Top Chef Canada Season 8 contestants share their favourite hometown restaurants

The 12 intrepid chefs from the upcoming eighth season of the popular culinary competition share their favourite hometown eats, from classic French cuisine to surprising pop-ups

  • Apr 07, 2020
  • 2,711 words
  • 11 minutes
12 rising star chefs will battle it out for kitchen supremacy on the eighth season of Top Chef Canada. (Photo courtesy Food Network Canada)
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The COVID-19 pandemic has turned our lives upside-down in almost every way imaginable, but if the pandemic has showed us one thing, it’s that nothing brings people together like food — just do a quick search for “sourdough” on Twitter and you’ll see what we mean. And while the restaurant industry was hit early and hard by public health restrictions to slow the spread of the virus, there are plenty of reasons to hope that many of our favourite eateries will weather the storm and be there to host our dates, birthday parties, working lunches and family celebrations in the future.

To inspire our foodie readers across Canada, we asked the 12 contestants from the upcoming season of Top Chef Canada to show some love for their hometown favourites. Their choices are eclectic, ranging from a classic French bistro packed with artists to a pop-up with a down-home feel to the ultimate marriage of burgers and fine wines. Some are temporarily closed, but many are still offering takeout and delivery, or selling gift cards as a promise of future deliciousness.

Top Chef Canada’s eighth season kicks off April 13 at 10 p.m. on Food Network Canada. The 12 rising-star chefs will battle it out through a series of challenges for the title of Canada’s Top Chef. Fans can expect some twists this season, including two challenges incorporating unique ingredients from Prince Edward Island, and a challenge that will see the chefs paired with young “sous-chefs” from the Boys and Girls Club of Canada and tasked with turning an unpopular vegetable into a dessert the judges will love. Check out a sneak peek below, and read on for the chefs’ hometown picks. — Alexandra Pope

Shaun Hussey, St. John’s

Chef Shaun Hussey. (Photo courtesy Food Network Canada)
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Not that my wife and I get to dine out often with the hours we keep and with raising our daughter, but when we do, we love to go to one of the most well-known restaurants in the St. John’s area, Mallard Cottage. Mallard Cottage is known for its use of local products prepared in simple ways, correctly. There’s no over-producing of product; everything is cooked properly and seasoned nicely. Whether it’s for brunch or dinner, you are guaranteed that everything will be delicious. The space is very chill. Fires are rolling and a lot of times there is live music. It’s very comfortable, almost like you’re sitting in your own living room. Their menu changes almost daily so it’s hard to name a favourite there, but if I had to pick something, I would have to choose the potato wedges they serve at brunch. When the server asks, “What would you like for a side?” the answer is always wedges. There is always fun to be had at Mallard Cottage. Before my daughter was born, there were many Sundays that we would be there for hours listening to music and having a few good pints of Guinness. Even now though, with my daughter in tow, it’s nothing to sit down there for hours listening to tunes, chatting with owners Todd Perrin and Stephen Lee. There’s just fewer pints involved.  

8 Barrows Rd., St. John’s
Status during COVID-19: Closed, but gift cards available for purchase

Imrun Texeira, Ottawa

Chef Imrun Texeira. (Photo courtesy Food Network Canada)
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Ottawa has many great restaurants; however, my favourite place to dine in Ottawa is Fairouz on Somerset. The location is perfect for an intimate dinner followed by drinks at one of the bars in the area. I love Fairouz because it is one-of-a-kind in this city. Chef Walid El-Tawel and his team never disappoint, bringing modern twists to classic Middle Eastern cuisine. If you are looking for bold flavours and exciting food, this is the place! Cozy seating is available inside and at the bar, plus gorgeous spacious seating is available on the patio during the warmer months. Fairouz focuses on modern Middle Eastern cuisine and it’s done right, as Chef Walid highlights the flavours of his childhood. He combines his traditional heritage, cooking with local farmers and suppliers, while applying contemporary culinary techniques and trends. It’s always busy, which lends to a great atmosphere. It has a window into the kitchen, giving the guests the opportunity to peek in and see the chef at work. Sunday nights are for mezze at Fairouz. Mezze, a style of dining in the Mediterranean and the Middle East, resembles a collection of small plates meant to stimulate your appetite. But unlike those appetizers, mezze often makes up an entire meal. It combines both cold and hot, vegetarian and meat dishes. It is so hard to choose a favourite dish on the menu, but I love to go in for a couple dips with their house-made pita and delicious cocktails. My go-to dip is the muhammara!

343 Somerset St. West, Ottawa
Status during COVID-19: Closed, but gift cards available for purchase

Stephanie Ogilvie, Halifax

Chef Stephanie Ogilvie. (Photo courtesy Food Network Canada)
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Water and Bone is a great dining spot to check out in Halifax! Located in the north end of Halifax on Charles St., chef and owner Jamie and partner Shannon have created a super cozy ramen restaurant that serves delicious house-made noodles with locally-inspired flavours and ingredients. With generous hospitality that instantly makes a diner feel at ease and taken care of, Water and Bone is known for making their ramen noodles daily in-house. The baos are really exceptional as well and a great option is to share a few different kinds of to start off the meal. Local Nova Scotia ingredients both cultivated and foraged are incorporated in thoughtful and creative ways to create some really special dishes. The drink menu is comprised of an extensive local beer, cider and wine selection, as well as super tasty cocktails and knowledgeable bar staff to accommodate your cravings. Water and Bone serves lunch and dinner and has a great patio in the summertime. It’s a cozy, bright space, super inviting and relaxed. The owner’s personality shines through, especially when it comes to the punk rock playlist and curios hidden around on the shelves. Personally, I’m usually starting with a few different baos to share. The duck and pork belly bao are always winners in my book! The fried cauliflower is delicious, super crispy and the right balance of sweet, salty and spice; I could snack on that any day. The fried soft tofu is like a delicious dreamy little pillow of flavour, and Jamie often has some local and seasonal inspired tonkatsu and ramens on the menu. I think what makes the Water and Bone experience so lovely is that it is unique, genuine, consistently great food and approachable! It’s the neighbourhood noodle shop where you can go, relax and just eat really tasty food.

5687 Charles St., Halifax
Status during COVID-19: Closed

Francis Blais, Montreal

Chef Francis Blais. (Photo courtesy Food Network Canada)
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My favourite place to dine in Montreal is at L’Express on Rue Saint-Denis. The place is known for classic French bistro. It’s loud and filled with artists, so the experience there is what you make of it. The whole menu is superb, but my favourite thing is the bone marrow with coarse salt. Something that’s notable about dining at L’Express is that they have one of the best old-school wine lists in town. You can still find some 90s Ravenneau and Nicolas Jolys’ beautiful chenin!

3927 Rue Saint-Denis, Montreal
Status during COVID-19: Open for takeout

Elycia Ross, Calgary

Chef Elycia Ross. (Photo courtesy Food Network Canada)
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My favourite place to eat in Calgary is Alumni Sandwiches on 17th Ave. SW. They’re known for their fresh takes on classic sandwiches like rosemary beef dip, tuna salad dressed in cilantro aioli, and grilled cheese with spinach and artichoke spread. There’s a diner vibe with 70s tones that I love. It makes the place feel extra fun for a casual date or lunch with my son. My go-to menu item is the Reuben with a side of charred broccoli. With lots of bright, sharp flavours, it’s delicious. I’m not sure if you can claim sandwiches as a favourite food, but I do, and Alumni fills my heart with lots of sandwich love.

725 17th Ave. SW, Calgary
Status during COVID-19: Open for takeout

Lucy Marrow, Charlottetown

Chef Lucy Marrow. (Photo courtesy Food Network Canada)
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My favourite place to dine in Charlottetown is a weekly pop-up called Sneaky Cheats. My pal Nigel pops up in the local firehall; his mom will take your order and holler your name across the room when it’s up. The whole setup is endearing and you won’t find tourists here (not that we wouldn’t share), as it’s where the locals flock. Sneaky Cheats is known for Matty Matheson-style feel good soul food, spiked with Island tradition. It’s food that plays to your inner child but is now acceptable and super trendy as an adult, like bologna sandwiches, fried chicken, and his mom’s bread and butter pickles. The menus are small, typically between three to five choices, and often change. Everything about the ambiance is relaxed and wholesome. I’d recommend ordering the whole menu, chat with Nigel’s mom, and grab a beer at the cash only bar. It’s the kind of place you go with your friends to eat slowly, catch up and share some laughs. My new favourite item is the fried chicken sandwich: sriracha-glazed, bun brushed with brown butter and a slice of American cheese, with bread and butter pickles and slaw. The most notable thing about Sneaky Cheats is the wholesome authenticity. It’s got natural Island charm, simplicity, and is the secret that’s not actually a secret that you want all your foodie friends to hit up with you. The intimacy of the pop-up is also a standout, as there’s no table-side service, and you’ll likely be at a communal table. Places like this contribute to the special culture that we have on P.E.I.

89 Kent St., Charlottetown
Status during COVID-19: Closed

Dominique Dufour, Ottawa

Chef Dominique Dufour. (Photo courtesy Food Network Canada)
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My favourite dining establishment in Ottawa is Fauna. With its eclectic decor and the warm atmosphere that reigns upon entering, Fauna is one delightful destination for dining in Ottawa. The space is refined without being stuffy or sterile, and the dim lights and ambient music warmly welcome diners. Now a pillar of gastronomy in Ottawa and a reference in terms of natural wine, Fauna explores Canadian bounty, season after season, while maintaining the feat of being fresh and innovative. At the moment, my favourite dish is the half duck to share. Both succulent and tender, the beautiful beast will satisfy two diners with ease while you enjoy washing it down with some of the best naturally fermented grape juices in town. If your thirst leans towards mixed libations, fear not: the cocktail list is extensive, offering classics with a twist and original creations alike.

425 Bank St., Ottawa
Status during COVID-19: Closed

Jo Notkin, Montreal

Chef Jo Notkin. (Photo courtesy Food Network Canada)
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It’s so hard to choose just one place! However, I do love Damas. It’s Syrian and I love the Middle Eastern flavours, colours and textures. It feels like you are transported to the Middle East! There’s so much to try here, but my go-tos are the fresh pita bread, the amazing fattoush salad, and the warm lamb with hummus. What a complete treat it is to eat here. I love how this was once a hole-in-the-wall and then became so popular that it thrived! It made me realize that when you really do something well, people take notice.

1201 Ave. Van Horne, Montreal
Status during COVID-19: Open for takeout and delivery

Adrian Forte, Toronto

Chef Adrian Forte. (Photo courtesy Food Network Canada)
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I’m a sucker for a good burger and a nice bottle of wine. So when Nice Nice x Extra Burger opened in Toronto, I was so excited! The space is bisected into two opposite, but complementary, halves. The Extra Burger side serves up California “In & Out” style hamburgers, with zero seating. On the Nice Nice side, they serve a variety of thoughtfully curated wines with a lot of local options. On the Extra Burger side, they opted for a very minimalistic approach. Pink fluorescent lights cascade off the white subway tiles, and there’s a very high ceiling. On the Nice Nice side, it’s a lot dimmer and moodier, with a 70s-style beaded curtain and stained varnished wood banquet seats. When I’m there, I usually order a double bacon cheeseburger with fries and a side of pickles from the Extra Burger side, then I grab a seat on the Nice Nice side and wash it down with a nice canned Nova Scotian Benjamin Bridge. I absolutely love the duality of these two concepts and how they work very well together. The place is laid back and unpretentious with superb customer service.

269 Dunn Ave., Toronto
Status during COVID-19: Open for delivery

Brock Bowes, Kelowna, B.C.

Chef Brock Bowes. (Photo courtesy Food Network Canada)
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My favourite place to dine in my hometown of Kelowna is Salt & Brick. I find myself there because the food that Chef James Holmes puts together is creatively prepared, using ingredients in an out-of-the box way. He offers small plates, meant to share, which in my opinion is the best way of dining. The room is dim and intimate with a glow of neon lights, and I always try to get a seat at the bar. While Chef James writes the menu daily, my favourite dish is the Brussels sprouts, roasted and served with beer cheese, grapes, and popcorn. Being in the heart of downtown Kelowna, it’s the perfect walking distance to many nearby watering holes for a nightcap.

243 Bernard Ave., Kelowna
Status during COVID-19: Open for delivery and pickup 

Xin Mao, Vancouver

Chef Xin Mao. (Photo courtesy Food Network Canada)
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My favourite place to dine in Vancouver is Cioppino’s Mediterranean Grill. I love how Chef Pino is always in the kitchen, so you know you’re in good hands whenever you dine in. The food is authentic Italian with an Asian twist, as Chef Pino used to work in Singapore. The restaurant is a fine dining spot with lots of family elements. You can see a portrait of Chef Pino’s mom hanging on the wall and each dining room has its own name. My favourite thing on the menu is the sablefish marinated in soy sauce and served with soy sabayon. The restaurant also has a great wine selection; it’s one of the best in the country. Another notable feature is that there is a chef’s table in front of the kitchen. It’s very rare to see that in Vancouver. Chef Pino will cook what you’d like with daily fresh ingredients. You don’t know what you’re getting until you taste your food. It’s a very cool experience.

1133 Hamilton St., Vancouver
Status during COVID-19: Closed

Nils Schneider, Calgary

Chef Nils Schneider. (Photo courtesy Food Network Canada)
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My favourite place to dine in Calgary is a pop-up restaurant called Nights & Weekends, run by my friend Aaron Ellard. Dining here is fun, the concept and location is ever-changing, keeping things exciting. They’ve done anything from an all-cheese dedicated menu to classic steakhouse to Asian fusion, each time coming to the table with new ideas and fresh combinations. The ambiance here is always great. I’m a huge fan of old-school hip-hop and their current concept has it playing throughout the evening. The staff here are all well-known in the industry and are always friendly, accommodating and well-versed in the menu and drink selection, which makes ordering a breeze. I’m a huge fan of the kohlrabi salad that Chef Nick had put together. It’s so fresh, clean, simple and straightforward — absolutely delicious. I also highly recommend any pasta dish; their dough and technique are killer. Their mindset behind the bar is great. They have a drink list, but every time I’ve been there they tend to be able to make a lot of off-menu mixes as well. A very notable part is that the location and menu change; if you go at the right time, you could be walking into a completely different restaurant on your return visit.
Status during COVID-19: Closed, but have gift cards available for purchase

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