Tim Borys, head chef of The Lancaster Smokehouse, was named the Top Chef KW 2022 competition winner on Saturday, Apr. 30. Borys and sous chef Ofelia Clarke beat out 16 other teams from across Waterloo Region to win the inaugural event hosted at The Underground Flavour Group in downtown Kitchener.
The competition started on Mar. 4 and saw chefs battle it out for victory throughout 14 rounds leading up to the final round on Saturday. Borys and Clarke took home the grand prize of $5,000 and an engraved plaque.
Top Chef KW is a passion project for Arnold Yescas, founder and director of the Underground Flavour Group. He said the competition is based on the influence of hip-hop culture on their collaborative pop-up and event space. Since its opening in 2020, the Underground Flavour Group has gained a following for hosting pop-up lunch and dinner services from up-and-coming chefs.
“I’m a big hip-hop head and one thing about that culture is battles. We always wanted to do some sort of culinary competition. It was something we thought about, but never got to. Towards the end of last year, we said, ‘it’s now or never’. Business was slower because of lockdowns and we wanted to relaunch with a really cool event,” Yescas said.
Yescas spoke with over 60 chefs from restaurants and eateries in the region to find the 16 chefs who would participate in the competition. He said that he did not know many of the chefs and his recruitment involved in-person visits to restaurants where he would ask to speak to the head chef.
One of those chefs was Borys at The Lancaster Smokehouse, who had never met Yescas before. Borys said he was in the middle of a dinner shift when Yescas came in and dropped off the invitation for Top Chef KW.
“One of the managers popped in and said some guy dropped off his card for you about some competition. I kind of wrote it off because it’s often suppliers coming in to drop off a card and I never talk to them again,” Borys said.
Yescas sent an email to follow up with more details, but Borys said he initially was hesitant to participate because he wasn’t a fan of cooking competitions. It took some persuasion from Borys’s wife to get him to enter the competition. He said that he had not been a fan of cooking competitions and wasn’t interested in participating.
“I casually mentioned the competition to my wife and over the course of the night, she convinced me that I should take part in it. I messaged my sous chef Ofelia and asked if she would be interested and she was very excited,” Borys added.
While The Lancaster Smokehouse is known for its barbecue, Borys and Clarke weren’t limited to that cuisine for the competition. Over three rounds, they won battles with Indian, Spanish, and Mediterranean-inspired dishes. Borys and Clarke are both trained chefs, and Borys said they focused on combining their French technique base with the flavours and ingredients of each cuisine.
“Although the dishes definitely tasted like those regions, the techniques were more traditional French. We made a Chicken Valentin for the Indian round. We made homemade sausages for several of the rounds. We also did a lot of research into what the flavours should be. So even when you look at the dish and it doesn’t look like Indian food, it will definitely taste like it when you put it in your mouth,” Borys said.
With the final competition over and the inaugural winner crowned, Yescas said he is looking forward to returning to their regular operation and the start of planning for next year’s Top Chef KW competition.
“The whole event has been extremely incredible—it is by far my absolute favorite thing I’ve ever done in my life. We are absolutely going to do this again next year, bigger and better,” Yescas said.
The battles will be available as a limited-series event on Rogers Television 20 later this year.
Alex Kinsella is a freelance content marketer and writer based in Waterloo Region, Ontario. He's behind the TL;WR newsletter–Waterloo Region's weekly events newsletter. He's worked with some of Canada's most well known tech companies in roles including customer success, development, product management, PR, social media and marketing. Alex has contributed to publications including BetaKit, Grand Magazine and more.