Travel

Meet the Top Chef Canada Season 9 competitors

What meal inspired them to become chefs — and what have they missed most during COVID-19 lockdowns?

  • Apr 17, 2021
  • 3,644 words
  • 15 minutes
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In the past year, the hospitality industry has faced adversity, forcing businesses to adapt and innovate quicker than ever before. This season’s Top Chef Canada competitors emerge with strong, fresh perspectives, and this incomparable season confronts and rises above the obstacles. The chefs contend with the pressure of the competition while facing weekly challenges featuring plant-based cuisine, celebrating local and seasonal ingredients, and a new twist on long-standing Top Chef Canada challenge Restaurant Wars, pivoting to Takeout Wars.

Top Chef Canada was the Number 2 program on Food Network Canada last spring and has grown significantly year over year. The series makes its triumphant return April 19 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Food Network Canada. The ninth season welcomes 11 fearless professional chefs from across the country, each bringing an unbelievable range of culinary styles, technical skill, and diverse breadth of flavours. This season’s competitors have their sights set on earning the title of Canada’s Top Chef, along with a cash prize of $100,000 provided by Interac Corp. and a luxurious Lexus RX Hybrid Electric SUV.

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Name: Alex Edmonson

Hometown: Calgary

Employment: Personal Chef

Born and raised in Calgary, Alex began cooking professionally at the age of 17. He became an executive chef at Market at the age of just 23, and spent time working with local producers to create seasonal and high quality menus there until deciding to pursue a career as a personal chef.

What’s a childhood meal or the meal that inspired you to become a chef?

My grandma’s lasagna was the meal I always looked forward to having when I was a kid. It was sloppy but it was made with love and was the most comforting thing I can remember.

What’s the meal you’ve missed most during COVID-19?

I’ve missed getting Vietnamese pho, especially in the winter. It’s my go to when I’m feeling cold or under the weather.

What’s the first restaurant you’re going to visit, or that you went to, once it was/is safe to do so (and the menu item you’ll order!)?

When all this is done and safe to do so I am going to head to Jin Bar in Calgary. It just opened up recently and is owned by Top Chef alumni Jinhee Lee.

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Name: Kym Nguyen

Hometown: Vancouver

Employment: Sous chef at Pidgin Restaurant

Born and raised in London, England, Kym was an architecture student before pursuing their passion in the culinary world.

What’s a childhood meal or the meal that inspired you to become a chef?

Growing up, my mom made a lot of different types of food, but my favourite was always shepherd’s pie and spaghetti Bolognese. She always combined Asian flavours into them, and growing up I used to think it was so weird, but as I started to cook and play around with my style, I realized I ended up doing the same thing she does!

What’s the meal you’ve missed most during COVID-19?

I miss just going out to eat in general, I miss that sense of community that food brings. But I could go for a big bowl of pho right now.

What’s the first restaurant you’re going to visit, or that you went to, once it was/is safe to do so (and the menu item you’ll order!)?

The first restaurant I went to was Published on Main in Vancouver. We let the server choose for us as she was an old friend. I had the bison strip loin with potato rosti and pastrami cured tongue.

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Name: Josh Karbelnik

Hometown: Toronto

Employment: Chef de Cuisine at the Broadview Hotel

Josh was immersed in the culinary world as a young age and has worked at many acclaimed restaurants over the years — even losing two fingers in a workplace accident after graduating from culinary school! He re-trained over a two-year period and returned to the kitchen.

What’s a childhood meal or the meal that inspired you to become a chef?

As a kid, I used to watch a lot of cooking shows on TV, from the classic Emeril with the signature BAM, to watching Jaque Pepin debone a quail. Cooking has always intrigued me. The first dish that made me try my hand at cooking was a mustard crusted salmon made by the little singing Italian chef, Chef Pasquale.

What’s the meal you’ve missed most during COVID-19?

I have ordered A LOT of take out during the pandemic. One place in particular is Aroma Fine Indian cuisine. I’ve gotten my favourite dishes many times, but it’s just not the same as when you dine in … the smell of spices in the air, the fresh naan when it hits the table and the beautiful assortment of Indian dishes.

What’s the first restaurant you’re going to visit, or that you went to, once it was/is safe to do so (and the menu item you’ll order!)?

I am truly excited to be able to go visit my old chef on Niagara on the Lake at the Garrison House. It has always been a place that feels like home for us. The company is always wonderful, the atmosphere is warming and the smells that come out of Chef Dave’s kitchen will make any grown man fall to his knees. I cannot wait to dig into his shepherd’s pie … fries with curry and ketchup on the side please.

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Name: Aicia Colacci

Hometown: Montreal

Employment: Chef

Born and raised in Montreal, Aicia originally started a career in advertising but then took the plunge to pursue her passion for cooking. Aicia has spent much of her career cooking Italian-inspired food, using local and seasonal produce to elevate her dishes.

What’s a childhood meal or the meal that inspired you to become a chef?

I grew up around food, it was the centre of everything. My dad is a great cook, my mom is a great baker and my Italian grandmother was a cook … my grandparents grew vegetables and fruits in their garden, which was a huge influence on the way I appreciate food.

What’s the meal you’ve missed most during COVID-19?

It’s not a meal so much as an experience. Going out to eat is so special for a cook because it happens so infrequently.

What’s the first restaurant you’re going to visit, or that you went to, once it was/is safe to do so (and the menu item you’ll order!)?

When it’s safe to do so, I would love to try Beba and go back to Agrikol (my favourite vibe in the city).

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Name: Emily Butcher

Hometown: Maple Ridge, B.C.

Employment: Chef

Emily is a star in the kitchen, earning gold at Canada’s Great Kitchen Party Winnipeg, as well as winning the bronze medal at the 2020 Canadian Culinary Championship. As the Chef de Cuisine at Deer + Almond, she creates dishes inspired by her hometown province, while infusing flavours from her Chinese heritage and French-trained background to ensure a sense of surprise and delight in every bite.

What’s a childhood meal or the meal that inspired you to become a chef (and the restaurant it came from, if applicable)?

I will always remember the first time I experienced a tasting menu. I was spending the day with my older, highly-cultured cousin. After perusing the art gallery, we met her parents at the chef’s table at Diva at the Met. I was 15 and it changed the way I thought about dining forever. I will always remember the somewhat strange amuse of tapioca and lemon, the heavenly and delicate mushroom broth, the textural complexity of the beef tataki with panelle, and the luxury of the chocolate trio. My childhood was blessed with delicious food, but this meal went above and beyond anything I thought a dinner could ever be. Every bite was a new surprise and I recall being fully enamoured with the beauty of the plates, the well-choreographed serving staff, and the shining jewel of an open kitchen. It would be years before I began working in kitchens but, as I began pursuing a career in cooking, I always looked back on that dinner as the beginning of my education in hospitality.

What’s the meal you’ve missed most during COVID-19?

I have dearly missed brunch during the lockdown. I miss the bottomless coffee, the fruit laden waffles, the enigmatic wobble of a perfectly poached egg, and the frenetic energy of a busy morning service. There is a certain delightful chaos that happens in kitchens during brunch and it feels so opulent to be on the other side of the pass just soaking up the positive vibes.

What’s the first restaurant you’re going to visit, or that you went to, once it was/is safe to do so (and the menu item you ordered!)?

When restaurants re-opened their dining rooms in Winnipeg, my partner and I headed straight for the red velvet booths and wood panelling of Rae & Jerry’s Steakhouse. I order my usual, a shrimp cocktail and a wedge salad. The service is impeccable, the ambience makes you feel like you’ve stepped back in time, and I have such a soft spot for classic dishes. It’s also a great excuse to pull out a vintage dress from my collection.

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Name: Erica Karbelnik

Hometown: Richmond Hill, Ont.

Employment: Executive chef at Elmwood Spa

Erica likes to proudly showcase her Moroccan and Israeli background in her cooking. Beginning as an apprentice at Mark McEwan’s ONE Restaurant in Toronto, Erica has honed her craft over the years, and is now the executive chef at Elmwood Spa. Erica shares her love of cooking with her husband, Josh.

What’s a childhood meal or the meal that inspired you to become a chef (and the restaurant it came from, if applicable)?

I cannot put my finger on just one dish that inspired me to be a chef. I always loved to cook and I always loved food. But it wasn’t until I actually got to work in a kitchen and really got an understanding for the industry. I can say it was a season that really made me fall in love with the craft. When I started working at ONE in Toronto as an apprentice, it was in the transition from winter to spring. I remember having a delivery one morning of the most amazing produce I had ever seen. Ramps, wild garlic, fiddle heads, wild asparagus, morel mushrooms, sweet peas.. the list goes on. I was in heaven. I had never seen or tasted anything like these ingredients. It tasted like spring. I knew then that I wanted to cook and I wanted to celebrate what each season had to offer.

What’s the meal you’ve missed most during COVID-19?

Most of all, I miss sitting around a table with a group of friends or family, sharing laughs and good food. I can’t say any dish in particular but more the experience of dining out and having that restaurant feel and intimate setting. I miss normal restaurants.

What’s the first restaurant you’re going to visit, or that you went to, once it was/is safe to do so (and the menu item you ordered!)?

My husband used to work for this chef in Niagara-On-The-Lake. A few years back he opened up this place called the Garrison House. Chef Dave and his wife Leigh are very good friends of ours, and we consider them family. I dearly miss going to their restaurant, having amazing chats, great company and eating chef Dave’s food. I cannot wait to visit again and order one of his braised dishes or his curries. He is truly a master at giving you the ultimate comfort food and making you feel at home.

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Name: Galasa Aden

Hometown: Calgary

Employment: Executive chef at Greywolf Golf Club in British Columbia

Bio: Growing up, Galasa has always loved being in the kitchen but discovered his true passion for cooking while working in a restaurant as he pursued an Engineering degree. He dropped out of his program to pursue a career in the culinary arts and went on to work in some of Calgary’s best restaurants. Galasa was invited to cook at the honourable James Beard House for the Flavours of Canada dinner and was named one of Canada’s Top Young Chefs To Watch by The Globe and Mail. Galasa wants to inspire young Black chefs who work in kitchens nationwide.

What’s a childhood meal or the meal that inspired you to become a chef (and the restaurant it came from, if applicable)?

There wasn’t really a meal or dish that inspired me to become a chef. More so, it was the controlled chaos environment that produced wonderful art through food, the love, the passion, the slow process of developing flavour — something about all of that gravitated me towards becoming a chef. When I look back now, I see that the signs were right in front of me to become a chef. For example, I was always helping my mom in the kitchen, watching her work and seeing the effort it took her to cook up delicious food for us. I just loved food and food culture early on.

What’s the meal you’ve missed most during COVID-19?

The meal I’ve missed most due to the pandemic is Shiki Menya Ramen in Calgary, DownLow Chicken (DL fries) in British Columbia and shawarma.

What’s the first restaurant you’re going to visit, or that you went to, once it was/is safe to do so (and the menu item you ordered!)?

Once life settles back to some sort of normal, my dream place to enjoy a nice meal with an epic experience would be the restaurant at Pearl Morrisette.

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Name: Stéphane Levac

Hometown: Sturgeon Falls, Ont.

Employment: Chef

Nova Scotia forager and chef Stéphane Levac made a name for himself having operated his own catering business Frais Catering in the Annapolis Valley with his partner Sarah Morrison. Since then, he has worked in the kitchen at Studio East in Halifax under Chef Ray Bear and has also been the kitchen supervisor at Just Us! Coffee Roasters. Today, Stéphane is the Chef at the very popular drink and eatery Maritime Express Cider Company in Kentville Nova Scotia.

What’s a childhood meal or the meal that inspired you to become a chef (and the restaurant it came from, if applicable)?

One of my chef friends cooked me some seared lamb chops with oregano. I was always a picky eater and this was the first time I kind of tried something new to my palate and it blew me away!

What’s the meal you’ve missed most during COVID-19?

A ramen bowl at Truly Tasty in Halifax. You need to get there early before they open, as there’s always a lineup.

What’s the first restaurant you’re going to visit, or that you went to, once it was/is safe to do so (and the menu item you ordered!)?

Hopscotch Dinner Club in Halifax. I have an upcoming event there with one of last year’s Top Chef Canada finalists, Chef Stephanie Ogilvie. Never mind what I’ll be cooking, I’m looking forward to what she’s going to come up with and trying everything!

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Name: Jae-Anthony

Hometown: Montreal

Employment: Chef and restaurant owner

Jae-Anthony is an innovative Chef, father and entrepreneur. He’s cooked for Drake, Boi-1da, The Weekend, J.Cole, Issa Rae and many more. His expertise lies in creating innovative dishes that fuse various cuisines. He’s a driven and focused entrepreneur who is dedicated and passionate about his craft. He is also the Founder of Seasoned Dreams, a Montreal-based chain of restaurants which he sold in 2019.

What’s a childhood meal or the meal that inspired you to become a chef (and the restaurant it came from, if applicable)?

It would have to be Bakes and Saltfish from my Trinidadian grandmother’s side, and also Coo Coo and Flying Fish from my Bajan grandma’s side. Those two dishes bring me back great nostalgia and they really inspired me to cook wholesome and delicious meals.

What’s the meal you’ve missed most during COVID-19?

Nothing really because I’m able to create the meals I desire. However, what I miss most is the experience of dining in a restaurant, from speaking with the chefs and the sommeliers and enjoying great food.

What’s the first restaurant you’re going to visit, or that you went to, once it was/is safe to do so (and the menu item you ordered!)?

I plan to go visit a lot of Black-owned restaurants and do a food tour as soon as we’re allowed to be back out.

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Name: Siobhan Detkavich

Hometown: Red Deer, Alta., but living in in Kelowna, B.C.

Employment: The Terrace Restaurant at Mission Hill Family Estate Winery

Since stepping foot in to the kitchen at the age of 16, this chef is no stranger to a challenge. Facing racism, sexism, and all sorts of ‘isms’ throughout her career – she’s stepping out of the box to defy the odds and show that perseverance, hard work and dedication has no age limit.

Taking a leap, and walking into the Top Chef Canada kitchen as the youngest and first Indigenous woman to compete, Detkavich hopes to bring light to her indigenous roots and pay homage to her ancestry and the land she comes from and inspire the youth to reach for the stars.

What’s a childhood meal or the meal that inspired you to become a chef (and the restaurant it came from, if applicable)?

Chef Jenna Pillon is who I will always reference for my inspiration and influence to find my passion. Working with her at a young age, she really took the time to teach me not only about food, but about life. And what really solidified my decision to stay in the industry, looking back at it now, would be working our Sunday morning brunches together at Terrafina at Hester Creek in Oliver, BC. French toast, frittata’s and ‘pearditas’ were the staples for each guest. They were so simple, yet so refined. It was the French toast reimagined, the shot of green goodness to start your day, all of it a fond memory. 
It’s the passion that she had for her work and the compassion she had for me that to this day pushes me to strive for my best always.

What’s the meal you’ve missed most during COVID-19?

Probably ramen or dim sum! There are good places around town, but I’m definitely the person to take a day trip and drive to the coast for some good eats.

What’s the first restaurant you’re going to visit, or that you went to, once it was/is safe to do so (and the menu item you ordered!)?

Once restrictions have become less heavy, you can bet I’ll be making the drive down to Vancouver to visit The Ramen Butcher and grabbing a bowl of red spicy ramen! My friends laugh all the time at the distance I’ll go to for good food, but I think it’s absolutely worth it.

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Name: Andrea Alridge

Hometown: Vancouver

Occupation: Chef de Cuisine, CinCin Ristorante + Bar

Born and raised in Vancouver, Andrea Alridge discovered her love for cooking as a child when she lived abroad in Jamaica. While on the island, Andrea grew a genuine relationship with regional produce and a greater respect for animals. Her first steps into the professional world of cooking began at Cactus Club Cafe which led to a position with Raincity Grill, where she worked her way up to Sous Chef while attending the Culinary Arts program at Vancouver Community College. Following her time at Raincity Grill, Andrea joined Toptable Group, a leader in Canadian hospitality as CinCin Ristorante + Bar’s Chef de Partie. She was later promoted and is currently the Chef de Cuisine of the award-winning restaurant.

What is a childhood meal or the meal that inspired you to become a chef (and the restaurant it came from, if applicable)?

The childhood meal that inspired me to become a chef was my Grandma Vie’s curry goat. Sunday dinner in Jamaica is a big deal and I will forever remember the Sunday meals that my Grandma Vie cooked. She started early in the morning and it was a full day affair. Everyone helped from going to the farm to pick out a goat, to picking, cleaning and washing all of the produce from the backyard. It really brought us all together and I will always cherish those moments. That act is what really drew me into cooking, the joy of being able to bring people together for a good meal.

What is the meal you have missed most during COVID-19?

The meal I have missed the most during COVID-19 is our CinCin family meal or our staff meal. When CinCin had to temporarily close due to the pandemic there was a lot of uncertainty in the world. Due to our temporary closure, we did not get to see each other for awhile. One of the most important meals for all of us was always staff meal and I really did miss getting to sit down with everyone and eat.

What is the first restaurant you are going to visit, or that you went to, once it was/is safe to do so (and the menu item you ordered!)?

The first restaurant I went to was me and my boyfriend’s favourite hot pot restaurant, Happy Lamb hot pot. We ate there the day before all restaurants were shut down in Vancouver and as soon as it was safe to venture out again that was the first place we returned. We usually have quite a large spread for our hot pot, lots of meat, vegetables, and dumplings. I was very happy to see they survived the closure restrictions.

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