It’s been a long wait, Canada, but the culinary competition show that shines a spotlight on some of the greatest chefs working across the country is back for an eighth season and we’re ravenously awaiting that first Quickfire. Until then, there are 12 hot new contestants ready to fire up those stovetops and take their plates to that next Top Chef Canada level, all under the watchful eyes (and seasoned palates) of a notoriously tough judging panel.
Who will impress judges Mark McEwan, Mijune Pak, Chris Nuttall-Smith and Janet Zuccarini (not to mention host Eden Grinshpan) when the show kicks off, and whose culinary masterpieces will fall flat? We’ve had some time to investigate these contestants—whose experiences and hometowns are among the most diverse yet—and we have a few first impressions and predictions to share…
Top Chef Canada Season 8 Competitors
L-R: Francis Blais, Adrian Forte, Elycia Ross, Brock Bowes, Dominique Dufour, Jo Notkin, Xin Mao, Stephanie Ogilvie, Nils Schneider, Shaun Hussey, Imrun Texeira, Lucy Morrow
Brock Bowes, Kelowna BC
Current gig: Chef/Co-Owner Crasian Food Truck
First impressions: Obviously this chef, with his wacky moustache and his knee-high socks, is full of personality. But he also seems to have the talent to back it up. He’s won Chopped Canada in the past (he donated all $10,000 of his winnings), and he was named the best chef in the Okanagan for four years before trading it in to run a food truck with his girlfriend. Brock says he plans on winning this thing the unconventional way: “I’m going to crush this show and I’m going to do it in a way that nobody has done it before.” Now that’s a first impression.
Our predictions: Sometimes it’s the super creative guys that you need to watch—they try to do everything and then they wind up second-guessing themselves. We all know that there’s no time for that in the Top Chef Canada kitchen, so hopefully, Brock stays on track, cooks the basics the best way he knows how, and then elevates those plates in an elegant way.
Xin Mao, Vancouver
Current gig: Chef/Owner of M8 Bistro & Bar
First impressions: Xin plans on bringing a competitive edge to this competition, something he first learned in business school but has since refined working under Vancouver’s legendary chef Pino Posteraro. The 26-year-old may be young but he’s spent plenty of time honing his skills, and given that this wasn’t his father’s first career choice for him, he also seems to have a lot to prove.
Our predictions: Xin hails from a small town in rural China, but his culinary training is Italian. That means his Chinese-Italian fusion could seriously impress the judges… now all the chef needs to do is stay calm in that pressure cooker of a kitchen so that he can properly execute his vision.
Elycia Ross, Calgary
Current gig: Chef/Owner of Lil’ Truck on the Prairie
First impressions: Elycia is all about redefining classic male toxicity in the kitchen and injecting her plates with good old-fashioned love. As the owner of a successful food truck she definitely knows a thing or two about busting her butt in a small and stressful space, but she also seems like the type to do that with creativity and grace.
Our predictions: The fact that Elycia owns a food truck may have some of the other chefs underestimating her, but once they see and taste her food they’re bound to change their tune. In fact, she may be one of our early underdogs.
Nils Schneider, Calgary
Current gig: Pastry Chef at Hotel Arts
First impressions: Desserts tend to trip up even the best of Top Chef Canada contestants, which makes Nils’ background as a pastry chef so interesting—this guy is all about mastering the different kitchen skills required to execute an amazing plate. From cooking, to butchering, to baking, this guy hasn’t just done it all, he’s also working towards becoming one of the country’s youngest Certified Master Chefs.
Our predictions: You know what they say about a Jack-of-All-Trades… he’s the master of none. So while Nils definitely seems to have a solid foundation heading into this competition, here’s hoping he’ll be equally strong in all of those basics to really stand out.
Dominique Dufour, Ottawa
Current gig: Chef/Owner of Gray Jay
First impressions: This wild child is breaking barriers in terms of female representation in the kitchen and it’s hard not to be here for it. Dominique isn’t shy about her love of butchering animals and using them from nose-to-tail; it’s something her team practices every Saturday at her restaurant, Gray Jay. Given that, we think she will definitely handle the heat in this competition.
Our predictions: Dominique seems pretty fearless, which will definitely come in handy given some of the crazy challenges the contestants face in the Top Chef Canada kitchen. But will she push her plates too far in terms of creativity and let some of that quality slack? Only time will tell.
Imrun Texeira, Ottawa
Current gig: Sous Chef at Stofa
First impressions: If there’s any chef in this competition that seems likely to leave his soul on the plate, it’s Imrun. He’s been classically trained as a French chef but he fuses his food with international techniques and flair, something that has to result in some pretty unique dishes and flavour combos.
Our predictions: Traditionally the Top Chef Canada judges love to be won over by fusion cooking, but only if the basics are done well. If Imrun can nail technique while also giving the judges something innovative, he’s likely to go pretty far in this thing.
Adrian Forte, Toronto
Current gig: Chef Consultant, Chef Du Jour
First impressions: This Jamaican-born chef is in it to win it. As a former Chopped contestant, a chef on Chef in Your Ear, and a culinary instructor at George Brown, he has the experience to back up his craft. Oh, and did we mention he’s also cooked for Drake and his crew? This chef screams confidence and flavour, which will be a spicy combo in the Top Chef Canada kitchen.
Our predictions: Of course celebrity doesn’t impress these judges, they’re here for flavour, creativity and technique. So long as Adrian doesn’t get too comfortable and he pushes his plates to that next level, he may definitely be the one to watch this season.
Jo Notkin, Montreal
Current gig: Chef/Owner of Zoe Ford Catering
First impressions: There have been self-taught chefs in this competition before but none quite like Jo. A decade ago when the recession hit her textile business went under, and she realized her passion was in food. Now as the owner of a successful catering company she has a more simplistic approach than some of the other chefs in this competition, but simple is sometimes the most delicious way to go.
Our predictions: The creations thrown together in a matter of minutes on this series is seriously mind-boggling, so Jo may need to adjust. Still, her flavour-profile game seems strong, so if she can use this as a learning experience she may catapult over the competition yet.
Francis Blais, Montreal
Current gig: Chef de Cuisine at Le Mousso
First impressions: Have you heard the story of the wayward boy who met a girl, fell in love and put his life on track by getting a job as a dishwasher at a restaurant? Before long he worked his way up to chef de cuisine at one of the highest-ranked eateries in Canada, and now he’s on this season of Top Chef Canada. It seems like it took Francis a long time to find his passion, but now that he’s got it he will fight for that prize until the very end.
Our predictions: Francis will definitely blow the judges away by taking risks—after all, that’s how he got his start in the kitchen. What we don’t know is whether those risks will pay off—it’s a fine line in the Top Chef Canada kitchen, folks, and sometimes the things that seemed destined to work out wind up falling flatter than a collapsed soufflé.
Stephanie Ogilvie, Halifax
Current gig: Chef de Cuisine at Chives
First impressions: How do you know if a chef truly loves what he or she does? When she spends her one night off a week running a 12-course underground style supper club with her husband, perhaps? That’s how Stephanie rolls, and now she’s ready to show the rest of Canada just how passionate (and delicious) her plates can be.
Our predictions: Stephanie has a long-standing but friendly rivalry with last season’s female frontrunner, Renée Lavallée, so she may have gotten a few insider tips on what it takes to survive in this competition. Not that she’ll necessarily need it, but any edge on this show is still an edge.
Shaun Hussey, St. John’s
Current gig: Chef/Owner of Chinched
First impressions: Shaun may not have the confidence that the rest of the competitors seem to have walking into this competition, but his wife definitely believes in him. At any rate, we’re hoping Shaun will continue what season six winner Ross Larkin started, and that’s shining a light on the culinary prowess of Canada’s easternmost province.
Our predictions: If we learned anything from watching Ross on this series it’s that the judges always appreciate a dish that showcases distinctive Canadian roots. So if Shaun can show his unique East coast upbringing with elevated techniques, he’s someone we could get pretty excited by.
Lucy Morrow, Charlottetown
Current gig: Executive Chef at Terre Rouge Craft Kitchen
First impressions: Lucy may be young, but she is one talented chef. At 26 years old she’s already been named executive chef at one of the country’s Top 100 restaurants, she’s cooked for the prime minister, and she seems to have an unmatched passion for what she does. This chef is definitely going to show us a thing or two about how Millennials do Top Chef Canada.
Our predictions: There are some pretty fierce competitors this season, but Lucy seems to be among those with the most to prove. We’re betting on her to cook some pretty bold dishes this season, which will definitely get the judges’ attention.
The competition begins April 13 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Food Network Canada.