In a Top Chef Canada season full of next-level chefs and emerging Canadian talent, it was Tofino’s own Paul Moran, a.k.a. “The Competition Chef,” who was named the chef to beat from the very first episode. Throughout the series, he pulled out win after win, and while he had some stumbles along the way, he dug deep in a five-course finale showdown against Phil Scarfone to blow the judges away and take home this year’s title.
“He did a partridge [pigeon] that was extraordinary. There’s a maturity to Paul’s cooking. He’s worked in a lot of good places and he’s very studied, very dedicated, and it showed on his plate,” says head judge Mark McEwan. “I saw him coming through early on as being very strong. He was not a surprise winner—he was technically the best chef in the kitchen.”
“The same thing kept coming up the entire season, and that was Paul’s technique,” adds host Eden Grinshpan. “No one could really match that level of technique. His confidence was palpable. You could taste it.”
On the heels of Paul Moran’s Top Chef Canada win, we caught up with the chef to learn how he stayed so calm and focused throughout the entire season, how he hopes his win will shine a spotlight on Canadian foraging, and his very big plans for the future.
What was it like when they called your name as Top Chef Canada?
It had been a pretty intense journey to get to that point, and that made it more real. You’re thinking about getting to the end the whole time that you’re there. And then it happened and it was like, ‘What? It’s over?’ You’re just focusing so hard on the moment. That was definitely surreal.
What was your secret to staying so focused throughout?
I treated the challenges and everything as part of the competition as a whole. Sure, I wanted to have the best dish all the time, but there was a time when I didn’t have the best dish or I was on the bottom. I didn’t let that get me down or affect my confidence in any way. I knew in the back of my mind that I wanted to win the whole thing and I was confident enough in my ability to do it, so that’s what I brought to the whole thing.
Was there ever a moment where you thought, ‘Okay maybe I do have a chance at this’?
I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t think I had a good chance of winning—regardless of who was competing. Before I was accepted into the show I was confident. I felt pretty good from the first challenge that I could win.
Were there any particular competitors you saw as the person or the people to beat?
I don’t think so. I approached it in the opposite way; I was more worried about myself than what other people were doing.
What was your reaction to Phil calling you out as the chef to beat from the first episode?
I thought it was pretty funny. Phil and I have known each other, we’d worked together before in the kitchen and at events. He knows that I’ve done a lot of competitions so it was kind of funny to see. I wasn’t expecting that.
Did you do anything differently to prepare for the competition that is Top Chef Canada?
No. It all comes down to your ability to cook and your repertoire of recipes. A lot of the competitions that I’ve done in the past have only ever been like, one or two recipes or dishes that you prepared, not 20. That was part of the challenge here, was pulling out full class recipes time and time again. So making sure that I had those all in the back of my head before going in was pretty important.
Was there like one dish that you’re the most proud of from your time on the show?
I guess the pigeon from the finale, the main course. It just speaks to who I am as a chef and was the best out of any other dish that I made. It showed my passion for wild food and it had a lot of my experiences in there, techniques that I picked up and little things from all different places from all over the world, that I incorporated into that plate.
How important is traveling for a chef looking to take their skills to the next level?
I think if you want to be one of the best it’s pretty much essential. I don’t think you can substitute that experience or even come close to substituting it. Working for great chefs in Canada who have already done those things, maybe. But that doesn’t substitute for a great, international experience.
Is there a dish you’d love to be able to go back and redo?
Yeah, when our parents and significant others came out, when my dad was out, he brought wild mushrooms and we made a chicken dish in the Quickfire. If I could go back and redo that one I would. I’d probably just do something a little bit simpler. Work on my presentation and maybe make something that was more suitable to sitting around a little bit longer while the judges were tasting other dishes.
Do any of the judges’ remarks or commentary on your food stand out for you now, looking back?
When Mijune Pak knew the origins of my family dish, the heritage dish that we did in the first episode’s Elimination Challenge. I had explained that it was a liver dumpling and she was asking if it was like the authentic Austrian liver dumpling [Leberknödel]. And just the fact that she liked the dish and knew exactly where I was coming from with the story, that was pretty cool.
Along the way, who were you most surprised to see go home?
I was kind of surprised to see Takeshi go so early. I was a little bit disappointed because I was expecting to see quite a bit from him. I have a lot of respect for Japanese culture and cuisine and I figured he would represent that in a small way with the chef that he was working for, but I was surprised to see him go first. But everybody was on a pretty even playing field. It was anybody’s win and this was a pretty talented group of people.
Are you hoping your win brings more recognition to foraging?
Yeah. I’ve been working with wild food for a long time but mostly commercially on a wholesale level, so I just launched a website where I’ll be able to show my passion for wild food to people through recipes and photo galleries. I’ll also have a retail brand for people to be able to purchase a lot of the ingredients I worked with on Top Chef Canada and that I work with in Tofino. I want to reflect on the day-to-day mission statements of promoting wild food and wild food culture and make it an essential part of all Canadians’ lives. That’s a big goal of mine moving forward.
I also just finished my free-diving certification so I can go out and harvest all the seaweed I want. Water foraging is kind of the last frontier for me. So things like wild mushrooms and seaweed and wild rice, different things all over the country will be on the website and accessible and there will be a lot of inspiration in terms of photos and recipes for people to check out as well.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to start foraging?
Go with somebody who knows what they’re doing, treat them well and see if they’ll take you out a couple of more times. Just go with as many people as possible, as many times as possible, before you go out and do it on your own. There are lots of different clubs you can join.
Do you have any other plans for your winnings?
With the Air Transat flight, I’m definitely going to go somewhere warm. They fly to lots of sunny beaches. I’m super excited [for] the Italy and Napa trips. There’s a six-hector property I’m planning on purchasing on a pretty remote island out in B.C this fall. The end goal is to develop it into a boutique, seasonal resort. People can follow along with the progress of that on the website, and that will take up a lot of my attention over the next few years. I have a five-year plan to turn it from a small vacation rental to a proper, functioning, seasonal resort. And to be able to share my whole passion of cooking, foraging, fishing up there.