[This report was originally published on Vacay.ca on June 10]
Speak to Mark McEwan about Top Chef Canada and you’ll get the sense the show has many seasons ahead of it.
McEwan, the head judge for the popular Food Network cooking competition, said he is thoroughly enjoying the production, which wrapped up its third season on Monday night.
“I’m just having a blast with it and it’s only going to get better,” McEwan said at Richmond Station, a Toronto restaurant operated by last year’s Top Chef Canada winner, Carl Heinrich.
Richmond Station hosted an invitation-only showing of the Season 3 finale. Tourism Calgary sponsored the event because its city was the setting for the final episode, which crowned Matthew Stowe as the victor. Calgary is also aiming to tout its brigade of outstanding restaurants in hopes of attracting culinary travellers. The city landed eight restaurants on the 2013 Vacay.ca Top 50 Restaurants in Canada Guide, announced last month. It also had a handful of contestants in Season 3 of Top Chef Canada, but the title went to a Vancouverite.
A product development chef for the Cactus Club chain of restaurants in British Columbia, Stowe wins the $100,000 grand prize. He also joins Heinrich and Dale Mackay as Top Chef Canada winners. Of all the Top Chef Canada competitors so far, however, the most successful has been Season 1 runner-up Connie DeSousa, who was at the Richmond Station event. Her CHARCUT restaurant in Calgary has won wide acclaim, and landed at No. 5 on the 2013 Vacay.ca Top 50 list, while DeSousa won the Vacay.ca award for Top Female Chef in the country, chosen by the 34 judges from across the country.
“I just love Connie’s food,” McEwan said. “I really thought she would win Season 1, but in the finale there was just a problem with one dish and that’s what cost her.”
DeSousa was one of the guest judge’s on the Season 3 finale, along with Jann Arden, the Calgary-based singer-songwriter.
While Season 4 plans are still in the works, McEwan said the show will continue to spotlight the culinary scene across the nation. A chef for 35 years, McEwan expressed incredulity at how the business has evolved since his early days at Toronto’s Sutton Place Hotel.
“It was unfathomable when I started that the industry would be anything like it is now,” McEwan said. “We were working 18-hour days and being a cook was not celebrated.”
McEwan owns a stable of notable Toronto restaurants, including Bymark and North 44. Despite his long career as an executive chef — a title he held at the Sutton Place in 1983, when he was just 25 — he still has difficulty calling out cooks. He said that’s been the most difficult part of being Top Chef Canada’s head judge.
“Criticizing people has never been easy for me. I’m more likely to keep quiet if there’s something I don’t like,” McEwan said.
Top Chef Canada Season 4 begins filming in August and will include another appearance by Vikram Vij, who was a celebrity judge during episodes of the past two seasons.
Meanwhile, there’s no word yet on whether Stowe will open his own restaurant, or stick with the Cactus Club. Both Heinrich and Mackay opened restaurants soon after their victories. Mackay’s Ensemble in Vancouver closed after one year and he is now preparing to open a bistro in his hometown of Saskatoon.
Heinrich is doing outstanding business at Richmond Station and seemed very much at ease on Monday, saying, “No pressure for me. Pressure’s all done.”