Chef trumpets Calgary in new Netflix series
MacLean says it’s time city took its place among great culinary destinations
TORONTO Calgary chef Darren MacLean says it’s time the world recognizes his city as the next foodie hot spot.
And so the outspoken culinary whiz shines a light on his Alberta city this week as the sole Canadian contender on Netflix’s new competitive cooking series The Final Table.
The spectacle begins with 24 chefs from around the world, many of them stars in their own country, who cook in teams of two in front of a studio audience. Each episode has them tackle dishes unique to a particular country, including Mexico, the United States, Italy and Japan.
There is no Canadian-themed challenge, but MacLean holds his own when tasked with cooking for a roster of culinary giants including Chicago’s Grant Achatz, whose fine dining spot Alinea has held three Michelin stars since 2011, and New York Times food editor Sam Sifton.
“I love that it’s a chef from Calgary — it’s not Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver,” MacLean says of being cast in the series, which released all 10 episodes Tuesday.
“It’s helped put a global spotlight and a national spotlight on Calgary (and) I think that the chefs that are already here — the Connie DeSouzas, the Justin Leboes, the Duncan Lys, the Jenny Kangs of the world — that exist here in Calgary are already making Calgary a global food destination.”
MacLean made a name for himself through his Japanese izakayastyle restaurant Shokunin, which he opened in 2016, and its predecessor Downtownfood, which he opened in 2013 at age 26.
He began his career at age 13, when he lied about his age to nab a job in a professional kitchen.
But it hasn’t been easy refining his mission to incorporate local ingredients with traditions based halfway around the world. MacLean says building his name over the years has required withstanding “a lot of hate.”
“Whenever you’re trying to do something new, people are always going to have an opinion and they ’re often ill-informed,” he says by phone from Calgary.
“There was a tremendous amount of doubt, there were murmurings in the chef community here. I’m a fairly polarizing individual, I definitely kind of wear my heart on my sleeve and say what I mean and sort of mean what I say so there was a lot of people who had a lot of opinions about what we were trying to do here, especially the fact that we are trying to be local. We are trying to use Canadian ingredients and follow the ... Japanese philosophy of using what’s around you ...
“Getting that message across definitely led to a lot of raised eyebrows and negativity but it was all sort of validated in the program.”
Scoring an impressive berth among some of the world’s best chefs on The Final Table should bring more attention to MacLean’s Calgary eatery.
He’ll be following his Netflix debut with an announcement next week about the next chapter — another Japanese restaurant, this time with an eight-seat tasting bar where he’ll do tasting menus four nights a week.
While the first two years of Shokunin “were really hard,” MacLean says the past year “has been absolutely incredible.”
“The people who understand it, really developed an appreciation and the people who don’t, they’re always willing to learn. That’s the beautiful thing about Calgary. All of our dining scene and our diners, they really want (an) experience and so it’s really incredible.”
Chefs Timothy Hollingsworth and Darren MacLean dress their plates in a scene from The Final Table. MacLean is the only Canadian contender on the show.