B.C.’s Jimmy Stewart and Trevor Bird keep their eyes on the prize on Top Chef Canada 2
After 13 weeks of competition starting last April, fans of the inaugural season of Top Chef Canada watched Vancouver’s Dale MacKay—proprietor of Ensemble and Ensemble Tap—beat out 15 other contestants to win the title of “top chef”, a $100,000 cash prize, and a $30,000 GE Monogram kitchen. While MacKay looked shocked as his name was called during the final episode, Jimmy Stewart— sous chef at Whistler’s Bearfoot Bistro and a competitor on the second season of Food Network Canada’s highest rated series—wasn’t surprised at all.
“As soon as I saw him on there, I was like, ‘he’s winning,’” Stewart told the Georgia Straight at a west side café a week ahead of the premiere of the second season (starting March 12 at 10 p.m. on Food Network Canada).
Sitting across from Stewart, Trevor Bird, another season two competitor from B.C., nodded in agreement. Both Stewart and Bird previously worked for MacKay when he was running the kitchens at Lumiere and DB Bistro Moderne, so when asked what makes a top chef, Stewart wasn’t hesitant to sing MacKay’s praises.
“A top chef is a strong leader who knows his fundamentals and will willingly teach them to people,” he said. “To me, that’s Dale MacKay, one hundred percent. I think he deserves the title and I’ve got the upmost respect for him. The guy’s amazing,”
However, Stewart wasn’t always this enthusiastic about working in the culinary industry. The 23-year-old grew up in North Vancouver and got his first stint in the kitchen as a dishwasher at West Vancouver’s Savary Island Pie Company—but not because he was all that interested in eventually baking pies.
“I wanted to meet girls and make money,” he said with a laugh. “There were lots of really cute girls there, so that was fun.
“First I hated it, like for the first two and a half months,” Stewart continued. “Then all of a sudden, it was like, ‘Wow, this is amazing. I can be creative. I can express myself through food.”
After time spent at CinCin, and then at Gordon Ramsay’s Maze and the two Michelin-star Ledbury in London, England, Stewart returned to B.C. to cook for MacKay before rising through the ranks at the Bearfoot Bistro, where he’s been for the past year and half. When asked why he decided to go on Top Chef, Stewart said that he was a fan of the U.S. and Canadian versions of the show and wanted to see how he stacked up.
“I was at a point in my career where I could potentially be a big threat on the show,” he said.
Meanwhile, Bird sent in an audition tape to Food Network Canada because he was tired of waiting for his career to takeoff.
“I wanted to advance my career because it was kind of at a standstill point where I was, and it was a really good opportunity to get ahead,” Bird told the Straight.
The 28-year-old chef was born in Montreal, and after earning a degree in culinary management from Ottawa’s Algonquin College, he had his heart set on making it in a big city.
“I moved away from Ottawa just because my ego got the best of me,” Bird said. “I was like, ‘I need to go see more creative food and finer dining,’ but I think it’s kind of insignificant now because finer dining just doesn’t work anymore.”
After working at Truffert and Restaurant Garcon in Montreal and backpacking through Thailand and Peru, Bird—an avid snowboarder and runner—settled in Vancouver, despite the difficulties he faced career-wise.
“This city’s been just so hard to make it in. I’ve been a chef de partie for like three years in this city, which is insane. It’s just ridiculous,” Bird said. “For some reason, there was just never an opportunity out there for a higher position, so I was like, ‘Screw this, I’m going to do Top Chef.’”
Since filming the show, Bird has started his own catering and consulting business, Trevor Bird Cooking, and plans on opening a restaurant this year.
“After this whole deal with Top Chef, I really got in touch with what I’m passionate about food, what I really want to push as a chef,” he said. “It’s a farm-to-table concept, really casual, just because I do want to make money.”
Meanwhile, Stewart, who describes his style of cuisine as “progressive Canadian”, hopes that the show will lead him to his next culinary adventure.
“I just want people to see my food, go work for some great chefs, and that’s all I can ask for,” he said. “I’m a young guy, and I’ve got some learning to do.”
You can follow Michelle da Silva on Twitter at twitter.com/michdas.