11 Calgary Chefs Who Have Competed on TV Cooking Competitions

Chef Darren MacLean, Shokunin
Chef Darren MacLean, Shokunin
Food Made Famous

11 Calgary Chefs Who Have Competed on TV Cooking Competitions

You’ve seen these chefs cook on TV — here’s how you can taste their food for yourself

Food television has revolutionized the way that many of us eat. From traditional cooking shows to chef competitions and culinary travel programs, seeing creative and complex dishes being prepared or eaten on TV has pushed many of us to expand our palates. When we see a chef making something delicious on TV, it’s natural to seek out their food in real life, and conveniently, Calgary is home to a number of restaurants with celebrity chefs in the kitchen.

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Darren MacLean at Shokunin

Darren MacLean at Shokunin

Darren MacLean at Shokunin

MacLean is the driver behind Shokunin, a lively modern Japanese restaurant specializing in small plates like yakitori skewers and various crispy bites that go beautifully with a glass of sake or a yuzu-flavoured cocktail. MacLean is also one of the stars of The Final Table, Netflix’s first chef competition show, available for streaming as of November 20, 2018. Featuring some of the best chefs from around the world as both judges and competitors, MacLean is the only Canadian chef featured on this highly competitive show. 

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Connie DeSousa at CHARCUT 

Chef Connie DeSousa at CHARCUT

Connie DeSousa at CHARCUT 

One of Calgary’s most high profile chefs, Connie DeSousa gained national attention in 2011 when she wowed fans on the very first season of Top Chef Canada, returning to the show in 2017 for the All-Stars season. She runs CHARCUT with her co-chef John Jackson. The pair also co-own CHARCUT’s sister restaurant charbar, and her success on the show helped secure the restaurant as one of Calgary’s best known. The attention is completely deserved — famous for its house made charcuterie (including the signature pig’s head mortadella), duck fat poutine and succulent porchetta, CHARCUT offers the epitome of high-end comfort food.

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Brody Ashton at CHARCUT

Brody Ashton at CHARCUT

Brody Ashton at CHARCUT

If Connie DeSousa isn't in the house at CHARCUT, diners have a second chance at seeing a TV chef in action. CHARCUT's chef de cuisine Brody Ashton competed on the second season of Chopped Canada, and won his episode. That episode was about apples, but diners can drop into the downtown restaurant and try out dishes made with CHARCUT's signature protein — pork — and other artisanal ingredients and likely see Ashton working behind the busy kitchen bar.

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Chef Jessica Pelland at charbar

Chef Jessica Pelland at charbar

Jessica Pelland at charbar

Jessica Pelland is another part of the char family who has made her mark on competition TV. The executive chef at charbar won her episode on Season 1 of Chopped Canada in 2014. Get a taste of her talent firsthand with her Argentinian-inspired menu, featuring dishes like empanadas stuffed with slow-cooked Alberta beef, fresh ceviche, Argentinian-style pizzas and parrillo-grilled steak with beef fat fries.

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Jinhee Lee at Foreign Concept

Jinhee Lee at Foreign Concept

Jinhee Lee at Foreign Concept

When Jinhee Lee was announced as a contestant on Season 6 of Top Chef Canada earlier this year, she was dubbed the “silent assassin” because of her quiet demeanor and razor-sharp cooking skills. As the executive chef at Foreign Concept, Lee is a master of flavour, whipping up creative pan-Asian fusion dishes made with local ingredients, like the Alberta trout cha ca la vong with scallion noodles and chili shrimp paste, and char sui pork and foie gras steamed buns.

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Nicole Gomes at Cluck ‘n’ Cleaver

Nicole Gomes at Cluck ‘n’ Cleaver

Nicole Gomes at Cluck ‘n’ Cleaver

Nicole Gomes has plenty of TV competition experience. She not only appeared on Season 3 of Top Chef Canada in 2013 and won the 2017 All-Stars season, but she also got to compete on the second season of the American show Iron Chef Gauntlet, coming in second. Gomes owns two Calgary-based businesses: her Nicole Gourmet catering company and Cluck ‘n’ Cleaver, a remarkable fried chicken take-out joint, specializing in juicy Southern-fried and classic rotisserie chicken and flavourful sides and salads.

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Chef John Michael MacNeil at The Beltliner

Chef John Michael MacNeil at The Beltliner

John Michael MacNeil at The Beltliner

Calgary’s John Michael also appeared on Chopped Canada, in the third season in 2016. Currently the chef at The Beltliner, diners can enjoy his more casual take on chef-driven food with a selection of tasty brunch and lunch dishes. MacNeil lends his chef’s touch to classic diner plates like chicken and waffles, mushroom quiche and sausage and eggs.

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Mario Spina at Burger 320

Chef Mario didn’t win his episode of Chopped Canada’s second season in 2015, but, with his colourful personality he did leave a lasting impression. Nowadays, Spina has grown his tiny Burger 320 restaurant in Bridgeland into a small empire, with two additional — and substantially larger — locations. Burgers may not seem TV chef-worthy, but with his house made branded buns, ground brisket patties and gourmet toppings, it’s clear that Chef Mario more than earned his place on the show.

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Chef Kenny Kaechele at Workshop Kitchen Culture

Chef Kenny Kaechele at Workshop Kitchen + Culture

Kenny Kaechele at Workshop Kitchen + Culture

Another contestant from Season 3 of Chopped Canada, Kenny Kaechele is the chef behind Workshop Kitchen + Culture, a downtown restaurant that just celebrated its fourth anniversary. The restaurant offers daily tasting menus — the closest thing customers get to a TV eating experience — as well as an a la carte menu full of elevated takes on savoury comfort food, with dishes like roast chicken with Parmesan gnocchi and maple grilled salmon with white corn grits.

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Chef Robbie Brooks at Gringo Street

Chef Robbie Brooks at Gringo Street

Robbie Brooks at Cleaver

Robbie Brooks had a very emotional moment on Season 3 of Chopped Canada when he talked about the effect that cooking has had on his life. The talented young chef has worked in a few kitchens around town but is currently at the very hip Gringo Street on 17th Avenue SW. That intimate and trendy restaurant is known for its take on Latin food, with tacos, queso, and cocktails suited to any taste. 

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Chef Krish Nair leads the restaurants of the In-Terminal Marriott and Delta hotels at YYC Calgary International Airport

Chef Krish Nair leads the restaurants of the In-Terminal Marriott and Delta hotels at YYC Calgary International Airport

Krish Nair at the Delta Hotels Calgary Airport In-Terminal and the Calgary Airport Marriott In-Terminal Hotel

When Krish Nair won his episode of Chopped Canada in 2016 he was the executive sous chef at the Calgary Zoo — an attraction with a surprisingly robust and thoughtful food program. Nair, who has a history of hotel cooking with previous positions at the Banff Springs Hotel and the very posh Savoy hotel in London recently left the Zoo to go back to hotel life. He’s currently in the kitchens at the in-terminal hotels at the YYC Airports (the Delta Hotels Calgary Airport In-Terminal and the Calgary Airport Marriott In-Terminal Hotel), treating weary travellers to fine internationally inspired cuisine.

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Keep in mind that these chefs may not be physically present when you visit their restaurants (celebrity chef-ing is a busy gig that requires a lot of travel), but going in for a meal gives guests a chance to taste the vision that helped propel each chef to TV stardom. At the very least, whichever restaurant you choose, you’re in for a memorable meal.

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By
Elizabeth Chorney-Booth

Elizabeth Chorney-Booth is a local food writer, cookbook author, radio columnist and a lifelong Calgarian.