Why Dale MacKay Doesn't Let The Top Chef Judges Intimidate Him - Exclusive

Based in Saskatoon, Canada, Chef Dale MacKay knows a thing or two about finding success on "Top Chef." He emerged victorious in the 1st season of "Top Chef: Canada" in 2011. Since his win, he's become a restaurateur and entrepreneur, running a group of five restaurants in his home province of Saskatchewan. Now he's competing in "Top Chef: World All-Stars," where he and teammate Sara Bradley impressed the judges with their Quickfire Challenge-winning langoustine dish in the 1st episode.

Despite MacKay's comfort with competing at a high level, he didn't return to "Top Chef" feeling cocky. As Dale MacKay explained to Mashed in an exclusive interview, his expansion as a businessman after his "Top Chef: Canada" win was a double-edged sword: Although it has allowed him to open many restaurants, it's taken him out of the kitchen because of all of the other duties involved in maintaining a restaurant group. "I'm an entrepreneur as much as I am a chef, so my time spent in the kitchen is greatly diminished in the day-to-day," MacKay said. 

Because of this, he ran a sort of kitchen boot camp for himself, getting back on the line and brushing up on skills he hadn't had a chance to work on in a while. But even though he may have had to knock off some rust, he's still not sweating cooking for the sometimes-intimidating "Top Chef" judges.

It's all about nailing your dishes

To be fair, after working under Gordon Ramsay for years, as Dale MacKay did, the comparatively polite "To Chef" judges probably seem like kittens. But for the Canadian chef, not obsessing about the judges is also a matter of good strategy. Per MacKay, "You need to play to the judges and be smart, play the game. But you can't get wrapped up in who's judging your food, because then you start letting little voices into your head and making bad decisions, or maybe the decisions you wouldn't normally make." 

His goal is to shut the pressure out of his mind and just treat the judges like customers at his restaurants: "I try not to think about who's judging me and just cook the food that I would cook for a guest or for a judge," he explained.

MacKay also has the advantage of having a preexisting connection to one of the judges, Gail Simmons. She's a fellow Canadian, and she judged his season of "Top Chef: Canada." Considering he won, it seems as though she liked his food. Since MacKay has already had a Quickfire win in the new season, it appears that his cool, calm, and collected approach is the way to go.

Bravo's "Top Chef" Season 20, "World All-Stars" edition, airs Thursdays at 9:00 p.m. ET/PT.