It’s a good thing Daniel Hudson’s fine-dining restaurant in Duncan is closed on Mondays.
You won’t find the Leicester, England-born chef at Hudson’s On First at 6 p.m. He’ll be at Duncan’s Craig Street Brewery with family, friends and other supporters of Team Daniel watching himself in action on Top Chef Canada.
“It’s the biggest thing I’ve ever done,” said Hudson, 29, who competed with 15 other chefs for the coveted title on the Food Network Canada show.
Hudson is one of two chefs with Vancouver Island connections invited to the ultimate kitchen party, which begins its third season Monday night.
The other is Kayla Dhaliwal, whose hometown is Victoria and who now lives in Steveston.
Dhaliwal, 27, is executive chef at the fishing village’s urban Tapenade Bistro, which specializes in Island mussels, duck confit and pork dishes. The culinary wizard says she loves adding new twists to familiar dishes.
Hudson is perhaps best known locally for his gig as cheesemaker at Cowichan Bay’s Hilary’s Cheese, which specializes in custom goat and cow milk cheeses.
A perfectionist whose training was acquired through on-the-job experience, he was a cheesemaker for two years before he and wife Andrea opened their restaurant in a restored 106-year-old heritage building in November.
It features a steampunk-style lounge and two elegant dining rooms, where classic techniques mesh with modern presentations of fresh local ingredients.
The Island chefs and their competitors are vying for a grand prize of $100,000, as well as a GE Monogram kitchen worth $30,000 and a custom installation by Caesarstone Quartz Surfaces worth $25,000.
Contestants can also win weekly challenge prizes, resulting in the highest number of rewards ever offered on the show, which is based on the U.S. version.
“I don’t know if that actually made it even more kind of aggressive and crazy, but the emotional stakes were really high this season,” said series host Lisa Ray, star of films including Cooking with Stella and the Oscar-nominated Water.
“We see a couple of serious breakdowns.”
“Things happen on this season that have never happened on the American show or the Canadian show,” teased resident judge Shereen Arazm, co-owner of Los Angeles restaurants including Terroni and Geisha House.
During filming for Season 3 last summer, hopefuls lived together in a condo with no phone, no computer and no contact with their families. They also had to travel for various challenges, said chef/head judge Mark McEwan.
Guest judges included chefs Daniel Boulud, Robert Irvine and Elizabeth Falkner, Jody Claman of Real Housewives of Vancouver fame, singer Jann Arden and comedian Russell Peters.
The third season has the largest pool of female contenders to date. Five female chefs are competing, compared with three in Seasons 1 and 2.
McEwan called the women “the toughest men in the kitchen.”
Arazm. said she hopes the show attracts more women to the field. “I’m hoping that young girls who are fans of the show are going to be inspired to follow their dreams if they want to be a chef.”
In fact, it was a female chef from the show who made the winning dish (and clinched a $1,000 cash prize) at a recent Season 3 media event at McEwan’s high-end Toronto restaurant North 44.
Rebecca (Becky) Ross, who was raised in Medicine Hat, Alta., made a dessert of cornbread with preserved peaches, whiskey cream and spiced pecans to beat out four other Toronto-based chefs from the show at a five-course tasting lunch.
Ross, 24, downplays the gender issue. “It’s not about your gender, it’s about how well you cook,” said the former sous chef of Malena restaurant in Toronto.
McEwan — known for his blunt, tough criticisms and stone-faced expressions on the series — surmised he “could be a good Clint Eastwood stand-in.”
He said he and his fellow judges have learned how to draw out the contestants and challenge them more.
“The chefs have never been under more pressure,” said McEwan, whose Toronto restaurants include Bymark, Fabbrica and ONE, and who also has a cookware line, upscale grocery store and two cookbooks. “They’re comparing it to waterboarding, in terms of torture.
“When you’re under pressure and you’re taking negative comments at you constantly, it wears on them.”
Last season’s Top Chef Canada winner was Sooke native Carl Heinrich, who works in Toronto.
Top Chef Canada airs Mondays at 6 and 10 p.m on Food Network Canada.
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