TV CHEFS TOUT LOCAL EATERIES
Top Chef competitors show B.C. pride
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.