Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

You can be a Top Chef in your own kitchen

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TORONTO -- Eleven minutes go by "in a heartbeat" when you're on the hot seat.

Mark McEwan, who owns four restaurants and two catering companies, is no stranger to the spotlight when it comes to cooking. But in a reversal of his role as head judge, in this week's episode he cooked for the young chefs competing on Top Chef Canada.

The show is in its third season with 16 young chefs competing. Each episode features a quick-fire challenge in which the contestants must prepare a dish according to certain requirements or participate in some other type of culinary test.

McEwan made ricotta gnocchi with scallops in 11 minutes and 17 seconds. Then the young chefs were challenged to make a similarly complex dish in the same length of time.

"I had to make a dish that I felt had a complicated side about it, so the dish had to have a variety of elements in terms of cooking and saucing and garnishing and it had to come together very, very fast," the Toronto chef explained in an interview ahead of the airing.

He made the entrée from scratch, with no advance preparation. McEwan, 55, acknowledged his experience helped him figure out what he was going to make and he knew where all the ingredients were kept on the set, but he had no practice time. "It was all on the fly.

"Everything has to be done, from making a butter sauce to gnocchi to frying scallops to cooking pancetta and making a compound sauce, and then doing a presentation and doing two plates. Eleven minutes goes by in a heartbeat."

Home cooks can incorporate some of the techniques professional chefs use to make things easier.

"Having it thought through in your mind, like calming your mind down and thinking the process of it, really helps you to achieve a better end result," McEwan said.

Figure out the sequence and do things in the proper order. Some tasks might take longer or require another stage. The gnocchi McEwan made on the set of Top Chef Canada, for example, has three stages: the dough had to be made and cut into pieces, then poached and lastly pan-fried.

Be organized. "I think the greatest strength I've had as a chef is that I have been hyper organized my whole life," said McEwan, who opened a gourmet food shop in 2009 and says he's looking to expand his grocery business.

Rely on favourite recipes you've had success with, perhaps experimenting with just one item.

"Don't try to overachieve. Usually simple is better. And I tell the chefs on Top Chef that too. Simple products can have just tremendous results."

Top Chef Canada airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on Food Network Canada.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 17, 2013 C5

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