The Restaurant Wars challenge on Top Chef is always a fan favourite, and for good reason—it’s a reliable way to jump-start any season low on drama, bleeped-out words and finger pointing, much like our rather polite Canadian edition. After the jump, our recap of how it played out on last night’s episode.
With only eight chefs remaining and no more immunity on the table, there was no more room for mistakes. The chefs drew knives, with Rob Rossi of Mercatto and resident Frenchie François Gagnon ending up as team captains. Just like in the schoolyard, the better popular chefs got chosen before the nominally weaker ones: Darryl Crumb and Andrea Nicholson of Great Cooks on Eight were the last selected. After the dust (and hurt feelings) settled, Team Gagnon was made up of Dale MacKay, Connie DeSousa and Crumb, while Team Rossi consisted of Grace’s Dustin Gallagher, Todd Perrin and Nicholson.
The quickfire challenge was another Top Chef classic: the Tag Team Relay Race, where each team had to create a dish in 40 minutes—without speaking to one another. Each chef was given 10 minutes to cook before tagging out with a teammate, who had been blindfolded up until that point. This usually weeds out the hangers-on from stronger chefs, and while we love Perrin’s inventive Newfie concoctions, his Tag Team performance was telling—when you only have 10 minutes to cook, there’s no time to fumble around at the stove trying to figure out what’s happening.
Team Gagnon put together a red snapper dish with braised radish, but in the end, Team Rossi took the win, thanks to an impressive plate of pancetta-wrapped scallops with potato rösti.
The chefs kept the same team formations for Restaurant Wars, where each team had to conceptualize and run both the front and back of house in a restaurant for one night. In a nice bit of cross-brand integration, the challenge took place at head judge Mark McEwan’s Bay Street standby, Bymark. And the guests for the night? McEwan’s “toughest and most critical clients.” (When he cautioned the contestants with a harsh “you should not make any mistakes,” we thought for a second we were watching The Heat.)
Team Rossi decided their establishment would be a casual, contemporary Canadian fine-dining restaurant with the awkward name “To New,” playing up their Toronto (Rossi, Gallagher, Nicholson) and Newfoundland (Perrin) roots. Team Gagnon (but, in reality, Team MacKay) created “By Bleu,” a play on Bymark, their blue aprons and the team’s modern European restaurant theme.
Despite ostensibly being the weakest chefs on their teams, Crumb and Nicholson both volunteered to take charge of the front of house. Normally a suicide move in Restaurant Wars (it doesn’t absolve you of creating a dish), it worked out in both their favours: MacKay and Gagnon took over Crumb’s smoked duck dish completely, while Nicholson seemed to have gotten lucky with her grilled octopus, her team’s best dish by far.
The highlight of the challenge was the bickering on the By Bleu team. MacKay nearly went Bruce Banner on Crumb for not expediting his soufflés quickly enough, causing them to sink into a mess (we half expected Crumb to jersey MacKay in return). Luckily for him, these soufflés didn’t go out to the judges’s table. We also had to laugh at Crumb’s painfully awkward stint as maître d’: after showing the judges to their table, he politely said, “May I offer you a napkin?” because, apparently, he’d “seen that they do that at fine-dining restaurants.” While host Thea Andrews, clad in a silver Princess Leia dress, was gracious about it, McEwan could barely conceal his “WTF?” expression. Resident judge Shereen Arazm, meanwhile, was practically dying in the background.
Filling the guest judge chair this episode was David Adjey, host of The Opener and Restaurant Makeover and personal chef to previous Top Chef Canada guest Dan Aykroyd. Frankly, it was refreshing to see Adjey talking about food, not renos. Most of the dishes played it a little safe, reinforcing many fans’ general impression that this season’s level of creativity is simply not up to par with the original U.S. series. In the end, Team By Bleu came out on top for Restaurant Wars, with MacKay taking home the prize for his strawberry soufflé with a strawberry champagne shooter and earning high praise from McEwan for his guts: “That soufflé—I couldn’t do it better.”
Team To New, on the other hand, was riddled with one bad dish after another. Arazm likened Rossi’s chocolate mousse to poop on a plate, while Perrin’s chicken terrine basically fell apart and Gallagher’s gnocchi dish seemed a little closer to mashed potatoes. At the end of the day, sweet Newfie Perrin was sent home. He may have been number eight on Top Chef Canada, but, as he reminded us last night, he’ll always be “number one in our hearts” (until next week, at least).
Next time on Top Chef Canada
“You’ll be working with”—drum roll, please—“President’s Choice products!” Surprise, surprise. Not only do chefs have to work with PC products, but it looks like they’ll have to make dishes for shoppers at Loblaws. Here’s hoping Galen Weston, Jr. makes an appearance, Decadent chocolate chip cookie in hand. What we’re not looking forward to: the breakdown of our fave tough-as-nails ballerina, Connie DeSousa.
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