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.
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