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A date with Canada's Top Chef

Top Chef Canada winner Dale McKay preps for a Cornucopia luncheon

As one could imagine, life for Canada's top chef would be a busy one. And such is the case for Dale McKay who won the first season of Top Chef Canada earlier this year.

After 13 weeks of intense competition, McKay came out on top. Life hasn't been the same since. He's been running his downtown Vancouver restaurant, Ensemble, while working on the launch of a second one block away. When he spoke with Pique on Tuesday morning, McKay had just returned from a commercial shoot in Toronto.

"You're in the limelight a lot more, for sure," he says.

"It gives you more opportunity and I've been able to move things forward a lot faster than I would have been able to otherwise. It gives you national exposure, which is pretty hard to get on the West Coast."

He says he was typecast as the villain on the show, which he laughs about now. Outside of the kitchen he says all the contestants got along but they were all there to win. McKay, a driven and ambitious chef by nature, did whatever he needed to win that title.

"I've never really cared if people liked me or not, as long as you don't have to like me to enjoy my food," he says. "That's the kind of attitude that I went in with. I'm super competitive."

Now he's bringing his star power to Cornucopia at the Chef's Table Luncheon, which will be held at a private mansion. While he's done private events in the past, this is the first official Cornucopia event he's been invited to.

He'll drum up a menu that sits somewhere between casual and fine dining, including a small pulled pork sandwich with fried pickles, gnocchi, a beet salad and some duck. Tickets for the luncheon are on sale via Cornucopia's website for $125.

McKay says he became a chef "by default." Born in Saskatoon, he dropped out of school at 14 and moved to Vancouver. He started washing dishes at a Red Robin, ironically only a block away from where Ensemble is today. One day, a cook didn't show up and McKay was asked to fill in. Later, Earl's, the West Coast chain renowned for its staff training, hired him. McKay learned the craft on the job, never attending culinary school, but simply moving up to better restaurants, including a stint at La Rua in Whistler.

After watching the 1998 Gordon Ramsay television documentary Boiling Point, he was inspired to move into fine dining. He saved his money, moved to London and literally knocked on the door of Ramsey's only restaurant at the time. He worked for Ramsay for six years, for two years in London, and then helping Ramsay open restaurants in Tokyo and New York. He was then hired by Rob Feenie to take over as executive chef at Lumiere. Once Lumiere shut its doors, Mckay opened Ensemble in downtown Vancouver.

But despite spending all that time preparing food and coming up with new ideas, he almost never eats the meals he creates. Every six months, he'll test the kitchen by showing up, asking the front-end staff not to tell the kitchen he's in the house, and figures out what needs to be worked on.

So what does he eat at home?

"Pretty basic stuff," he says. "I have a nine year son and (we) live together, so we eat a lot of pizza, pasta, clams and mussels, things like that," he says.

There you have it. The diet of Canada's top chef.