Au revoir, Jesse.
On Monday night, maritimers said goodbye to one of their own on Top Chef Canada. Jesse Vergen, executive chef at the Saint John Ale House, had made it to the top five, but was eliminated on the ninth episode. I caught up with Jesse a couple of months ago when the show started, but after saying his goodbyes to the competition, decided it was time to check in once more.
On Monday you were eliminated from the competition on Top Chef Canada. But that means you could finally spill the beans about how long you would be on the show. How did it feel?
Now I’m not keeping any demons. *laughs* There was this sense of anxiety building up to this episode since I had so much support from friends, family and all around the maritimes. After it aired there was a sense of a weight lifted off my chest. There were no more secrets, no more “no comments.” I’m not one to hide things. I’m a shoot from the hip guy kind of guy.
What was it like to have your friends and family watch you in the bar every Monday night?
It was an awesome atmosphere in the bar, people were coming down and they’re ooh-ing and aah-ing like it was a hockey game. There were quite a few times when I was in the top for the challenges and people would get into it. But when the other guys won, people would go “awww…”.
Do you feel the judges were accurate in what they said to you in the final challenge about your dish – a play on beets in various preparations – not being balanced enough?
A little bit. I sort of felt, as I did when I was standing there, that maybe they didn’t get what my dish was about. The sense that I got from the judges was that I was doing a halibut dish with beets. But I was utilizing the beet and showcasing the ways it could be manipulated. I was confident going in and that my concept got across. In the end, I felt like they were looking for something, because it was so tight with the other competitors. At the end of the day, that they weren’t able to get the concept was my demise.
I don’t know if it’s just in the editing, but you were always diplomatic when it came to critiques: answers of “yes chef,” and “no chef,” while other contestants often made a point of being argumentative. I get that’s all for TV, but is that really how you responded?
I definitely am under the mind frame that being critiqued and being judged can be used in a positive manner to make yourself better, and you learn from those experiences. I was very humble in that aspect in taking the criticism seriously. In the final episode I did stand my ground and behind my dish, I was confident in it. I had no reason to get angry at them, or mad, because the reality of it is that that challenge, Mark McEwan is not a big of modernist cooking techniques, and he’s torn people on the show for using them. Then we’re thrust into a competition where we are forced to use them. It was kind of a weird position to be in.
You recently took part in a dinner in St. John’s where seal was the main ingredient. Tell me about that.
I got involved with it because I am good buddies with Todd Perrin at Mallard Cottage and he knew that I am into cooking unique products, and I am a big supporter of the east coast culinary movement. I have cooked with seal a couple times, so he called me up to come over. It was with Jeremy Charles and Sean Hussey as well. It was an opportunity to cook with a unique product that has some bad PR problems. It’s easier to point at sealing than industrial food production techniques that are flawed. Foie gras went through the same thing, and at the end, we knew what we were walking into, but the reality is that it was received well across Canada.
Now that it’s over, what do you feel you learned?
I have learned that I am really good at shooting from my hip, dealing with curve balls. It made me confident. I was never super crushed that I didn’t get to finish everything I wanted to do during the challenges. On the other side of things it was a really awesome experience to see how they produce a show like that. Seeing all that and how the cameras and producers manage the operation.
I don’t know. Renovations at the Ale House right now, which is a big huge project. It will be a rebirth of the pub section. It will be super sexy.
I think I’m just looking to go out and fishing. Last summer was filled up with all sorts of things, and doing the show, so obviously I didn’t get to go fishing. I am itching to get a line wet.