MasterChef Canada S2E1: A New Season Begins!

It came a week early, but a new season of MasterChef Canada has arrived.

I don’t think I’ve ever wished for a Super Bowl game to end this much before, but when the final whistle went CTV brought us a frenetic-paced episode, packed with auditions from a new group of home cooks eager to make their mark and ready to fight for their place in Canadian culinary stardom, plus $100,000 and a shiny trophy to demarcate their victory.

Because of the breakneck pace of the episode, many of the auditions were very much like last season; lots of people were shown in blink-and-you-missed-it moments. For those who were able to secure one of the coveted white MasterChef aprons, we will see them again. For those who did not, I always say this: never stop cooking with love and passion, and never give up on your dreams!

From my count, 11 aprons were given out — I wasn’t able to pinpoint one of the home cooks who got one, but I’m sure we will see her again in the near future. Below, I’ve evaluated most of the auditions…I try to be nice, but there are some who just need a good wake up call.

So…who is looking suave in white, and who is drowning their sorrows at the Heartbreak Hotel bar?

 

THE APRON WINNERS

Sabrina: She missed her only sister’s wedding to cook a traditional Italian medaglioni (stuffed pasta) dish for the judges, which earned the ire of her family in the process. I know the feeling; and just by the look of the simple yet elegantly put together plate, I knew she made the right gamble, securing Claudio Aprile and Michael Bonacini’s vote to win a white apron.

Jon: Normally as a Stampeders fan I would be playing the world’s smallest violin for some BC Lions player, but this guy has some moxie, tearing a page from mine and Bubba’s book with a steak-and-perogy dish. He ran into trouble with what looked to be very rare steak, which Alvin Leung found to be tough. The plate looked fine, and Jon moved on in a 2-1 decision.

Andrew and Debra: They were just briefly shown, Andrew with his deconstructed Halifax donair and Debra and her beautifully seared scallops. Both won aprons, so we’ll be seeing them cook again.

Christopher: Christopher is one of the 8 home cooks I had originally pegged as one to watch, and he has repaid my faith in spades. The tart looked a little shaky on the plate but the bright golden colours looked amazing enough for me to try to eat the screen (I didn’t, of course…screens do not taste great and I don’t have Taste-O-Vision. My original statement on him stands — my Canto homie is still one to watch!

Tammy: This single mother of SIX (yes, SIX) arguably delivered the plate of the night; a simply plated, straightforward plate of elk carpaccio. A few greens on the rare meat, a few drizzles of sauce, and there you have it: the season’s FIRST unanimous decision, and probably the biggest tear jerker of the night. She was not on my radar before, but she definitely made her presence known!

Michael: Very reminicent of Dale from last season, his plate stood as a counterpoint to Debra’s scallops (centred and looks full); it was far too artsy (my chef instructor would have had a field day with him about it being overworked), way too much empty space on the plate (at least Dale used the whole plate) and as Aprile said on the flavour, it had “no boom.” — but somehow he got through on Bonacini and Leung’s vote.

Nathan: Was the only one out of three “comfort food” makers to make it out with an apron, his April Bloomfield-inspired fish and chips won over the judges and made me want a whole plate of that stuff. Could be a sleeper pick.

Jennifer: A self-professed “chatter box”, her blueberry pie looked a bit rough but the flavours won over the judges. However, she committed a cardinal MasterChef sin: she talked over BOTH Leung and Aprile. If she is truly serious about going professional and possibly working in a restaurant kitchen, she will need to learn how to shut up. The first and last words out of your mouth should be a hearty “YES, CHEF!” — and you NEVER talk over him/her!

David: The final home cook to win an apron, he was forced to drop out of school at Grade 10 to work in the concrete business. He kind of reminds me of Danny, a battler who is now finally getting his chance to shine. It certainly helped he put together an amazing looking dish of miso sablefish that wowed the judges, but his kids ARE SO ADORABLE!

Kristen: She’s the one whom we just got a glimpse of — a shame, as she is Newfoundland’s FIRST White Apron Club entrant. What Shane, Billie-Jo and Kristal could not do, she’s done it! NL is on the board!

 

THE EMPTY HANDERS

Kristal: This Gander, NL home cook certainly does not lack confidence; she proudly proclaims to the judges that her daughter calls her “the best cooker in the world”. News flash — if you did not remember Leung bellowing to us that “AMATEUR HOUR IS OVER!” at the beginning of season 1, you are just asking for trouble. Plus, when adding sugar or any seasoning, ADD IT GRADUALLY. Once it’s in, you can’t pull it back out. Her plate did look okay, but ultimately, the amateurish performance was too much for Bonacini and Leung who sent her home, putting Newfoundland & Labrador at 1/4 over two seasons with one more Newf next week.

Clarissa and Shane: Guys, it’s cool you want to show off. But a) raw shrimp paste in a dish is a TERRIBLE IDEA, and b) if a judge asks you something about your technique, you better have an answer!

Carmen: You get one shot with the judges, and their rule is cook first, talk (and hug) later! Plus, as much as I try, I can’t see lobster and blue cheese being a good match. Sorry, mamacita.

Mishie: Oh my goodness, no matter how bad your dish turns out, saying you want to learn from someone by opening their heads and eating their brains is not a good idea But hey, take solace you made Leung laugh, which is incredibly rare.

Lisa: Both Mylene and Andrew had a whale of a time last year with soup, and looks like the MasterChef Canada soup curse has struck again, with Lisa serving a soup that was too salty. I do like the confidence though — if you were afraid of somene in the Top 49, why even stay?

Kenya: The only member of Team Alberta seen tonight. The Edmontonian bragged a lot about her travels, and then got her bubble burst by Leung who derided her for serving chicken and waffles when she had been all around the world. The chicken was far too dark, and the waffle looked mediocre at best, failing to entice the judges. I’d say something about that plate being the epitome of Edmonton cuisine, but…I’ll hold back.

 

So those are the home cooks we saw this week. But as an added bonus, each week I will name up to three Stars and three Goats. Who made it this week?

My Third Star this week is Christopher; he made an excellent plate, and made all of his Canto bretheren across this country proud.

Second Star goes to Nathan, who while getting very limited screen time showed off an amazing plate of fish and chips that looked great, and probably tastes amazing.

And my First Star of the week has to go to Tammy, for obvious reasons.

Now, to our Goats…

The Third Goat of the week goes to Jennifer; if she wants to last, she must learn to tone down the chatter, as it will end up putting a target on her back.

Second Goat goes to Kenya; way to represent our great province with a disappointing dish.

Lastly, my TOP GOAT of this week goes to a surprise candidate: Kristal. Using your child to judge of food is NOT a good idea, especially when the other judge is a seven Michelin star chef. S/he may think you’re a great cook…but when you get on MasterChef Canada, amateur hour is over.

 

That’s it for this week — next week, we will see the remaining hopefuls visit the judges, followed by the dreaded stress test to create the Top 16. Myself, Marida, Narida, Jason, Dora and Billie-Jo will all be live tweeting and chatting with home cooks (and of course, all of you out there) during the show next Sunday (personnel and times vary from time zone).

I will also be tweeting from Nikita’s viewing party. So look out for that. And now, time for me to catch a few winks before school tomorrow!

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MasterChef Canada Season 2: The Contenders Revealed!

The torch has been passed.

Just a year after me and 49 of my fellow home cooks were named Canada’s first ever MasterChef Top 50, CTV yesterday revealed a new group. These individuals will now take up the battle amongst themselves to become Canada’s next MasterChef. On first glance, it looks like a very diverse group (not unlike ourselves), with varied backgrounds and different flavours for the judges to sample.

Looking at the list, it looks like a record nine provinces of our great country will be represented, including two Saskatchewaners and two New Brunswickeians. Sadly, PEI looks to be once again the lone left-out province (Step your game up, Islanders! We want to see a Malpeque master!) while the Territories go unrepresented again (No seal hearts or whale blubber this season, I reckon…) One Calgarian will carry the YYC flag amongst six Albertans, but I will talk more about her a little later.

As always, the best of this group will gain a coveted white apron, while the crème de la crème will rise to the Top 16 and enter the kitchen of their dreams (or nightmares, depending on how you do on your first challenge!

So, based on first impressions, who am I looking out for?

Bear in mind these are first impressions, so I will update this list as premiere date (February 8th) gets closer. Please don’t be insulted, rest of the Top 49. There’ll be more love to share! 

Suzie Cui (Casino Cashier Manager from Windsor, Ontario): With her traditional Chinese dress (I wonder who she got that idea from? Hmmm…), she produced an amazing looking Chinese dish for the Toronto auditions in the video Road to MasterChef. I see a bit of both myself and Tammara in her; an Asian master coupled with a zesty “take-no-shit” attitude. Being a casino cashier boss, you gotta be mean with the unruly drunken asses. She looks like a Northern Chinese mama you don’t want to cross — in life or in the kitchen.

Christopher Siu (Pharmacy Student from Markham, Ontario): I have a strong feeling about this aspiring pastry chef. I have had a chance to check out his Instagram account (which of course is @baker_siu), and it is filled with pastries as far as the eye can see. How will the lone Cantonese candidate in the field fare when the clock is ticking? He should have no problems when baking is the name of the game — but how will he handle other dishes? Will he go European like Eric, or Asian like me?

Nikita Scringer (Healthcare Sales Consultant from Calgary, Alberta): She is the lone hope the season for a city of 1.1 million people, with a booming food scene and chefs coming out of the woodwork in every corner…

…oh wait, I forgot. I’m talking about Nikita. Anyway, she was someone who had applied for season 1, and came back again and qualified for this season. Her Caribbean (Jamaican?) flavours look amazing, and her fierce competitiveness will serve her well when the knives are out and the flames are licking throughout the kitchen. What Fabian, Sparkle, Narida and Marida failed to do — can Nikita do? I think she’s got a great chance…and besides, you don’t bet against a girl with awesome blue carbon Masakage knives.

Anh Nguyen (Business Student from Ottawa, Ontario): One cuisine that made the radar last season but didn’t resonate (mostly because of Sarah’s elimination) was Vietnamese, a cuisine that has exploded in North America, and helped along by the victory of Christine Ha in MasterChef USA season 3. I’ve looked at some of his work on his Twitter feed, and it is definitely not constrained to Vietnamese, with many cuisines fused in. Can he replicate in season 2 what Christine did in the USA, in popularizing modern, simple Asian cuisine? I think so!

Ted Pechey (Radio Sales from Prince Albert, Saskatchewan): My friend and fellow blogger Bernice (who hails from That Flat Province) must be over the moon; two of her fellow Saskies have made it — one of which is Ted, the other being Deanna. While I didn’t get to see what Deanna made, Ted’s dish at the auditions screams “SASKATCHEWAN” at 100 decibles. How will that translate to the sophisticated, urbane palate of the judges? Crack a Pil, and see!

Sebastien Champagne (Graphic Designer from Montréal, Quebec): Okay, this one is obvious. Bleached blonde, pink apron. He’s going to be a sassy one, that Sebastien — but based in Montreal, it’d be easy to put him in the pigeonhole of Quebecois French cuisine, but I think we could be in for a surprise. Could he pull out some Asian flair, or some North African, or modern American a la Dale? He will be a wild card, this one. Regardez, Canada! 

Meg Tucker (Radio Host from Red Deer, Alberta): She is an exciteable one, Meg. Just by her reaction to me congratulating her, I can tell she will be an exciting one to watch. Plus, given how well radio folks have done (think Mike Green and yours truly) last season, and judging from her blog (which has a lot of great comfort food recipes), she looks like she’ll know what to do when the challenge is thrown down!

Giorgio Theofilpoulos (Florist from Toronto, Ontario): Greek cooking was one major cuisine that very few of us had in our arsenals (sorry Pino, Mediterranean doesn’t count buddy!), and I have a feeling that Giorgio (who looks a bit like of a cross between the Italian papi and my Latin amigo José) will be filling this southern Mediterranean/Aegean niche. I definitely can’t wait to see some spanakopita or Avgolemono…anyone know of a place that serves late night gyros? I got a hankerin’ for Greek food all of a sudden.

Those are the eight I’ll be keeping my eyes on. Who are you most excited for? Who will you be rooting for starting Sunday, February 8th at 7pm ET/PT (8pm local here in Calgary)? Let me know in the comments below!