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Top Chef Canada recap, episode 4: ethnic stuff white people like

The judges get their serious faces on as the losing teams walk out (Image: Food Network Canada/Insight Productions)

TOP CHEF CANADA
Season 1 | Episode 4

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First off, a confession: focusing on Top Chef Canada last night, as the ground-shaking results from the election poured in, was a little tough (we bet this episode’s ratings will agree). But fear not, election junkies–cum–Top Chef fans—we stuck it out so you didn’t have to (and then promptly switched to the CBC to find the Tory win had already been projected). Still, episode four—which featured Susur Lee, Toronto’s ethnic cuisines and, yes, more chefs in their underwear (hi, Dale!)—turned out to be pretty entertaining. After the jump, our recap of the Top Chef Canada episode you were too patriotic to watch.

Quickfire

Dusty Gallagher’s quickfire winning beet carpaccio (Image: Food Network Canada/Insight Productions)

The quickfire judge this week was Toronto’s one-time king of Asian fine dining, Susur Lee (whose five restaurants were rhymed off more than once during the show). As Lee strolled onto the set, Grace’s Dustin Gallagher (a.k.a. the Smiley One) admitted to the camera that he was “a little bit floored” to have his former boss judging him (Gallagher cooked at Susur for six years). The challenge? To make a salad inspired by Lee’s famous, 19-ingredient Singapore slaw. At the bottom of the heap were François Gagnon, whose cabbage and enoki mushroom salad was too mayo-heavy; Todd Perrin, who misguidedly mixed raw, julienne veggies with chunks of dried fish; and Mercato’s Rob Rossi, whom Lee ranked last for a poorly executed and unfocused endive salad.

Lee named his former line cook (whom he adorably calls “Dusty”) the winner for a beautiful beet carpaccio with wasabi mustard, pickled onions and shaved apples (we spied something similar on Grace’s menu last week). He also praised Andrea Nicholson of Great Cooks on Eight for her 18-ingredient slaw with a tea-lemon vinaigrette.

Elimination

This week’s elimination challenge was the multi-culti spectacular we knew had to come up sooner or later. Split into teams of two, the chefs were charged with creating a pair of dishes, one hot and one cold, inspired by a given ethnic cuisine. One member of each pair was sent to Loblaws and the other got 15 minutes to shop at an ethnically appropriate grocer in Toronto.

Toronto dream team Rossi and Nicholson took on their Japanese menu with some trepidation (“I’m a white girl from Toronto who hasn’t really travelled much through Japan,” Nicholson confessed). Chris Kanka and Darryl Crumb, meanwhile, tried to figure their way through Korean food (props to Kanka for actually impressing Lee with his bi bim bop). But the toughest challenge was faced by Perrin and Connie DeSousa, who drew Ethiopian cuisine, which they had tasted about once between them. Gallagher and Derek Bocking (who worked in a Mexican restaurant in Dublin) had it comparatively easy with Mexican food. Rounding out the teams, Patrick Wiese and Gagnon tackled Jamaican (with Wiese dropping the occasional patois), while Dale MacKay and Jamie Hertz took on Portuguese, which neither of them knew much about.

Connie DeSousa and Todd Perrin’s winning Ethiopian meal, including reverse-engineered injera (Image: Food Network Canada/Insight Productions)

At the judge’s table, we finally got to see the much-anticipated Lee-McEwan matchup, which turned out fairly amiable (we had speculated about whether the studio could contain two such chef egos). At the top: the Ethiopian team, who successfully reverse-engineered injera—a soft, fermented flatbread—which they served alongside a lamb key wat and lentil salad; and the Portuguese team, who managed to turn out excellent pseudo-Portuguese food (MacKay’s hake with salted cod mousse, smoked paprika and potato confit looked delicious, if a little Spanish). But it was DeSousa and Perrin who took home the win—for their daring execution in the face of an exceedingly difficult challenge.

At the bottom end were Team Japan and Team Mexico. Both Rossi and Nicholson made some rookie errors: Rossi’s hamachi sashimi arrived warm and with the blood line left in, while Nicholson’s soba noodles, seared kobe beef, daikon, turnip and carrots in a light miso broth lacked focus and refinement. Down Mexico way, Gallagher made the mistake of turning avocado into a mousse (garnering a tut-tut from Lee), and Bocking put out beer-braised pork ribs glazed with chocolate barbecue sauce with a spicy corn salsa, which McEwan called straight-up “terrible.”

In the end, Bocking, the competition’s only self-taught chef, was kicked off the show. As he said goodbye to his fellow chefs, he doffed his signature beret to reveal a fantastic head of hockey hair. He’ll be missed.

Now, call us crazy, but it almost seemed as though the judges were able to read the national mood months in advance (when the program was taped). Bocking, from Montreal, was sent packing just like Gilles Duceppe was last night. Rossi and Nicholson, representing arrogant Toronto Liberals, were beaten back to within an inch of their lives. And DeSousa, from Calgary, rode a wave of quiet competence and stability—not to mention some “very ethnic” cuisine—to take home the big win.

Next Week on Top Chef Canada

The chefs have to butcher a whole pig, then make a meal from the ensuing cuts of meat. Given that in episode one she boasted that she butchered all her own meat, we predict another Tory DeSousa majority.

Our weekly Top Chef Canada leader board:

  • mattagascar

    New idea for a drinking game: You must drink every time McEwan describes something as “pleasant”…seriously get a Thesaurus or something.

  • John Lee

    WTF is “ethnic” food? People in media should at least be aware of the pitfalls of using a term to describe people, food or culture without knowing the etymology. Google it.

    For shame!!!

  • potatosalad

    The series to date has been pretty mediocre compared with its U.S. counterpart, but extra demerits for the producers’ failure to adhere to what I consider a Top Chef tenet: always show everyone’s quickfire food.

    Pretty sure there were others, but I’m certain we didn’t see Connie’s quickfire dish.

  • Jasmine Giraffe

    Bocking does not wear a beret but a newsy hat a.k.a. cheese cutter.

  • J

    Most of the chefs seemed to be terrified of any cuisine other than French or their own local ingredients. You would think – particularly for those chefs living in Toronto or Vancouver with easy access to great Japanese, Korean, Jamaican, Mexican and Ethiopian restaurants and ingredients (to name a few)- that some knowledge or curiosity about a range of cuisines wouldn’t be that much of a stretch. Perhaps that is the fault of myopic culinary schools. This is not to say that chefs should be jacks of all trades, but I did find it disturbing how bewildered many seemed by anything but European fare. The ‘ethnic’ dishes were often reduced to cliches. If I were a chef, I would be incredibly eager to learn about different cuisines and their ingredients – that can only improve one’s range of skills, and perspective about one’s own cooking.

  • LA

    I agree with you to an extent, J, but the week before on the show there was a European challenge- Russian, and some contestants seemed equally fearful of that. I don’t think that they are all comfortable with all things European, I think that it’s that training and experience is usually rooted in a specific type of cuisine- be it French, Italian, Asian, etc. And keep in mind, that most chefs work looong hours and often 6-7 days a week, so they have less time than the average person to actually go out to other restaurants. I agree that they should naturally want to expand their horizons, but realistically it might be easier said than done.

  • mattagascar

    I wouldn’t exactly call a one or two dimentional chef a “Top Chef”…

  • Culinerd

    I agree with J, LA I worked those long hours and everyone I worked with always brought new ideas and we always spoke of different foods. Chefs/Cooks still have days off and most go eat at places when they do. There is also reading about foods from around the world. Not to say I am a top chef or anything, but when you know food its rather easy to understand food from other cultures. Geography of food. I think everyone on the show is doing a stellar job.

  • eatme

    It’s becoming a popularity contest already. It was predictable that they would eliminate Derek but keep Rob and Andrea. Rob should’ve lost based on screwing up something that didn’t even involve cooking…at least Derek presented a complex dish. The producers obviously felt that keeping Rob and Andrea would be make better television.

  • Natalie Sztern

    Unless Torontonians get their collective food asses together and gather more interest and sponsorship for Top Chef Canada, I have heard from responsible sources this might be the first and last season.

    Top Chef is very costly to produce and it happens to be one among slim pickings of the very best of Canadian produced television shows.

    It would be awful to see this come and go in one season.

  • Kukla

    I have to echo J, LA, and Culinerd….each of you – among others – made very valid points.

    I’m merely a self-taught, home-cook “foodie” (rarely worked in the profession) and I also found it quite surprising that some of the chefs were baffled with this round of “ethnic” cuisines. I learned by the trial-and-error method, mostly by buying unusual produce and ingredients every week. I’d test the ingredient’s potential & limitations to the nth degree, then attempt to use the ingredients in various “ethnic” recipes. And let me tell you – sometimes my husband actually feared to ask, “What’s for dinner?”. Having said that, there’s been many successes, which helps keep our meals from being boring!

    BUT…unlike the contestants of Top Chef, I get a lot more time, and more than “one shot” in my kitchen. No cameras rolling, no critiques from celebrity judges & chefs in my way. You gotta admit, these contestants don’t have it easy.

    The only “ethnic” cuisine that would have stumped me would have been Ethiopian. Well done Connie & Todd!

  • arundel

    I agree that the show is a bit lacklustre compared to the glossy US version. It’s very annoying that they don’t show every chef’s Quickfire dish – I can’t recall such editing on the US show. But the thing that is bugging me most is that this show is on the standard-def Food channel. It looks and sounds awful! I read somewhere that it was shot in HD, and if it ever shows in the US they will surely see it in HD. It may seem shallow of me, but this factor is really detracting from the appeal of this show.

  • FATCHANCE

    Having spent 28 of my 48 years in the industry. It is with caution that I use ingredients that I am not familiar with.Nothing worse than going out and see badly executed food,but I “play” at home to see if it works before I inflict on the public at large.It’s not that easy to “pull it out of your a..! “

  • mattagascar

    It is if you have talent.

  • Skipper

    I agree with eatme! When Clayton was eliminated, McEwan made a comment about if he had produced food like the amuse bouche that he just produced, he’d likely still be in the competition, but he was eliminated. The chefs are supposed to be judged on each day’s competition and not their run up to that date. Rob should have been eliminated. If this is how the show is going to run, then the chefs with better reputations will get to the end even if they put up a terrible dish.

  • Robyn

    How did they make injera in two hours? It’s usually a four-day recipe.

  • Sandra

    I completely disagree about the fact that the chefs should be judged alone on that week’s dish. Yes, Rob had an off week, and so did Andrea to an extent, but this isn’t Survivor or Big Brother. It is about finding Canada’s Top Chef. With that rationale, Dale should have been gone at the beginning. Same with Dusty. But they are both coming on strong but just took longer to get fired up. The one that really surprised me was Steve from Origin. I’ve eaten there a bunch and the food is great. He just wasn’t made to be cast on a Food TV show like this I guess.

  • Betina

    @ John Lee

    Doooood

    U need to stop and grind trolling t’internets complaining about other peep’s stuff & git back to concentrating on making good fish & chips as somewun’s not watchin’ t’ose fryers these dayz as far as I can C & taste

    peace

 

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