We all have off days. Those days when we must deal with slip-ups and mistakes, bad choices or simply not doing our best work. Unlike the rest of us who can wake up the next day, shake it off and continue, a bad day on Top Chef Canada: All-Stars can mean the difference between surviving for another round or being sent to pack your knives.
Judges were forced to make tough decisions based solely on the most recent challenge, and ignoring any stellar performance and crave-worthy dishes that had led up to the current one that had failed to impress.
“Those decisions are never clear and they never sit very well,” said head judge Chef Mark McEwan.
If given the chance to erase one of those unclear decisions, who would the judges bring back to compete in the finale? For most, the answer was clear: Andrea Nicholson.
Andrea impressed the judges from the first episode when her history on a plate creation for the Elimination Challenge hit all the right notes. “A stand out dish,” said judge Janet Zuccarini of the roasted bison striploin with a barley risotto with a pickled mead and pear gastrique.
She went on to win the mise en place Quickfire Challenge in episode 2, and episode 5’s blind taste test Quickfire Challenge where famed Chef Daniel Boulud picked her Cod Basquaise as the best of the bunch. She had been a top performer in the first episode as well as with her team for the Middle Eastern feast in episode 3.
But the Elimination Challenge in episode 5 “Retail Wars” would prove to be her undoing.
“That was a real tough decision [to send her home] because she had made so many great plates up until then and her compositions were good, her seasoning was mature and then retail wars just kind of unraveled,” said McEwan.
As team leader, Andrea went into the challenge with more responsibility. That, and a disappointing meatball with a solidified mozzarella centre sealed her fate.
For the judges, it was a gut-wrenching choice, which is why judges McEwan, Zuccarini and Mijune Pak and host Eden Grinshpan agreed they would be quick to put her right back into the competition if given the chance.
“Leading up to [retail wars], in my heart of hearts, I was saying to myself, ‘She’s going to win this, she’s going to win this,’” Zuccarini said. “She’s so talented and her dishes were very sophisticated, really from a seasoned and professional chef.”
Calling her a fierce competitor, Grinshpan said Andrea made some of the best dishes on the show.
“Her food is just so exquisite and she’s so good at really showcasing flavours and not overcomplicating foods and just making foods that you want to eat and make you feel good.”
For his part, though, judge Chris Nuttall-Smith would have given another chance to Connie DeSousa who was facing some personal challenges during the show that affected her performance.
Or, he says, Todd Perrin who didn’t manage to shine to the level he could have.
“He is this experienced, mature, smart, salt-of-the-earth, hugely talented chef who got eliminated quite early on in the competition; I would love to see him come back and show what he could do,” he said.
Though perhaps Nuttall-Smith just wanted a finale where he could try something from every chef, and who could blame him?
“For the most part, they were just extraordinary chefs and you kind of wanted to see them all go through.”
Tell us who would you want to bring back for the finale in the comments below!
Watch the Top Chef Canada: All-Stars finale Sunday, June 4 at 10 E/P.