Skip to content

Chefs ready to crank up the heat

Talented pair with Richmond ties do battle in season three of Top Chef Canada

Top Chef Canada's third season is going to begin airing next month. And a pair of chefs with ties to Richmond are ready to turn up the heat on Food Network Canada's reality show.

Nicole Gomes and Kayla Dhaliwall are among the 16 chefs chosen from around the country to compete and they share a deep-seated culinary passion that draws on family values and steely determination.

"I think I knew I was going to cook from a really early age," said Gomes, 34, adding she was always in her parents' kitchen.

"My dad was a chef. He worked for the Mark James Group way back when. And he also started a specialized grocery distribution company that my mom also helped operate."

Culturally, Gomes, who was born and raised in Richmond, believes she was destined to have a life that focused on food.

"I'm Chinese-Portuguese, you know I've always been around food. That's the premise of getting together as a Chinese family."

Gomes added food and family also helped her break away from the wrong crowd in high school and give her clarity to chart a career in cooking.

"I don't think I could have made that change without the virtues and values that my mom taught me," she said. "Without your family, you really are a little lost.

"Luckily, those values came back to me at the right time. I think all of this was meant to be."

She also lists her desire for traveling the world as a major influence.

After graduating from Vancouver's Dubrulle French Culinary School, Gomes worked in Paris, France, and then traveled throughout Europe, Asia and Australia to expand her culinary knowledge.

She moved to Calgary a decade ago and has run her own catering company, steadily building up her clientele.

For Victoria native Dhaliwall, 28, an early setback in her career did little to deter her dream of becoming a chef.

She was 17 and got her first paid cooking job to work in the kitchen of a seniors' care facility in Victoria.

But it didn't last long. "I was so terrible at cooking that they actually demoted me to janitor," said Dhaliwall who started at Tapenade in January. "They still liked me as person, but I just couldn't quite cut it in the kitchen back then."

She persevered and went on to graduate from the Culinary Arts Program at Vancouver Community College.

"If I ever gave up on my dream, I never would have made it this far," she said.

From there she launched into the industry which took her to a wide variety of kitchens-most notably the Saturna Island Vineyard Bistro, Deacon's Corner, Wild Rice and the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel.

Dhaliwall's skills earned her notice and a spot in several culinary competitions, including Best of the West in 2010 on the Fairmont Team and Top Jr. Chef of BC in Kelowna in May 2010.

But at the core of her cooking rests a passion to relay her feelings.

"Cooking for me has always been sort of my way to communicate. It's been my way to show other people the love and affection I have for them," she said. "And so, for me food is another language." As for why both chefs decided to be in the TV spotlight in Top Chef, Gomes said she doesn't mind being the centre of attention.

Plus, after viewing episodes of the show she was struck with the "I can do that," bravado.

While she can't divulge what transpired in the show that has already wrapped filming in Toronto, Gomes said is was "such a positive experience. I got to meet all the other chefs. It was super fun."

Dhaliwall was a longtime fan of Top Chef and made her mind up several years ago that appearing on it was one of her career goals. And when she was told she had been selected to appear, it was somewhat overwhelming.

"I remember when the producers told me, my reaction was like, no way," she said. "It was a pretty surreal moment."

Top Chef Canada airs beginning March 18 on Food Network Canada.