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  • MB 6:45 pm on March 17, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , enVie, , Lauren Marshall, ,   

    Lauren Marshall: Halifax’s Top Chef 

    Halifax’s first cheftestant on Top Chef Canada is, of course, Chef Lauren Marshall. Sure you can find her at enVie, or maybe back in the day you saw her around Morris East, but you’ve gotta say: it’s pretty fun seeing her on Top Chef these days. I caught up with her to chat about her experience on the show.

    lauren-topchef How did you end up on Top Chef Canada this season?

    As a huge fan of the series I always thought “Hey, I should really apply for this!” but as a chef who has never entered a food competition before there was always that voice in my head that let me brush any idea or thought of actually trying out for such a huge competition completely out of my head… until last June when Craig Finn of Chives and Three Doors Down sent  an email to local chefs from across the Maritimes pushing us all to apply. After Craig sent that email there was a little voice buzzing in my head and I couldn’t get it out! I was still attending classes at the Canadian School of Natural Nutrition at the time and thought if Jen King, the manager of my school, let me reschedule my final exam I would make my audition tape and take a stab at the audition process. After a quick reply from Jen saying “Do it!” I thought there is nothing left to do: I stayed up all night brainstorming and the next day I filmed the audition tape with my auntie. It all happened very quickly and after an on camera interview in Montreal I was told I would be competing to be Canada’s next Top Chef.

    Was this kind of experience something you had been looking for, or was it a spontaneous decision when the casting calls came out this year?

     I literally went to bed two nights before audition tapes were due thinking “I just might do this.”  I woke up the next morning with my auntie on the phone at 7am asking her to spare a few hours for a desperate chef. Completely spontaneous with no actual thought of what could come from all of this.
    What was the experience like? Was there anything surprising about working as a chef, not only on television, but on competitive television? Anything you didn’t expect?

    This experience was like no other. I mean, when do you ever get the chance to shut everything off and just cook? We were living and breathing this competition and nothing else mattered. It really became our only reality, which, when I think about it, is kind of scary, because I believe in balancing work with other joys in life. What surprised me the most is all the time it took to create something as big as the Top Chef Canada series. I think it is all part of the competition: the extremely long days and, even when you think it is all over (the day that is), the surprise element of ‘anything can happen, anytime, anyplace’ would pop out of nowhere! The word ‘relax’ did not exist, and even if there was time to relax, we couldn’t because there was the anticipation and anxiety of what are they were going to throw at us next!

    Tell me what it was like working with so many chefs from such different backgrounds in such a sort of unique set-up.
    It was truly amazing how different each and everyone of us actually were and are.  Everyone had so many different concepts to bring to the Chefs’ Table. This experience was like being at an adult summer camp for chefs but then place us on a deserted island and then let us battle it out Lord of the Flies style.
    What were your thoughts on the “battle of the sexes” aspect of the show? Without spoiling anything, is that something that sort of falls away? Or did you guys even really feel that outside of the marketing of the show? I’m interested in whether or not you feel like this is something that sort of reflects the real life experience of a woman in restaurant kitchens, and how you responded to it.

    I loved the theme Battle of the Sexes. When I found out I thought “finally, an even representation of men and women.” Nowadays us women are killing kitchens and populating cooking schools all across Canada and we don’t see it as much of a barrier as women have in the past. In this competition the prize sees no gender, and in real life a great chef is a great chef. As a professional chef I believe we are recognized for our talent and hard work and not so much what gender category we fall under.

    What did you think of your competitors? Did you butt heads or bond in a way that you wouldn’t expect? 

    I have created bonds with some of my fellow chefs from the season that I will have for a lifetime. I am forever grateful for this once-in-a-lifetime experience and all I have taken from it. I predict many fun cooking showcases with them in the future. Whether we butt heads or not, you will just have to watch Top Chef to find out!

    Were there any judges who came in to critique your stuff who sort of blew your socks off? Any real life inspirations?
    Holy crap! Yes! Susur freakin’ Lee! I remember when I was a very poor student in cooking school at the Culinary Institute of Canada in 2006 and we went on our class trip to Toronto. We had a night off from our scheduled events and some of my friends were headed to Susur’s Restaurant, Susur. I owned his book Susur: A Culinary Life, and read it front to back more than once, but I couldn’t afford to actually eat at his restaurant. I had to say no to dinner with my school buds and stick to a less expensive dinner because of my budget. (The fact that I didn’t even own a credit card at the time didn’t help.) I thought to myself “when I come back to Toronto I will get to try his world class food.” Little did I know that what brought me back to Toronto would be Top Chef Canada, and I would be cooking for HIM! Talk about blow my socks off. When I found out we were cooking at his restaurant I was speechless.
    What did you take away from the experience? Do you feel like it has changed you or your approach to food or the industry? Or was it just a fun experience?

    Ok. Sure, it was fun. But it was so much more than that. It’s one if those bucket list things, like how most of us would like to see the wonders if the world before we die. I was able to be categorized in a very small group of talented chefs who competed in a unique competition that will only be truly understood by those who have shared the same experience of competing in this mind blowing culinary competition.

    The best thing about the food industry is there are so many pieces to the puzzle and sides to the industry. Competition and television is just one or two of the many pieces that make up the industry and I just feel super fortunate to have been able to gain some more pieces to see a new side of this puzzle. I feel more confident and sure of myself than I ever have before and am grateful to gain experience on a new side that I had never seen before. As a chef you really need to stay up on the trends and be open to new experiences. There is no time for sleep, much like this competition.
  • simonathibault 11:58 am on March 17, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , ,   

    Out of old kitchens, into the big pantry in the sky 

    The author of “Out of Old Nova Scotia Kitchens,” Marie Nightingale, passed away this weekend. She was 85.

    Nightingale’s “Out Of Old Nova Scotia Kitchens”influenced countless chefs in this province, amateur and professional, and has been on bookstore shelves for over forty years now.

    I had the opportunity to interview Nightingale in 2013 for a story I did about her and her work’s influence for Zester Daily. An excerpt:

    “Out of Old Nova Scotia Kitchens” was the first cookbook his mother owned, and he still owns the very same copy. For him, the book is not just as a repository of information, but a tool to be used by home chefs. “‘Out of Old Nova Scotia Kitchens’ is about keeping those dishes alive and to the forefront,” he says. “We tend to be a busy culture and we don’t have mothers and granddaughters teaching their kids how to cook anymore. Cookbooks have become more important. ‘Out of Old Nova Scotia Kitchens’ made me understand that every region’s culture was greatly influenced and represented in the food we ate.”

    After the publication of the story, Nightingale was kind enough to send me a small note, saying, “I like the Marie you know even without having met her face to face.”

    Thank you Marie. For your book, for your work, for your words of encouragement to anyone who ever cooked in a Nova Scotia kitchen.

  • simonathibault 4:15 pm on March 12, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , ,   

    Reppin’ the East on Top Chef Canada 

    This Monday, the first episode of Top Chef Canada’s fourth season aired on Food Network Canada. Passable readers may recognize one East Coast chef in particular, Jesse Vergen from the Saint John Ale House. Not only is Vergen the exec chef at the Ale House, he also runs a BBQ joint, a CSA, takes care of three kids with his loving wife, and even finds time to go hunting.

    Image via Jesse Vergen's Twitter feed

    Image via Jesse Vergen’s Twitter feed

    Passable caught up with Vergen to talk about what it was like to be on Top Chef, meeting his heroes in Toronto, and being true to himself.

    How did your being on the show come to be?

    It started off  a year ago, some people said, “Listen you should do this,”  but I had so much on the go, and I couldn’t get away. This time my wife, my employer, everybody was saying I should go for it. Online, someone mentioned it on Twitter and Michael Smith retweeted it, and people started calling to say I should.

    What were the first few days like, leaving everything behind?

    It was terrifying to walk away from it all, because you are sequestered. They take away your cell phone. There is a terrifying feeling that if there is an issue or a problem at home, or at the restaurant, I don’t have my cell phone. But for 10 odd years, I have never been able to cut myself off and walk away, so it was kind of neat to experience.

    What kind of ideas did you have about shooting a show like this would be like? 

    I guess I didn’t know what I was expecting. I was lucky and had shot some TV before and had worked with the crews, so I knew about the long days.  I had an understudying of what we had to deal with in terms of shooting, while others may have been a bit more of a “first timer” going through the process. So my adjustments were easier than others. At the end of the day we had to be ready to throw down at any point of the day.

    What was it like having your stuff critiqued by people you admire and respect? I’m thinking of David Chang, who will be on this season and I know you admire, having eaten Momofuku-style pork buns at your establishment.

    If Chang showed up at my restaurant for a meal it would be so intimidating. A lot of cooks look up to this guy, not only as a chef, but also as someone who is innovative in business. I have great respect for chefs who not only are talented but can take that talent and utilize it and be successful with it. Not everyone can run a restaurant or turn their talent into something people can enjoy.  Chang is one of those guys who thought outside the box and BOOM he is the poster boy for being a successful chef. So having him critique my food, when I know everyone in my hometown is watching, it would be horrible if he destroyed you on national tv. It would be worst to be booted off by him.

    So what is it like to have your food critiqued on a national scale?

    That’s the thing I thought about, is that you make it through to being on this show and then you go, “whoa, this may happen.”  I’ve worked my ass off to develop good reviews and have people enjoying my food and respect in the community, and the reality of it is that you are working with people you never worked with before, in unknown challenges, you’re putting yourself out there, and your career is on the line. The realization of that is immense. I kept in my head to be true to myself and be on there and be myself and have fun and enjoy the experience and not let negativity overcome me, because the rest of the country is watching.

    But that’s the thing. You’re on television: challenges behind a line and television scripted challenges are two different beasts. They work different parts of your brain since they’re both in different realities. What was it like to meld them together?

    I think you just need to be on top of your game and be true to yourself.  You don’t have control as to what they are going to edit and what they will show. At the end of the day, bring your “A” game, and be genuine. If you’re not being genuine,  the camera will pick up on it

    One of the things people don’t often talk about is the fact that these shows are aired weeks if not months after shooting. And so you have to shut up about results.  What is that like?

    That’s one of the difficult parts. We shot the show this summer, so you have this big secret and you’re holding on to it. You’re not supposed to have any contact with other competitors afterwards.  It’s a big crazy experience and you can’t talk about it with anyone, or have a release on what happened to you. You kinda feel sort of by yourself, so as soon as the announcement was made everything was out in the open.  It was a sigh of relief.

    In the meantime, the rest of us will have to wait and see how far Jesse goes in the competition.  Check your local listings for airtimes, or watch the show on Food Network Canada’s website. You can also follow Jesse on Twitter.

  • simonathibault 5:32 pm on March 10, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Haskap, Haskapa,   

    Nova Scotia’s Haskapa on Dr. Oz 

    Looks like a little bit of Nova Scotia will be featured on the Dr. Oz show tomorrow.

    Image via Haskapa.com

    Image via Haskapa.com

    Haskapa sent out a press release today stating that, “Ontario nutritionist, Bryce Wylde will be on the Dr. Oz show discussing his views on the potential of the Haskap, with berries from our very own orchards as well as some ‘haskapa’ Haskap products.”

    The episode will air tomorrow afternoon at 5pm, Eastern Standard Time on CTV. You can also check your local listings or go to the Dr. Oz website to stream the show within 24 hours of airtime.

    This is some pretty good news for Haskapa and the haskap industry in general. I reported on Haskapa back in April of last year for The Coast, as well as on their juice for the Globe and Mail. Add this to the fact that their products are now available in Toronto at McEwan Foods. 

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