Monday, May 28, 2012

Top Chef Canada: Season 2: episode 11: Xavier gets the axe

This episode seemed to be about icons and noodles. The first iconic noodle was Kraft Dinner as featured in the quick fire challenge. The second icon was guest judge Lidia Bastianich who decided that Xavier Lacaze’s noodle dish was enough for him to pack his knives. Not yet an iconic noodle but definitely worth mentioning is the beautiful mind of Chef David Chrystian. The more we see have him the more we want. The pint sized looking Chef got off to a slow start but as of late has been mind blowing in the kitchen. 
Turns out it was just a trailer teaser when it looked like this episode was going to be a double elimination. The Kraft Dinner quick fire challenge was fun to watch with the Chefs having to prepare two versions (casual and refined) of the dish for a $10,000 prize. As we predicted Chef Lacaze, much to his credit, had little experience with the iconic dish and confessed to being a “KD virgin.” Chrystian continued to entertain, and win, with a sour dough KD grilled cheese sandwich (casual) and bacon wrapped KD with seared scallop. The grilled cheese looked amazing. Chef Chrystian is on a bit of a roll, remember Rob Rossi last season? Chef Rossi kept winning near the end of the series and Chrystian does seem to have some momentum that has also helped him in earning $18,000 over the last few episodes. As Chrystian pointed out, and we agree, Chef Jonathan Korecki's use of coconut milk instead of regular in his coconut curry KD was simple but "genius."
The elimination challenge asked the Chefs to make an Italian family style 6 course feast for guest judge Lidia Bastianich. Chef Chrystian continued his wild ride with a whole fire roasted fish. Keeping the dish so simple in an Italian challenge perfectly exemplified the rustic nature of this style of cuisine. The winner of the challenge was Jonathan Korecki whose soups seem to be his secret Top Chef weapon. Chef Korecki did a play on a traditional stracciatella by using a poached egg. 
The reason Chef Lacaze went home seemed a bit like it was for stubbornness. Guess you got to watch those classically trained French Chefs with their my way is best attitude as Judge Mark McEwan immediately questioned why Lacaze did not use '00' Italian flour. Lacaze's served braised veal breast with pappardelle, aged pecorino and sautéed radicchio. Lacaze said, "My veal is sexy, I would like to make love to my veal, it's beautiful." Not sure how I feel about having food after the Chef has made love to it and this also seemed to be the case with the judges who found the dish salty and his noodle undercooked. All this love was enough for Lacaze to be sent home.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Top Chef Canada: Season 2 Episode 10: Chef Sheen is not winning

Why did the trailer for this episode reveal who was going to be eliminated? It was all there, the narrator's explanation, "One Chef makes the mistake of their lives," Chef Samuelsson's hands and the plastic wrap and finally eliminee Trista Sheen in tears. It seemed too obvious to predict Sheen was going home but noooo. Seriously a bit of a letdown for anyone who saw the trailer that was almost a recap. Speaking of the moment of truth, did anyone notice the way Marcus Samuelsson revealed the plastic with magician like slight of hand movement. The plastic also looked like, for a brief moment, that it would go on forever. In tonight’s trailers we see Trevor Bird in the stew room does that mean he goes home? 
Tonight is also a double elimination challenge. One Chef will be able to boast that they were sent home for bad Kraft Dinner because it is the featured ingredient in the quick fire. Despite the obvious product placement from a sponsor we think it will be a fun challenge. Kraft Dinner is as iconic as one of Andy Warhol's Campbell's soup cans. Since Trevor looks like he makes it to stew room this leaves Chefs Korecki, Lacaze, Chrystian and Heinrich as the one sent home for bad KD. We figure Lacaze goes home only because he might have limited experience with Kraft Dinner. In terms of our pics for the final we really do not see any clear winner and it looks like anyone's game. Rather exciting if you think about it.
In other news, Top Chef Canada has been renewed for another season and is looking for competitors. For more info and to download your application form click here. We also came across a Blog written by Chef Korecki. We found the Chef's food related drawings and designs very interesting (to see his Blog click here). You can also see and order his signature line of bandanas here. You often hear Chefs as talking about their art and being culinary artists so a glimpse into this artistry offers a different perspective of the culinary artist and the creative process. In an episode of The Heat we saw Mark McEwan design dishes by first starting with drawings. Not that all Chefs work in this way but it is perhaps a bit of an overlooked area in the culinary arts. In case you have not noticed Korecki does do some beautiful plating with his dishes. At the the Celebrity Chefs of Canada event Korecki’s plate, co-created with Newfoundland Chef Jermy Charles, looked like a Group of 7 landscape. We have tried the Tacos at his restaurant and it is safe to call them food porn. We also like Chef Korecki because he looks like an intellectual from the Russian Revolution...Go Comrade! We salute you in your crusade to "Make Tacos not War.”

Culinary Arts: Channeling the Group of 7
Taco Porn at Sidedoor Contemporary Kitchen & Bar

Monday, May 14, 2012

Top Chef Canada: Season 2: Episode 9 : Spoilers & Predictions

Who really cares what happened last week? Everybody really wants to know what is going to happen next. Just in case you missed the episode here is quick recap. Trevor Bird won the Quickfire vending-machine challenge. Trista Sheen won the camping elimination challenge and Ryan Gallagher was sent packing his knives. Let’s get to the subject that everyone is talking about, the teaser trailer for tonight’s episode.

According to the trailer, “one Chef makes the biggest mistake of their career.” If you look closely  at the video you will see what look likes guest judge, Top Chef Masters Winner, Marcus Samuelsson’s hands picking a piece of plastic wrap out of his food. The next shot is a sobbing Trista Sheen while Xavier Lacaze and Trevor Bird look uncomfortable. This makes us think that the elimination challenge might be a team effort. It would be too obvious for Trista Sheen to be the one sent home so we think it is going to be Xavier.

We know that Sponge towel is a big sponsor of Top Chef Canada (TCC) and they are getting lots of great product placement, drama and emotion with the shot of Sheen crying into their product. We have often heard the expression “a marketing executive’s wet dream.” In this case at least there are lots of paper towels on hand. Speaking of sponsors we have only noticed one dish making it to the Milestones menu so far. Last season, 3 Chefs had items on the Milestones menu so we are wondering why this season Carl Heinrich’s gazpacho and cucumber sandwich is the only featured item. Perhaps the food this season is just too good adventurous for it to be served at Milestones.

With the competition narrowing here is our tale of the tape:

Carl Heinrich: (2 elimination challenge wins - 1 Quickfire win) If slow and steady wins the race then Carl Heinrich is the one to watch. In picking a winner now we think the safe money is the quiet Chef. In his TCC audition video someone else does most of the talking, Heinrich is declared a Chefs’ Chef while displaying top notch butchering skills. We would love to see a butchering throw-down between the original TCC bacon ninja, Connie DeSousa, and Heinrich.

Jonathan Korecki: (1 elimination win – 2 Quickfire wins) We recently ate at Korecki’s restaurant Sidedoor in Ottawa and major TCC sponsor GE Monogram was having a big party in the backroom. Spoiler alert? Perhaps. We are fairly certain that the Chef is going to go very far in the rest of the competition. Korecki can also take some comfort and hope in the rule that if the winner of Top Chef Canada is not able to fulfill their duties the runner-up is asked to step in and assume the title of Top Chef Canada.

Trevor Bird: (1 Quickfire win) Bird just opened his new restaurant Fable in Vancouver. The name is taken from Episode 6: Restaurant Wars and means from farm to table. Remember season one winner Dale MacKay? Chef MacKay also opened his new Vancouver resto Ensemble during the first season of TCC.

Trista Sheen: (2 elimination wins) Last season, Connie DeSousa had a similar meltdown at about the same point in the series. The Chefs are tired and under a lot of pressure so her reaction is normal. Sheen was recently promoted to Head Chef at her restaurant Crush Wine Bar in Toronto.

David Chrystian: (1 Elimination Challenge) Toronto’s Wild Chef! Speaking of Chefs that are tired, emotional and under a lot of stress we think the pressure is also getting to Chrystian. We hope he stays around because his manic behavior is really fun to watch. Who knows what he will do next? The Chef has mentioned a bit of a dark past, divorce, losing his Creuset pots, so it is no surprise that the Chef is a bit out there.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Free Beer Expo! Wow Dow! Take a Bow!

When it comes to beer the name Molson seems synonymous with Canadian history but how about Dow? Dites Donc Dow! L'histoire d'une brasserie d'ici is the new, free exhibition housed by the ÉTS (L'École de technologie supérieure) whose campus is located on the site of the former brewery. The exhibition is a joint project between the ÉTS and Pointe-à-Callière museum. Founded by John Dunn, the Dow brewery story begins only fours years after John Molson set up shop in 1786. Dow would gradually become one of the most popular beers in Québec outselling Molson and Labatt combined in the 1970's. Sales fell when scandal blamed the deaths of several heavy Dow beer drinkers on the fact cobalt sulfate was being added to the brew for better foaming action.
The old Dow brewery, and the ÉTS, are located on lower Peel street and part of Griffintown. This neighborhood is now the focus of major development and transformation in our city. The Now for a Dow! exhibition invites us to consider the past when looking towards the future. This message applies to the neighborhood in transition but also to the ÉTS that as an educational institution seeks to inspire technological innovation. The use of the former brewery by the ÉTS seems to have has ensured the preservation of some heritage buildings that played an important part in Montreal's industrial and manufacturing history. 
Dow and the most interesting old men in the world
Our personal memories of Dow naturally include its reputation as a beer that killed. We also recall drinking it at a discount price Chez Les Foufounes Électriques. In case you are wondering you could still purchase Dow beer up until 1998. The Foufs stash of Dow must have been one of the last in the city. The added novelty to our cheap Foufs beer was the upside down label. Instead of Dow we drank Mod. During the expo's vernissage, Dow beer memorabilia collector Pierre Guillotine-Hurtubise, whose personal collection makes up a large part of the exhibition, recalled that despite all their marketing efforts Black Label was not the "underground" beer of the 1980's. Hurtubise says it was Dow. Dow's cult status, Hurtubise explained, stemmed from the fact that it was a beer consumed by old men in Taverns evoking memories of the past and the 1970's when Dow was the beer of choice in Quebec.
Spring in Montreal! Bière, Beau Temps & Terrasses  
The evocation of the past is achieved in the exhibition that comes across as a bit of  time-capsule in a building that once housed the brewery. This experience is achieved thanks to, perhaps our favorite part of the exhibition, montages of Dow's print and television ad campaigns. Considering the beer's long history this includes advertising images from the late twenties. We also discovered that Unibroue's use of the Québec folk tale La Chasse-Galerie in the marketing of their Maudite beer was in fact first used by Dow. In terms of evoking nostalgia, the 40's and 50's print-ads look like they are directly from the desk of Don Draper on Mad Men. The television ads are equally engaging especially when offering the occasional glimpse of how our city once looked.

Own a piece of history and a Planetarium
In all this celebration of Montreal's past and Dow we did notice something concerning on the way to the exhibition: a City of Montreal for sale sign on the now closed Dow Planetarium. We do not wish to suggest that the burden of preserving this heritage building be placed on the ÉTS or Pointe-à-Callière, incidentally the museum is subsidized by the City of Montreal that is selling the planetarium, but too often these buildings are forgotten when the choice is made between development (profit) and architectural heritage (remembering the past). The low density building does take up a square block in a central downtown location. The Dow Planetarium was built thanks to the backing of the Dow brewery and inaugurated in 1966 just in time for Expo'67. Hurtubise mentioned that the LNI (Ligue Nationale D'Improvisation) was interested in the 60's style building as a permanent performance space. Our hope is that this part of Dow's history is not forgotten.
Les Brasseurs: Cold Beer - Bière Froide
Should this glimpse into our city's past leave you thirsty for more we recommend wetting your whistle at Les Brasseurs de Montreal a nearby Griffintown brewery. Since discovering Les Brasseurs', Chi L'Orientale, a white beer with a very strong ginger taste, it has become one of our favorite beers. A recent visit to Les Brasseurs lead us to the discovery of their cherry Ô fruit! beer. Refreshing, much lighter and less sweet than Belgian Kriek (cherry) beer the nose reminded us of cherry Popsicle. We have also sampled their absinthe-based stout: Ghost Town. A dark tasting beer with chocolate notes and a strong taste of black licorice, or anise, thanks to the absinthe. All are great beers with a distinct taste and obviously made with great attention to flavors. In hindsight and in keeping with our trip down memory lane perhaps we should have tried La Montréalaise Griffintown.
The Dites Donc Dow! / Now For a Dow! exhibition is located at 355 Peel. It is open from Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Free Admission!
Les Brasseurs de Montréal is located at 1485 Ottawa. Check the website for opening hours.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Top Chef Canada Season 2: Episode 8: Go Jimmy Go

Chef Jimmy Stewart has certainly provided lots of entertainment during his stay on Top Chef Canada. It is almost a shame to see him go. Some of Chef Stewart’s finest moments included bread foam and a failed “rocket launch.” In both cases the culprit proved to be a culinary siphon and foam. On another note, Chef Stewart drew praise from fellow competitor Xavier Lacaze who said he was in awe at the 23-year-old and his culinary skills. Given the talented young Chef made it this far in the competition it looks a promising career in the making. 

The show started with a quickfire skills competition. As we said last week the safe bet would be Chef Carl Heinrich who did win. We picked Chef Heinrich because he showed mad butchering skills in his audition video. We also stand by our theory that the skills competition is a bit of foreshadowing of who is going to make it to the final. In case you missed it, the final four Chefs in the competition were Trevor Bird, David Chrystian, Xavier Lacaze and of course winner Carl Heinrich. Our wild card pick is Jonathan Korecki who just keeps impressing us.
The elimination challenge asked the Chefs to cater a buffet lunch for the cast and crew of television's Lost Girl. No easy task, when catering to a large group of people you generally have to deal with all sorts of food requests (vegetarians, vegans, gluten free, lactose intolerant) not to mention the full gambit of food allergies. We also find that catered food does not challenge people's palates (bland is best) because you have to appeal to the general masses. 

Guest judge Chef Michael Blackie is no stranger to catering for large groups of people. He is the Executive Chef of The National Arts Centre in Ottawa. On Saturday (May 5, 2012), Chef Blackie was responsible for catering at the Governor General Awards that was attended by 1200 guests. During the service, Chef Blackie served 12,000 canapés in 45 minutes. This was followed by a one hour 3 course dinner. 
Chef Stewart said he would try and do something simple but this proved to be his downfall. The Chef's green salad looked like a grocery store bag of mixed greens with cucumber and tomato slices. The judges thought his minestrone soup only tasted of truffle oil and porcini mushrooms. Two mistakes in one challenge is just too much on Top Chef at this point in the competition.