Steveston’s Top Chef: Kayla Dhaliwall

Chef Kayla Dhaliwall (28) may very well be Steveston’s hottest secret weapon, and 2013 is certainly her year to shine. This is the well-deserved year that ‘our’ secret weapon will be introduced to Canadian households from coast to coast, as viewers tune in to watch season three of Top Chef Canada.

Dhaliwall is one of 16 chefs competing for the title of Top Chef. This season’s culinary showdown promises heightened drama and larger personalities, plus more cutthroat competition than ever before, as chefs’ culinary skills and creativity are tested in a variety of unique challenges.

Lucky Steveston. Dhaliwall is Tapenade Bistro’s new Executive Chef, a.k.a. “Dragon Chef” as her business card reads. She joined the award-winning restaurant in January and is eager to introduce Tapenade’s clients to her favourite nouveau comfort foods.

Dhaliwall exudes authenticity, with a humble yet confident nature. When you watch her online audition tape for Top Chef Canada you get a snapshot of the spirit behind this self-proclaimed “black sheep” who has faced adversity. Dhaliwall openly admits that she is a former alcoholic and has not had a drink in four years. She is someone you feel drawn to; you really want to cheer for her.

Dhaliwall is driven to prepare food that strikes emotion and evokes memory. She ‘lives to cook’ which she is quick to point out differs significantly from she ‘cooks to live’.  Her life revolves around food, as she cooks for Tapenade Bistro, visits other restaurants, reads cookbooks, and shops for kitchen equipment.

Tapenade Bistro owner, Vince Morlet says “Kayla brings her own flavour and a jolt of energy to the Tapenade team, and definitely has a passion for food and the business beyond what most people in this industry can imagine.” The restaurant still delivers the high level food and service for which they are reputed; however the main difference is the new chef’s highly approachable menu. Gone are the words that people cannot pronounce.The food is bursting with flavour and has a broader appeal. As an example, the new brunch menu features items Morlet would not have previously considered such as Chicken and Waffles, and Huevos Rancheros.

Morlet proudly states, “Kayla has helped us think outside of the box to feature food that we dismissed as not our style.” Her philosophy towards food is very clear; simple and elegant food cooked with proper technique and passion.

Born and bred in Victoria, Dhaliwall has always had a deep and intimate relationship with food. Her interest in cooking began when she was four years old, watching her grandmother at work in the kitchen. It is apparent that her love and admiration for her grandmother is deep. It was Dhaliwall’s childhood dream to be a chef and to feed many people around the world, and this passion has transcended into her dishes.

Her first job was at age 17 as a breakfast cook in a retirement home. Dhaliwall grins when she reveals that she was quickly demoted to janitor, as rubbery scrambled eggs were not her specialty. However, this did not deter her as she went on to attend and graduate from the Culinary Arts Program at Vancouver Community College. She then gained experience working in an array of diner, restaurant and hotel establishments that include Saturna Island Vineyard Bistro, Deacon’s Corner, Wild Rice and the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel. Dhaliwall spends some of her free time sharing her expertise at H.A.V.E. Cafe in Vancouver’s downtown Eastside.

Top Chef Canada isn’t Dhaliwall’s first culinary competition. She participated in two other competitions in 2010, the Best of the West where she represented the Fairmont Team, and in Top Junior Chef of B.C. in Kelowna.

While the chef is sworn to secrecy regarding the outcome of Top Chef Canada, which was filmed last summer in Toronto, it was her dream to participate in this high profile competition. Dhaliwall was originally a fan of the American version, and has watched the two previous seasons of Top Chef Canada. She can reveal that the days were incredibly long, beginning at 6 a.m. and often ending at 1 a.m. All of the competitors lived together during filming, and she has a new respect and understanding for the other chefs. They cooked in a television studio kitchen that was similar in size to a football field, which meant a lot of running around in an unfamiliar kitchen, with competition for grill and stove space. And yes, it was a dramatic and cutthroat experience.

Steveston is behind ‘Team Kayla’ as we cheer on our Dragon Chef and await the news of who will be awarded the title of Top Chef. In the meantime, head to Tapenade Bistro and sample her food made with commitment and love.

Top Chef Canada airs Mondays at 10pm on the Food Network.

Tapenade Bistro

3711 Bayview Street, Steveston Village

Richmond BC


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