Canada boasts a wide variety of chefs from coast-to-coast, but one name that always reigns supreme is chef Lynn Crawford. From her early days on Restaurant Makeover to her food travel series Pitchin’ In, (not to mention a plethora of guest-starring gigs on shows like Top Chef Canada in between), Crawford has become synonymous with showcasing Canadian cuisine, cultures, and ingredients.
Now the former Four Seasons chef and current Ruby Watchco owner is poised to continue that mission on Iron Chef Canada. We caught up with Crawford—who also happens to be the first Canadian female chef to have participated in the American series—to get her take on Canada’s tastiest ingredients, her inherent love of food, and what it takes to make it in Kitchen Stadium.
Where does your love of food stem from and did you always want to be a chef?
Oh, absolutely. I’ve always enjoyed cooking. Fond family memories have always been about everyone preparing our family supper and sharing our day with one another—that was really important. I just had a passion for food, I love it. I loved everything about it. Helping mom and dad in the kitchen and exploring. Each time we went out on a little adventure, a road trip, different restaurants that we’d go to, farmers markets, all that—I loved it.
When did you realize cooking could be your career?
Not until my university days when I handled a part-time job and I was surrounded by people that were attending the HAFA program at the University of Guelph and they were really shining a spotlight that there is a profession out there in cooking.
As a champion for locally-raised food, do you have a favourite ingredient right now?
Right now there are too many to talk about! Right now is all about the fall squash, pumpkin, pears, apples, sweet corn. The most exciting time for any chef to be cooking is during the fall harvest.
Which Canadian chef is inspiring or exciting you right now?
There are so many incredibly talented chefs out there. Can you just pick some for me? There are just so many. That’s what’s so incredible about Canada, from coast-to-coast and in the middle we’re just surrounded by so many talented chefs. I’m inspired by so many. My dear friend Lisa Ahier from Tofino is landing here in Toronto to do an event with Michael Blackie who is another dear friend up in Ottawa. And then I’ve got Wayne Martin up in Winnipeg who is absolutely incredible. Ned Bell, his advocacy for sustainable seafood, what he does. Connie [DeSousa] and John [Jackson] at Charbar and Charcut. Dale McKay and what he’s doing. There are so many, it’s a long list. I’m just so grateful to have met so many and had so many opportunities to cook alongside [these chefs].
How did it feel to bring Iron Chef to Canada?
It was just a matter of time for the competition to come to Canada. The Iron Chef franchise, to be included in that is exceptionally special for all of us who are participating, both the iron chefs and the competitors. And to have Kitchen Stadium here in Canada, that’s brilliant. The high level of expertise and talent and commitment that goes into participating in a battle is unlike any competition that you’ll ever participate in or experience. For me, personally, the Canadian twist in it is how we are showcasing the Canadian talent, the Canadian ingredients, and the Canadian passion for excellence.
What was your preparation like for the competition?
I’ll never do it again! No, I’m kidding. It was hard. It was war. Lora [Lora Kirk], my wife was six months pregnant [at the time]. Michael Blackie flew in from Ottawa. We did all of our practice at home.
What did you learn from the Iron Chef America Stadium that you brought to Iron Chef Canada?
The kitchens are quite similar and just having had that opportunity to go down and battle in New York was surely beneficial. But that was a long time ago. And of course, every battle that you’re preparing for is very different. You don’t know who your competitor is, you don’t know what the secret ingredient is, and is your team ready for that day and for that battle? But I know more now than I did back then. That was many, many years ago.
What can we expect from the competition this season?
It’s going to be exceptionally entertaining and it’s going to really showcase Canada’s finest. It’s going to be really intense, it’s going to be absolutely incredible. A lot of creativity, a lot of talent, a lot of passion. It’s the original food competition show that really showcasing excellence. It was a thrill to participate now on both sides.
What did your time in Kitchen Stadium teach you?
You’re only as good as your last dish. I was striving for excellence. My excellence or my philosophy of what I do each and every day. I just want to give the very, very best to my guests. I’m lucky that I get to do what I do.
Are there any chefs—living or dead—that you would love to take on in Kitchen Stadium?
I kind of like the surprise element. Is there somebody that I would like to have a battle with? To cook with? You have the opportunity to cook with so many different chefs, but one-on-one? Wow. That’s a good question.
What’s your go-to staple tool in the Iron Chef Canada kitchen?
Nothing was really out of the ordinary. Your basic chef kit is really all you really need. You don’t have time for the gadgets. All a chef needs is a great peeler, a good set of chef knives, and away you go.
How did you feel about the secret ingredients?
There were no ingredients where I wondered how I would make five wonderful dishes. I was very happy with what was revealed on each day that I cooked.
What goes through your head when you hear the secret ingredient and how do you put your menu together?
It’s really spontaneous. When the ingredient is revealed, there are five dishes that you think about and there’s not a lot of time to think about what you want. So it’s really honouring the ingredient and making that the star of the dish. You have to be very quick about what it is that you’re going to prepare and if I were asked to do something with the ingredient again, I’m sure it would be really different.
If you could pick a secret ingredient, what would you choose?
It could really be anything. Right now looking around the kitchen, I’ve got lovely Cortland apples. We’ve got butternut squash we’ve got a lovely artisanal cheese. There’s a pumpkin. Beef tenderloin. Lobster. A beautiful chanterelle? Why not? Can we have all of them?
Did you have a dish that you cooked in the Kitchen Stadium that you’re most proud of?
How can I say it without giving away with giving it away? Listen, I would cook them all again—they were all delicious!