It has been over 10 years since Dale MacKay first graced our screens and came out on top of the first season of Top Chef Canada. Dale has kept busy over the past decade with the opening of new restaurants, collaborations with brands like King’s Hawaiian, and a recent appearance on an international stage with Top Chef World All-Stars. We recently chatted with Dale to reflect on the past decade, his work with King’s Hawaiian and what he has going on next. Plus, read on for the advice he would give young chefs interested in trying out for Top Chef Canada.
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Can you tell us about your collaboration with King’s Hawaiian?
I’m the lucky chef who gets to help spread the word that King’s Hawaiian is now in Canada. I already knew them from living in the United States and since they’ve been in Canada I’ve been using them quite a bit since I eat them a lot. So it [is] a really easy partnership in that sense. That always makes a big difference when you already love the product and you already know the product. I’m here to kind of spread the word on the fluffy, soft, irresistible rolls that they are!
Do you have a favourite product from their catalogue that you use the most?
The sweet rolls [are] kind of what I gravitate towards the most again. My son can’t commit to eating meals so I always try to find good ways to get him to eat stuff. So the fact that there’s a 12 pack and he can just take the rolls and eat it by itself, or I buy him salami and different meats and stuff. That’s what we do at my house.
It has been over ten years since you first won Top Chef Canada! How do you feel when you look back on the past decade?
It doesn’t seem like that long but at the same time, my life, myself and my career [have] changed so dramatically from that time. Top Chef is one of those shows where you’re going into someone’s home week after week [through their TV] so it’s very emotional. It’s funny ten years later, I meet people that are now 22, but they watched the show when they were like 10 or 12 with their family and they feel like they know me, they feel like they know my son. So when people meet my son now, in his early 20s, and they’re in major shock [about] the fact that he’s not eight years old anymore. You have a weird connection with people that you don’t even realize. But then when I watch these shows, I have the same kind of feelings. I think it’s a very unique and special opportunity to be on and to win a show like Top Chef.
You also had the opportunity to step back into the Top Chef kitchen when you did all-stars recently. What was that like? What was it like cooking on an international stage like that?
A huge honour. When I first started watching the show, it was the American version. I’ve been saying it since I won, you know, let’s go winners versus winners and all that kind of stuff. Then ten years later when you get the call, especially during Covid, to do [the show], it was a big honour. It was a bit different because I think everybody there was a bit more mature and had been through it and so we were just kind of respecting each other’s abilities so we were all cheering each other on, which was kind of odd [compared] to other seasons. I obviously didn’t get a repeat win, but I feel like I represented myself and the country well [which] is most important.
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I think you represented Canada very well so I was excited to see that. You started off your career as a fry cook, and now you kind of have this almost food empire in Canada. Do you have any advice for any young chefs and cooks looking to start their careers?
Take your training seriously. I love Food Network and I think Food Network has brought so much to people’s homes [with] knowledge and everything. But I just always tell chefs, don’t worry about being a star, don’t worry about trying to get on a TV show or all those kinds of things first, just worry about your craft, you know? Just take your training and technique seriously.
I know that it’s helped me so much because I took so much focus on that [and] now I get to work with amazing brands, like King’s Hawaiian and I can make a simple slider, but it’s not just a simple slider. It’s got depth of flavour and it’s got all these things because I’ve taken my training so far in the sense of fine dining. So when I do something slightly more casual, it still resonates with that kind of high-quality flavour and taste. I’m just so lucky I get to work with amazing brands and I get to do all these different things. I’m not just a restaurant chef. I get to really spread my wings and I think that’s because I’ve always taken this as a real craft that I just love. I get up in the morning and I’m still to this day, excited to do what I do.
That’s great advice! What about if someone does want to take that extra step and maybe try out for Top Chef or Top Chef Canada? Do you have any advice for them in that sense?
Train! It’s a competition. So you do need to train. You need to be specific. You need to put yourself under the pressure. Don’t just think kitchen pressure is the same. It’s really not the same. Even though I’ve won Top Chef Canada, for All-Stars I still went into training mode, and I still brushed up on things and tested things.
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You have also just opened a new restaurant, tell us about F&B!
Yeah, we just opened in the summertime, so it’s really exciting. The name is quite on the nose. It is what it is. We like coming up with restaurant names and it just kept coming back to food and beverage. Me and my business partner, Christopher Cho, he’s the beverage and cocktail guy, and I’m the food guy and that’s what keeps us in this industry. We made it through COVID and all that. Once our guests started coming back, our passion started coming back and we accredit that to food and beverage, and guests. That’s what keeps us going.
What do you have planned in 2024 that the Food Network Canada audience can look forward to and that you’re looking forward to?
You know, I’m always trying to do new stuff. I think we’re going to be good for restaurants for a while. We’re going to stay the course. I’m just working, you know, with Kings Hawaiian. We have more recipes planned and more events planned in the new year, which I’m super excited about to get to try new recipes, which is what I’m super passionate about these days. I’m honestly really excited and honoured to be part of it. [I’ll be doing] lots of travelling. I’m going to be in Australia, working actually with, uh, Tom [Goetter] from Top Chef World All-Stars. I’ll be doing a two-week cruise with him in Australia, and then I’ll also be doing a two-week cruise in Germany, in Budapest on a riverboat. The first quarter of my year is already looking super, super fun!
This interview has been edited and condensed.