Former Vancouver fry cook wins Top Chef Canada
A Gordon Ramsay protegé known for crafting refined, high-end cuisine is the inaugural winner of TV cooking contest Top Chef Canada.
Vancouver's Dale MacKay claimed a $100,000 prize in a wine-inspired challenge that pit him against Toronto's Rob Rossi and Calgary's Connie DeSousa.
"I could have done five finales," MacKay boasted Monday when the episode aired, noting he felt more relief than surprise by the win.
"I totally wish we could have done a five- or six- or seven-course menu where you really had to cook. I would have been loving that for sure."
Throughout the series, the cocky 31-year-old established a reputation as one of Food Network Canada's more passionate homegrown chefs. He brimmed with confidence during intense cook-offs and often turned wistful in direct-to-camera confessions when he talked about his eight-year-old boy.
The competition ended with a tearful reunion between the single father and his son.
"We did it man," MacKay says while clutching the child in a finale shot eight months ago. "Told you we'd do it."
New restaurant Ensemble
MacKay, who finally gets the $100,000 now that the episode has aired, said he'll use the money to take his son on a European vacation and invest in his newly opened restaurant, Ensemble.
The Saskatoon-born cook beat out 29-year-old DeSousa, whose trademark was charcuterie and bold flavours, and 27-year-old Rossi, whose expert display of various cooking styles earned him a leading four elimination wins.
"I would have liked to have won it," the baby-faced Rossi says in the finale after learning he came in second.
"But I don't regret anything I've done and I think Dale really deserved it. He put up some phenomenal plates."
Chefs had to create a three-course menu that reflected their philosophy. At the last minute, they were asked to prepare an amuse-bouche as well, but MacKay went one further by throwing in a second main.
His $100,000 meal consisted of Quebec Brie cheese as the amuse, salmon prepared two ways, a main dish of black cod with BBQ pork consomme accompanied by a plate of roast lamb, and a lemon custard topped with a strawberry sorbet for dessert.
The double dose of surf-and-turf drew accusations of cheating from Rossi, who countered with a rich meal of foie gras, bone marrow and beignets, and DeSousa, who offered up a terrine, lamb and ice cream.
But MacKay, who also wins $30,000 in kitchen equipment, said he only learned of the controversy when he saw clips from the show last week. He dismissed claims he did anything wrong.
"I had to do even more than everyone else to have a shot at winning so I really wanted to push it," said MacKay, who admitted to feeling like an underdog at times. The show was hosted by Thea Andrews, with Mark McEwen and Shereen Arazm as judges.
"You never know. In other challenges I felt that I did really well and I was either on the bottom or they really didn't like it."
Began as fry cook
The win comes after an already impressive resume for MacKay, who began as a teenage fry cook in Vancouver.
Eleven years ago, he headed to London where he talked his way into a job at Ramsay's restaurant, Claridge's. From there he continued to other Ramsay establishments in London, Tokyo and New York and most recently served as executive chef of Vancouver's four-star dining hall, Lumière.
Lumière closed in March and two months later MacKay opened his first restaurant, Ensemble, just off bustling Robson Street. He describes it as refined food in a relaxed atmosphere.
MacKay said Top Chef Canada has jump started a new chapter in his career.
"I don't think I'd ever work for another chef again, you know," he said. "I'm ready to just be under my own name completely."