This past season of Top Chef Canada was one of the most diverse, creative, and all-around toughest installments of the series to date. So when Stephanie Ogilvie, Lucy Morrow and Francis Blais went into the finale with their progressive four-course tasting menus, it really was anyone’s game.
Related: This Season on Top Chef Canada
Who Won Season 8 of Top Chef Canada?
In the end, it was Francis Blais’ amazing technique and bold flavours that catapulted him to the big win, making him the show’s first-ever Montreal chef to take home the crown. We caught up with Le Mousso’s chef de cuisine hot off his victory lap to chat all things Top Chef Canada, find out what he’s doing with his winnings, and whether he has any updates on that famous proposal he hinted at on the show.
Was there extra pressure knowing you were facing off against two chefs in the finale instead of one, like they did on previous seasons?
Not really, I tried to focus on my food and my menu. I wasn’t spending energy on things that I couldn’t control. When I knew I was going on the show I had already started planning my final menu. The squab pithivier was a really technical dish and it was just executed perfectly because I’ve been doing them and practicing it a lot. But to do it in four hours? That was an achievement for me.
Have you always been into the technical side of cooking and learning new techniques?
I’ve always been interested in techniques that involve flavours or that improve the end results. I’m not into techniques just to showcase techniques. It’s part of my journey at the restaurant.
Who has been your biggest mentor?
Massimo Piedimonte. He’s a really good friend. We’ve been working side-by-side for a very long time. We’ve evolved together and he’s been showing me so much.
What does it feel like to be the first Montreal winner?
It means a lot because I went in representing my restaurant and in Montreal, we work in the community. So it was representing all of the people in the Montreal food scene. It means a lot to me.
Francis’ pigeon pithivier main and buttermilk mousse dessert
What was the most challenging part of doing Top Chef Canada?
It was probably the time limits. We were never in our comfort zones because of the time, but also because of the circumstances—always moving from restaurant to restaurant and never really knowing the equipment that was going to be available. The circumstances were very hard. I was always trying to focus on the end result and what I could control. Putting all of my energy toward that.
Was there anyone you had your eye on as the biggest competition?
Everyone scared me! Everyone had their own styles and I didn’t know what to expect. I also didn’t know what to expect from the judges—what they like, what flavour profiles they like. There were no chefs there that I took for granted.
Were any of the judges more intimidating than another?
They all have their opinions. For sure Mijune Pak; when she gives her opinion it can be rough so you don’t really know what to expect. But they are all like, professional eaters! They’ve eaten everywhere so [they know their stuff]. I didn’t receive a lot of bad feedback, but for sure when I went overboard or made a mistake by putting too much salt on the potatoes for example… those mistakes helped build me and made me stronger for the finale.
What was the most shocking twist or elimination that you faced?
I was really shocked that I couldn’t cook for the first elimination challenge. And then there was the challenge that involved food from around the world. Those kinds of foods involve technique that we’re not always used to, so it was our job to make it happen. But that was pretty challenging—cooking a dish that you don’t really know about that represents a country. We mostly rely on our own knowledge and you don’t want to hurt any community or country [by] misrepresent[ing] them.
When you won the skills competition you said you were putting the money towards an engagement ring—any updates?
Obviously [now] is not a great time to buy a ring. I could have done it before, but yeah. She wasn’t surprised in watching the show that I wanted to marry her. We’ve been talking about it for years so it was a nice thing for her to see on TV but she already knew that I wanted to marry her. It’s a matter of time. We will do it when the time is right. She is [part of the reason I got into this]. That’s why I wanted to dedicate part of my experience on Top Chef Canada to her.
What are you going to do with your winnings?
The goal is to invest in what I love, which is food. I want to bring something new to the world of food as a partner in my company, Fermentation Oryzae . We’re developing new seasoning for home chefs with legumes and cereal from around Montreal. We’re doing a Montreal miso and soy sauce out of the miso. We want to de-Japanize the miso and soy by introducing local ingredients and show people how to cook with it. It will be ready to use for people at home.
What else are you doing in quarantine right now?
Mostly doing research and development for the business. There are four partners and we all have our own expertise. We had plans of opening a restaurant, that’s always been a dream for me. But we’ve postponed it because of the situation. It would be crazy to open a restaurant while so many of them are in trouble right now. We’ll do it eventually. It will be a restaurant where everything—every seasoning—will be made in house. A super intimate, small space. The intimacy is one of the reasons we’re postponing actually. And then I’m also doing some pastries to raise money for an institution that works with the homeless here.
Do you have any advice for people who want to pursue a culinary career?
It’s really important to try stuff. Not knowing where you’re going or staying at home and getting in trouble is never the answer! Try your hardest to evolve and make a name for yourself.