives packing before the judges had mercy on Jesse and Mark for serving up the best of the worst. That left Ross and Elia in the bottom two, with Ross’s immunity becoming the elephant in the room. Eden asked him if he wanted to use it, and although you could see the wheels turning as to whether or not he should, Ross opted to go down with the ship if need be. Honourable, but a bit mental to me. He had a 50 per cent chance of going home and he opted not to use his get-out-of-jail-free card? You can’t help but shake your head at that decision. Even Elia asked him why he didn’t use it as they left the room to let the judges decide their fates.

Ross taking a moment on the line

In the end, what the judges decided was that it came down to taste versus leadership. While Ross really messed up as the captain and didn’t procure a cohesive menu, Elia served not one but two inedible dishes. And that’s why they had to send her home, eliminating the second female chef in a row. For those keeping track, that leaves Jinhee as the last female competitor in this thing.

Team Henry’s face the judges’ verdict

“I like to learn and put myself in situations that I have no control of. That’s what life is about,” Elia said upon her elimination. “I learned a lot and am grateful. The time I’ve been here was a beautiful opportunity to show people who I am, to share my roots and for people to know more about my culture. That’s what I’m taking with me.”

“She needs to come into her own a bit, to work on her craft,” Chris Nuttall-Smith said of Elia’s performance in the competition. “You don’t step out of culinary school or step out after three years in a restaurant and [become] this fully formed person. You’re always learning food. So I want to see her define her style a little more and to act with a little more confidence. She’s doing well, but she has so much to offer. I’d like to see her even more confident in who she is and to get out there and show that.”

Agreed. And in the meantime, if Elia ever wants to make me some of those poblanos, I definitely wouldn’t say’ no.’ There aren’t enough genuine Mexican chefs in Canada these days.

Back at you all next week, when this group of chefs faces a harsh, double elimination. Bring snacks guys, because I have a feeling we’re going to need it.

Watch Elia Herrara’s exit video where she shares where she thought she failed in Restaurant Wars:


Top Chef Canada’s Janet Zuccarini Up for Best New Restaurant Award

Top Chef Canada resident judge and über-successful restaurateur Janet Zuccarini’s L.A. hot spot, Felix Trattoria, is one of five finalists for The James Beard Foundation’s Best New Restaurant Award, one of the most important culinary awards in America. Janet partnered with Chef Evan Funke to create a restaurant centered around authentic regional Italian cuisine, warm Italian hospitality and most importantly, exceptional handmade pasta. It’s been a success since it opened in April 2017 garnering accolades like “Restaurant of the Year” by Eater LA,  “#1 Best New Restaurant in America” by Esquire magazine, and one of Los Angeles Magazine’s 10 Best New Restaurants of 2017.

photo credit: Alan Gastelum

Who is Chef Evan Funke?

Chef Evan Funke’s passion is handmade pasta, having studied in Bologna, Italy at the La Vecchia Scuola Bolognese. Before opening Felix with Janet Zuccarini, he helmed L.A.’s Bucato, an Italian restaurant (now closed) that also received culinary kudos for its authentic Italian cuisine and handmade pasta. His big culinary break came when he worked for six years for celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck at his legendary L.A. restaurant, Spago.

Evan Funke will be a guest judge in an upcoming episode of Top Chef Canada, when the competing chefs will have to impress him and Janet, two experts in Italian cuisine, with a quintessential Italian dish. The episode was filmed late last year when this behind-the-scenes photo was taken; Evan is pictured with host Eden Grinshpan, Janet and resident judge Mijune Pak.

L-R: Eden Grinshpan, Evan Funke, Janet Zuccarini and Mijune Pak

Felix Trattoria, a Taste of Italy in L.A.

photo credit: Frank Wonho Lee

Felix Trattoria is located in L.A.’s Venice Beach neighbourhood on Abbot-Kinney Boulevard, a trendy hub in this thriving artistic community.  The dinner menu, written in Italian, features a wide range of antipasti, traditional pizze,  meaty secondi and their famous handmade pastas reflecting the different regions of Italy. Chef Evan Funke sources his ingredients from family farms throughout California.

Here’s a mouthwatering shot of the restaurant’s handmade pasta with a meaty ragu:


A post shared by FELIX Trattoria (@felixlosangeles) on

And here’s a glimpse of the gorgeous handmade pasta produced in-house:

ART ???? #pastafattaamano #felixtrattoria

A post shared by FELIX Trattoria (@felixlosangeles) on

2018 James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant

The long list of 28 original nominees for this highly coveted award was first announced back in February and in March, the list was culled down to just five finalists, with Felix Trattoria making the final cut. This was Janet Zuccarini’s response when she found out her restaurant made it:

Winners will be announced on May 7, 2018 at The James Beard Awards Gala in Chicago.

Janet Zuccarini on Top Chef Canada

The judges for this season’s Restaurant Wars! episode: Mark McEwan, Mijune Pak, guest Ruth Reichl, Eden Grinshpan and Janet Zuccarini

This is Janet Zuccarini‘s second season as a resident judge on Top Chef Canada; she joined the series in its fifth season, Top Chef Canada: All-Stars.  Catch her next Sunday (April 29) at 10 E/P when she showcases her excellence as a restaurateur when she judges the chefs’ restaurant concepts and menus in this season’s Restaurant Wars! episode. The episode was filmed at Gusto 101, Janet’s acclaimed Italian restaurant in Toronto.

Related: New Season of Top Chef Canada Introduces Next Generation of Canada’s Culinary Elite

Top Chef Canada Season 6 Episode 3 Recap

Rainbow kimchi, matcha cones and frozen acai berries… So many food trends and not enough time to try them all. Or at least that’s the way I imagine the remaining nine chefs felt heading into the third episode of Top Chef Canada, when Eden Grinshpan enlisted them with their trendiest task to-date: create a brand new food trend by mashing up two other food trends, with Cuisinart doling out a trendy $5,000 cash prize to the winner. Did I mention it was all very trendy?

Peter Meehan joins Eden Grinshpan for the Quickfire Challenge

The Next Big Thing?

Luckily the gang had a little inspiration from Peter Meehan, former restaurant critic for The New York Times and the co-founder of food journal Lucky Peach, and a fun plinko-inspired board to see which ingredient and method they’d be utilizing. Think ingredients like coffee, coconut, matcha, kimchi, coffee and acai berries mashed up into things like cones, bite-sized bits, frozen or made into rainbows. Basically, anything that people will stand in a long lineup for these days made it onto the list, which meant that the chefs had to toss some of their classic training aside—at least for the trend part of it all. I mean, obviously the dish still had to be of Top Chef Canada caliber, otherwise what are we even here for?

Assignments in hand, it didn’t take long for the chefs to run into the Monogram kitchen and pantry, practically falling over one another to get their concoctions going. You’d think that by season six someone would have implemented traffic cones or florescent aprons to avoid such potential injuries.

The look you get when you ask a chef to create a trendy, mash-up dish but make it Top Chef Canada

Potential head-on collisions aside, the chefs came up with their ideas pretty quickly, as one must when cooking in a Quickfire. Personally, I get nervous cooking for my family—people that know and love me—so I can only imagine how scary it would be to create food for someone like Meehan. Certainly, some of the chefs let those nerves show, including “coconutty” Jinhee, who totally got flustered when Meehan and Eden came by to taste. She shouldn’t have been nervous because her traditional sorbet with tapioca pudding was deemed tasty, even if it wasn’t exactly trendsetting. I imagine she didn’t have expectations of winning the challenge anyhow, given her comments about wanting to be lasting, not trendy.

Meanwhile Ross, who also pulled coconut but had to create his in a cone, certainly tried to give it his all with a cream cone in a wonton wrapper (he even plated early), but unlike Jinhee he just wasn’t “sweet enough” with his plate and Meehan docked him points as a result. And was it just me or did Eden look utterly disappointed when taking her first bite? That woman has a sweet tooth, mark my words.

And here’s the proof. Eden definitely has a sweet tooth

Other dishes, like Darren’s “stupid berry,” a.k.a. acai berry dish fell flat when all of that mad science liquid nitrogen stuff he was going for didn’t work out, despite fogging up Jesse’s station, and he served up something that looked like an oil painting on a plate. Yeah, thanks… but no thanks.

On Trend: Chefs Mark and Matt

In terms of innovation, I give full points to Mark, who ran through the kitchen like it was nobody’s business in order to create a rainbow of kimchi flavours. The chef used zero actual kimchi on his plate, yet he achieved the full kimchi experience, which is kind of the epitome of trendy these days, no? I did find it a little weird that his dish looked like a flat painting of a rainbow instead of something you’d actually order and eat, but again, it was a really cool concept.

Mark’s seared strip loin steak, cabbage and red bean purée, onion purée, spiced purée and scallion purée

But not even a cool rainbow of kimchi could beat Matt’s love affair with the ingredient. When you claim to put kimchi in your breakfast cereal, wear it as hair gel and use it as cologne, you’ve automatically got a leg up. Also, you probably don’t smell the greatest, but luckily for Mark, personal hygiene didn’t factor into the challenge.  The fact that Matt pulled bite-sized in terms of a vessel meant that he could create Kimchi Foie Gras Dumpling in Kimchi Broth With Grated Shitake Mushroom that even Meehan said he’d line up for.

Matt’s winning dish: kimchi foie gras dumpling in kimchi broth with grated shiitake mushroom

Once again I’d like it reiterate how unfair it is that we don’t get to taste these dishes at home. Obviously, the dumplings landed Matt the five thousand dollar cash prize from Cuisinart, along with an advantage in the Elimination Challenge. Considering he’s got a pregnant wife at home it was hard not to be happy for the guy. That money will indeed go a long way, as he predicted. Cribs and diapers and clothes add up, y’all.

Hola, Chefs!

With fads out of the way, it was time to turn to a classic, favourite cuisine for the Elimination Challenge: create a three-course Mexican feast to be served at Toronto’s Baro restaurant. You could see Elia’s eyes light up at the prospect of using her background to fully showcase what she can do, but at the same time, that’s got to be a lot of pressure. After all, if you mess up your own cuisine, the judges definitely won’t be as forgiving. Assuming the judges are ever actually forgiving…

The exact moment Elia heard she’ll be cooking Mexican for the elimination challenge

We’re not talking burritos and tacos and other cliché Mexican dishes here either—save that kind of food for after the bars. To get inspiration for what kind of food they would be cooking, the chefs were asked to pull little succulents to see which region of the country they’d draw inspiration from. Meanwhile, guest-judge (and the very first Michelin starred Mexican chef) Carlos Gaytan advised them on various flavour profiles and doled out tips. Hey, if you’ve got the source at your fingertips, why not take advantage?

Carlos Gaytan at the tasting table

Speaking of, Matt’s advantage was that he could pick any of the regions, so he strategically picked Baja California to directly compete with Ross, whom he feels is his biggest competition. Interesting choice, if you ask me. Just because the chef won the immunity challenge the week before doesn’t necessarily make him the top competitor—in fact, he’s spent some time in the bottom and right now my money is on other competitors like Jinhee and Mark making it far.

Related: Go behind the scenes and find out how challenges are created by the show’s producers.

Regardless, the nacho-less chefs got busy planning their menus straightaway, with the classic, “who will get stuck with dessert” discussion taking centre stage. Ivana, whose meal-ender landed her in the bottom last week, wanted to redeem herself by tackling something sweet again, while Darren took one for the team and volunteered to cobble together a dessert in hopes of not having to do so again in the future. Seriously, I always love watching these amazing chefs, who can emulsify and press and plate like it’s nobody’s business, squirm whenever sugar is involved, don’t you?

Funniest moment of the night: Mark literally can’t handle the heat 

With the menus sorted out, it was off to Toronto’s Kensington Market with a hundred bucks to spend on ingredients. Poor Jinhee, who has never been there, was completely lost. Half the time I want to give that girl a hug, the rest of the time I want to split a bottle of wine with her and pick her brain. It may be biased, but I’d love to see her make it far in this thing.

Elia was the one to beat in this challenge

JP and Ivana Get Their Just Desserts

For Elia, the challenge quickly became personal when she decided to cook her grandmother’s dish, Chiles en Nogada—Stuffed Poblano Pepper with Walnut Sauce, Pomegranate & Goat Cheese Tuile. I was seriously worried the judges might dock her points because she had served a version of a stuffed pepper back in the premiere (it was her take on tourtière), but they positively ate this dish up. Literally. Everyone said the flavours were spot-on, and the poblanos landed Elia in the top three of the night. It was like everything was right in the world.

Elia’s Chiles en Nogada: stuffed poblano pepper with walnut sauce, pomegranate and goat cheese tuille

Matt and JP, who was determined to fight back from the bottom, rounded out the best dishes of the night. Eden described the seasoning on Matt’s lamb tartare as “ridiculous,” while JP’s Mango Custard proved that desserts can actually be done well on this show. In fact, even though Carlos said he’d putt Matt’s dish on his menu, it was JP who took home the night’s trophy. Fancy that—it seems like a well-done dessert goes a long way with the judges, too.

Matt’s lamb tartare with fig and black olive jam, corn chipotle crema and jicama chips

JP’s reaction to not only beating a celebrated Mexican chef in the Elimination Challenge but winning the night with a dessert

Of course, that also means that a poorly executed dessert will be very harshly judged. Ivana knew this from last week, but she experienced it all over again when her chocolate mash-up of ingredients (including a random fried cricket) left all of the judges uber confused. (Is saying uber still trendy? Wait, wrong challenge.) Personally, I wanted to gag. Bugs are my limit, thank you very much.

It was Mark McEwan who seemed to be the most disappointed of all (Ivana did work under him, once upon a time), but he was equally disappointed in Darren’s riff on Capirotada, a bread pudding of sorts that he himself said was a dish “a home ec high school student could do.” Ross, with an immunity in his back pocket, rounded out the bottom three with his seared scallops. His dish was tasty and all, but it really wasn’t in line with the Mexican part of the challenge itself to be deemed a winner.

Surprisingly, Ross’s confidence in his flavours was enough for the chef not to use his immunity just yet, something that sparked a huge debate among the others who weren’t up for elimination. While I certainly would have used the immunity just in case (who wants to go home with an immunity in their pocket?!), Ross proved he’s a gambling man and opted to save it for any of the next three challenges just in case. Hey—pride can go a long way, and I suppose if he can hypothetically win this thing without ever having to use an immunity, then that just makes the win that much sweeter.

The bottom three chefs have their reckoning at judges’ table

Luckily for him the gamble paid off, and it was Ivana who was sent home for her cricket-chocolate concoction. After she proved twice that desserts are not her forte, the judges seemed to have no other choice. It was a real shame given her credentials; we didn’t really get to see much actual cooking from the contestant. Had she had the opportunity to set the sweets aside, maybe her own ending would have been sweeter.

“She’s a trench fighter… [but Ivana] didn’t have any positive moments, unfortunately,” McEwan said later. “She underestimated what it is to be on Top Chef Canada a little bit and I think she kind of psyched herself out. We didn’t see her best cooking; her nerves got the best of her. She’s got a very, very good base knowledge and very good sense of flavour, but we unfortunately didn’t see it.”

Sadly, those are the breaks on Top Chef Canada. Until next week, when Restaurant Wars make a grand return. Who’s hungry?

Watch Ivana Raca’s exit video where she shares the toughest feedback she received from the judges’, including her mentor Mark McEwan:


Top Chef Canada Season 6 Episode 2 Recap

The saying may be “waste not, want not” but it was clear from the opening moments of Top Chef Canada’s second episode that despite a no-waste challenge, these chefs want it, and they want bad. The episode opened with the surviving crew lamenting about their mistakes (or smiling to themselves over their victories) from the Elimination Challenge the night before. Darren likened his experiences with the judges to a mind game, saying that it was like they were looking into his soul and saying, “We know what you did and we hated it.”

Well yeah, pretty much. This is Top Chef Canada, after all.

That look Darren describes also awaits the bottom three chefs of this episode.

Don’t Waste This Quickfire Challenge

At least the coffee was hot as the blurry eyed Top 10 geared up for one of the coolest Quickfire Challenges in the series’ history—a high-stakes food waste challenge in which every chef got the same arsenal of ingredients, and were tasked with making something delicious with as little waste as possible. To inspire them was guest-judge Danny Bowien, James Beard Award-winning chef, champion of minimal food waste in the restaurant industry, and starring in the film, Wasted! The Story of Food Waste. This wasn’t just any old Quickfire though, this was a challenge as high-stakes as they come since the winner would get this season’s sole immunity—one that he or she could use in any of the next four episodes. Winning the challenge would be the second-best thing to winning the entire season at this point, and the chefs knew it.

Danny Bowien judges the food waste Quickfire Challenge

So they acted appropriately by running into each other and sliding all over the floor trying to get to their stations to maximize that 40 minutes on the clock. So you know, just another typical day in the Monogram Kitchen. Seriously though, you could see the beads of sweat already starting to form on their brows, they all wanted that immunity so badly.

Mark plates his dish in the Quickfire Challenge

Of all the chefs, it looked like Nathan felt the pressure the most. He changed his dish not once, not twice, but three times within the already measly time frame, and wound up serving… well, I’m not sure what he served. There appeared to be a carrot on one plate and that was about all I could make out. In fact, there wasn’t anything to sample for the judges, he just mustered up some apologies and promises that he’d get it together ASAP.

Nathan should’ve taken his own advice from the first episode.

He wasn’t the only one feeling the heat though; Jinhee mucked up her plan, too. Although her Fish Ragoût with Tomato & Red Pepper Emulsion was killer in the taste and looks department, her waste bin was heads and fishtails higher than all of the other competitors. She knew it too and was kicking herself because she meant to do something with those scraps and then completely forgot.

And the Immunity Goes To…

Ross is an island of focused calm in the midst of the Quickfire Challenge

Things were looking up for Mark, Ross and JP, though. The latter’s bin consisted of basically an artichoke that fell on the floor, while Mark only tossed an orange rind (which he was still criticized for not zesting). But it was Ross’s Pan-Seared Branzino in a Pesto Puree with Compressed Radish & Artichoke Vinegar and his very minimal bin that landed him the night’s big win, or a “Get Out Of Jail Free Card,” as he happily dubbed it.

“That’s pow-ah,” Eden joked in her adork-able foodie way, reminding us all why she’s the perfect person to host this thing.

Guest judge Danny Bowien said Ross’s winning dish was clean yet complex and showcased his skills as a chef.

Down on the Farm: The Elimination Challenge

With immunity and food scraps out of the way, it was time for the chefs to turn to the Elimination Challenge, the next hurdle between them and the title of Canada’s Top Chef.  Eden welcomed celebrity chef Lynn Crawford, the ultimate farm-to-table chef in my books, to be the challenge’s guest judge and help decide just how well the chefs could whip up a dish inspired by one of five types of Canadian farms: dairy, egg, vegetable, fruit or grain.  Lynn Crawford wasn’t the only guest at the table; five farmers, each one representing the farmed ingredients the chefs were cooking with, were also invited to taste the chefs’ plates.

With the task set and the challenge knives drawn from nifty little wheelbarrows, the chefs visited the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair for inspiration and ingredients. There, the gang checked out massive gourds that would probably squash them in a Quickfire (see what I did there?) and Jesse and Darren, who both picked dairy, attempted to milk a poor cow who seemed “udder”ly unimpressed with Jesse.

With their ingredients in hand, the chefs headed back to the kitchen for a little prep, and then onto the restaurant for the main service, where Eden, the judges and Lynn Crawford were eager and ready to taste and rate the fare.

Related: Go behind the scenes of the Top Chef Canada kitchen with the series’ Culinary Producer.

Winning the Farm

Darren was intent on bringing his A-game after falling in the bottom last week, so he switched tactics and cooked something for himself rather than serving up a dish he thought the judges might like. That meant going old school with a Poached Sablefish with Potato Pavé, Milk Crackers & Lemon Cream Sauce. The madness certainly worked—not only did Darren wind up in the night’s Top 3, but everyone agreed the dish showcased a high degree of skill.

Mark’s Stages of Tomatoes with Strawberries, Soft Tofu and Chilled Tomato Consommé

The judges also loved Mark’s vegan take on his fruit dish. In fact, McEwan admitted it’s hard to “get that excited about a bowl of tomato water,” but Mark’s Stages of Tomatoes with Strawberries, Tofu & Chilled Tomato Consommé was an immediate hit. And yes, tomatoes are still a fruit in case you were wondering.

Matt’s Beer-Braised Savoury Grain Stew with Rye-Marinated Duck

But the night’s overall success story was Matt, with his suds-soaked riff on grains that had Janet admitting she wanted to lick her plate clean. The chef was awarded the night’s big win for his Beer-Braised Savoury Grain Stew with Rye-Marinated Duck, proving that beer and grains really do make for a winning combo. Who knew frat boys everywhere were on to something?

There’s no higher praise for a chef.

And Losing the Farm

McEwan’s protégé, Ivana, was definitely not pumped about picking fruit because she felt that meant she had to go the dessert route, and few non-pastry chefs in the history of cooking have ever loved making desserts. So it wasn’t really a surprise when her Apple Clafoutis with Maple Apple Sabayon & Almond Apple Jam fell flat and landed her in the bottom three, with disappointed tears quickly following. The judges picked her apart not just for the type of dessert she made but how she presented, too. Mijune was being really nice when she described the dusting of icing sugar as ‘old-fashioned.’

JP, Ivana and Nathan await the judges’ reckoning.

And while it looked as though Ross—who has some liberty to play around thanks to the immunity in his pocket—might also land in the bottom three after his dessert riff on grains went to mush, it was JP and Nathan who rounded out the worst of the night’s worst.

JP took me by surprise because if I were to judge purely from what I saw on TV, his “what came first, the chicken or the egg” approach to picking eggs was genius. How do you go wrong with crispy chicken skin and egg pasta? Well, by delivering thick pasta and a thin broth, apparently. The judges were not fans, and they were not afraid to say so.

And the Elimination Goes to…

But no one did worse than poor Nathan, who clearly couldn’t shake his competition nerves. We had such high hopes for season one winner Dale Mackay’s partner—he was an easy frontrunner to win the title. But when he served up Poached Egg with Hollandaise, Trout Eggs & Cured Salmon on Roasted Cabbage, that was the final straw for the judges. While the eggs themselves were dandy, they were a little too simple for this crew. Then there was the matter of the thick slab of cabbage (and cabbage core) at the bottom that turned everyone off, making the dish completely inedible. In the end, it was as though the judges were forced to send Nathan home since he never really wrapped his head around this thing in the first place.

“I didn’t do what I came here to do,” Nathan told the cameras afterwards. “I wish I could be different and not so anxious and nervous.”

Me too, Nathan. Me, too. Somehow I feel like we didn’t even see a fraction of what this guy is capable of. But, those are the breaks when you do a show like this.

“I’d want to see what his actual cooking is because on the show he really did struggle by second-guessing [himself]. The challenges really threw him off,” Mijune Pak said afterwards.

Her advice for Nathan would be to work on ‘less, is more.’ Mijune adds, “On the show, he had this habit of putting a lot of elements on the dish. You end up just getting something that’s confusing…and not what you wanted to present.”

“I’m sure what he cooks at his restaurant is probably very different,” Mijune continues. And she’s right, Nathan’s Saskatoon restaurant Sticks and Stones was named to Canada’s Best 100 Restaurant List for 2018. So, we know he’s more than capable as a chef. Maybe Mijune sums it up best with this thought about Nathan: “I’m not sure if he is a competition chef.”

Another chef fails tonight because of a lack of confidence. There’s a reason the judges love certain plates; it’s because they ‘taste like confidence’. (Thanks to Chris Nuttall-Smith for the perfect quote from the premiere episode.)

Case in point: Matt Sullivan, the evening’s winner, confidently stands next to a massive flame with a bottle of open whiskey.

Nine remaining chefs continue on next week, as the kitchen becomes infused with Mexican flavours and hopefully, more confidence. Personally, I can’t wait for that fiesta.

Watch Nathan Guggenheimer come to terms about what got him sent home in his post-elimination exit interview:

Top Chef Canada Season 6 Episode 1 Recap

Welcome to 2018, the year of plant-based diets, Instant Pot recipes and another delicious season of Top Chef Canada! Everyone knows it’s hard to follow-up an All-Stars edition, but judging from the way the first episode of season six went down there’s going to be some stiff competition in store from this next generation of culinary superstars.

This season’s 11 hopefuls await instructions for their first challenge from Host Eden Grinshpan.

It all kicked-off with the 11 hopefuls sauntering all slow-motion-like into the Monogram Kitchen (framed by some cool backlighting and with their knives in tow, of course), where they met returning host Eden Grinshpan and had a chance to size one another up. Some, like Saskatoon chefs Nathan Guggenheimer and Jesse Zuber, were already familiar with each other thanks to their partnerships alongside season one winner Dale Mackay (pressure, much?) while others, like Calgary chef Jinhee Lee seemed slightly intimidated—but not deterred—by the competition.

Related: Watch a behind-the-scenes glimpse of Eden Grinshpan’s day in the life of being Top Chef Canada’s host.

There was no time for actual formalities and introductions though; this is a competition, people. So Eden dove right into the night’s initial Quickfire Challenge: a four-part culinary skills race led by head judge Mark McEwan himself. The legendary chef and restaurateur reminded the chefs that no matter how high you’ve climbed the culinary ladder, your skills need to remain as sharp as your knives; Mark blanched and peeled 31 pearl onions in a mere three minutes, setting the bar for the first round of the challenge. Then in round two, he showcased his standards for a perfectly peeled and diced butternut squash, before diving back in during round three to prepare a duck like it’s nobody’s business. (And here I am, still trying to figure out how to quarter a chicken.)

In this mad dash Quickfire Challenge, counting the pearl onions was almost as tough as peeling them.

So what was the point of prepping all those ingredients? Other than to remind everyone why McEwan is the head judge, I mean? It certainly wasn’t to feed the production crew. Nope, by the time Jesse and Vancouver’s Mark Singson beat out the others to compete in the final round, they were given 25 mere minutes to prepare a dish with the food they’d just prepped. While it would probably take me 25 minutes just to cook up some rice and throw a chicken breast in the oven, these guys set the bar incredibly high with what McEwen admitted were easily two Top Chef quality dishes. That’s always a good start to the season, no?

Jesse’s Pan-Roasted Duck With Poached Pearl Onions and Squash Three Ways

Jesse’s Pan-Roasted Duck with Poached Pearl Onions & Squash Three-Ways was pure confidence, for one. The guy even cook-splained how important it was to properly render the duck fat to McEwan before he tasted it, proving to everyone that he knows his fowl. But it was the smoked canola oil in Mark’s Pan-Roasted Duck with Charred Onions and Squash Purée that put his dish over the top and landed Mark a cool $3,000 from Monogram, setting the bar for the season, if you ask me. And judging by Mark’s self-professed current financial status with his catering business, it was three grand he’s certainly pumped to have.

Mark’s Pan-Roasted Ducks with Charred Onions, Squash Purée and Smoked Canola Oil

Not that there was any time to really celebrate, mind you. Sure, it was obvious everyone’s nerves were tingling from the pressure of actually competing in this thing, and that they could all use a good night’s rest and a cocktail or two. Heck, I could use a stiff one after seeing how much work went into a ‘mere’ Quickfire Challenge. But that kind of repose is for other culinary competitions; in Top Chef Canada we head right into the Elimination Challenge, where what you put on the plate is always a do-or-die situation.

From L-R: Chefs Ivana Raca, Matt Sullivan, Jinhee Lee, JP Miron

Given the high expectations from this year’s crew and their next-gen style of cooking, it was only fitting that Eden bring out four chefs whose own culinary creations have helped shape the Canadian food landscape over the past few years. Obviously, that included McEwan, but in a star-studded move fit for a foodie premiere, Eden also introduced Susur Lee, Rob Feenie and Anne Yarymowich—three culinary masterminds whose dishes have inspired hoards of hopeful chefs. So basically, all of my own culinary heroes straight-up in one kitchen.

The task at hand? Each chef was supposed to put their own stamp on one of the four chefs’ signature creations that put them on the culinary map. Mark, who had the advantage of picking which chef he’d use for inspiration thanks to his Quickfire Challenge win, immediately selected Rob Feenie and his mouthwatering Sake & Maple-Cured Sablefish, Braised Oxtail, Ginger and Soy Cream. You know, just your basic fish and chips.

Ross Larkin prepares his take on the Bymark burger: manchego truffle powder dusted on top of his PEI Grass-fed beef tartare on squid ink crostini.

Meanwhile, the rest of the chefs drew knives to see which dish they’d be recreating: McEwan’s Bymark Burger with “high performance cheese” (I’m still not sure what that is but I want some); Susur’s Curry Roasted Chicken with Italian influences like polenta croutons; or Anne’s Montreal classic Tourtière, a golden-crusted meat pie filled with bison, venison, pork and duck confit. (A comfort food that could comfort even the most comfortable.)

No one ever wants to be the first chef to go home in a competition like this, so with $100 on their Interac cards and 25 minutes to shop at McEwan Foods, the competitors set about creating deconstructed, re-imagined and gussied-up versions of the four dishes, which they were to then piece together at McEwan’s Bymark restaurant.

Jesse prepares his take on the Bymark burger: trio of tartare “sliders” on three-cheese gougères.

As Jesse pointed out, it was basically “Top Chef Suicide” for those who drew McEwan’s name. I can’t even imagine the coronary-inducing levels of stress caused by whipping up a Bymark burger, at Bymark, for Mark. But that didn’t mean we should count Jesse, Montreal’s Darren Rogers, or St. John’s Ross Larkin, who all drew the Bymark burger, down and out just yet. Felix Zhou admitted he couldn’t even pronounce “tourtière,” for one. And the other chefs were also sweating up a storm back in that cramped kitchen. Not that I blame them; it wasn’t just the four powerhouse chefs who were going to be judging their plates; resident judges Mijune Pak, Chris Nuttall-Smith and Janet Zuccarini were also back to lend their tasting expertise. That’s a dinner party you want to break bread with, not cook for.

Jinhee’s Maple Lime-Glazed Chicken Thigh With Lemongrass Curry

In the end it was female power that led the way this week, as Jinhee’s Maple Lime-Glazed Chicken Thigh with Lemongrass Curry completely captured all of the judges’ imaginations (especially Susur Lee’s), and Elia Herrera’s Mexican take on a tourtière (a Stuffed Chipotle Pepper in a Pastry with Date & Tamarind Purée), blew everyone away. I would have jumped through the TV screen just to take one little bite of either of those dishes.

Elia’s Mexican Tourtière, a Stuffed Chipotle Pepper in a Pastry with Date and Tamarind Purée

Meanwhile, it was Montreal’s JP Miron, a guy obviously in this thing to represent his hometown, who rounded out the top three with his Maple Soy-Glazed Sablefish with Potato Pavé and Sake Soy Jus. Fish and chips indeed — this guy basically created “fish skin” out of shaved potatoes, making the 80’s cool again.

JP’s Maple Soy-Blazed Sablefish with Potato Pavé and Sake Soy Jus

While all three dishes were impressive, there was no beating Jinhee’s chicken, which Chris said “blew” his mind and Janet called “flawless.” That’s pretty high praise for the first winning Elimination Dish of the season, which means the pressure is on for Jinhee to keep bringing it week after week now. Good luck, I say.

Nathan should have kept rolling that pasta! Janet Zuccarini thought Nathan’s too thick pasta was “the beginning of the end” for her.

So with the winner determined, that left the unfortunate task of naming the night’s loser. And while Nathan’s bland curry and too thick pasta and Darren’s “elevator music” riff of strip loin were certainly bad enough to land them in the bottom three, it was poor Felix who became the first chef eliminated after he forgot his puff pastry and tried to solve the problem by making crispy sheet potatoes instead.

To be fair, I’m not sure it was completely the dish that made the judges decide to send him home; when McEwan asked Felix if he could make a standard pie dough that could have been used instead of the purchased puff pastry, he simply said, “no.” Apparently he didn’t get the memo that a judge does not want to hear something like that in a competition like this. Confidence goes a long way in this kitchen, and sadly Felix didn’t seem to have it this time around.

“No” is definitely not something the judges want to hear from a competitor.

With one chef down that leaves 10 to go, as next week the competition heats up again. After seeing the creations coming off the hot plate this week, I’ll definitely be bringing my appetite.

Related: Watch Felix Zhou reveal what he thought were his mistakes that led to his elimination in this exit interview.

Guide to Building a Chef-Worthy Pantry of Dried Herbs and Spices

The tools of the trade for this season’s Top Chef Canada chefs go beyond sharp knives and moxie. The Top Chef Canada kitchen pantry is well stocked, beautifully organized and slightly envy-inducing. It’s brimming with spices, herbs and spice mixes with a spectrum of tastes, tangs and temperatures from extra-mild to ferociously hot, giving the chefs just what they need to create a winning dish.

These herbs and spices are mixed, matched and layered for bold, attention-grabbing flavour that makes their dishes stand out from the crowd. And taking these tastes from a professional kitchen to home base is easier than you’d think. All you need is a seasoning collection built for contemporary palates.

How to Build a Contemporary Spice Pantry

Map out your spice cupboard like you’re planning a trip. Is there a destination you’re aching to go to? A dish you’d love to try there? From Indian to Moroccan to French and beyond, herbs and spices are a passport to an untapped world of tastes awaiting exploration.

Spices at a Moroccan Market

To begin, bring one new spice or herb per week into your kitchen and before you know it, you’ll have a library of tastes waiting for you, inspiring you and helping you along, every time you cook.

How to Store Spices and Herbs

Treat your herbs and spices like gold and they’ll return the favour, staying fresh longer. Store spices in the jar they came in or transfer to your own airtight jar, well-sealed and away from direct light or high temperatures, which can cause oxidation, leading to flat, not fresh, spices and herbs. A kitchen cupboard is the perfect place.

How to Tell if Spices and Herbs are Still Good to Use

Aroma: Strong, prominent and striking.
Colour: Vibrant, rich and natural.
Taste: Discernable and fresh tasting, not flat, unnoticeable or papery.

The Shelf Life of Spices and Herbs

Dried herbs: 1 to 2 years
Ground spices: 2 to 3 years
Spice mixes and seasonings: 1 to 2 years
Whole dried spices: 3 to 4 years

Bold Spices and Herbs to Explore

We’re pulling inspiration from the Top Chef Canada kitchen to help you build the ultimate culinary spice pantry. Here are some gourmet options to consider adding to your new spice pantry along with recipes to try to bring the flavour home.

Ancho Chili Pepper: With a mild heat and sweet, fruity flavour, ancho chili pepper is the dried version of a poblano pepper. Try it in this epic recipe for a Mexican Puebla Hot Pot Broth with Avocado Crema from McCormick’s Helloflavour.ca.

Mexican Puebla Hot Pot Broth With Avocado Crema

Saffron: Earthy, sweet, ever so slightly bitter and remarkable, saffron is used in Scandinavian, Middle Eastern, Spanish, Indian and Italian cuisines, adding not only a distinctive flavour but glowing yellow colour, too. Try saffron in this Whole-Roasted Cauliflower recipe.

Whole-Roasted Cauliflower With Hazlenut, Orange and Saffron

Garam Masala: With a warmth akin to holiday baking spices but with a savoury, spicy edge, this Indian spice blend is usually a mix of cardamom, cinnamon, chili, curry leaves, coriander seeds, cumin seeds and peppercorns. Cull inspiration from India with this recipe for garam masala Sweet Potato Cakes.

Sweet Potato Cakes

Harissa: This North African spice blend comes dried or in paste form, often containing hot peppers, garlic, coriander, rose and caraway. It can be used in Moroccan tagines and stews, in spreads, dips or as a rub for meat. Give it a try at dinner tonight with this recipe for Chicken and Chickpea Tagine with Apricots and Harissa Sauce.

Chicken and Chickpea Tagine With Apricots and Harissa Sauce

Za’atar: Fragrant, slightly sour, nutty and herbaceous, this spice mix is common in Middle Eastern cuisine. A mix of thyme, sumac and toasted sesame seeds, it brings depth to grilled flatbreads, fish, meat, hummus and more. It plays off of creamy chickpeas like a champ in this recipe for a Middle Eastern take of beans on toast.

Smoky Chickpeas on Grilled Toast With Poached Eggs and Za’atar

Lavender: Floral, soothing and delicate, culinary lavender adds a touch of Southern France to savoury dishes, and is a traditional component in herbes de Provence, a French spice mix containing thyme, oregano, marjoram, savory and rosemary. Lavender also shines in baked goods, sweets and cocktails. Bring a little bit of Southern French flair to your tea time with this recipe for Coconut Lavender Macaroons.    

Essential Herbs and Spices Every Kitchen Needs

The building blocks of everyday meals, these spices and herbs have your back, soothe your soul and bolster your mood with their familiar flavour. See our collection of 16 dried herbs and spices every home cook should have in their pantry. 

Sponsored by McCormick. For more great recipes using herbs and spices go to helloflavour.ca.

Top Chef Canada Winners to Compete on Iron Chef Gauntlet Season 2

Two fan favourite Top Chef Canada winners, Nicole Gomes and Dale Mackay, will compete in the new season of Iron Chef Gauntlet, premiering Wednesday, April 4 at 9 E/P.  Calgary’s Nicole Gomes won last year’s All-Stars season of Top Chef Canada, becoming the first woman to win the title, while Saskatoon’s Dale Mackay won the first season of Top Chef Canada back in 2011. There can only be one Iron Chef Gauntlet champion but that won’t stop us from rooting for both of them!

Canadians Nicole Gomes and Dale Mackay are pictured left standing with the group of other Iron Chef hopefuls and host Alton Brown (centre).

In this exciting battle, seven chefs from across the U.S. and Canada will enter Kitchen Stadium for a chance to become the next Iron Chef.  Each week, the chefs compete against one other to avoid elimination. The last chef standing enters the Gauntlet to take on three formidable Iron  Chefs: Alex Guarnaschelli, Michael Symon and Stephanie Izard. If the chef beats all three,  he or she will become the next Iron Chef.

Stephanie Izard is the newest Iron Chef earning her title by winning Iron Chef Gauntlet’s first season.  She is also a Top Chef winner (she took the title in the series’ fourth season).  Perhaps that’s a good omen for our Canadians!

Chef Nicole Gomes is a tough competitor. Aside from winning Top Chef Canada: All-Stars, she has over 20 years of professional culinary experience including cooking around the globe with accomplished chefs in Sydney, Hong Kong and Vancouver and as the chef-owner of her own event catering company, Nicole Gourmet Catering, now in its eleventh year. In 2016, she opened Cluck N’ Cleaver with her sister, a fried chicken and rotisserie take-out restaurant that prides itself on giving customers good food, fast.  The restaurant has been a hit! Nicole will be expanding with more locations in Calgary and across western Canada.

Sneak peek of Nicole in Iron Chef Gauntlet’s season premiere

Related: Read our exclusive interview with Nicole Gomes after winning Top Chef Canada: All-Stars

Chef Dale Mackay runs a successful restaurant empire in Saskatoon, that includes hotspot Ayden Kitchen and Bar,  named to Enroute’s Best Restaurants in 2014. Before establishing himself in his Prairie hometown, he was executive chef at Gordon Ramsay’s Michelin-starred restaurants in London, Tokyo and New York and also the executive chef for Daniel Boulud’s Lumière restaurant in Vancouver.

Related: See Dale Mackay practice his perogy pinching at a Ukrainian dinner party in Saskatoon

Dale Mackay seen in Kitchen Stadium in Iron Chef Gauntlet’s season premiere

Visit the Iron Chef Gauntlet site for more about the upcoming season and to see who Dale and Nicole will be competing against. Watch new episodes Wednesdays at 9 E/P beginning April 4. If you missed an episode, catch up online when new episodes are available Thursday mornings after previous night’s broadcast.

Dale Mackay giving Alton Brown a taste of what he’s created in the premiere episode of Iron Chef Gauntlet

You’ll also get to see Nicole as a guest judge in the upcoming season of Top Chef Canada sharing her wisdom with the next generation of Canada’s chefs. Beginning April 8, catch Top Chef Canada on Sundays at 10 E/P. To catch up, we’ll have full episodes online the next day at topchefcanada.ca

Best Places to Eat in Toronto: Top Chef Canada’s Ivana Raca

When it comes to drive, ambition and a palate that knows no bounds, Chef Ivana Raca comes to mind. The former Yugoslavia native currently calls Toronto home, and it’s there, through three restaurant ventures and a win on Chopped Canada, that she’s earned the respect of her peers and critics alike.

Despite Ivana’s busy schedule and demanding gig, she still takes time to enjoy the delicious eats the city has to offer. So when she has some rare time off, here’s the Toronto restaurants she likes to indulge.

Related: Read Ivana Raca’s full bio here.

Resto Boemo

This stall at Assembly Chef’s Hall is the collaboration between Chopped Canada host Brad Smith and Ivana, who won a 2016 episode of the series. According to Ivana, the pair teamed to create some of the best gnocchi and “burgers in the city,” but Boemo also represents the idea of an improved, “free’er” chef—one who has no limits to the imagination.


There are plenty of vegan and vegetarian restaurants in Toronto, but Ivana’s other, full-service, spot boasts a specialized Italian-pescatarian menu with plenty of vegetarian options and seasonal Canadian ingredients. With a cozy brick interior and items like Ivana’s highly recommended Trout Crudo and “incredible” Seafood Lasagna at the ready, Ufficio makes for a great stop on a date or special celebration. “Home is where the heart is,” Ivana adds, speaking to Ufficio’s overall tone.


Chef Nick Liu’s refined menu at this thriving spot is where old meets new, as it honours the tastes of an older generation while connecting to future generations through food. The fare is inspired by Liu’s Hakka parents, but the Canadian chef follows French traditions in order to update some classics for more modern palates. The result is a winning combination that keeps diners coming back for more.

“[It’s] amazing fusion cuisine,” says Ivana. “Takes me back to Asia.”

f e a t u r e ???? Tonight, our feature special from one of our cooks, Jeff Miranda, is an incredible take on a Filipino dish called Kare Kare (pronounced kah-reh kah-reh). ???? Short-Rib Kare Kare beef short rib in a peanut sauce // grilled garlic scapes // Japanese eggplant // grilled bok choy sum // grilled onions // topped with mustard greens oil // candied shrimp crumble // crispy banana blossom // fried beef tendon · · · ???? @joeysalmingo ???? #ShotOnCanon #Canon #CanonForFood ???? #KareKare #FilipinoFood #SickAsianFood #NewAsianCuisine #FilipinoFoodMovement #ShortRib #Pinoy #PinoyFood #FuckThatsDelicious #EatTO #BlogTO #Eeeeeeats #Eat #Food #FoodPorn #Tastemade #f52 #food52 #Narcity #FoodPhotoOfTheDay #Foodie #EatFamous #ChefLife #TrueCooks #Chefs #FilipinoDish #Filipino

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Restaurant Chantecler

Frog legs, escargot and other classic French fare grace the menu of this fine-dining establishment, which is named after Canada’s only heritage breed of chicken. An open kitchen faces the bar with limited seating in between, meaning that if you want to get in on this Parkdale favourite, reservations are usually required.

“[It has a] great steak tartar,” Ivana raves. “[It] always hits the spot for me.”

Beauty shot of @chanteclerto beef tartare on the pass ????

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Ramen Isshin

Ivana is “huge on ramen,” which makes this eatery a staple on her list. Isshin has two locations: one in the downtown Toronto core and another at Assembly Chef’s Hall. The name translates into “one heart, one ramen” and so a large variety of bowls grace the menu—including the signature Wok Fried Red Miso Ramen. Ivana says the “black sesame miso is a must-have,” but no matter what you order, you’re guaranteed traditional Tonkotsu broth, a signature blend of red and white miso and only the freshest ingredients.

See Chef Elia Herrera’s Top 5 Toronto Eats

Get Chef Matt Sullivan’s Top 5 Eats in Toronto

Find out about Chef Dennis Tay’s Favourite Filipino Eats in Toronto

Best Places to Eat in Saskatoon: Top Chef Canada’s Jesse Zuber

As the protégé to Top Chef Canada’s inaugural winner Dale Mackay, (and as the co-owner and executive chef of Saskatoon’s Little Grouse on the Prairie), Jesse Zuber has definitely had some experience with what it takes to serve up a memorable dish.

Of course part of that creation process comes with eating out at some of the city’s best hot spots to become better versed in what the competition is serving up. When it comes to restaurants that inspire him—as well as joints that are just plain old delicious—here’s where Jesse loves to eat when in Saskatoon.

Related: Read Jesse Zuber’s full bio here.

Keo’s Kitchen

Feasting on the traditional Thai dishes at Keo’s is akin to travelling all the way to Thailand. With offerings like tum salad, red curry and dancing prawns, the menu features updated Thai classics to warm you up from the inside out.

“[There are] great authentic Thai flavours,” Jesse promises. “[It’s] definitely worth checking out the thom ka kai.”

classic, pad thai

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Summer Palace

If you’re in the mood for generous portion sizes with spoonfuls of heaping flavours, this Szechuan house is for you. With offerings like deep-fried diced chicken with dried chili to Szechuan stir-fried pork, this is a place for celebration big, bold flavours with a traditional flair.

“[They have a ] huge menu with some incredible authentic Szechuan choices,” says Zuber. “My personal favorite dish is the boiled beef in chili oil. It’s like fire!”

???? ???? the real deal no ???? here

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Jin Jin Cuisine Dumpling

They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, and so you really shouldn’t judge this dumpling house by its rough exterior. Although the façade isn’t the fanciest in the city, the food—particularly the famed dumplings, which come with a variety of fillings—are highly recommended.

“It’s not much for ambience, but the dumplings and steam buns are killer,” says Jesse.

Stick and Stones

Jesse’s fellow Top Chef Canada competitor Nathan Guggenheimer and inaugural Top Chef Canada winner Dale Mackay’s Grassroots Restaurant Group brings a blend of Japanese and Korean cuisines to the prairies with this eatery. The comprehensive menu features creative sushi rolls, steamed buns, ramen and other flavourful concoctions bound to impress palates everywhere.

“Nathan’s blending of Japanese and Korean flavours always hits the spot,” says Jesse. Plus, there’s a “great cocktail list.”

La Bamba Café

Traditional Mexican food graces the menu at this family-run restaurant, which claims to have been the first to offer such fare in all of western Canada when it opened in 2007. Traditional dishes like tacos and enchiladas that Mexican families “have been eating for ages” are both flavourful and filling.

“[It’s] fantastic Mexican cuisine,” says Jesse. “The enchilada verde is just the thing for a hangover.”

Get Chef Nathan Guggenheimer’s Top 5 Eats in Saskatoon

See Chef Jinhee Lee’s Top 5 Eats in Calgary

Best Places to Eat in Montreal: Top Chef Canada’s Darren Rogers

Darren Rogers, a British Columbia native, travelled the country in order to hone his skills in the kitchen before finally settling down in Montreal, where he now works as the chef de cuisine at Antonio Park’s, Park restaurant.

Having experienced food in so many Canadian cities, Darren definitely knows what separates a good restaurant from a great one. That’s why we’re taking note of his top pics of Montreal restaurants, where the Top Chef Canada competitor loves to eat.

Related: Read Darren Rogers’s full bio here.

Restaurant Kazu

This cozy little nook with an open kitchen offers big flavours with dishes that incorporate traditional and modern Japanese flavours. The tofu is made in-house, while modern plates like shrimp burgers and grilled chicken meatballs ensure there’s something for everyone.

“I love this place. It’s tight, quaint, feels like home, and is the least pretentious restaurant in the world,” says Darren. “Chef Kazu himself usually serves the people sitting at the bar, and it’s always fun to watch him and his team work.”

So what is Darren’s favourite dish? “The Kalbi Short Ribs. [They’re] a little sweet, a little salty, [they come with] some creamy potatoes and a little salad. I mean, it’s love in every bite!”

nice pork bowl!

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Maison Publique

This quaint but spacious gastropub has been a Montreal staple ever since it opened its doors in 2012; chef and owner Derek Dammann has been happily changing the menu to his Canadian-inspired whims ever since. While they don’t take reservations for brunch, dinner service tends to book up fast so be sure to call for a spot.

“[It’s] a Canadian take on famous pub dishes. Every meal is just a ton of fun to eat if nothing else,” explains Darren. “The menu is always changing, so it’s hard to pick a favourite, but it’s great to be able to try something different every time.”

BBQ moose heart, chanterelles and pickled Saskatoon berries eh.

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Ichigo Ichie

The name of this ramen house roughly translates into “one time, one meeting,” a Japanese concept that means to treasure each moment and encounter in life because it will never recur. The same can’t be said for the success of these noodles—they’re so consistently popular that the ramen section of the restaurant is on a first-come, first-serve basis.

“It’s easily my favourite ramen house in the city (and there are a lot). It’s always consistent, there’s great energy in the building, and of course it’s a great bowl of noodles,” Darren says. “Obviously the tonkotsu ramen is my favourite… rich, fatty, and filling. It’s the thickest broth in the west, and it never gets old!”

Burger Royal

Whether it’s a chicken, beef or vegan patty you’re seeking, this burger joint does them all. Add a wide variety of creative toppings like mac and cheese, fried eggs or maple smoked bacon—all stacked sky-high—and this is an establishment you definitely want to visit while hungry.

“[They have] dangerously sloppy burgers and the chilliest milkshakes,” Darren raves. “It’s the perfect hangover cure, and to top it off there’s a cheeky ‘Tarantino’ theme in the whole place.”

Pretty much the fastest way to kickstart your weekend into third gear, trust us.

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Liverpool House

This restaurant is rich with seaside cottage charm and features an old-school, clubhouse vibe. The menu is equally indulgent thanks to a wide selection of fresh game, an oyster counter and market-inspired comfort foods to ease the soul.

“[There’s] a ‘house-like’ atmosphere surrounded by knick-knacks and weird paintings [that] makes every meal feel like a dinner party with friends,” Darren says. “[The] best dish is the quail and foie gras sauce. [It comes with] two quails and foie gras… I mean, come on. I love game bird, and this dish was no exception.”

Pintade au chou

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Get Chef JP Miron’s Top 5 Montreal Eats

Find out Chef Ross Larkin’s Top 5 Eats in St. John’s, Newfoundland

Best Places to Eat in Vancouver: Top Chef Canada’s Felix Zhou

As a classically trained chef and the co-owner and chef at Heritage Asian Eatery in Vancouver, Felix Zhou knows a thing or two about using his creativity and background in order to take a dish to the next level. It’s something he’s been doing since he was a kid when he won a scholarship for a cooking class and realized what he was destined to do.

At his eatery, Felix is all about offering a new perspective on Asian fast food and snacks, something he hones while eating out as some of the city’s other delicious, Asian-inspired restaurants. When it comes to a delicious night out on the town, here are Felix’s top picks.

Related: Read Felix Zhou’s full bio here.


A restaurant in historic Gastown, PiDGiN refuses to sway towards either casual or fine dining. Instead, it attempts to redefine the language of dining altogether with a menu that encompasses multiple cuisines and cultures all at once.

“My favorite dish at PiDGiN is Korean rice cake, gochujang Bolognese and spiced hazelnut,” Felix raves.

korean rice cake, gochujang bolognese, hondashi, hazelnut // #pidginfood

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If it’s traditional Thai food you’re seeking, look no further than Chef Angus An’s fresh and seasonal menu, which boasts everything from family-style dining to his own riffs on popular Thai street food. This one gets bonus points for a Chef’s tasting menu that can also accommodate the vegetarians out there.

“My favorite dish at Maenam is pad Thai,” Felix says.

Phnom Penh

You won’t have trouble spotting this family-run restaurant in the heart of Chinatown. It’s  traditional Cambodian or Vietnamese fare draws lines at the door, making it a must-visit spot.

“My favorite dish at Phnom Penh are the chicken wings,” says Felix.

The Pear Tree

Owners Scott and Stephanie Jaeger run a relaxed and comfortable dining room that’s perfect for special occasions, catch-ups, or a fancier weeknight meal. Their seasonal and sustainable menu of Canadian fare has been impressing diners since 1998; in fact, in 2005 the duo had to shut down for 40 days in order to double the size of their dining room in order to accommodate all of the guests.

“My favorite dish is the lobster cappuccino,” says Felix, referring to the lobster bisque foam with dashi custard and poached lobster.


The Vancouver location of this worldwide franchise imports big and bold Japanese flavours into small, signature bowls of heaven. Hokkaido Ramen Santouka is renowned for his delicate shio ramen, which to this day remains handcrafted with minimal salt or artificial seasonings.

“It’s comforting to walk into a ramen house; the warmth and smell reminds me of being back home [in China],” Felix says. “Noodles have a very dear place in my heart. My favourite dish is the santouka ramen, spicy miso extra char siu. You can have it all in one bowl of ramen. [It’s] delicious, warm [and] a little spicy.”

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Best Places to Eat in Vancouver: Top Chef Canada’s Mark Singson

Vancouver’s Mark Singson knows what goes into a great menu. He did, after all, help to curate the menu for AnnaLena, a place critics have called one of the country’s best new restaurants.

These days the Top Chef Canada hopeful is striking out on his own as a caterer, but he’s scoping out the best and brightest culinary hot spots in hopes of one day opening his own eatery. Given his personal investment in learning what makes a restaurant truly great, you know that this chef’s picks for the best places to eat in Vancouver are on point.

Related: Read Mark Singson’s full bio here.

Zakkushi on Denman

Charcoal grilled skewers are the name of the game at this Japanese “Izakaya” style restaurant. There are more than 30 different kinds, from meat and seafood to vegetables and everything in between. Craving something different? Mark swears by the small plates with big flavour.

“If you order 12 items it’s like having a cheeky 12-course dinner. I basically just love to snack,” he says. “Most of the items on the menu are snacks on a stick cooked over charcoal: grilled dried squid, grilled chicken hearts and liver, raw octopus with wasabi stems and nori.”

담에는 1인 1도쿠리????

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Guu Garden

Warm woods and lots of natural sunlight greet customers at this Nelson Street location of the popular franchise, where a menu of Japanese creations and tapas are the perfect thing for groups and dates alike. And don’t forget to order some of the garden’s original beer or sake.

“I really like the pork jowl with yuzukosho and mozzarella with a dashi broth,” Mark says. “Most of the items on the menu are really tasty.”

Mr. Red Café

Chef Hong Duong’s main goal at this eatery is to bring the flavours and memories of Northern Vietnam to Vancouver, one plate at a time. That includes traditional dumplings, salads, noodle soups and various vermicelli.

“Mr. Red Cafe serves a steamed rice cake dish with ground prawns, topped with crunchy bread bits and fried shallots,” Mark says, explaining the nostalgic dishes remind him of food he used to eat in the Philippines.

Phnom Penh

This family-run restaurant in the heart of Chinatown may have started out as a noodle bar, but today it’s a must-hit spot for anyone looking to sample traditional Cambodian or Vietnamese fare. It’s no wonder people are often lined up out the door to eat here.

“Chicken wings and luk lak beef on rice with a fried egg [are my favourite dishes],” Mark raves.

Kumare Restaurant + Bakery

This Filipino eatery is a place where good friends can come together over great food. With culinary inspirations from Philippines and Thailand, these dishes are as varied as they are flavourful, and the menu boasts something for everyone, from boiled chicken and fresh coconut meat to various incarnations of noodles.

“Kumare serves Filipino food that is almost as good as my mom’s,” says Mark.

Read Chef Felix Zhou’s Top 5 Eats in Vancouver

See Chef Trevor Bird’s Top 10 Eats in Vancouver

Best Places to Eat in Calgary: Top Chef Canada’s Jinhee Lee

Jinhee Lee’s love of cooking wasn’t exactly fostered by her parents growing up in South Korea; she spent 11 years working as a kindergarten teacher before moving to Canada and secretly enrolling at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology in the Professional Cooking program. Now she’s a force to be reckoned with as the executive chef at Foreign Concept, and is ready to prove she’s a top competitor across the country.

For the past two years Jinhee took the top prize in Gold Medal Plates, and in 2016 she was also named one of Avenue Calgary’s “Top 5 people to watch in Calgary’s food scene.” With credentials like that, Jinhee certainly knows where to grab some delicious eats; here are her top Calgary restaurants where she loves to eat.

Related: Read Jinhee Lee’s full bio here.

Foreign Concept

Pan-Asian cuisine with an emphasis on locally sourced ingredients and modern cooking techniques is apparent throughout the menu at this Calgary hotspot, which features items like Angus beef striploin tataki and charsiu pork & foie gras steamed buns.

“[The restaurant features] fresh, clean and bright flavours,” says Jinhee, noting that her favourite dish is Alberta trout cha ca la vong. “I love the marriage between the Asian flavours and Canadian ingredients.”


Chef and owner Roy Oh puts an emphasis on bold Korean flavours with a modern twist on this expansive tapas menu with items like the clayot black cod and his KFC sliders. Anju, a Korean term that translates into “food you eat with alcohol,” is all about sharing a great meal with good friends and frosty drinks.

“[There’s] bold Korean flavours and good soju,” Jinhee raves. In particular, she’s a big fan of the crispy tofu and kimchi. “I love the crispy texture of tofu and tasty fried kimchi and pork belly. [It] makes me thirsty for soju!”

Charcut Roast House

When you think of quality, expertly prepared cuts of meat, Top Chef Canada: All-Stars competitor Connie DeSousa certainly stands out. As the co-chef and co-owner of this rustic, award-winning establishment, she’s proving that seasonal menus and in-house butchered meats are where it’s at.

“[Charcut has] good quality meats and charcuterie,” says Jinhee. “They make the best pig’s head mortadella.”

Happy Valentines week….. Let’s meat at #CHARCUT ????❤️

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Model Milk

The self-professed methodology of this contemporary eatery is to “buy the best ingredients we can afford and try not to screw them up before they hit the plate.” The strategy seems to be working, given how popular Model Milk’s rotating menu of Canadian-sourced and inspired dishes seems to be.

“[There is] great ambience and room,” says Jinhee. “I love the Sunday Supper; they create menus with different cuisines every week.”

Halibut Ceviche. Grapefruit. Nori. Chili.

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River Café

An orchard-wood-burning grill and oven sit in the heart of this kitchen, where chefs roll out a variety of items based on fresh produce and locally-sourced ingredients from Canadian farmers and ranchers. That’s probably why the tasting menu—Jinhee’s favourite selection when frequenting the joint—is so popular.

“[River Café makes] great use of local and sustainable ingredients,” she says. “[There are many] creative dishes.”

See Top Chef Canada: All-Stars Winner Nicole Gomes’s Picks for Best Calgary Eats

Get Chef Nathan Guggenheimer’s Picks for Top 5 Saskatoon Eats

Best Places to Eat in Toronto: Top Chef Canada’s Elia Herrera

There are tons of cuisines to sample in this world, and Top Chef Canada’s Elia Herrera has certainly mastered many of them. The third-generation chef has trained extensively in Spain, France, Belgium and Italy, which makes her an experienced connoisseur of fine fare in our books.

For the past 15 years the Mexican native and executive chef at Los Colibris has called Toronto home, which means she’s had plenty of time to sample some of the best restaurants the city has to offer. When she’s in the mood to wine and dine, here’s the Toronto restaurants Elia must visit.

Related: Read Elia Herrera’s full bio here.

PAI Northern Thai Kitchen 

There are plenty of Thai joints out there, but few can rival the authenticity of this small eatery with big flavours. The menu hails from chef Nuit Regular, a former nurse in Thailand who, along with her husband Jeff, opened their first restaurant in Pai, Thailand years ago. Today the pair are the owners of three Thai restaurants across the city, but locals and tourists alike still flock to this original hotspot.

“I love Pai; I love the flavours, the quality and I love Chef Nuit,” says Elia. “She is very honest with her cuisine. My favourite is the green curry and the fresh coconut.”

Bricco Kitchen and Wine Bar

Rotating flights of bold reds and crisp whites grace the menu of this Italian resto with strong Mediterranean influences. With up to 20 wines by the glass available at any seating, the overall goal of Bricco and owner/sommelier Eric Gennaro is to connect home-style food with wine in a “meaningful” way.

“I love the gnocchi with taleggio porcini cream,” reveals Elia. “I am glad it is a signature dish because I love it a million and it is always there waiting for me.”

Bar Buca

Bar Buca is Chef Rob Gentile’s follow-up eatery to his other Italian hotspot, Buca. Located a stone’s throw from the original Buca, this more casual spinoff opens at 7:30am each day so guests can start the day with an Italian-style breakfast of fresh pastries and specialty coffee. Starting at lunch and going late into the night, the full menu features seasonal small plates, skewers, bites and handcrafted cocktails .

“I like [to go there] with friends to have a drink and [share] small plates,” Elia says. “[It’s] super delicious and the menu changes often. [It has a] nice vibe.”


Traditional recipes and simple ingredients combine for big, bold flavours at this Spanish spot, where robust tapas and paellas are just the beginning of the dining experience. Each signature dish on the menu represents a Spanish value to restaurateur Veronica Laudes and chef Luis Valenzuela Robles Linares, who hope that diners walk away feeling as though their dining experience also doubled as a visit to Spain.

“Their paellas are so good,” raves Elia.

416 Snack Bar

Some people call them tapas, but owners Dave Stewart and Adrian Ravinsky (alongside Top Chef Canada: All-Stars’ competitor and executive chef Dustin Gallagher) call them snacks. Indeed, this is the place for the young crowd to come and dine the night away. The hotspot takes no reservations, doesn’t do takeout and while they encourage sharing there is no cutlery as everything is meant to be eaten with your hands.

“[It’s an] awesome place with amazing food,” says Elia. “Small plates are the way I like it, so that I can try different dishes. The cocktails are delicious and I love the tuna hand roll and the steamed buns with crispy pork belly.”

Get Chef Ivana Raca’s Top 5 Toronto Eats

See where 416 Snack Bar’s Chef and Top Chef Canada: All-Stars competitor Dustin Gallagher loves to eat in Toronto

See Chef Matt Sullivan’s Top 5 Toronto Eats

Best Places to Eat in Saskatoon: Top Chef Canada’s Nathan Guggenheimer

Nathan Guggenheimer knows a thing or two about what goes on in the Top Chef Canada kitchen. He is, after all, best friends with first season winner Dale Mackay and co-owns Grassroots Restaurant Group with the chef. Not only that, but Nathan has worked under the likes of Top Chef Canada: All-Stars guest judge Daniel Boulud, which means he should be up-to-speed on what it takes to win the title.

While Nathan is plenty busy as executive chef at the Saskatoon hot spot Sticks and Stones, he still takes time to eat out in the city’s thriving dining scene. Here are his picks on all the best eats Saskatoon has to offer.

Related: Read Nathan Guggenheimer’s full bio here.

Odd Couple

Cantonese, Vietnamese and Japanese cuisines are present on the Canadian menu of this family-owned and operated restaurant, making eating at this spot a truly unique experience. From bacon and eggs on barbecued pork rice to curried tomato pad Thai, there’s something for everyone here.

“[There is] great service and owners, [and the] best spring roll in the city,” says Nathan. “[I’m] never disappointed in the quality. I used to frequent there for lunch with my ex and her son, so there’s a lot of nostalgia.”

Una Pizza + Wine

“Una Pizza is delish and I love the wine selection,” Nathan raves about this friendly neighbourhood pizzaria featuring thin crust pizzas with Mediterranean inspired flavours. The spot was conceptualized following several trips to San Francisco, where California pizzas are practically a staple. Meanwhile, the wine selection features an array of small batch producers, guaranteeing a unique experience with every visit.

Little Grouse on the Prairie

This quaint spot is one of three restaurants opened under Nathan and Dale Mackay’s Grassroots Restaurant Group, and it features a sustainable and diverse menu of Italian-inspired favourites that are perfect for get-togethers and date nights alike. It also happens to be where Nathan’s Top Chef Canada competitor Jesse Zuber serves as executive chef.

“[I] love to sit at the pasta bar and by the time my coat is off there is a glass of wine at my seat,” Nathan said. “Jesse asks what I’m in the mood for and my meal begins.”

Let us fix you up some fresh pasta this week!

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Ayden Kitchen and Bar

Another one of Grassroots’ signature restaurants, this spot is where Nathan invokes his inner butcher background for hearty, meaty meals. The rich eatery is all about comforting classics and homegrown favourites. Sample some hand-crafted cocktails at the bar, or sit down for some locally sourced favourites any night of the week.

“[This is my] favourite spot to go on my day off and crush a charcuterie, tartar, wings, and a burger cooked rare,” Nathan says. “Then [I] feel sick from eating too much meat and go straight home to bed.”

It’s Friday! Come grab a charcuterie board!

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Keo’s Kitchen

Feasting on the traditional Thai dishes at Keo’s is akin to travelling all the way to Thailand. The menu features updated Thai classics to warm you up from the inside out, like dancing prawns, pad Thai and red curry.

“I can eat their tom ka kai soup with sticky rice and a lao sausage every day,” admits Nathan.

Read Chef Jesse Zuber’s Top 5 Eats in Saskatoon

Get Chef Nicole Gomes’s Top 10 Eats in Calgary

Best Places to Eat in Montreal: Top Chef Canada’s JP Miron

JP Miron is certainly a larger-than-life presence in the kitchen, but part of that comes from his drive for excellence when it comes to putting out the perfect plate. The Montreal chef hails from an Italian background and has worked at some of the city’s top eateries, and is now the chef de cuisine at Bocata Restaurant.

Part of why JP is so intent on winning Top Chef Canada is to showcase his city in all its culinary glory—something he says is due. So when this chef dishes on his favourite Montreal restaurants, we’re all ears and hungry tastebuds.

Related: Read JP Miron’s full bio here.

Le Chien Fumant

The locally sourced cuisine is infused with a variety of worldly flavours on the ever-evolving menu at this establishment. Chef Maksim Morin is known for incorporating multiple textures into each dish, giving diners an elevated sensory experience.

“[It’s the] best for late night food,” says JP. “Go in for the donairs and make sure you’re hungry enough for a rib steak.”

Le Bremner

Executive chef Chuck Hughes and chef du cuisine Danny Smiles (of Top Chef Canada season three fame) have transported the dinner service at this Old Montreal restaurant to an intimate eating experience for special occasions and great meals alike.

“[It’s] good for a date night. Make sure to get the lamb heart with remoulade,” JP says.

Cavatelli • Lamb neck • Pecorino Romano • Mint •

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Foiegwa/Atwater Cocktail Club

The best part about eating at this self-described “Americanized French diner”—aside from the classic dishes of garlic snails, onion soup or entrecote frites—is that it’s a part of a club. That means lots of delicious late night eats and interesting cocktails also grace the menu.

“[They serve] food until 2 a.m., the owners are my business partners. They serve a simple take on bistro/diner food. And after having a great burger or some frog legs you cross over to Atwater Cocktail Club and get the best drinks in town,” JP promises.

Fiorellino Snack Bar

There’s pizza, and then there are the handcrafted pizza pies from this casual ristorante and snack bar that feature fresh, Italian ingredients and flavours. Whether you’re in the mood for a bianco or rosso style ‘za, this spot has you covered.

“It’s probably one of the best pizzas in town; I used to work with the head chef back in the day,” JP says. “You go for the pizza, any, they’re all good. Make sure to order some octopus and gnocchi as well.”

You wanna pizza me?????????| ????: @tayund #fiorellinomtl #delagauchetiere #pizzaislove

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Joe Beef

Steaks and seafood are the norm at this Old Montreal restaurant. The name is an homage to Charles “Joe-Beef” McKiernan, the 19th-century Irish innkeeper and working-class hero. But, since its opening, the spot has earned its own reputation—in 2016 it was ranked the 81st best restaurant in the world by 50 World’s Best Restaurants group.

“You get a bunch of friends and sit on the patio in the summer, then you ask them to make you a menu and take care of the wine,” JP says. “And that’s how you spend an amazing evening.”

A plate by @ostrica_boy , all the things .

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Get Chef Darren Rogers’s Top 5 Eats in Montreal

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