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.