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Apr. 21, 2019 | Sunday
Local News
Local chef headed to Top Chef Canada
Local chef Tania Ganassini competes on Top Chef Canada. SUPPLIED: Food Network Canada

When the first episode of the new season of Top Chef Canada airs on April 1, Niagara-on-the-Lake chef Tania Ganassini will be among those intrepid expert cooks competing under extreme pressure.

Chefs on the reality show have to prepare all manner of surprise dishes, under tight deadlines for tough, high-profile judges.

Ganassini says “it was all a bit of a whirlwind,” starting with the selection process. “It was a last-minute decision to apply,” she says. “I didn’t expect a call back.”

But the call back did come, Ganassini says, “on a Tuesday afternoon, telling me to be ready to audition in Toronto at eight o’clock the next morning. I had to finish work, gather my ingredients, and haul my equipment. The next morning I was walking down King Street in Toronto with my Vitamix on my shoulder.”

Ganassini says she had a lot of fun at the audition, then put it out of her mind, so she was “shocked” when she was later invited to compete on the program.

She and her husband worked in fine dining in Toronto before coming to live in NOTL five years ago. To join the Top Chef competition, Ganassini took a hiatus from her business, a catering company called Staff Meal Niagara. She is a vegan, but says she “abandoned dogma and did what I had to do to compete.”

“I did feel a little different, kind of an outsider, but I also walked away with lifelong friends.”

So, was the show’s pressure cooker environment emotional? “That’s an understatement!” says Ganassini. “I kept a journal, and when I read it back later, I realized how when you’re in it, it feels like the most important thing in the world. One entry said, ‘The worst day of my life!’ though on reflection, of course it wasn’t.”

She notes how unsettling it can be “not having anchors, you are surprisingly out of your element.” Normal routines are suspended during the competition. One of the things Ganassini says she missed most when she lost access to her phone was her meditation app. She says she can meditate on her own, but “having it removed really threw me.”

Ganassini can’t reveal how the series unfolded for her as that would ruin the suspense when the series begins airing in April. But she is candid about her takeaway from the experience. 

“I think it’s really important to put yourself in situations that are highly uncomfortable. There is tremendous growth there to learn about yourself. It really amplifies things, maybe shadow spots you need to bring more light to.”

Since returning from the bubble of reality TV to real life in NOTL, Ganassini has re-evaluated her business, to focus less on delivery, and more on workshops, catering, team-building and cooking classes, all rooted in healthy and delicious vegan meals, with an overall emphasis on workplace wellness. She says there’s a lack of available, convenient, healthy food, especially for those who work in the demanding service industry in NOTL at restaurants and wineries.

And where will she be to watch the premiere on April 1? “I’ve been invited to watch the premiere at a launch party in Toronto, but I’m leaning strongly to staying home, to watch it with family, people who support me unconditionally, and don’t care what I look like on TV.”

For all the pressure and emotion of competing in the series, Ganassini says she has “no regrets, not at all, I’m so glad I did it.”

The series premieres on April 1 on the Food Network Canada. You can find Ganassini’s business in NOTL on Facebook and Instagram at Staff Meal Niagara.

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