Viewers hungry for a second helping of contestants showcasing their culinary chops, wait no longer.
"Top Chef Canada" returns tonight for more cooking mayhem as 16 talented new chefs compete in various quick-fire challenges and elimination rounds. As usual, for this second season, at stake is $100,000, a Monogram kitchen and the title of Top Chef. Judge and esteemed chef Mark McEwan spoke exclusively to The Huffington Post TV Canada about food, egos and the recipe for success ... and disaster.
How would you compare the talent from season two to last year's group?
Mark McEwan: We have a wider group of talented chefs this year. I thought last year the cooking took a little while to narrow them down. This year, it narrowed down very, very quickly. It was rigorous, there were a lot of tears, there was anger, there was frustration and completely different approaches to the day, that's for sure. This year, people are going to be entertained.
In last year's finale, it could have gone either way between Rob and Dale. When it comes down to the final two, what are some of the criteria the judges use to crown the winner?
Well, I sort of established the benchmark. I said I really believe when we get down to the final three, that we have to take the rear view mirror off the car and not look at it. The day is the day. They all deserve to be here. Whoever wins the day, wins the prize. We all sort of nodded and agreed that was the fair thing to do. When the day didn't go so well, I questioned my logic for a moment. But, really, it felt natural and like the correct thing to do.
What are your thoughts on chefs who argue about their dish? Is it important to defend themselves?
As long as you have the maturity to defend yourself, but 99.9 percent of the time, if your dish is a good dish, nobody is going to complain. If the flavours are good, maybe you can disagree. I don't think you are going to have a flat-out pan on a dish unless it's a bad one. Once you start defending a bad dish or a really bad choice, it doesn't go over well with me. You should just suck it up, listen and take it to the next challenge. It makes for good television, though.
What is it about this profession that brings out the best in people, but also the worst?
You are judged as a chef on a personal level. Whatever you make on the plate, people are eating and looking at you and they form their opinion. Either they like it or they don't. It becomes very personal. The rigours of the industry are tough. Services are long and hard, so it makes cooks edgy sometimes.
Would you say there is more or less drama this time around?
I'd say there is more drama. We have some really fiery characters and a really diverse selection of chefs. They all bring something very different to the table. We have quirky this year, which is cool. We have artsy and sort of hippy-esque. We have lots of different character profiles. They are really good cooks and the ones that aren't are out fast.
Can you tease us with some of your favourite challenges or guests this year?
I can't tell you anything, but I've watched the shows now and they are highly entertaining. I can say the level of cooking is extraordinary. We had some moments last year when I thought the food was really good. This year, I had many, many moments I thought the food was excellent.
The show is such a pressure cooker. Where do most of the contestants fall apart?
They get tired. We'll throw a challenge at them and it's outside of their skill set and they just don't have the knowledge base to even fake it. You can see panic on their faces when that happens. As you get to the end of the challenge, fatigue becomes a big issue for them. As you go through the challenges, each one is ramped up. It also becomes more difficult week after week.
Why do desserts strike fear into the hearts of most chefs on these shows?
Because they never make them. [Laughs] Most chefs can maybe make a crème brulee or a flourless chocolate torte. Pastries are one of those funny, funny categories. I've spent a lot of money to have pastry chefs in my restaurants. Most restaurants have a shared counter in the pantry and one dishwasher/pastry cook, who has been doing some basic stuff for a long time because restaurants just don't make a lot of revenue from it. It's a bit of an ignored category, but a very challenging one.
In the first season, the judges didn't always agree. Was it much easier for this group?
This year, we were a little more in line. We had some funny circumstances with personalities and people's opinions on chefs. I usually tried to haul that in and say, "None of that really matters. It's not a personality contest; it's a cooking contest, so you're judging the plate." At the end of the day, that's all we did. I tried very hard to not allow any of that into the dialogue this year. We had plate differences on who liked what, and more from the guests than from the three steadies on the panel.
"Top Chef Canada" premieres on Monday, March 12 at 10 p.m. ET on Food Network Canada.
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