New episodes of Fire Masters are back, which means 30 new chefs are stepping into the Fire Masters arena to battle it out for a chance to win $10,000 and the title of Fire Masters Champion. It also means host Dylan Benoit is back on our screens to lead us through each episode and taste test the chefs creations. We sat down with Dylan to chat about all things Fire Masters, his cooking inspirations and world travels.
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Dylan Benoit is no stranger to the kitchen and showed an interest in cooking from a young age.
“My brother and I were lucky because we were exposed to a lot of different cuisines at a very young age. I was eating Thai food, Indian food and sushi by the time I was six” Dylan says. “When we were growing up, we used to do a taco or fajita night once a week so that was the gateway into Mexican cuisine for me. However, my father was a hunter. So instead of having ground beef, we would have venison tacos or moose fajitas!”
The variety in cuisine in his upbringing also gave Dylan the chance to ponder how different ingredients could be used. He recalls thinking “this is a chicken curry and this is a chicken nugget. Why do these things taste so different? Obviously it’s because of the cooking techniques and the seasonings and the way that it’s all prepared. But as a young kid [you think], this is chicken and that is chicken. How come they don’t taste the same? With help from my parents explaining how these things work, it kind of opened up a world that, at that time, I had no idea about and was really thirsty to learn more.”
This appetite to learn about cooking and food culture inspired Dylan to travel, and he has now traveled to over 40 countries. He has hit many major food destinations, so he says it’s difficult to choose a favourite because there are so many good ones. But if he had to choose a favourite foodie destination region?
“I would definitely say Asia. If we wanted to narrow it down a little bit more, I would say either Hong Kong or Vietnam. I’m a big fan of dim sum, dumplings, noodles, all that stuff. So Hong Kong is an incredible place. [In] Vietnam, everything is just so fresh and it’s got tons of herbs. I really like that type of cuisine and that type of food.”
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All of his world travel experiences and time in the hospitality industry now inspire Dylan’s cooking. He has settled in the Cayman Islands where he currently owns and operates several hospitality companies including Prime Consulting, Prime Kitchen and Carnivore Premium Meats. His cooking philosophy is rooted in honest and approachable cuisine that nourishes the mind, body and soul.
“I’ve done everything from Michelin starred places to making calamari and nachos in the basement of a pub. On my path, as I was working my way up the ladder, it was more about fancy sauces, fancy meats and taking one thing and doing 100 different things to it to turn it into something else. The more I did that type of stuff, the more I realized, I just like a really nice piece of meat, grilled over open fire or vegetables. Just honest food, cover it with salt and let the ingredients speak for themselves. I personally don’t like to manipulate them in 100 different ways. It’s just a matter of style and a matter of preference. I still love [restaurants like the ones I used to work in]. It’s a dining experience, right? You go there for more than just the food. It’s the ambiance, the service and the quality of products and the wines and the beverage. So there’s so much more to it. But for me, I realized working in that environment, I just wanted to do more stripped down, real honest natural food and serve it in a way that’s approachable and relaxing.”
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Returning to the Fire Masters arena
Season three of Fire Masters promises to be bigger and hotter, and that is what Dylan says viewers can expect from the new episodes.
“Season three is interesting because obviously the quality of the chefs is always top notch. So we continue on that path with some incredible chefs. We’ve also got some incredible stories behind the chefs that I think are really cool. It’s more than just about the food, right? It’s also about the people and the reasons that they’re there competing, and what they’re going to do with this $10,000 if they win. I think that’s a really cool element.”
“Now that we’re getting on to the back half of season three, people need to be pushing the envelope. A lot of things have been done in the Fire Masters arena. [Chefs] need to bring new ideas, new ingredients, new cooking techniques to really shine. There’s a few people that really go very far outside the box in this season. Whether it works out for them or not, you’ll have to watch and see. But there are some very unique cooking styles and cooking apparatuses.”
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Although he does not have a say in the final judging decision, Dylan still gets to try out the Fire Masters dishes presented. When it comes to taste testing a dish, what Dylan looks for is simple.
“What I look for — and I think I can speak for on behalf of the judges as well — is a composed dish. Something that’s thoughtful and something that makes sense. You don’t always need a protein, a veg, a starch and a sauce. That’s a very kind of traditional way. But especially these days, that’s not always what’s expected in a restaurant or in a dining environment, but particularly in the Fire Masters arena. Sometimes pushing the envelope and getting outside of that box can be incredibly beneficial. But regardless of what you put on the plate, it has to make sense. It has to be cooked well. It has to be seasoned well, not over or under seasoned. And the components that you do put down, they have to make sense conceptually and they have to make sense when you put them together as a taste, as a bite. It’s got to be cohesive.”
Dylan Benoit’s tips for grilling
As a Fire Master, Dylan knows a thing or two about grilling. His best tip for barbecue beginners is to learn how to control the heat.
“When you’re in a kitchen, whether it’s a competitive kitchen for a show or just your home kitchen, you’ve got an oven, you’ve got a stove, you’ve got an air fryer or whatever you’re using. They all have knobs, they have dials, they have temperature, they have time. Control is at the tip of your fingers to a reasonable degree. When you’re cooking on a grill, gas would be the most approachable because you also have controls. You have knobs so you can turn the gas up, you can turn the gas down, and the heat reacts appropriately.”
“But when you start grilling with charcoal and you start grilling with live fire like wood or a combination of the two, you get into a realm where control is not so finite. You have to be proactive as opposed to reactive. Temperature control is the biggest challenge and it’s the thing that everybody comes up against and most people tend to get frustrated with. When you’re learning about cooking on a grill, you’re learning an entirely new skill set. It’s going to take time. So don’t get frustrated! Learn to control the heat and you’ll be well on your way!”
Related: Dylan Benoit’s Killer Brussel Sprouts and Vinaigrette
Cooking in the Cayman Islands
As for what Dylan is working on now?
“I’ve got a couple of restaurants down here and a private chef and catering company. One of my restaurants is called Carnivore, it’s a butcher shop and restaurant, and historically, we’ve only been open for lunch and during the day. We just started doing dinners a couple of weeks ago. So now we’ve got a full bar program, cocktails, dinner menu, all that kind of stuff. That’s kind of been what’s consuming me as of late. I’m just always looking for the next opportunity, and what’s going to be the next project. So I’ve got a few irons in the fire, but right now between the butcher shop and the noodle shop and the private chef company that’s keeping me plenty busy.”
Watch Dylan Benoit in new episodes of Fire Masters, Sundays at 7PM ET/PT on Food Network Canada. Also Available on STACKTV with Amazon Prime Video Channels, fuboTV, Rogers Ignite TV and Ignite SmartStream.