Montreal chef tops in TV cook-off

Montreal chef Chuck Hughes was torn when he saw Canadian lobster was the secret ingredient he had to use in his Iron Chef America battle against culinary superstar Bobby Flay.

Montreal chef Chuck Hughes of TV's "Chuck's Day Off"

Montreal chef Chuck Hughes of TV's "Chuck's Day Off"

TORONTO — Montreal chef Chuck Hughes was torn when he saw Canadian lobster was the secret ingredient he had to use in his Iron Chef America battle against culinary superstar Bobby Flay.

While lobster is a staple at his restaurant, Garde Manger, and he has a big tattoo of the crustacean on his forearm as a testament to his love for it, he also felt it could ruin his reputation if he lost the battle.

“When they said, ‘Lobster,’ I’m like: ’Oh my God, are you serious?”’ Hughes, the charismatic star of TV’s Chuck’s Day Off, recalled in an interview.

“I have one tattooed on my arm. It’s my favourite food. It was almost too much. It was like: ‘If I don’t win, then do I need to cut my arm off? What happens if I don’t win? I’m a sham!”’

Thankfully, no amputation was necessary.

As viewers saw Sunday when the episode debuted on Food Network Canada, Hughes beat Flay by a score of 45-41 to become just the second Canadian chef to emerge victorious in Kitchen Stadium. Vancouver’s Rob Feenie was the first, defeating Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto in 2005.

Hughes, 34, is also the first Canadian to beat the illustrious Flay and is the youngest Canuck and first Quebec chef to compete on the show.

“Now I feel like the pressure is on even more,” said Hughes, who had to keep his victory a secret until the episode aired here (it was broadcast in the U.S. earlier this year).

“It’s almost like now you need to live up to the fact that you won.”

Hughes said he’s also received a lot of interest from people in the U.S. since the episode aired there.

“The response to that has been unbelievable. . . . It’s definitely been a super positive experience for us.”

Hughes and his two sous chefs from Garde Manger, Jean-Francois Methot and James Baran, went into the hour-long cooking showdown against Flay and his team last July in New York City.

Hughes kept his menu in line with the comfort food he’s known for: Lobster roll with a Bloody Caesar cocktail; lobster poutine; lobster and onion ring salad with carrot butter and avocado; lobster mushroom risotto; and jerk-spiced lobster.

Canadian viewers were no doubt elated to see Hughes make poutine, the fries, gravy and cheese curd dish that originated in Quebec.

But Iron Chef judges Stefan Gates, Karine Bakhoum and John T. Edge “hated it,” Hughes admitted.

The problem, he said, was that the only cheese curds that were available in the Kitchen Stadium pantry were from New York and weren’t nearly as good as the ones they use in Quebec.

“It’s basically cheddar that they’ve kind of made to look like curds. It wasn’t like the authentic, squeaky, chewy, delicious curds that we’re used to in Quebec,” he said.

“So they were dissing the curds and I was like: ’Ya! They suck! I know!”’

Hughes, who makes lobster poutine, lobster rolls and lobster risotto at his restaurant, said he felt he had no choice but to go with poutine.

“It’s definitely not what you would think for Iron Chef, but I couldn’t go there and not do it.”

Hughes said the judges also felt that his first dish, the Caesar cocktail, had too much vodka in it. The early negative feedback made him discouraged and put him in a “downward spiral,” he said.

Toronto native Kevin Brauch, the show’s “floor reporter” who also hosts the series “The Thirsty Traveler,” noticed Hughes was down and pulled him aside for a pep talk before he presented his third dish.

“He’s like: ‘Dude, what are you doing? Get up there and own that. You tell them. You tell them what’s good,”’ said Hughes. “He lifted my spirits.”

Hughes said Flay also seemed to have problems during the battle.

“Honestly, I think it went really badly on Bobby Flay’s side that day, which had a lot to do with us winning as well. I couldn’t really see what was going on but I could hear a lot of yelling,” he said. “I could hear him telling his sous chefs: ‘No, this is no good, redo this.”’

Hughes was also feeling the heat and had to change his sweaty shirt during the battle.

His sous chefs, he said, were “absolutely amazing under the pressure,” and the victory created a special bond between them. “I never even went in thinking that we might possibly win. I just wanted to perform. For us, putting up five dishes that we were proud of and five dishes we could stand behind, that was winning for us,” he said.

“Everything else is just gravy.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Red Deer Rebels forward Arshdeep Bains eyes a loose puck in front of the Medicine Hat Tigers net Saturday night in WHL action at the Centrium. (Photo by ROB WALLATOR/Red Deer Rebels)
Rebels fall short in 12th straight loss

Tigers 5 Rebels 2 (Saturday) Tigers 3 Rebels 2 (Monday) The Red… Continue reading

Red Deer property owners will receive their 2019 property assessment notices in the next few days.  (File photo by Advocate staff)
Red Deer awaiting more details on how federal budget impacts city

The City of Red Deer is awaiting more information on how much… Continue reading

With a ban on sit-in dining once again in place, Las Palmeras owner Andre Lemus is gearing up for more takeout and delivery business. He has also applied to set up an outdoor patio, where dining is allowed under new restrictions. Photo by PAUL COWLEY/Advocate staff
Big interest in outdoor patios in Red Deer as sit-down dining banned again

City of Red Deer has tweaked its patio regulations to make it easier to get a permit

A vial of the Medicago vaccine sits on a surface. CARe Clinic, located in Red Deer, has been selected to participate in the third phase of vaccine study. (Photo courtesy www.medicago.com)
Red Deer clinical research centre participating in plant-based COVID-19 vaccine trial

A Red Deer research centre has been selected to participate in the… Continue reading

Ottawa Senators' Connor Brown, right, scores on Calgary Flames goalie Jacob Markstrom during second-period NHL hockey action in Calgary, Alta., Monday, April 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Connor Brown scores twice for Ottawa Senators in 4-2 win over Calgary Flames

Connor Brown scores twice for Ottawa Senators in 4-2 win over Calgary Flames

Canada head coach Bev Priestman reacts during the women's international friendly soccer match between England and Canada at Bet365 stadium in Stoke on Trent, England, Tuesday, April 13, 2021. Priestman says her goal is to help Canada move up the Olympic podium after back-to-back bronze medals at the 2012 and 2016 Games. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Rui Vieira
Olympic soccer draw will allow Canadians to start planning on and off the pitch

Olympic soccer draw will allow Canadians to start planning on and off the pitch

Federal government’s extension of CEWS in budget is some good news for CFL franchises

Federal government’s extension of CEWS in budget is some good news for CFL franchises

Canada's Brendan Bottcher dropped a 6-3 decision to Scotland's Bruce Mouat in the men's final of the Humpty's Champions Cup. Bottcher makes a shot against Scotland at the Men's World Curling Championships in Calgary, Alta., Friday, April 9, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Mixed results for Canadian teams at Champions Cup as Homan wins, Bottcher loses

Mixed results for Canadian teams at Champions Cup as Homan wins, Bottcher loses

University of Victoria rowing coach Barney Williams is photographed in the stands during the Greater Victoria Invitational at CARSA Performance Gym at the University of Victoria in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, November 29, 2019. The University of Victoria says Williams has resigned effective immediately. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
University of Victoria women’s rowing coach resigns by mutual agreement

University of Victoria women’s rowing coach resigns by mutual agreement

Stewart Cink watches his drive down the second fairway during the final round of the RBC Heritage golf tournament in Hilton Head Island, S.C., Sunday, April 18, 2021. (AP Photo/Stephen B. Morton)
Cink coasts to win at Hilton Head for 2nd title of season

Cink coasts to win at Hilton Head for 2nd title of season

The Official UEFA Champions League match balls are on display ahead of the Champions League quarter final second leg soccer match between Liverpool and Real Madrid at Anfield stadium in Liverpool, England, Wednesday, April 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
Threats of expulsion as UEFA confronts Super League rebel 12

Threats of expulsion as UEFA confronts Super League rebel 12

San Jose Sharks center Patrick Marleau (12) motions to the crowd during a break to mark his passing Gordie Howe for most NHL games played in the first period of an NHL hockey game Monday, April 19, 2021, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Sharks’ Marleau breaks Howe’s NHL games played record

Sharks’ Marleau breaks Howe’s NHL games played record

Most Read