Top ChefCarl Heinrich with his mom

Top Chef returns home victorious

Carl Heinrich won the competition for Top Chef Canada

The room erupted into cheers and tears as Carl Heinrich was proclaimed the winner of Top Chef Canada.

His family and friends had been gathering and watching Top Chef Canada on the big screen at the Victoria Executive Centre for the past few months, following the weekly series where Carl was vying for the title of top chef.

Heinrich returned to Sooke, with a stop at the executive centre, on Saturday, June 9 where friends and family came together to wish him well and revel in his victory.

He talked about the show and his life after Top Chef Canada.

“The show was filmed almost a year ago and when it ended I was on cloud nine. It was the biggest thing I’ve ever done,” said Heinrich.

He said there was a code of silence and everyone wanted to know the outcome but he had to stay quiet. Not even his mom knew until the last show that he had won. Since then his life has been a series of interviews and everyone wants a piece of him. He is taking it all in and is grateful for the win and the support from locals. Buffy’s Pub held a homecoming event for him on Saturday night.

He said Top Chef Canada differed from its American version in that there was less drama and the chefs were chosen from the best 16 who auditioned, not by demographics.

“Canadians represent themselves well on television,” said Heinrich. “No drama, they kept their emotions in check and were level headed.”

His style of cooking, which is described as from field to table, helped him win the competition. It did take him 10 years to develop his own style.

“If I put steak on the menu I will buy a side of beef direct from the producer.”

He said the best meals he ever cooked were from farmers’ markets to the barbecue.

“I want to capture more of that essence in my philosophy of cooking.”

He said he has vivid memories of receiving products at the door of the Sooke Harbour House, bushels of blackberries, crabs and octopus.

“The products they got were so amazing.”

Carl’s mom, Michele Breuer is, of course, thrilled at her son’s win.

“He’s always been an over-achiever,” said Breuer, who was a single mom until Carl was 13 years old. Even at a young age he worried about the family and he took being the man-of-the-house to heart. Then Michele married Pat and they have been living in Sooke ever since. She said they became the Brady Bunch with four kids in the blended family. Carl was always serious and strived for perfection.

“Even at four he made his own bed and he made it the right way. He’s always been that way, from the moment he could talk, he did his best and he did it right.”

Carl likely could have been anything. His mom said he was a straight A student  in high school. She said it was unbearable to him if he didn’t do his best.

To lighten the load Carl put on himself, Breuer said when he was in Grade 8 she told the kids that if they got A’s she would buy them pizza. She told Carl if he got B’s she would buy him pizza just to loosen him up and have some fun — be a kid for a little bit.

“He’s artistic as well, so cooking was a good fit,” said Breuer.

At 15, when Carl was told he could no longer play soccer or ride a bike, he got a job. From the start he would introduce himself at each place he applied at  and one of those was Mom’s Cafe. His first job was not glamorous, but it set the stage for a future that has turned out to be very bright.

From the Edward Milne Community School Culinary Arts program to the Sooke Harbour House, to the Stratford Chefs School and onto New York and Toronto, Carl was following his dream.

For his audition on Top Chef Canada he never made a fancy dish full of gourmet ingredients, he made Porcupines, a family favourite. His mom described them as little meatballs with rice and tomato sauce and when cooked the grains of rice stuck out of the meatballs like porcupines.

“It’s amazing that he is so humble.”

Heinrich will be opening his own restaurant in August in Toronto. The Richmond Station will be similar to a high-end tavern and styled somewhat after the Gramercy Tavern in New York city. The food will be similar to what was cooked on Top Chef Canada.

Heinrich was the keynote speaker for the graduating class at EMCS on Sunday.

He said he was honoured to give a speech and it meant a lot to him.

“It’s not about a miracle kid from Sooke who got to the big leagues or leaving town to do something special,” said Heinrich. “It’s about doing what you do every day. I did what made me happy every day.” He said that involved challenge, action and reward.

“Enjoy that and it will make you successful. I worked under the poverty line for a decade, eventually the rewards came. The show is not the reason I’m successful.  Before that I was the best dishwasher, the best cook. My goal is to open the best restaurant. Surround yourself with people who challenge  you, who have higher standards than you do, otherwise you will never be challenged.

“It doesn’t matter if you know your destiny now, choose the things that make you happy.”