They say if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen, but Dylan Benoit is all too happy to embrace the fire and flames on the new Food Network Canada show Fire Masters. As host, he brings his passion for cooking over the fire to the small screen as three chefs compete each week to impress a panel of judges with their grilling skills.
Though a proud Canadian, Benoit has taken his talents around the world and now lives in the Cayman Islands where he can pursue his love of the culinary arts, along with scuba diving, riding motorcycles and travelling to far-flung parts of the globe.
We “grilled” the Fire Masters host about his hobbies, who inspires him in the kitchen and what he thinks about leading the hottest new culinary competition show.
How does it feel to be the host of Fire Masters?
Honestly, I never thought I would end up on TV, let alone Food Network Canada. When I was going to cooking school, I used to come home and watch the types of shows I’m now on. I never thought, ‘Oh, one day I’ll be on Food Network’ or ‘I want to have a show.’ It was always just get to the kitchen, put your head down, earn your stripes and become a great chef. The fact this has transpired is a bonus and I’m insanely grateful.
Was there a dish you were hoping someone would make all season that you didn’t end up seeing?
I didn’t go in [to filming] with any expectations. I was just happy to see everything these chefs brought to the table. And what I liked about the show was there were so many people from all over the country, the States and Mexico and the Caribbean and they brought a lot of flavours I wasn’t expecting.
Who inspires your cooking?
My mom was a huge inspiration for my cooking. We grew up eating very well around our house, so that’s where the spark started. Then, as I grew older, it was more about travel — going to different places, learning about their food and through their food.
What do you consider to be your signature dish?
The concept of a signature dish is very tough. For me, it changes all the time — depending on the season or where I am. A dish I would make here isn’t the same as I’d make in Cayman or California. I have certain ingredients that I lean towards, that I use when I can.
What about the recipes you’ve developed over the years? Is there one you’re most proud of?
Bacon. I have a lamb bacon recipe which is pretty fun. Everybody loves bacon! And there are so many other meats you can use to make it, like lamb or beef.
We hear you have cooked for some celebrities. Any anecdotes you can share?
When I worked with Chef Mark McEwan at One at the Hazelton Hotel, the Beastie Boys came in one time. All three of them sat at the bar and ate chicken noodle soup. Once, I was working at the pasta station there during the film festival and Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston came in. She had the rabbit ravioli and when the order came in, the sous chef leaned over to me and said, “That’s for Jennifer Aniston. Don’t screw it up.” I’m sure there’s plenty of others, but a lot of the time you’re in the back and you don’t know who you’re cooking for. It doesn’t matter if it’s a massive celebrity or a regular person on the street. You want to make sure the food is the same every time.
You’ve been living on Cayman Island since 2010. What do you miss most about Canada?
I miss a lot of things, to be honest. All my family, which is a big one. I do miss the seasons — not winter. I miss wearing jeans and boots and a leather jacket. That’s why little trips like this are always nice to come back and get refreshed. I miss my cottage in Georgian Bay area.
Do you have any food-inspired tattoos?
I do actually! A pineapple skull — I don’t know why. A bottle of whiskey or rum flying away. I’ve got a bowl of noodles on the inside of my index finger.
What has been your most delicious travel memory?
A lot of the really good memories, you’re just in these places you’d least expect. The little hole-in-the-wall joints. The first thing that jumps to my mind is Hong Kong. I have a favorite noodle place there called that Tsim Chai Kee. This is the bowl of noodles that all noodles shall be rated against in my mind. It’s just super simple. It’s an egg noodle with chicken broth and these dumplings the size of a golf ball. You get three of them and they’re just chock-full of shrimp.
What’s the easiest technique someone new to grilling should learn to master first?
Indirect heat — that’s where you start something on a relatively high heat on one side to get the sear you want and then move it to a side that’s on low while the high heat is still running. It allows you to rest the meat while you continue to cook it. I think that’s the one thing most people don’t understand. Everybody just goes in hard and fast with high heat and you end up with overcooked or dry food.
What’s the most overused ingredient in grilling?
Beef tenderloin. I really enjoy it, but I think there are so many other cuts that can be similar in texture and tenderness that don’t cost you as much and pack a little more flavour.
This interview has been edited for clarity.