After eight seasons on the air, a Montreal chef has finally won TV culinary competition Top Chef Canada. On Monday night the winner was revealed as Francis Blais, chef de cuisine at renowned Ontario E restaurant Le Mousso, known for its new Nordic approach to fine dining, with creative uses of fermented products.
Blais, who has also worked a Maison Boulud in Montreal, took home the $100,000 prize over two other finalists — Prince Edward Island chef Lucy Morrow, and Halifax chef Stephanie Ogilvie. While all three chefs had won multiple challenges on the show, Blais was a notable powerhouse, impressing the judges with nearly everything he put on a plate, and never coming close to being eliminated.
For the show’s final challenge, the contestants were tasked with creating a four-course menu for the judges, showing off their creativity and technique. Unlike most challenges on Top Chef Canada, which give chefs specific stipulations (for example, to create a dessert out of a specific vegetable), the final challenge more or less gave the contestants carte blanche to serve whatever they liked. Chefs were also able to order specialty ingredients to rise to the challenge.
Blais’ winning menu was as follows:
- Amuse-bouche: Tomato broth with celery oil and dried tomatoes, and clam tart with clam garum and rose oil
- Appetizer: Grilled lobster with fried ginger, puffed wild rice, and rhubarb root oil
- Main: Pithivier (a puff pastry pie) with pigeon breast and foie gras wrapped in spinach, and a foie gras-pigeon jus, and pigeon consommé
- Dessert: Buttermilk mousse with a spiced cookie, wild roses, plums, and blackcurrant wood oil.
Prior to the finale airing, Blais discussed his time on the show and his victory with Eater Montreal (this interview has been condensed and edited for clarity):
Francis, congratulations. What was your approach for the final tasting menu challenge on the show?
I tried to replicate the best dishes that I’ve put out at Le Mousso — dishes that were technical for me, so the judges would see that I pushed my technique further with the [limited] time that I had for the challenge.
The dish that seemed to most impress the judges was your pigeon [pithivier] — a relatively rare meat on menus even in higher-end restaurants. Why did you opt to work with pigeon?
For me really pigeon sounds like a treat — it’s really rare, you don’t get it very often, so I wanted to treat the judges to something special. I could’ve used duck, it would have worked. But pigeon is a really delicate and fun protein to work with, and it shows skills if you can cook it right — so it really shows if I can cook such a delicate protein under so much pressure.
How did your experiences working at Le Mousso influence what you did on the show?
Le Mousso centres more around around slow cooking. A lot of components that we use there need a lot of time to ferment and age — I was unable to use those experiences on the show, because you only have a really small amount of time on most challenges.
[But in another sense] Le Mousso was the best preparation: On the show there’s no room for error, and at Le Mousso we have this energy to push ourselves to give the best every day. There’s no room for error on the show — so I had to be full of energy.
Apart from the finale, were there any dishes or challenges on the show that you were particularly proud of?
I was really proud of the second-to-last challenge, the pasta challenge. I had to make orecchiette, and didn’t know how, I had never done orecchiette before...it was so close to the end that I just thought that I was fucked. I tried stuff and winged it, it wasn’t traditional orecchiette, but it ended up with a beautiful texture, the sauce [broccoli sauce with crunchy stems, fried spelt grains, and asiago emulsion] went really well, too.
Have you got any plans for the prize money: new projects or goals?
I’m still employed by Le Mousso but I’ve started a company with three partners; we want to make [fermented] Japanese condiments like miso, soy, and shoyu. We’re working on recipes and are probably going to launch products in a few months, in grocery stores.
I’ve also planned a few take-out pop-ups; the first one [was] Sunday (May 31), where I grilled meat and bread for people to come try, with all the profit going to a food bank. The next date isn’t confirmed but I’ll probably do one every two weeks, in different restaurants: La Prunelle, Chasse-Galerie, and I’ll probably do one at Le Mousso.
- Top Chef Canada [Food Network]