As much as I am loving plenty of chefs on this season of Top Chef Canada as well as the overall production, I continue to find the "X" theme to be inconsistent and, at this point, kind of confusing.
The fact that Monika has been tarnished with three "x"s since last week's Quickfire with no current consequences is...weird?
In terms of gameplay, I also do not think being in triple "x" limbo is fair for the chef. Reality shows are mentally challenging enough already and this is an added weight.
Wait a second...why the heck is MasterChef Canada's Alvin Leung in the Top Chef Canada Kitchen?
I mean, I get it. He is a Michelin-starred chef in his own right and co-owns a popular Toronto restaurant, but he's also the star of a competing culinary competition series.
It's an odd (unofficial) crossover, and if you've ever seen MCC you will know that Leung is quite theatrical. I am sure the competitors are just as curious to see what's going to happen as viewers are.
After introducing Alvin, Eden informs the chefs that they will need to create as many menu-appropriate dishes as possible in a mere 35 minutes. This is a challenge where you could easily see chefs spiral out of control by starting too many dishes and not completing them. We the viewers are not privy to whether that happens or not, but we do see the chefs taking various approaches to the Quickfire.
Dez Lo set on creating two dishes and doing them perfectly while others like Camilo, Tawnya and Monika seem to be taking side dishes and/or components of menu items and offering them up as stand-alone dishes.
It's all up in the air while watching as it's not quite clear what guest judge Alvin Leung will deem a true menu item, but as we watch him taste things like Camilo's asparagus with bearnaise and Tawnya's simple greens salad with maple vinaigrette, it seems as though he's just looking for something that's properly cooked and well-seasoned.
Tawnya's acorn crepe piques my interest most during this part of the episode, as does Dez's grilled oysters with black bean compound butter and Chris' gorgeous-looking Hokkaido scallop dish.
I forgot to mention that this Quickfire is sponsored by Royale Tiger Paper Towels, so the chefs must also keep their stations clean or risk losing a point in the final dish tally. That sponsor pressure though!
Monika fares the worst with only two passable dishes and losing a point for uncleanliness. In stark contrast, Vish has composed three interesting plates of food winning the challenge (and $5,000), but it feels like Chris Irving did too, but his final dish is deemed too saucy and does not qualify.
In particular, Irving's bone marrow and tartare dish, based on what Alvin was approving, could have easily been separated into two "dishes" and gave the chef a win here.
Vish wins and he lets out a battle cry of sorts. It feels very deserving for him too.
The "X" Sudden Death Cook-off
Somebody cue Lizzo singing "About Damn Time" because it's the moment we've been teased about all season. The triple "x" cook-off.
The situation feels both anticlimactic and fitting. The Top Chef Roundtable podcast series co-hosts and I had guessed that the "X" theme would see multiple cook-offs in a season (incorrect) as well as having previously eliminated chefs cooking against the triple "x" chefs to fight to stay in or get back in the competition (also incorrect).
Instead, it is arguably the two most regularly underperforming chefs left in the competition cooking against one another. There's not much thrill to be found here, unfortunately, both chefs look worn down and defeated. After finding much camaraderie together last episode, they have to put those feelings aside to attempt to stay in the TCC Kitchen.
Judge Mijune Pak is present to help decide who will go home and in the end, it is Tawnya's salmon tacos with guacamole that disappoint more than Monika's avocado-infused hummus. This subpar "X" scene comes courtesy of Avocados of Mexico, the second sponsor we have seen this episode.
Once Tawnya departs, there is no fanfare or reaction from the other competitors (aside from Monika). Instead, the lights flip back on in the TCC Kitchen and the six chefs left standing await their Elimination Challenge details.
Before that happens, Eden mentions that the "X" aspect of the season is now over. Ok, whatever!
A feast of epic plant-based proportions is the name of the game this week and the now-six-remaining chefs seem ready and willing to get down with their inner vegan masterminds.
Ede instructs the chefs to come up to a prep table and flip a plate of their choice over to discover which vegetable they must make the star of their dish. Vish winds up the onions (arguably the most challenging ingredient), while Monika draws cabbage. Tre is assigned squash, Chris is on radish duty, and then there's peas for Dez and cucumbers for Camilo.
In addition to having the famed Edmonton-born, NYC-dwelling restaurateur Amanda Cohen as a guest judge for this portion of the episode, the chefs will also be serving ET Canada host Cheryl Hickey.
No one seems overly happy or upset with their assigned vegetables or that they also have to incorporate Violife and Becel products in their their creations. The six competitors quickly get to prepping for the elevated feast that will take place the next evening at 1 Hotel Toronto. The hotel is known for its sustainable mindset, so this feels like a great fit location-wise.
While watching the chefs prep for the Elimination Challenge, it feels like all of them are on the right track.
Dez is creating components for what will be an unorthodox salad roll filled with peas and jalapenos. She's blitzing up the Violife feta with vegan "cream" to make a dipping sauce. Chris is aiming to treat watermelon radishes in a steak format, Tre is cooking (and pickling) squash in every which way possible and Camilo is making a granita out of cucumber for a dessert.
Vish seems dubious of onions being able to be the star of the plate on their own and decides to fry some cauliflower in melted Becel plant-based butter (a.k.a. vegetable oil) to help anchor things. Melting an oil-based "butter" to use as an oil seems like an incorrect use of this product, but what do I know?
Monika captures my attention by simmering cabbage leaves in salted water infused with cardamom, bay leaf and garlic to help impart flavour. She's using them to create a vegan variation of Egyptian cabbage rolls and it all sounds wildly enticing, though less ingredient-centric than the approach all other competitors are taking.
Once it cuts to 1 Hotel Toronto and the judges arrive (notably sans Mark McEwan, which makes me wonder if they are slowly phasing him out as a primary judge), the chefs show minimal signs of stress in the kitchen as they finish composing their dishes for service.
Dez is up first and leaves a notable impression partially thanks to the punch from the jalapeno slices tucked into her fresh rolls.
As earlier editing implied, Vish's cauliflower and onion dish fails to impress the judges, with the brassica sharing too much of the limelight. Monika's cabbage roll dish receives comparable feedback, perhaps more positive flavour-wise, but in her case, the cabbage is only used in one application where Vish has at least incorporated various onions into different aspects of his dish.
The hits roll in with Tre's "squash one million ways" (my words, not his), Chris' clever steak-ish radish dish and Camilo's gorgeous white chocolate and cucumber dessert.
It's not addressed in the episode, and even I didn't catch it at the time, but a pastry chef friend correctly pointed out to me that "regular" white chocolate is not vegan. Did Camilo make his own "white chocolate"?
If he did, this was not mentioned. And if he did not, well, this should have been an automatic fail.
Like most episodes this season, it's very obvious who the bottom two chefs are. The tops, however, are not so clear, as the judges seemed to love everyone's dishes equally aside from some contentious heat level issues with Dez's fresh rolls.
While Chris, Camilo and Tre have all done a great job, it is Camilo who winds up taking home the win. It is never explained what type of vegan "white chocolate" he used, though, so inquiring minds still need to know!
The judges spar endlessly between sending Monika and Vish home. There are arguments on both sides: Monika's dish seemed more dynamic in terms of flavours while Vish showed more technical and more applications of onions.
The sparring goes on and on until we, the viewers, are left with a cliffhanger ending. I guess we'll find out who gets sent home next week.
Why does this moment feel infinitely more suspenseful than anything to do with the now-retired "X" theme"?
Holy sponsors, Batman!
There are more sponsors in this episode than I can shake a stick at: Royale Tiger Paper Towels, Avocados of Mexico, Violife cheese and Becel...and ET Canada if we count the placement of Cheryl Hickey as a guest judge. That is a lot of sponsors shoved into one episode.
We're getting closer and closer to the Top Chef Canada Season X finish line and it's hard to imagine a finale without Chris, Tre and Vish. It's clear Camilo and Dez both have the skills to get there too, so