When Lindsay Porter was growing up in St. Albert, she had no particular interest in pursuing a culinary career. Though she baked and cooked with her mom in the family kitchen, Porter says it wasn't until she attended NAIT's two-year Culinary Arts program 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 world travels, opening her own restaurant in Edmonton (pre-pandemic) and 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, a gastro-lounge in the city centre.
"I see these shows as an adventure; 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. To recharge her batteries, Porter looks forward to little breaks on competition shows--she has previously been seen on Fire Masters (where she won in 2019), 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, 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.
Porter says she's about inclusivity in the kitchen and creating a positive, supportive work environment for her fellow chefs. She's a fan of the local food scene too, pointing to La Petite Iza as a hidden gem for local foodies, and Sabor Restaurant as a top spot for a celebratory meal in Edmonton.
Though she can't reveal what dishes she creates on Top Chef Canada or where she places, 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 and learned catering along the way. And I love local pop-ups, 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 premieres on Food Network Canada on Monday, Sept. 26 at 10 p.m. ET. Highlights of the season include a culinary skills race, a vegan feast and even a trip to the Caribbean. In addition to the title of Canada's top chef, the winner's prizes will include a $100,000 cash prize, a Lexus NX and a brand-new kitchen.