Head judge Mark McEwan held an event at his acclaimed Toronto restaurant, North 44, where the press, along with McEwan, fellow judge Shereen Arazm and host Lisa Ray, were treated to a five-course tasting menu by some of this year's promising talent. After each plate, scorecards were filled out, collected and tallied, with the winning chef receiving $1000.
The dessert -- cornbread with preserved peaches, Forty Creek whiskey cream and spiced pecans -- was the yummy favourite. (Ironically, dessert is the dish that often sends chefs off to "pack their knives" on the show.)
Clearly, the 16 competing chefs from across the country have never been hungrier to showcase their culinary skills and grab the grand prize. At stake is $100,000, a GE Monogram Kitchen worth $30,000 and a custom installation by Caesarstone Quartz Surfaces. Of course, there's bragging rights, too.
It won't be a cake-walk, though. Various challenges will take place on-location, away from any state-of-the-art equipment. Guest judges will include celebrity chefs Chuck Hughes, David Rocco, Robert Irvine, Elizabeth Falkner, Massimo Capra, as well as TV host George Stroumboulopoulos, seven-time WWE Champion Trish Stratus and comedian Russell Peters. And as usual, there will be plenty of drama in the kitchen.
"Every season has had a lot of character," says McEwan. "This year, we've grown into our roles of understanding the show, bringing the chefs out and just the way everyone works together."
"We've found our voices," agrees Arazm. "Our personas have forged themselves at this point. We know who each of us are and what to expect. I know what Mark and Lisa like, and dislike."
"We're all dating in our next lives," quips McEwan.
"Without revealing too much, we've definitely got more of a personal touch this season," adds Ray. "As a collective, and then with our personalities, we get a chance to come out."
Arazm notes that Ray, who was extremely nervous when she took over hosting duties in Season 2, has really blossomed in her role.
"You originally cried the first day we sent somebody home," teases Arazm.
After the noise level died down, McEwan, Arazm and Ray sat down to further discuss 'Top Chef Canada' with HuffPost TV.
What's a common misstep a lot of these chefs make during the competition?
McEwan: They try too hard. They get out of their comfort zone and experiment too much. They are not comfortable in that category. They'll worry too much about the presentation.
Arazm: Or the opposite. They're overconfident. We see some chefs that thought they were a force to be reckoned with and we see them totally fall.
McEwan: A lot of young cooks fall prey to abstract presentation, thinking that's going to buy them the day. When, in fact, you could serve a bowl of broth and if the broth is perfect, you could win the day. We try to come out of the gate making them understand that.
Last year, one contestant worked under Susur Lee. Do you have higher expectations when the chefs come from certain backgrounds or pedigrees?
Arazm: For sure. At some point in Season 2, when David was not really doing well, and he's not the chef who worked for Susur, but had an excellent pedigree ... I remember saying to him, "Listen, I'm really expecting more from you and I'm so disappointed. You take a cold shower and figure things out. You're not representing what you should be representing." I knew he was better than what he was showing.
McEwan: Today was a perfect example of where a chef conquerors the day by executing a simple dish that you would think your mother would make, and blowing it out of the park. That for me is what the show is all about.
Why do group challenges? Why not assess the chefs on their individual abilities?
McEwan: Chefs have to work together. There's no chef that works on his own. My kitchen brigades are a minimum of six people, up to 12 people on a shift. If one individual doesn't perform, it takes the whole team down, because all your timing is off.
They just seem to despise those challenges, though.
McEwan: Yeah, but there's a real high associated with a great service when it goes incredibly well, and a lot of anxiety when it doesn't. It's a very intense business.
Why do chefs have a love/hate relationship with Restaurant Wars?
Arazm: It's hard and it forces them to do front of the house, which chefs, besides Mark, generally don't like to do. They want to be in the kitchen. Great. Good on them, but part of owning a restaurant is being in front of the house.
McEwan: They are out of their comfort zone. They feel awkward. They have to engage the day in a completely strange way.
Ray: And you're relying on a team. It really is about the team work. Normally, Restaurant Wars comes about halfway through the competition, when people have formed a dynamic. And often, they don't really choose their teams. They are just thrown in with these people.
"Top Chef Canada" Season 3 premieres on Monday, March 18 on Food Network Canada at 9:00/10:00 p.m. ET/PT.
NAME: Ruth Eddolls, 30 GIG: Head chef, Pusateri's HOMETOWN: Toronto, Ont Pusateri's is one of Toronto's best-known gourmet grocery stores, and was actually the first of its kind to offer in-store sushi and olive bars in Canada. After working for chef Lynn Crawford in the hotel business, Eddolls stepped out to the retail and catering sector, along with a 'Chef of the Year' title under her belt. Yeah, she seems ready to compete.
NAME: Rory White, 23 GIG: Chef de partie, George HOMETOWN: Mississauga, Ont Executive chef Lorenzo Loseto of George in Toronto has placed a precedence on seasonal, natural and sustainable food. White, this season's youngest contestant, started cooking at the age of 14 and has an eye for butchery and charcuterie.
NAME: Rebecca Ross, 24 GIG: Former sous chef, Malena HOMETOWN: Medicine Hat, Alta Another young contender, Ross was introduced to the world of pots and pans at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology. After moving to Toronto and taking on a sous chef role at now-closed Malena, Ross says she plans to focus on 'the feeling' behind cooking delicious food.
NAME: Nicole Gomes, 34 GIG: Chef/Proprietor, Nicole Gourmet Catering HOMETOWN: Calgary, Alta Specializing in private catering, buffets and cocktail parties, Gomes also has another love in her life: travelling. After visiting Asia, Europe and Australia, Gomes plans on using her worldly culinary knowledge and combining it with her talent at creating customized meals.
NAME: Matthew Stowe, 30 GIG: Chef, Cactus Club Restaurants HOMETOWN: Cloverdale, B.C. Known for its Vancouver roots, the Cactus Club is home to some of the most modern styles of cooking, along with customized drinks and ocean-friendly menus. Stowe, who started cooking at the age of 15, plans on putting his focus on Canadian cuisine.
NAME: Jonathan Goodyear, 34 GIG: Executive Chef, The Royal Canadian Yacht Club HOMETOWN: Toronto, Ont As exclusive as it sounds, the Royal Canadian Yacht Club (RCYC) in Toronto has much to offer. Known as a sailing club, the RCYC also has a full restaurant, gym and catering services that specialize in hors d'oeuvres, customized menus and desserts. Goodyear's impressive resume, as well as his love and passion for cooking, definitely make him one to look out for.
NAME: Geoff Rogers, 31 GIG: Executive Chef, Home Tasting Room HOMETOWN: Calgary, Alta The Home Tasting Room centres around wine tastings and serving up sharing plates of cheeses, tartares and sliders. This season, Rogers brings experience in animal butchery, curing, cheese making and preserving.
NAME: Frederick Boucher, 28 GIG: Sous Chef, Pastaga & Vins Natures HOMETOWN: Price, Que Named one of Canada's best new restaurants by enRoute Magazine, Pastaga specializes in cheese and desserts. Boucher's motto? Never let anything go to waste.
NAME: Chris Chafe, 24 GIG: Executive chef, Magnum & Steins HOMETOWN: St. John’s, NL Magnum & Steins serves up dishes of jambalayas, fish and savoury appetizers. Another young contestant, Chafe already has over eight years of experience in the restaurant industry, and like any other young millennial, Chafe picks up tricks off the internet, TV and by reading recipe books.
NAME: Dennis Tay, 34 GIG: Sous chef, Keriwa Cafe HOMETOWN: Windsor, Ont With several awards and recognitions under their belt, the Keriwa Cafe in Toronto specializes in Aboriginal and seasonal cooking. Tay says he's all about taking our favourite foods and finding out new ways to eat them.
NAME: Danny 'Smiles' Francis , 27 GIG: Chef De Cuisine, Le Bremner HOMETOWN: Montreal, Que Le Bremner, located in Montreal, offers a wide and creative variety of seafood and dessert — lobster pie anyone? Strange fact: Francis got his gig in the culinary world after the chef at his parents' hotel lost his thumb.
NAME: Daniel Hudson, 29 GIG: Cheese-maker, Hilary's Cheese HOMETOWN: Duncan, B.C. Hilary's Cheese, located on Vancouver Island, specializes in custom goat and cow milk cheeses. Hudson is a perfectionist who has gained all his training from on-the-job-experience and learning from others.
NAME: Clement Chan, 33 GIG: Chef/owner, Le Tigre Cuisine HOMETOWN: Vancouver, B.C. Le Tigre Cuisine is a custom Asian cuisine food truck, serving up dishes in Vancity. With several provincial cooking championships and a National 2010 Canadian Chef of the Year award, it's fair to say Chan's niche cooking style isn't going to stop him from taking on a challenge.
NAME: Chris Shaften, 28 GIG: Chef de cuisine, The Ranche HOMETOWN: Calgary, Alta A family-owned business that also offers a resort in the Rockies, The Ranche serves free-range, hormone and antibiotic-free elk and bison and a chance for guests to connect with nature. Shaften's creations are influenced by his love for the environment and travel.
NAME: Kayla Dhaliwall, 27 GIG: Executive chef, Tapenade Bistro HOMETOWN: Victoria, B.C. Tapenade Bistro, located in Steveston, B.C., serves Island mussels, duck confit, and pork dishes. The restaurant, known to locals as an urban bistro in a well-known fishing village, also serves up a list of selected wines. Using her background in Indian cooking, Dhaliwall says she's all about adding a new twist to the foods we already love.
NAME: Caitlin Hall, 24 GIG: Ched de cuisine, Pied-à-Terre HOMETOWN: Vancouver, B.C. Sitting in a Vancouver neighbourhood, Pied-à-Terre offers guests three-course meals and dinners for two with duck, salads and ribs. Another young one in the bunch, Hall says her passion is French cuisine and keeping her dishes simple.