Top Chef Canada is back and season 8 is slated to feature some of Calgary’s top culinary talent.
One of these contestants is Elycia Ross, chef-owner of Little Truck on the Prairie, a food truck that emphasizes locally sourced and prairie-inspired eats. For Ross, applying for the show was a life-long dream.
“Ever since I was a little kid, I wanted to be on the Food Network,” she says, but it wasn’t until culinary school that she set her sights on Top Chef. “As I grew in my career, I realized that I wanted to make a name for myself,” Ross adds. Owning her own business was the first step in that journey, and she now sees Top Chef as the next opportunity to put her name and message out there.
Having worked at several restaurants in Calgary, including helping to open Sidewalk Citizen Bakery’s Sunnyside location, Ross believes that her restaurant experience and hours spent practicing skills were integral in preparing for the show. However, she notes that having a firm identity may have been even more important.
“I went into it knowing who I was; that was the best thing to have in my back pocket,” Ross says.
For Nils Schneider, getting on Top Chef was less about exposure and more about personal challenge. “I wanted to see if I could do it,” he admits. Having worked in kitchens for most of his life, his experience has ranged from working under the mentorship of Season 1 alumnus, Xavier Lacaze, to helping Cam Dobranski (chef/owner of Winebar and Brasserie Kensington) open a restaurant in China. Presently, Schneider is in the kitchen at Hotel Arts’ Yellow Door Bistro, honing his skills in pastry.
“I feel like I’ve done everything else I needed to do in this industry, so I wanted to take another step and see where it took me,” Schneider says of his decision to pursue Top Chef. Despite his experience, he says that managing pressure on the show was no easy task.
“You have years and years of knowledge and that all slips right away,” he says jokingly, “When the camera is in your face and you’re being asked a hundred questions, you have to stay calm and be present, while also focusing on all of the things that you are cooking.” For him, trying to strike a balance between pressure and composure was difficult, but he would recommend the experience to any chef to go and try it.
“Being on Top Chef taught me a lot more about myself,” Schneider says, “It pointed me in the direction of who I want to be as a chef, what my beliefs are, and how to portray myself in a kitchen.”
For Ross, participating in the competition with fellow chefs also helped to challenge some of the preconceptions she held about the industry that she works in. In an environment that can foster unhealthy competition, egotism, and a feeling akin to what Ross describes as, “walking on eggshells”, her experience on the show ran counter to that.
“Everyone I met is someone that I admire and it shed a new light on collaboration,” Ross says, “The food industry is in a different place than I realized and I felt respected by the other chefs. I’ve experienced a lot of bullying in the industry and I felt like all of us were there to make a difference.”