Ready to cheer on the local entrant in this season's Top Chef Canada? Lindsay Porter is your gal.
When Lindsay Porter was growing up in St. Albert, she had no particular interest in pursuing a culinary career. Sure, she baked and cooked with her mom in the family kitchen, but Porter says it wasn't until she attended NAIT's two-year Culinary Arts program right after high school that she got a taste – literally - for what was to come.
And what was to come for the now 36-year-old chef included gathering cooking inspiration from world travels, opening her own restaurant in Edmonton (pre-pandemic) and vying for bragging rights and a higher profile by taking part in occasional television cooking competition shows.
As she prepares to let Canadians watch how she fares on the upcoming Season 10 of Top Chef Canada, Porter is back at her post as Executive Chef at Edmonton's The Common Restaurant in the city centre. While she's busy tweaking the menu at the contemporary gastro-lounge, Porter muses about the lure of TV food battles.
"I see the competitions as an adventure; a change of pace; a way of taking me out of my comfort zone," says Porter, who acknowledges it's a stressful industry, with long hours and a take-the-work-home-with-you mentality, whether it's going over a recipe in her mind or thinking about menu changes.
To recharge her batteries, Porter looks forward to little breaks on competition shows - she has previously been seen on Fire Masters, Beat Bobby Flay, and Guy's Grocery Games. "Win or lose, I get to work with inspiring, amazing people that I don't see day-to-day, so if nothing else, I come back with more ideas."
To make it onto Top Chef Canada's Season 10 (she's tried a couple of times before), Porter created a fried rice entry, a unique medley which included fermented salt cod and Chinese sausage. "It wasn't your typical chicken fried rice," she laughs, pointing to inspiration for that dish from The Common's neighbouring Dim Sum restaurant, Fu's Repair Shop.
Though she can't reveal what dishes she creates on Top Chef Canada or where she places in the competition, Porter says she plays to her strengths, which include a focus on aromatic flavours, curries, smoked Tex-Mex flavours, and sauces and chutneys that harken back to her dad's heritage.
"My influences are mostly southern barbecue, Mexican and English cooking," says Porter, whose now-defunct London Local restaurant featured English-inspired dishes as a nod to her British-born dad. "I've worked with amazing chefs and at great restaurants in town - Shane Chartrand at River Cree, as executive chef at El Cortez and dabbling in Mexi-Cali foods after my travels in the southern U.S. But the best thing I make? I do a pretty amazing seafood curry."
"I can't just do one style of cooking. I've been a sous chef at Fantasyland Hotel, done buffets at River Cree and learned catering along the way. And I love local pop-ups, and doing collaborative dinners with other chefs. I put myself out there and am always up for trying something different. Maybe that'll help my chances," she teases. "I haven't even told my family how I've done on the show - that's been hard. But it's always fun when someone in the restaurant says they've seen an episode that airs of something I've done. I always come out to the dining room and say hello."
Might there be some Alberta favourites featured by Porter in her journey on Top Chef Canada? She isn't saying, but does sing the praises of Alberta's signature foods, including bison, elk, beef, lamb, berries, honey, and pulses. "I love to get creative with our local ingredients, and I'm always proud to represent Alberta and Edmonton wherever I go."
Top Chef Canada Season 10 premiers on Food Network Canada on Monday, September 26 at 10 pm ET.