After 12 mouth-watering weeks of watching 16 Canadian chefs compete on Food Network's Top Chef Canada, viewers will be rewarded tonight (July 4) with the final episode and announcement of the winner. What makes this episode even more special for Vancouver viewers is that one of our local chefs, Ensemble Restaurant and Bar's Dale MacKay, is competing in the finale. The other two chefs rounding out the top-three include Calgary's Connie DeSousa and Toronto's Rob Rossi.
To whet the palate of Top Chef Canada viewers for tonight's finale episode, which airs at 10 p.m. PT, we take a closer look at each of the finalists and the likelihood of who will take home the grand prize of $100,000 and claim the title.
Chef Dale MacKay
City: Vancouver, B.C.
Number of challenges won: four quickfires and three eliminations
The Dirt: Before this prairie-born chef made his mark in Vancouver, first at Lumií¨re in 2007, and then by opening Ensemble Restaurant and Bar (850 Thurlow Street) this year, Dale earned his kitchen cred by working for Gordon Ramsay. He got his start at Claridge's in London, before moving onto Ramsay's Michelin-star namesakes in London and New York.
The Good: All of those years under Ramsay's watch has clearly paid off. While Dale is just as intense as the hot-headed Scotsman in the kitchen, he's almost always able to produce a plate that is impressive and clean. Dale's training in French technique shines in the fine dining-focused challenges.
The Bad: In a few challenges, Dale has been his own worst enemy. He has, in one or two cases, completely missed the concept of the challenge. For example, in episode seven, he failed to produce "familiar food with a twist" when his deconstructed pavlova was considered too complicated for its own good.
The Likely: According to the finale episode teaser, it looks like Dale tests his luck by sending out two plates instead of one—and Connie calls him a "cheater". This ballsy move will either completely work in his favour or be his downfall.
Chef Connie DeSousa
City: Calgary, Alberta
Number of challenges won: three quickfires and three eliminations
The Dirt: This former ballerina is executive chef and co-owner at Charcut Roast House in Calgary after working at Alice Waters' Chez Panisse in Berkley, California, as well as restaurants in Germany and San Francisco. Connie got her culinary training at Le Cordon Bleu Paris in Ottawa and the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, and then tested her skills by representing her hometown province at the 2004 World Culinary Olympics.
The Good: Connie's previous ballet training has made her disciplined and poised in the kitchen, especially during those quickfire challenges. She also has impressive butchering skills and is an expert when it comes to sausage making!
The Bad: Connie was nearly hoisted by her own petard when making yet another sausage in episode nine after the judges specifically told her, "No more sausages!" Also, as cool, calm, and collected as she is most of the time, Connie tends to make rash decisions when under the gun (for example, when she realized that her carefully-basted roast chicken wasn't fully cooked in episode 12, she dunked the entire thing in a deep fryer).
The Likely: Connie has managed to scoop up a few wins in the last couple of episodes—often, even surprising herself. However, in the finale episode teaser, it looks like somebody makes a sausage for the final challenge. If that person is Connie, it could be the greatest or worst decision she ever made.
Chef Rob Rossi
City: Toronto, Ontario
Number of challenges won: one quickfire and four eliminations
The Dirt: Rob may be the youngest competitor left (he's 27), but don't let that fool you—he's been working in the industry since he was 16. Inspired by his mom's home cooking, Rob's signature style is to show off quality ingredients in simple, comfortable dishes. Having honed his skills in several Toronto kitchens, Rob is the executive chef for the Mercatto group of restaurants, overseeing the kitchens and menu creations at three establishments
The Good: Rob's happy-go-lucky, simplistic home-cooked dishes have made him a dark horse in the competition. In the last episode, Rob won with what head judge Mark McEwan called "a simple but well-executed dish" of perch, peas, and potato gnocchi. On the episode before that, Rob also swept both the elimination and quickfire challenges, deciding to serve simple-yet-satisfying sloppy Joes on his food cart.
The Bad: While Rob absolutely nails simple, home-style food, is that really title-worthy?
The Likely: Rob seems to be on a roll, having won elimination challenges in the last two episodes. After 12 weeks of tasting plates from 16 competitors, the judges seem to be favouring Rob's refreshingly simple dishes. Perhaps, third time really is the charm?
Who do you think will win Top Chef Canada?
You can follow Michelle da Silva on Twitter at twitter.com/michdas.