As Richard Jaffray

Cloverdale cooks up Canada’s Top Chef

Surrey's own Matthew Stowe won the reality TV show Top Chef Canada, and watched the finale with his family at Coal Harbour Cactus Club.

A mother knows.

A few days after her 15-year-old son Matt Stowe started his cooking course at Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary School, Brenda Stowe knew her son’s other career goals – including being a sports reporter – were on the chopping block.

“He was won over by the kitchen in Cloverdale,” she said Monday night after watching Stowe crowned Top Chef Canada on the Season 3 finale of the Food Network’s series.

Turns out wives also know their husband’s destiny. When Stowe unpacked his bags to begin his eight-week filming stint last August, he found a note from his wife Amber. Along with all the usual “good lucks,” she wrote that she’d had a dream she’d be on the finale, too, with their now 19-month-old son Gavin.

And there they were, walking onto the stage to congratulate Stowe as the cameras caught their every joy-filled emotion seconds after the announcement was made.

Watching all this unfold at a packed viewing party at the Coal Harbour Cactus Club Café were the Stowes and extended family, Richard Jaffray, the owner of Cactus Club Cafe, where Stowe works on developing new menus, friends, well-wishers and dozens of reporters.

As the hour-long show unfolded and the suspense grew, one of the few people in the restaurant who knew the outcome was Stowe himself.

“That was an extremely hard secret to keep,” he told the crowd, who were glad they could finally shuck their anxiety and replace it with jubilation and pride.

Stowe’s final five-course winning menu was a trip down memory lane. It was all about milestones in his life – real ones, not just ones he thought would impress the judges.

For instance, the roasted halibut chowder was the first dish he ever cooked for Amber when they were dating. The dessert was a refined S’Mores (complete with scorched marshmallow) that harkened back to childhood camping trips.

“He says food should take you back to a memory, just the way music does,” Amber said.

As well as praising his wife, his family, Jaffray, his fellow Cactus Club employees and local fishmongers and farmers for their support, Stowe thanked the man who gave him his start – his high school culinary arts teacher, Guy Ethier.

“It’s because I took that course that I’m here today,” Stowe said. “I can’t thank him enough. He was a huge influence.”

Ethier, who watching from the Cactus Club’s terrace, was “shocked” at the credit.

“For him to credit me is ironic. Matt could already cook when he started the course,” Ethier said. “It was from Matt that I learned how to roast a tomato.”

Ethier said that at the time, he was chairman of Skills Canada BC and president of the Canadian Federation of Chefs and Cooks so he knew of competitions that Stowe could enter and start making a name for himself.

“I opened some doors but Matt did all the work,” Ethier says.

Watching him perform in the intense pressure-cooker that is Top Chef Canada, Ethier said the Stowe he saw on the screen was the same one he saw 15 years ago in class – polite, determined to succeed and a highly technical, skilled chef.

It was Amber who pushed Matt into applying for one of the 16 spots on the show. Instead of being an armchair chef, critiquing the contestants from the comfort of his couch, she said he should enter the fray.

Also watching from the Cactus Club’s terrace was last year’s finalist, Trevor Bird, who launched his own restaurant, Fable, after the fame he garnered as a Season 2 finalist.

Bird said winning the title would be “life-changing, incredible” for Stowe, who will be under immense pressure in the coming months as he juggles work demands, being in the media spotlight and his family.

“It’s huge,” Bird said, his own mind going back to when he watched last year’s finals at Fable. “You’re putting yourself out to a nation [and winning is] like a lightning bolt to your career.”

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