Sitting at a table in Chives Canadian Bistro on Barrington Street, Stephanie Ogilvie exudes confidence—a pair of bold, black-framed glasses rest on her face in a way that projects an "I know my shit, don't test me" vibe. But they may serve the opposite purpose: keeping a bit of distance between her and the world. "I'm very shy," she says. "In big groups, I'm like, 'No thanks, I'll just hide over here.'"
Ogilvie is intensely aware of her small stature, her quiet nature and how often people underestimate her. But her work ethic is fierce—as a lot more people will soon learn, when the new season of Top Chef Canada, on which she's featured, airs next month.
"This was the most intense, wild ride ever," Ogilvie says about her run on the reality show, in which she competed against some of Canada's best up-and-coming chefs for $100,000, a new Lexus and a tour of Italy. Nonetheless, her varied career as a professional chef prepared her for the early mornings, time-crunching challenges and intimidating judges ("Definitely did not want to disappoint chef Mark McEwan," she says).
Ogilvie got her start in her grandmother's kitchen at the age of five, where she stood close by, watching her laboriously knead dough, thinking to herself, you're the strongest person I know. After graduating from the Culinary Institute of Canada on PEI, Ogilvie jumped head-first into Toronto's food scene, often the only woman in the kitchen. There, she learned to work quickly and under immense pressure. Like Top Chef Canada, Every day felt like a competition.
Ogilvie spent a year learning new techniques in Australia before she came to Halifax and landed a gig at now-closed jane's on the common. Today, she and partner Brock Unger run Hop Scotch Dinner Club, a pop-up restaurant located in Water and Bone on Charles Street, and she's also chef de cuisine at Chives, where she meticulously plates the best ingredients the land—and sea—have to offer.
"I love being able to use Nova Scotia products that are foraged and wild and unique," she says. Some of her favourites include beach peas, oyster leaf, and pineapple weed—which does indeed smell and taste like pineapples.
In an era where chefs can gather large internet followings for their big, loveable personalities, Ogilvie—a self-described perfectionist—prefers to let her food and love for Nova Scotia do the talking. Competing on Top Chef was no different. "The big cities get all the fame and the glory and the attention for sure. But I think that's what's made this community and the east coast work that much harder."
It's also what's made the local food industry such a supportive one, she says, with fellow chefs helping each other succeed. She cites Renée Lavallée, a former Top Chef contestant and co-owner of Dartmouth's The Canteen, who encouraged Ogilvie to go on the show.
As per her non-disclosure agreement, Ogilvie must stay mum on specifics of the show. But she says some of her biggest challenges were getting used to the limelight and competing against the clock. Her advice for future contestants: don't wing it (like she did), practice—and do some cardio.
For all the saucy details, you'll have to wait for the show to air: it starts April 13 on Food Network Canada. In the meantime, keep your eyes peeled for potential collaborative dinners hosted by Ogilvie and some of her co-contestants, like Ottawa's Dominique Dufour.