Yesterday, we got a chance to speak with the winner of season two of Top Chef Canada to find out what it’s like feeding Mark McEwan, Shereen Arazm and Lisa Ray day after day. And, of course, we asked about what he’ll be doing with his $100,000 in loot (yes, we’re being intentionally vague here to stave off the spoilers). Check out our Q&A below.
Congratulations Carl! It must have been pretty hard to keep the secret in.
It was definitely the hardest secret I’ve ever kept in my life! Everyone just wants to know who the winner is! You’ve got to have a serious poker face.
You looked totally shocked when they told you that Xavier, Trista and David were getting a shot to get back into the competition. What was going through your head?
It was tough. We started having a one in three chance to win the show and then all of a sudden it’s a one in four chance. We were all relieved when the three of them got kicked off in the first place!
What was it like sitting on the judges’ side?
I really enjoyed it. I will say, it’s a lot more TV than it was a competition at some points, and that was a point where I thought, OK, this is a TV show. It was really, really valuable, though, going into the finale understanding the tastes of Mark and Shereen and Lisa a bit more.
Your decision to pick Trista: was it partly strategic or was it totally based on the food?
It was totally based on the food. In my opinion, David took the biggest risk. He made a great meal, but technically, Trista’s was just better. She deserved to be there.
What was it like cooking for Vikram Vij?
Oh, it was awesome—he was great. Vikram had a very big presence in the room: he’s a very loud man, he’s a very boisterous man and he’s a big man. His palate is amazing. And he had a great story about every dish: how the dish made him feel, and how the dish could have been better. I really respect that in a chef.
What was your thinking putting a pre-dessert in a four-course menu?
Here we go!
It looked like you broke Mark McEwan’s heart! He looked so sad.
For me, it was a really tough decision on what to put in my menu, because my food is based so much on the ingredients that I find. Until I see those ingredients, it’s hard to put a menu together. So it was really hard for me to pick four courses, and on the fly too—I was expecting a three-course dinner. So when Lisa said it’s going to be a four-course meal, the only thing that I thought the meal really missed—the meal was really rich—was a palate cleanser. Looking back on it, I wouldn’t have done it again. I would have chosen maybe a lighter first course instead. Three or four bites. Still, it was a great dish, and I was really happy with how it turned out. I think that overall, if anybody went to a restaurant and ate that meal, nobody would complain about that meal.
Of all the chefs, your food philosophy seemed most like McEwan’s: ingredient-driven, simple but with impeccable technique. Would you agree?
I think so. Mark’s cuisine and my cuisine are very similar. You have to have a respect for classic flavour combinations and classic dishes. And you also have to have a respect for each ingredient on its own. Honestly, if there were a different set of judges, I might not have won. I think that’s totally fair to say.
It’s going to be right downtown at Yonge and Richmond, and it’s going to be called The Richmond Station. It’s about 100 seats.
So not one of the new tiny restaurants then?
No! You can sort of open up a 50-seater in the west end or you can open up a bigger restaurant downtown. A lot of the seating is communal dining, and there’s a long bar for you to eat at and a large chef’s table at the back.
What sort of food will you be serving?
The same style of cooking that people have gotten to know me by on the show. A focus on local, farm-to-table food. There’ll be a big meat locker in the room, and we’ll do our own in-house butchery. The entire kitchen is going to be opened up with 14 seats at the chef’s table. Imagine like Guu Izakaya.
Lunch and dinner?
Lunch, Monday to Friday, dinner, Monday to Saturday. It’s a local restaurant for the financial district. It’s not fine dining, there’s no white linen. If you want to come in and have a three-course dinner, you can, but if you want to come in and have a burger and a beer you can as well. It should open at the beginning of August, and my partner Ryan Donovan and I have been working on this project for a number of years, so it’s nice to see it all come to fruition finally.
What do you think of the explosion of new restaurants in Toronto led by young chefs/owners?
I think it’s awesome. It really is a pleasure to be in a city like that for a chef that’s really focused on food and flavour. The dining scene in Toronto is going to explode this year—it already has, and there’s a few more to add to the list, especially with Daniel Boulud and David Chang coming to town. I wouldn’t be surprised if half of EnRoute’s top 10 new restaurants in Canada are in Toronto.