Leading into the finale, we challenged the chefs to create elaborate dishes in the style of haute cuisine. It’s not how I present food at my restaurants, but it’s a style of cooking that any Top Chef should be prepared to execute since it pushes the boundaries of their craft. The setting was the Shops at Don Mills, where both fashion and fanciful French cuisine could mix and mingle in the square. This challenge would have been right up Xavier’s alley, if he were still in the competition. As it was, the remaining four chefs got quite fancy. Unfortunately though, two of them put fashion over flavour...
We asked season one competitors to step in as sous chefs at this crucial time, since getting into the finale and winning $10,000 were at stake. Connie, Rob, Francois and Dustin know what it’s like to make it this far in the competition, so they could be counted on to put all their might into helping out. Guest judge, cookbook author and food stylist, Chef Jennifer McLagan, was there to taste what the chefs fashioned on their plates, and evaluate whether it was picture perfect.
Jonathan served first. He had Dustin by his side as a sous chef, and they’ve worked together before under Susur’s guidance at Lee. With that kind of experience in his back pocket, Jonathan had artful plating down to a "T". But his dim sum trio of uni in mussel shell, prawn dumpling and hikama roll -- designed on the plate as a shoe, skirt and hat --were lacking a lot of interest on my palate. While Jonathan is grateful for our criticism as judges, which I admire, I’d rather his lunch offering be brimming with flavour. His dumpling was too mild, with a slightly tough dough, and his vegetable roll had no distinguishable flavour.
David also fell flat when it came to flavour. While he designed his own plate, he had help from Connie in the preparation, which was good luck in that she has a similar base of knowledge, working at the same boutique hotel restaurant establishment, only in Calgary. His Japanese style beef wellington was such a cutting edge and multi leveled plate, but the wasabi pea butter was short on wasabi. He also missed the flavour mark with the vegetables. The veal jus glazed shallot was tasty but the pastoral chive puree was not a pleasure to chew. Again, I’m glad this has been a great learning experience for David, but, between him and Jonathan, he was the one who had to be sent packing since his dish was so disappointing in the end.
Jonathan makes it into the finale and so does Trevor. Yes, Trevor made a foam, and I liked it! His potato crusted lamb loin with porcini foam and ratatouille of red peppers, onion and garlic was all very tasty, and I could see that he put a lot of work into the presentation. With his French cooking background, Francois had Trevor’s back when it came to haute cuisine - the plate looked really simple, but it was no doubt artful in its composition. Well designed, Trevor!
The last to talk about here, is of course, Carl. He was also the winner of this challenge and the prize money, since his crispy Euro bass salad with zucchini aioli, roasted pepper coulis and baby green salad was magnificent on the plate, as well as in my mouth. Rob helped him prep and plate a nicely crusted, fresh tasting fish, with a zig zag pattern of aioli and dabs of orange coloured coulis over delicate, pale greens. Very appealing! I can’t wait to see what the chefs come up with in the finale!