Delicious dishes with Top Chef Canada contestant Andrea Nicholson

This Top Chef interview is a little different because instead of doing it over e-mail, I actually spoke to Andrea Nicholson over the telephone. We had a great chat… but unfortunately I kind of suck at taking notes and find it hard to quote someone verbatim for long stretches at a time. Anything that she said directly is in quotes, and everything else is my interpretation and rephrasing of her words.

Top Chef Canada - Andrea Nicholson (photo courtesy of Food Network Canada/Insight Productions)

Top Chef Canada - Andrea Nicholson (photo courtesy of Food Network Canada/Insight Productions)

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

“I applied because I am a junkie of a fan of the American version and wanted to see what it would be like and showcase my food. It was a nudge to show that I’m a great cook and can do great things.”

What surprised you most about the competition?

“Everything surprised me because it was unknown territory from hour to hour.” I expanded the question by asking about the U.S. show, and she said, “Watching the American version kind of prepares you,” but that they didn’t have the same kind of budget that the American show has. “No high tech equipment, no nitro,” she said.

Another thing that surprised her was the process of how it the show came together behind the scenes.

What special items did you bring from home to help you in the competition?Andrea brought all her knives, a vacuum sealer, tea from Great Cooks’ tea boutique for cooking and smoking, star anise, truffle paste from her truffle supplier out of Italy, and a huge meat saw that came in handy for the butchering of the pig.

Tell us about your favourite challenge. Why that one?

“The first one because they really let us highlight what we do and show what we create on a daily basis.”

As one of three women in the competition, did you feel there was more pressure on you to do well?

“No, not really. I’ve worked my whole career with his kind of stigma and I don’t want to try to segregate myself from the other cooks.” Andrea went on to tell me that she encourages her kitchen staff to treat everyone equally and that she’s doing what she’s doing because she’s a chef and not because of her gender.

“I do think female chefs can be amazing because they can multitask,” she added.

You’ve worked in a number of restaurants in the past; how did you get into teaching?

“We’re also a restaurant,” she said, speaking about Great Cooks. “During my 15 year career I was asked to do a teaching gig at Humber College. A butchery class. And I really liked it. I did it for a semester. I met Esther (the co-owner and CEO of Great Cooks) 7 years ago and did a guest chef gig. It was an easy transition. Teaching is something you do anyways as a chef; you are constantly teaching line cooks, etc.”

In the French food episode you had to make a dish using horse. At the time, did you realize the issues that could arise from that ingredient?

“I didn’t realize [there would be an] issue because we have restaurants in the city that prepare horse.” She’s been to Quebec and France in the past, and has eaten horse. “It’s kind of hypocritical when you think of foie gras.”

Why make a tartar?

“We all collectively came up with the menu progression. It would have been one of the mains or starters, and had to go into the cold section of the menu. I had made it and eaten it that way before.”

Any other future plans that you’d like to share?

“We filmed the show almost a year ago. I’ve got a very successful condiment company called Killer Condiments. Doing a lot of travel to promote myself.” She recently had a contract with Tim Hortons to make a birthday cake for the 35th anniversary of the Timbit. She’s also been really busy at the restaurant and doing a lot of dinners including a Top Chef Canada dinner with Todd Perrin.

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

Per Se in New York City.

Any last comments?

“It was a great opportunity. I would do it again if I could.” She was pleased that people watch and enjoy the show, but was a little disappointed by some of the criticisms that have been on the Internet about the quality of the production and the food that the contestants made. “We’re just cooking food and at the end of the day, food needs to taste delicious. It doesn’t need to be totally out of the box and it’s not rocket science.”

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

One last note – I know that there are a lot of very passionate people who are upset about the use of horse in the show. While I do have my own opinion, I respect that people may not agree with me and so for that reason I am not talking about the specifics of this for either side of this issue. I hope that you will respect me in return and not flood my blog with comments for or against horse meat. I do my best not to censor comments on this blog, but any disrespectful comments will be edited or deleted. If you want to educate yourself about this issue, I highly recommend doing a search on the Internet. There are many detailed resources out there.

CHARCUT Roast House, Calgary

Even before Connie DeSousa appeared on Top Chef Canada, CHARCUT Roast House has created a lot of buzz. An enRoute Canada’s Best New Restaurant for 2010, their charcuterie and alley burgers (served in the back alley at various times announced on Twitter) has kept their name on the lips of people in Calgary and beyond.

I ate there with a friend back in February, coincidentally just 10 days before the names of the Top Chef Canada contestants were released. We ended up getting the same entrée, but different sides.

For an entrée we had the Spring Creek Butcher Steak, with arugula, fried matchstick potatoes, and chimichurri. It was probably one of the best steaks I’ve ever had. The meat was so tender that it practically melted in your mouth.

My friend also ordered the duck fat fried poutine served with cheese curds and truffle gravy. It was delicious and so very rich. So rich in fact that we couldn’t finish it even though I ended up trying to help her eat the dish. We were stuffed silly. I could easily see this dish being a good appetizer for 3 to 4 people. It’s definitely something that you need to share. I was sad that they cut out Connie’s Top Chef Canada’s poutine Quickfire challenge because I wanted to know if she had made this version for the competition or not.

Butcher steak and poutine

Butcher steak and poutine

The other side that we ordered was the slow roasted heirloom beets served with house-made soft goat cheese and arugula. The beets were tender and slightly sweet, but to me the star of this dish was the goat cheese. It was creamy and fluffy, and had a light tang instead of a strong tang that you find in many goat cheeses.

Butcher steak, heirloom beets and goat cheese

Butcher steak, heirloom beets and goat cheese

For dessert my friend had cheesecake in a jar. I think they were preserved saskatoon berries, but my memory is a little hazy. The cheesecake was light and fluffy.

cheesecake

cheesecake

I had the flourless chocolate cake with graham crackers and ice cream. It was dense and chocolately, with a brownie-like texture. I ended up having to bring some of it away with me because of being much too full from all the good food.

flourless chocolate cake

flourless chocolate cake

Our receipt was delivered with a postcard and the cutest little pig paper clip.

The bill and the pig

The bill and the pig

Alley burgers were actually being served later that night but I was too stuffed to even think about eating them. I had a great meal and would definitely come back again.

P.S. Did you know that I’m doing interviews with the Top Chef contestants? You can read all the other past interviews by using this Top Chef Canada list.

CHARCUT Roast House
101, 899 Centre Street SW
Calgary, AB
www.charcut.com

CHARCUT Roast House on Urbanspoon

Home grown cuisine with Top Chef Canada contestant Todd Perrin

Todd Perrin brought some much needed Maritime influence to Top Chef Canada. With his unique, but traditional, ingredients and cooking skills, he quickly became a fan favourite and many people were sad to see him go.

Top Chef Canada – Todd Perrin (photo courtesy of Food Network Canada/Insight Productions)

Top Chef Canada – Todd Perrin (photo courtesy of Food Network Canada/Insight Productions)

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

A friend sent me the notice of the casting call and for the first time in my working life I actually had time to consider something like Top Chef Canada. In my previous work, I was just too busy to be able to get away for such a long time in the height of summer. I am still amazed that some of the other Chefs could do it given their restaurant commitments. It just sounded like it would be fun and winning $100,000 wasn’t bad motivation either!

What surprised you most about the competition?

A bit cliché, but just how hard it was! It is an extremely difficult competition and I wasn’t really prepared for the intensity and difficulty of the challenges. Having said that I thought I held my own pretty well, but it was very, very tough.

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

All my specialty items pretty well made it onto the screen, salt fish, seal flipper, moose, capelin (dried and salted). I also had some rabbit, but didn’t get a chance to use it.

And along those same lines… in various challenges you used salt cod, moose and seal flipper. They’re all traditional foods that aren’t used as much (or in some cases hardly ever) in Canadian kitchens anymore. Why did you decide to use them?

They may not be used as often as they used to be, but there are many homes in the country that still enjoy these traditional items – especially here in Newfoundland and Labrador. I mean that’s where I am as a Chef. I try to use local ingredients wherever and whenever I can and I wanted to show that NL food is not all about Fish and Chips. My province offers great ingredients that can be prepared in a myriad of ways and that’s what I hoped to get the opportunity to showcase. Lucky for me I held on long enough to do that pretty well. I felt it important to show these items on Top Chef CANADA, emphasis on the Canada. It was the best way I saw to represent where I come from – both my province and my country.

What has been the reaction to your use of seal flipper since that first episode aired?

Generally very positive. There was a little negativity which given the controversy that sometimes surrounds the seal hunt, was not unexpected. Overall I’d say people respected that I thought it was important enough as a local ingredient to use it. I mean people eat seal! Flipper pie is not everybody’s bag no doubt, but it isn’t a made up dish. Seal meat is a sustainable, healthy readily available protein source that has been eaten here for hundreds of years and prepared properly can be quite delicious!

You’ve worked in some busy kitchens before but are now running your own place. Did you find it hard to adjust from your B&B to the speed of the Top Chef kitchen?

A little, but it’s a bit like riding a bike. I have spent a lot of years working in very busy, well respected restaurants. I have taken a different path for a bit, but I still have those skills. They just needed a little of the dust blown off them perhaps and being with the other Chefs certainly helped to do that. The whole thing has re ignited the fire I used to have in my belly when I worked on a busy line for 14 hrs a day. Not sure my wife is happy about that but there it is!

Did you have any dishes that you wanted to make for the competition but never got a chance to

Except for the winning dish on the final episode,  nothing that really comes to mind. I mean I did have a personal agenda to incorporate the ingredients that we have already talked about, but I really tried to react to the challenges that we were given and not plan my dishes in advance.

Any other future plans that you’d like to share?

We are working on a couple of things. An expansion of The Chef’s Inn to include a small restaurant is on the table. Also working on a couple of concepts to pitch for my own food show perhaps? Who knows about that, but I have been given lots of encouragement to do that. I think there are some people that would like to see more of me doing my thing?! We’ll see.

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

Top of Signal Hill watching Humpback whales, with a take out Chicken Curry from International Flavours!

Any last comments?

Just to say a big thanks to everyone involved with Top Chef Canada. I had a blast and would do it all again in a second! Also thanks to the folks who watch the show. The support I have gotten from across the country has been truly humbling and very inspiring. Keep watching for me guys, I hope I can keep spreading the message about accessible, local simple but delicious food! Lastly, I hope that I have helped to dispel that thought that “nice guys finish last” – they finish 8th, or at least on Top Chef Canada they do! ;)

Did you know that they’re casting for Season 2 of Top Chef Canada? I hope more chefs from outside of Toronto apply. It’d be nice to more people from different parts of the country. Imagine what kinds of things someone from up north could do!

You can read all the other past interviews by using this Top Chef Canada list. Got a question for a soon-to-be eliminated contestant? Let me know in the comments!

Infusing flavours with Top Chef Canada contestant Patrick Wiese

Patrick Wiese has an enthusiastic, sunny personality that jumped out at you from the screen. Even his responses to my questions put a smile on my face. I opened my e-mail and they were all in bold!

Top Chef Canada – Patrick Wiese (photo courtesy of Food Network Canada/Insight Productions)

Top Chef Canada – Patrick Wiese (photo courtesy of Food Network Canada/Insight Productions)

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

I have always been a fan of the show in the states and watched it religiously…. I almost went to go audition in Dallas for a season of Top Chef…, but thought “why don’t they have Top Chef Canada – I would so do it!!!” and it was shortly after that is when I saw that they were taking auditions for it here. I was turning 40 and told myself this is my year… my mid-life crisis moment to be brave and bold to get myself and my work out there more than I already have had with all my successful restaurant and private Chef work here in Toronto.

You came to Canada the same year that Top Chef started in the U.S. Did you ever apply to be on the U.S. edition of Top Chef or think about going back to the U.S. in order to do so?

I came to Toronto 6 years ago – getting married to a Canadian – now a Camerican (Canadian+American) I had thought about auditioning several times but my career here has been busy and wouldn’t let me be able to attend due to scheduling conflicts.

What surprised you most about the competition?

What surprised me the most is the amount of talent that surrounded me – the intense attention that is taken by the network and production company and staff to put this show together – the long days it takes just to get what you see on TV – that was brutal and also the stretching of my culinary abilities and mental abilities to be able to juggle something so fast as those Quickfires and the stress of Elimination Challenges and not knowing if your going in a direction the judges want or what the elimination calls for… the pressure is so intense. I was also surprised on how close you can become with complete strangers in a short period of time. You have to remember we are stripped from our basic lives – no loved ones – no TV – no just walking outside to go get a latte.

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

Well I brought my instinct and intuition… without that I believe you can’t be a Chef… but I also had special spices, spatzle maker which I love  never got to use :()… I had some interesting Asian ingredients and of course my best knives!!!

Did you have any dishes that you wanted to make for the competition but never got a chance to?

Geesh that’s a big question cause when you’re in the zone of what am I gonna make… and you have to think about the rules of the competition and the secret ingredients… you go thru a Rolodex of things in your head and it is spinning fast… in a normal situation when running a restaurant you get to do more trial and error or more research…you have no time…but yes there would have been some dishes I think I could have pulled out and produced… I love game meat… and fish… I love mixing things up. Keep it comfortably twisted… :)

You describe your food style as “comfortably twisted,” but for me it was a little hard to tell from the show what exactly that means. Can you explain and/or maybe give an example?

For me its simple – I like to approach normal concepts – i.e. lasagna – and make it a caribou version. One time at Fuzion Restaurant I decided to do fish and chips… but I had to go get barracuda and deep fry that with an apple cider ale beer batter. People were like “really you can do that??” My response was YES I can and I did.. and it has been successful. Comfort foods from different cultures fascinate me and I love finding out what others eat… and twist it up… just a touch.

How did you end up cooking for Oprah Winfrey and what was it like?

I ended up meeting Chef Art Smith at a culinary event – I was in culinary school and doing culinary competitions. We spoke a bit and he told me he cooked for Oprah Winfrey. I thought that was absolutely amazing – then without any hesitation he asked me to help him at the studios on a food project. I met him at the studios – we produced food for the food portion of Oprah.com and I did a lot of the food styling – he liked what I did and asked me to join him working there!! It was  a happy moment in my life and the time spent with Oprah’s Family at the network was the best experience for me cause it shaped me into the Chef I am today.

Any other future plans that you’d like to share?

Well I have been very busy – working with other Top Chef competitors doing top chef cooking classes… currently working on a future charity Top Chef dinner with several of the other Chefs – being booked for special demo appearances – this fall at the X on the CNE  grounds (the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto) – and works on my own TV show!! Who knows a condiment line – a cookbook – a restaurant – stay tuned!!

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

I’m a big fan of Earth Restaurant right now – great simple fare but with a flair. I love Mildred’s Temple for lunch and brunch – and my good friend Chef Lynn Crawford’s Ruby Watchco is great for an amazing simple meal with the freshest ingredients – she’s amazing!

Any last comments?

I first want to thank you for asking me to do this interview. It’s an absolute honor to be able to tell those out there a little about me. I have had an enormous response from being on Top Chef Canada!! My life has changed and is going into the next chapter of my culinary arena… I feel blessed with those I have met and worked with and got a chance to do some amazing things in my life… and this is just the beginning!! All i can say is the “Chef SUGARBEAR” isn’t done yet… I have a lot more people to feed my food to. Thanks to everyone and please visit my web site if you need Private Chef services and catering www.ChefWiese.com.

Chris Kanka’s interview is delayed, but I hope to post it soon. In the meantime, you can read all the other past interviews by using this Top Chef Canada list. Got a question for a soon-to-be eliminated contestant? Let me know in the comments!

Ready for a waffle rumble?

There’s a new waffle in town. A franchise of Wannawafel, a company originally out of Victoria, B.C., opened up in Edmonton recently. They serve Liège waffles, just like Eva Sweet does. Let’s compare them, shall we? (I apologize in advance for the missing waffle parts. It was vital to taste them while they were hot and could not wait for my photographic efforts.)

Eva Sweet

Eva Sweet sells their Liège waffles out of a food truck, and charges $3 for a waffle without toppings (or at least they did last summer, not sure if the price has changed or not). They have three different flavours – vanilla, cinnamon and maple – and have numerous toppings available at an additional cost.

Eva Sweet truck

Eva Sweet truck

I’ve tried all three flavours without any toppings. The vanilla flavour is a little plain and the maple is a little too sweet for my personal tastes, but for me the cinnamon one is near perfect. The amount of cinnamon is just right. These Liège waffles use pearl sugar, which provides a great caramelized crust. My only issue with the sugar is that sometimes you find chunks of grainy, uncooked sugar inside the dough of the waffle.

Eva Sweet Liège waffle

Eva Sweet Liège waffle

Wannawafel

Wannawafel uses a cart, complete with waffle irons. They charge $4 per Liège waffle, and at this point are serving only one plain flavour with no toppings. Wannawafel in Victoria does serve their waffles with toppings.

Wannawafel cart

Wannawafel cart

These waffles are made with beet sugar and are a bit smaller than the ones I had at Eva Sweet. The beet sugar melts and caramelizes very well; there were no discernible chunks of uncooked sugar in the waffle. The dough is a more eggy and light than Eva Sweet’s, but the waffles are less sweet and as a result tastes a little more plain. If you find Eva Sweet’s waffles too sweet, then these waffles are the ones for you.

Wannawafel Liège waffle

Wannawafel Liège waffle

My verdict

I would be happy with either of these companies’ waffles. I liked Wannawafel’s dough better, but preferred the sweetness and flavour of Eva Sweet’s waffles. Eva Sweet’s waffles are also cheaper.

Eva Sweet
www.evasweet.ca
Their location changes a lot, so your best bet is to check their Twitter @evasweetwaffles.

Wannawafel
www.wannawafel.com
Wannawafel Edmonton’s Facebook page
Currently located at 108 St and 99 Ave during the work week. Also planning on appearing at various festivals and events around the city.

Fun Friday

Mario Batali is hiring, and he did a cross-promotion video with Monster.com to advertise for the job. Definitely an interesting marketing concept.