With Comox Valley roots, Carl Heinrich is the second person from B.C. to take the title of Top Chef Canada.
The homegrown culinary hero recently scored a grand prize of $100,000 and a GE Monogram kitchen valued at $30,000. But although he now lives in Toronto — where he will use his earnings to open his own restaurant — the 27-year-old cooking sensation has roots in the Comox Valley.
During his younger years, Heinrich lived in numerous Western Canadian communities and struggled to name a hometown. While he eventually settled on Sooke (where he developed an interest in the culinary industry), the Comox Valley remains dear to him.
“I landed in Courtenay when I was eight or nine years old,” says Heinrich, “and I always miss it.” Expanding on his five years spent in the Valley, Heinrich describes an active childhood made memorable by friends, family and spectacular geography. He misses sunny summertime dunks along the Puntledge loop, playing in the potholes at Stotan Falls, and hiking Seal Bay Park’s tranquil trails on family outings.
“I have a lot of fond memories (of the Comox Valley),” he affirms. Heinrich attended Courtenay, Comox, and Puntledge elementary schools, as well as Lake Trail Middle School. Many of his mother’s relatives still live in the Valley, and he typically makes an annual visit to catch up with his aunt, uncle, nieces and nephews.
“I made in a lot of friends in the Comox Valley,” says Heinrich, “but family were our best friends.”
Heinrich credits his supportive family with nurturing his appreciation of good food.
“Maybe we didn’t have a lot of money,” says Heinrich, but “I came from a family of fantastic cooks.” Heinrich’s family always makes home-based, flavourful cooking a priority, and “that mentality’s been with me my whole career,” he says.
Even Heinrich’s closest relatives weren’t privy to his win until Top Chef Canada’s final episode aired.
Heinrich learned of his victory last summer when filming ended, and insists that keeping the win a secret was “the hardest thing I have ever had to do.”
He told only his girlfriend (after she’d signed a contract swearing her to secrecy) before the finale was broadcast this month on the Food Network.
But now that the public is in on his recent successes, Heinrich is looking enthusiastically to the future; with a wealth of experience — and a brand new kitchen — he has left his post as executive chef at Toronto restaurant Marben to launch his next culinary venture.
Having lived in Toronto for nearly three years, Heinrich will open his own restaurant — Richmond Station — in the city’s business and financial district this August. The 100-seat, high-end eatery will cater to all sorts of customers — from those looking for a quick burger and brew, to patrons seeking “a favourite bottle of shiraz” and an elaborate three-course meal.
“I love the action in the kitchen,” says Heinrich, who decided to make a career of cooking once he “figured out (he) was pretty good at it.”
Although he admits professional chefs are required to put in a lot of hours and be extremely dedicated to the craft, he insists the work is incredibly rewarding.
“Just get in the kitchen and try it out,” he dares aspiring chefs.
Heinrich summarizes the past year as a “joyride.” He advises anyone considering a path like his own to “just do it – I never thought I’d make it this far!”