Top Chef com­peti­tors show B.C. pride

Vancouver Sun - - YOU - ALEESHA HAR­RIS Ahar­ris@post­

Van­cou­ver chef Xin Mao is hop­ing to in­spire a feel­ing of home­town pride in his own cook­ing skills — and those held by the broader Cana­dian culi­nary scene — when he ap­pears along­side 11 other chefs this sea­son on Top Chef Canada.

At this point, he says, the hard­hit in­dus­try could use a lit­tle feel­ing of hope.

“The restau­rant in­dus­try has taken a huge hit, it may be one of the most dam­aged in­dus­tries over­all,” Mao says of the clo­sures and ser­vice lim­i­ta­tions linked to COVID -19 con­tain­ment mea­sures. “I think this is a very cru­cial time for ev­ery­one to watch and cel­e­brate lo­cal chefs.”

Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent sur­vey con­ducted by Restau­rants Canada, the prov­ince’s food ser­vice sec­tor has lost 121,500 jobs since March 1, with one in 10 restau­rants ex­pected to re­main per­ma­nently closed.

As the owner of M8 Bistro & Bar, Mao has seen first-hand how deep the clo­sures have cut into the busi­ness. He’s hope­ful the cook­ing com­pe­ti­tion can reignite an en­thu­si­asm for the Cana­dian restau­rant in­dus­try — within pa­trons and em­ploy­ees alike.

“My restau­rant is closed. Ev­ery­one, in­clud­ing our chefs and cooks, are all stay­ing at home,” he says. “First, I think the show will keep ev­ery­one pos­i­tive and re-en­er­gized about our in­dus­try. Se­condly, the show will re­mind ev­ery­one who is stay­ing at home that our restau­rant busi­nesses, chefs and cooks are tak­ing pos­si­bly the big­gest hit but are still fight­ing!”

Fel­low B.C. com­peti­tor chef Brock Bowes of Kelowna agrees with the sig­nif­i­cance of the sea­son but hopes that peo­ple also un­der­stand that the best way to help those strug­gling in the in­dus­try now is to of­fer sup­port.

“Cel­e­brat­ing lo­cal chefs just on TV shows doesn’t ben­e­fit the in­dus­try if you’re also not out there sup­port­ing their es­tab­lish­ments,” Bowes says. “They’re the un­sung he­roes of ev­ery week­end, mile­stone, spe­cial oc­ca­sion and char­ity event. It’s im­por­tant in these times to be there for these peo­ple and places, as they have al­ways been there for you.”

The sud­den changes to the in­dus­try this month have forced restau­rant own­ers and chefs to be nim­ble with their ser­vices. As the owner of three food busi­nesses, Crasian Food Truck, Box­car by Crasian food de­liv­ery and prep, and Pro­vi­sions Kitchen and Cater­ing, Bowes is no stranger to re­think­ing the culi­nary busi­ness model.

In fact, it’s that state of con­stant change that drew him to the pro­fes­sion in the first place.

“The fact that ev­ery day is dif­fer­ent,” he sum­ma­rizes of his favourite part about be­ing a chef. “Ev­ery day is a chance to cre­ate some­thing new and dif­fer­ent.”

That cre­ativ­ity will un­doubt­edly come in handy when he com­petes dur­ing the eighth sea­son of the cook­ing show, which kicks off April 13 at 10 p.m. on Food Net­work Canada.

“I’m al­ways up for a chal­lenge — I wanted to com­pete against some of the coun­try’s best chefs,” Bowes says of what made him want to be a part of the show.

Dur­ing the com­pe­ti­tion, view­ers can ex­pect to see both Bowes and Mao cre­at­ing dishes that play off their unique fu­sion per­spec­tives — a spin on clas­sic French cui­sine with an affin­ity for Asian flavours for Bowes and a Chi­nese-ital­ian mash-up for Mao.

“In my restau­rant, we pair tagli­olini pasta with three kinds of Chi­nese soy sauces in braised meat sauce with­out any dairy prod­ucts. We would put prawn, Chi­nese gar­lic, chive, dry shrimp with one of my favourite bu­ca­tini pas­tas. We use Chi­nese sticky rice in­stead of risotto rice to make our own ver­sion of arancini,” Mao ex­plains of the min­gling.

“These are just some ex­am­ples that show how we de­fine our Chi­nese and Ital­ian fu­sion.”

Born in China, Mao has lived in Canada for the last 20 years, af­ford­ing him two dif­fer­ing cul­tural ex­pe­ri­ences that he looks to high­light through his food.

“I love Chi­nese food to death, so I re­ally want to let more and more peo­ple know what Chi­nese cook­ing and food re­ally is,” he says. “I’ve com­bined my food mem­o­ries and cook­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, and I think Ital­ian cook­ing style is the per­fect way to in­tro­duce Chi­nese flavour.”

Mao also hopes his ex­pe­ri­ence and flavours shared on the show res­onate with view­ers who are new to Canada, as he once was him­self.

“As a Chi­nese im­mi­grant, I wanted to go on the show to be a good ex­am­ple for the peo­ple like me, I want to en­cour­age them to work harder and dream big­ger,” he says.

It’s that sense of com­mu­nity that will ul­ti­mately save the restau­rant in­dus­try once all the clo­sures have even­tu­ally ended — he’s sure of it.

“To­gether, as one fam­ily, we can win this war,” Mao says.

I think the show will keep ev­ery­one pos­i­tive and re-en­er­gized about our in­dus­try.

Kelowna-based chef Brock Bowes says that sup­port­ing lo­cal es­tab­lish­ments is the best way to help the in­dus­try.

Xin Mao

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