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.
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.
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.
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.
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