I can hardly describe the great passion and drive that has fueled my journey as a chef over the years. Being a professional chef is a creative pursuit that has given my life meaning and purpose. This is why it is very, very moving for me to see young chefs who are full of passion for this career, and who are putting all of their energy, focus and heart into competing in this last episode of Top Chef Canada. This is the competition of a lifetime, and this is the final push. It’s a great emotional and energetic high for me, and needless to say, my expectations of the competitors couldn’t be higher right now, either.
The Quickfire is an opportunity for three very good chefs who were eliminated earlier to compete their way back into finale. At their disposal is the most beautiful array of PEI seafood. It has been paramount to me throughout the competition that the chefs have great product to work with, and what they got here was nothing short of amazing. Xavier, Trista and David all had a fire burning within them to get back into the game, and the results of their effort were robust and refined, but it’s David whose sophisticated seafood chowder, composed of Maritime mussels, clams, oysters and pan fried gnocchi in a cream fraiche sauce, made the most impact on us, and got him that coveted fourth spot in the finale. Carl, Jonathan and Trevor joined us at the tasting table to share their take on the quality of the dishes, but now it was their turn to join David in the final Elimination Challenge.
The setting was magnificent. Hosting us at Hockley Valley Resort - where the land was lush, and the seasonal vegetables were just ripe - was Chef de Cuisine, Michael Potters, and owner and president, John Paul Adamo. Guest judge, Chef Vikram Vij from Vancouver also did us the great honour of joining us for this last challenge; creating a four course meal reflecting the food philosophy most important to each competitor. Sous chefs Jimmy, Elizabeth, Xavier and Trista were on hand.
In the first course of this $100,000 dinner, Jonathan’s South Asian influenced trio of lobster - beetle leaf with lobster mousse, lobster green curry and lobster broth - was a powerhouse of crunchy, buttery and warm flavours, textures and temperatures. He set the bar high - wowing fine Indian cuisine master, Vikram Vij, and the other esteemed guests at the table - and Carl maintained the excellent standard with his expertly cooked smoked trout salad with ranch dressing, haricots, pickled radish and sunflower shoots. His dish reflected his connection to a local trout farmer and also featured organic vegetables from the garden.
David faltered with his curdled consomme, with mayonnaise and steamed pickerel. The pickled onions and fresh peas were well done, however. Trevor embarked on taking us on a journey through his culinary experience, but it was not a good start, since his little goat cheese amuse was too insignificant an offering for this very important meal.
The second course was off to a great start. Carl made a bold move carving elk loin off the bone right at the table, since there’s no guarantee of doneness - just a wise estimate. It was cooked perfectly, and accompanied by tasty homemade barbecue sauce, fried pork belly, brussel sprouts, shallot rings and eggplant.
Next Jonathan made a braised pork belly salad I could imagine serving on my patio at One. The fact that he got me thinking that way while eating his dish was very good indeed. The shredded green mango and papaya salad was refreshing and flavourful, and the pork was marvelously prepared.
Trevor served up an olive oil poached arctic char and garden vegetable salad with soy truffle vinaigrette. He showed a lot of skill here, as well as bravery in using an unusual combination of flavours.
David was taking us through a culinary journey of Toronto, but what he purported to be a little Italy inspired tuna dish, had no discernible Italian seasoning. It’s too bad of course, because it sure was a pretty, contemporary looking plate.
For the third course, I was surprised and disappointed by a few things. I was concerned that Jonathan served his curry dishes family style, I longed for more of a flavour story from David’s briyani, and I was floored that Carl chose to make a whole course out of a simple sorbet, much as Vikram enjoyed it. Thankfully Trevor buoyed the meal with his perfectly roasted veal loin and braised veal shoulder ravioli. He also had a refreshing granita - in addition to the veal.
For dessert David delighted us with his sweet corn pudding with candied sage and dark chocolate truffles. It was really interesting and addictive. Jonathan, too, impressed with his peach compote stuffed beignet. It had a perfect crust. Carl chose simplicity with a perfect peach cobbler. Its perfection could not be denied. And lastly, Trevor climbed back up form his tiramisu and peanut butter molten lava cake lows, to deliver a perfectly good tasting, and exceedingly beautiful looking blueberry and lavender tart with mascarpone cream and lemon curd.
I am both proud and humbled by what the chefs accomplished. And I am duly impressed with the passion each one exhibited over the course of this competition and especially in the final leg. It was tough to make the call, but when all the details were tallied, the choice was clear that Carl earned the enviable title of Canada’s Top Chef.