Food for thought with Top Chef Canada contestant Jamie Hertz

Was Jamie Hertz all that he seemed to be on Top Chef Canada? Was he unfairly portrayed? Have a look at my interview with him and judge for yourselves!

Top Chef Canada – Jamie Hertz (photo courtesy of Food Network Canada/Insight Productions)

Top Chef Canada – Jamie Hertz (photo courtesy of Food Network Canada/Insight Productions)

Why did you decide to apply to be on Top Chef Canada?

I applied for Top Chef Canada to see where I stand. To get out there seeing as being a chef out of the city is difficult.

What surprised you most about the competition?

The thing that surprised me the most was the level of stress you under go with cameras on you.

What special items did you bring from home to help you in the competition?

I had brought a bunch of Japanese ingredients from home to showcase my balance of flavors but never really got to use them.

In the elimination challenge you said you wanted to show West coast cooking. Why did you decide to do a salmon mousse as opposed to something like a cedar planked salmon?

As for the salmon. I had 80 percent smoked salmon and wanted to make the mousse just using that, but late in prep I felt that I didn’t have enough so there were some ends in the main kitchen so I chose to add some to ensure I had enough portions. Cedar plank is Milestones type food (a restaurant chain) and felt it was not good enough nor did we have cedar planks.

Why did you complain about the need to use a student sous chef? Did you have problems working with your student?

I had no problems with the work I did with the sous chef. There was a point during prep where they put my chef in a so called penalty box. I was frustrated because the rules to using the sous were not laid out. This is the only problem I had and it was nothing to do with the sous himself.

To me, it seemed like you were frustrated with the competition process. In the show and in your online exit interview, you mentioned that you were second guessing a lot of things, that contestants were placed in unrealistic situations and that there was little feedback about your food. Was this the case? What was really going on?

Well I was frustrated with the competition – with the lack of dishes we could use and not having the access to ingredients that allow me to truly show my true colors as an established chef and successful restaurateur. I also hated the fact that Mark McEwan said in the country challenge that I was in Dale’s wind following and or copying him. To me it showed he really had no idea of who I was and where I came from. I am my own chef and never followed someone to achieve my success.

If given the chance, would you compete on Top Chef Canada again?

I would compete again with a new strategy and I would feel more comfortable being in that situation. I am much much better then I did on the show and wish I had a chance to find my footing and wow the judges. The real question is would they have me back seeing as I didn’t make it further.

Any future plans that you’d like to share?

As for future plans I am going to keep fusion going and hope to have much more success. I am hungry for achieving my goals and being a well respected chef, so if anything it was a kick in the ass to push to the next level.

Other than your own establishment, name one of your favorite places to eat.

Well my fav place to eat in Vancouver is Hapa Izikaya. In the Toronto area as a child I loved Apache Burger and Montreal Deli.

Any last comments?

As frustrated as I was in the competition, the Food Network gave me a well needed second wind in my career. I was so appreciative of the opportunity to be a part of Canada’s Top Chef.

I didn’t like the character I was portrayed as. I would like to one day sit down with Mark and perhaps Shereen when cameras aren’t around to chat with them.

Thanks for everything Insight (the production company) and Food Network.

You can read past interviews by using this Top Chef Canada list.

A slow simmer with Top Chef Canada contestant Clayton Beadle

Clayton Beadle was eliminated in a surprise double elimination episode featuring Canadian cheese. This interview is a little late due to scheduling issues, but here it is now for your reading pleasure!

Top Chef Canada - Clayton Beadle (photo courtesy of Food Network Canada/Insight Productions)

Top Chef Canada - Clayton Beadle (photo courtesy of Food Network Canada/Insight Productions)

Why did you decide to apply to be on Top Chef Canada?

I applied for Top Chef just for the simple reason of finding out where I compare against other Canadian chefs. I also did it for my Mom who was the one who brought the show to my attention.

What surprised you most about the competition?

The sheer fact at how fast the time goes by when you have a task to complete and your life depends on it.

Did you learn anything from your experience?

Absolutely, I think we all became better chefs in the end. Being involved in something like Top Chef Canada brings out aspects of each one of us that we probably hadn’t seen yet, from handling extreme pressure to creating something way out of our everyday cooking realm.

What special items did you bring from home to help you in the competition?

I brought an immersion circulator for doing sous-vide but I didn’t get the chance to use it.

Did you do anything special to prepare you for Top Chef?

Nothing can really prepare you for the show except good skills attained over many hard years spent in the kitchen. But watching the previous series helped.

Why did you choose to make the cheese dish that you presented in the Quickfire challenge?

I made that dish because Mark had mentioned that he liked this specific cheese melted on toast in the morning. I took that idea and ran with it, putting my own spin on it. But I made a fatal technical error on the sauce when it crystallized.

What went through your mind when it was announced that it was a high stakes Quickfire challenge, and that there would be an elimination?

That was probably the single most terrifying moment I experienced on the show. But I just accepted it and planned what my next move would be. And I think that the dish I produced was excellent and should have kept me in the competition.

Do you think that your age and level of experience hindered you at all in the competition?

Maybe but at the end of the day I still made it on the show and I plan on taking it on again. Age shouldn’t have played a role in my opinion, we were all there because we are great at what we do.

Any future plans that you’d like to share?

Just travel the world on the most epic cooking adventure ever. I’d like to visit Spain, Italy, and Thailand to learn the culinary secrets the hold.

Other than your own establishment, name one of your favorite places to eat.

Samurai Sushi here in Whistler, Harajuku Isakaya another Japanese place here in Whistler and I am definitely looking forward to eating in Dale’s new restaurant Ensemble opening soon in Vancouver.

Any last comments?

You haven’t seen the last of me yet, I WILL be back.

You can read past interviews by using this Top Chef Canada list.

Over the mountains we go – eating our way through the High Atlas in Morocco

Ha, I bet you thought I forgot about these posts. Never fear, I’m not stopping. I’m just slow!

We left Marrakech for a long trip through Morocco’s High Atlas mountains. After several hours driving on narrow, windy roads we stopped at a little town that I think was called Toufrine (I could be mistaken) for lunch.

Leaving Marrakech, Mark piled us into a car and we headed into the High Atlas Mountains. After windy roads and a long morning drive, we reached the small mountain town of Toufrine where we met our local guide, Mohamed.

Our gracious host and local guide was Mohamed, who started us off with a refreshing (and super sweet) cup of mint tea.

Mohamed pours mint tea

Mohamed pours mint tea

These almonds and pecans were from nearby trees. Don’t you wish we had this kind of local food in our backyards?

tea and snacks

tea and snacks

The main meal was a lamb tagine, with tender olives, tomatoes and potatoes piled high.

lamb tagine

lamb tagine

my plate

my plate

loaves of fresh khobz (bread)

loaves of fresh khobz (bread)

After stuffing ourselves, Mohamed took us to a nearby mountain town for some sightseeing. We were supposed to go to a town renowned for their waterfall, but the abnormal amount of rain in the area washed out the road and so instead we went to a totally different town called Tighfiste.

On our way there, after talking to someone on an old cell phone, he suddenly asked Mark, our regular guide, to stop the car and he climbed out. And then up. Straight up, in the pouring rain. Wearing only sandals. Trying to find him in the photo is like playing Where’s Waldo. Mohamed is the striped blur somewhere in the middle of the photo. I took this picture while sitting in the car and looking straight up.

Part mountain goat?

Part mountain goat?

He came back with reused water bottles and giant jugs of honey from someone who lives at the top of this cliff. And yes, he carried all of it down that same cliff.
Continue reading

Turning up the heat with Top Chef Canada contestant Derek Bocking

I don’t know about the rest of you, but to me it seemed like last week’s episode was a tough one for the contestants thanks to guest judge Susur Lee. Unfortunately for Derek, this wasn’t his week.

Top Chef Canada - Derek Bocking (photo courtesy of Food Network Canada/Insight Productions)

Top Chef Canada - Derek Bocking (photo courtesy of Food Network Canada/Insight Productions)

Why did you decide to apply to be on Top Chef Canada?

My brother Steve, and his girlfriend Melanie really pushed for me to apply. I left it for the last minute, because I wasn’t sure if I could get the necessary time off work, but when I decided I was going to go for it, they rushed over to my apartment and we filmed the audition video in one day. I still thank the two of them every time I see them and will be forever grateful that they push me to do this

What surprised you most about the competition?

How “real” it was. There were many moments where I was just pushing myself to get the job done and I would forget that I was on TV and not in my restaurant. But then Chef McEwan would walk into the kitchen I would be suddenly reminded that, of s#!t, I’m really on Top Chef! One of my favorite moments was when Andrea was being a little abrasive and I had to remind her that we were on the same team. I have to admit, I smiled when her comeback was “Yeah, well this is still Top Chef!”

Did you learn anything from your experience?

So much.  Besides learning some of the ins and outs of TV land, I learned a lot of little tips and tricks from the other chefs. I’ve been cooking in one style for most of my career, French/North American comfort, so it was interesting to see the techniques that some of the other chefs were using, especially those who came from a more fine dining background.

What special items did you bring from home to help you in the competition?

Besides my knives, I brought my own pair of tongs, because I’m very particular about the kind I use and I was glad I did, because the ones in the Top Chef kitchen didn’t feel right. For ingredients I brought a few modern stabilizers and emulsifiers. I brought them to maybe do something fancy and modern like a flaming sorbet recipe I know from the Fat Duck, but I also knew that they work wonders added to the more traditional recipes I usually do. They saved me in episode 2 when the acidity of the blue cheese that I put into my cheesecake split my mix into curds and whey. I used one of my emulsifiers to bring it back together and the dish was a hit.

We never saw your Quickfire salad; what did you make?

They skiped my Quickfire dish twice! I was pretty upset about that. I didn’t win any Quickfires, but I did come on the bottom either, so unfortunately two of my dishes didn’t get any airtime. For the breakfast challenge in episode 2, I made my version of cheese on toast, with a nod to the traditional Irish Sunday fry up. I made worchestershire glazed wild mushrooms with back bacon, served on grilled bread with melted camembert. My salad was a beet carpaccio (had no idea that’s what Dusty was making!) with persimmons and a citrus vinaigrette.

What went through your mind when you pulled that knife and saw that it said “Mexico?”

Ironically it was “sweet, this will be easy!” and it should have been. I was paired with Dustin, who was Susur’s sous chef, so besides the fact that I’m already familiar with Mexican cuisine, that was a definite advantage too. There were so many dishes that I could have chosen to make that I could easily have banged out in less than 2 hours, but I felt the need to over reach and try to make one of my signature dishes, a dish that I usually make over the course of 2 days, in just 2 hours.  It was a foolish, foolish decision, one that will haunt me for the rest of my life, but that is the game. Everything happens so fast in the Top Chef kitchen, and that’s what makes it an exciting show. I knew I made a terrible choice early on in the challenge, but once the clock started, there was no turning back.

Top Chef Canada – Thea Andrews and Susur Lee, Episode 4 (photo courtesy of Food Network Canada/Insight Productions)

Top Chef Canada – Thea Andrews and Susur Lee, Episode 4 (photo courtesy of Food Network Canada/Insight Productions)

Why did you decide to use a braise on the ribs even though you’d have only a portion of the cooking time normally needed?

In the previous challenge I played it safe with a dish that left me with lots of time to spare. I got on to Top Chef Canada by cooking a dish (rabbit pot pie) that normally takes hours in just 30 minutes. That definitely impressed the producers in my audition, so I thought I could pull of a 2 hour version of my braised ribs. Unfortunately there were a couple of things that knocked me off my very tightly planned timetable that put me a good half hour behind, and what I presented to the judges was far from a finished dish. What kills me is I’m a huge Top Chef fan and I’ve seen many talented chefs asked to pack their knives and go because of undercooked braises and that is exactly what happened to me.

Your bio states that you have no formal culinary training. In your experience, has that hindered you at all in your career, or do you see it as a benefit?

I think it’s neither a hindrance nor a benefit. Going to culinary school might have helped me early in my career, but by the time I knew I would be making a career in the kitchen it was too late and I would have been relearning things that I already knew for years. I was fortunate enough to work with some great chefs over the years, particularly Fred Morin of Joe Beef, who has had a major influence on my cooking style.

Did you have any dishes up your sleeve to make later in the competition had you not been eliminated?

I was pretty upset that I didn’t once use fois gras. I’m a big proponent of sustainable agriculture and I think it’s incredibly  ironic that fois gras gets so much heat from animal rights activists.  I’m aware that there are some videos out there of unhappy ducks being force fed, but I’ve done my homework and I can tell you that I’d take the life of a fois gras duck over a fast food chicken any day. I was surprised by some of the backlash I saw on the net about Todd using seal, when from a sustainability point of view, it’s a more ecological choice than most of the commercial beef you find in the supermarket.  I’m not saying that seal would be an ideal replacement for everyday meals (that would never be sustainable) but I wish that people put more thought into where their food comes from. I wanted to really represent Montreal and Quebec on the national scene and fois gras is one of our specialties. There are a lot ways a could have used it, but I was waiting for a challenge where I could do my version of the ultimate PB&J: fois gras parfait with blueberry jelly and walnut butter. That one I was saving for the finale.

Any future plans that you’d like to share?

My goal for a while now has been to open my own restaurant by the time I’m 35. I’m 31 now so I have a few years to spare. The exposure from Top Chef has led to a few offers, but I’m in no rush and I want to make sure that when I do open my own place, I do it right.  For now, I have my blog, www.derekskitchen.com , where I post restaurant style recipes that people can try at home.  The recipes are very detailed and I include pictures of all the steps to make them very easy to follow.

Other than your own establishment, name one of your favorite places to eat.

There are so many amazing restaurants in Montreal. My favorites are DNA, Joe Beef, Le Chien Fumant, and L’Orignal.

Any last comments?

If you want to see more of what I have to offer, visit my blog or come see me at Beaver Hall.

You can read past interviews by using this Top Chef Canada list.

Adding a Latin flair with Top Chef Canada contestant Steve Gonzalez

Poor Steve. It was starting to seem like Steve would be one of the more colourful contestants on Top Chef Canada, but we never did really get to see much about him or his style of food before he was eliminated in last week’s challenge.

Top Chef Canada – Steve Gonzalez (photo courtesy of Food Network Canada/Insight Productions)

Top Chef Canada – Steve Gonzalez (photo courtesy of Food Network Canada/Insight Productions)

Why did you decide to apply to be on Top Chef Canada?

I decided to do Top Chef cause I felt this will help get my name and face out there. I left Toronto a few years ago and came back saying [th]is was going to do big things.

What surprised you most about the competition?
I was surprised at how well we all got along and how different our food styles where.

Did you learn anything from your experience?
I learned that I can still move fast when I need to.

What special items did you bring from home to help you in the competition?
I brought Yuzu juice, Aji amarillo and achiote.

It seemed like some people had better experiences working within teams than others. What was your team dynamic like?
Our team worked great together. We were all cool and worked like a well oiled machine.

Top Chef Canada – Dan Aykroyd Episode 3 (photo courtesy of Food Network Canada/Insight Productions)

Top Chef Canada – Guest Judge Dan Aykroyd, Episode 3 (photo courtesy of Food Network Canada/Insight Productions)

The potato salad dish you made – did you change the recipe at all to make it fit better with the theme of the challenge, or is that how you would normally serve it?
Ya I changed it totally changed it to fit in the vessel and I really wanted to put caviar in it. It’s not something I make all the time.

Latino cuisine isn’t as common in Canada as say, various Asian cuisines. How fast is knowledge about Latino cuisine growing in Canada? If you had stayed in the competition longer, what kind of dishes would we have seen from you?
Latino food has become a little more know but not as well as I would like. We would have seen more ceviches, modern sancocho and maybe ropa veija.

Any future plans that you’d like to share?
I’ll just be doing my thing here at Origin and raising the bar in the food scene in Toronto.

Other than your own establishment, name one of your favorite places to eat.
I like doing the China town thing. Late night at Taste of China or Pho Houng for lunch [in Toronto].

Any last comments?
I’d just like to say that I had fun and it was a great experience.

You can read past interviews by using this Top Chef Canada list. If you have a question that you want answered by the latest eliminated cheftestant, let me know in the comments, preferably by the end of the broadcast night on which they are voted off. I make no guarantees about using your question, but if I do use it I will give you credit for it.