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TV,eh? What's up in Canadian television

MasterChef Canada: Michael Bonacini and Claudio Aprile reflect on five seasons and discuss key home cooks

While the contestants change every season of MasterChef Canada, one trio has stayed the same for the past four. Michael Bonacini, Claudio Aprile and Alvin Leung serve not only as judges on CTV’s culinary competition but mentors as well.

They’ve taken that job seriously since Episode 1 of Season 1. Now, with the first episode of Season 5 under our belts, we spoke to Bonacini and Aprile about five seasons on the show, their responsibility as mentors thoughts on two home cooks we’ve got our eyes on.

Congratulations on five seasons on MasterChef Canada. Does it feel like it’s been that long?
Michael Bonacini: It’s been an incredible journey and I’ve loved every part of it. I still find it as exciting today as the first day that I got the phone call that said, ‘You have been chosen to be one of the judges to be on MasterChef Canada.‘ It’s a wonderful feeling and to be five years in is pure magic. The cherry on the cake, so to speak.

Claudio Aprile: Yeah, 100 per cent. Listening to Michael it reminded me of the phone call that I also received. I went into it very cautious and unsure it was what I wanted to do with my career. And then the competitive gene in me kicked in and I went from being unsure to really sure I wanted it when I did the audition. I waited a few weeks and there was no call and when the call finally did come in it was a really exhilarating phone call. What made it very interesting for me is during the audition process, Michael, Alvin and myself spent a lot of time just hanging out off-camera and it was interesting that the three of us got picked. I often thought there was another camera off somewhere just capturing our interaction because the three of us got on. I’m very mindful that this is a rare opportunity and it’s also a time-sensitive opportunity that won’t last forever. When I’m on set with Michael, Alvin, the crew, the writers … we’re really lucky to be part of this family that we’ve made. When I’m on set I’m there and in the moment, in the zone, and it just feels great.

Claudio, this is the first season the three of you hand-delivered the good news to the Top 21 home cooks. What was that experience like?
CA: First of all, you never want to sneak up on a man with a bow and arrow. I’ll never make that mistake again. Don’t ever ambush a large man from the East Coast with a bow and arrow and a bottle of moonshine. He looked at me and grabbed me like a rag doll. Note to self not to do that again. [Laughs.] For many reasons, it was very exciting to actually take MasterChef Canada on the road and deliver this incredible, exciting message to these home cooks. And for me, it really underscored that MasterChef Canada has now become a brand that people recognize. It means something to a lot of people. During my travels, people would stop me on the street and say, ‘I love the show and I love what you’re doing on the show and the Canadian spirit that you really carry so proudly.’

One of the things I have loved about MasterChef Canada is the three of you. You are always so respectful of the contestants even when something doesn’t taste or turn out the way you thought it should. You’re enthusiastic, you coach them along and focus on the positive rather than the negative. How important is it for you to be that way rather than cut the home cooks down?
MB: It is so important to be a mentor on the show. The home cooks have so much respect for each of the three judges. This is something they are putting their lives on hold for, the opportunity to have a life-changing experience for themselves and not in a negative way. Yes, there are dishes that are good and great, and there are dishes that are—to be quite honest—not so great because of bad plating, under seasoning or bad decisions. But all three judges know they have seen that over the years in our own restaurants from our own individual selves and our own employees and it’s part of the course of mentoring, growing and developing people. Long gone are the days when you could scream and shout, throw something at someone and have a tantrum. That’s no way to mentor. It’s about being honest—and I’m not afraid to be brutally honest—it is about communicating clearly and concisely about what I feel is incorrect or could be improved or should have done to the dish to make it better. I think that’s important feedback to a home cook who may or may not have the chance to cook for you again. If that was my son appearing on such a show, I would expect the mentor to act the same way.

CA: When you’re reading someone the culinary law of the land, it serves us in a very poor way if we’re degrading or condescending. It’s not a good look whether it’s a television program or real-life, the optics on that don’t look good. When you can actually control your emotions and speak to someone with dignity and respect it captures people’s attention, both the home cooks and the audience.

I have to give the folks at Proper Television some kudos. Having that twist of eliminating home cooks during their audition dish prep was dramatic. Clearly, the point being driven home is that you can’t get comfortable in this competition.
CA: The word ‘comfort’ is not a word that I would think of when I think about MasterChef Canada. There is nothing comfortable about it. It is uncomfortable, it’s pressurized, it’s unpredictable. That’s for many reasons. The show is about entertaining first. We don’t want them to figure things out. We want it to be exciting and who doesn’t love the element of surprise? The cooks that watch the show think they have us decoded. And I have to say, you thought wrong. We switch it up a lot. Collectively, we have over 100 years of culinary experience. There is nowhere to hide. We will pick things out.

Let’s discuss two home cooks that caught my eye in Episode 1. Beccy is just 19 years old and made a beautiful beef and beetroot dish. What can you say about her?
MB: Beccy is an interesting young home cook. She has very few words to say and she’s fascinating to watch. She is the youngest home cook we’ve ever had on the show and that’s what makes her interesting. She comes from England and is a tile-setters helper. It’s a pretty humble job and she loves to cook at home.

Claudio, can you comment on Reem? A lot has been made of her Muslim background already, but I was wowed by her baba ganoush.
CA: I think Reem is a very, very talented home cook. There is the religious aspect to her story, but I feel she’s going to champion a different cause. She is very strong and a very kind person. But don’t mistake her kindness for weakness. Her food is incredible, like knockout dishes.

MasterChef Canada airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on CTV.

Images courtesy of Bell Media.




Shaftesbury’s forecast calls for new series The Weather Girl Knows

From a media release:

In advance of MIPTV, leading content company Shaftesbury, in partnership with WexWorks Media, have acquired the rights to The Weather Girl Knows, a popular Japanese format by TV Asahi.

The Weather Girl Knows is a quirky procedural with weather being the key to unlocking puzzling crimes, with clues as unpredictable as next week’s forecast. Partnering an oddball weather girl (who’s also a brilliant climatologist) with a rookie detective, each week they investigate mysteries of murder and ball lightning, hurricanes and hijacking. These strange bedfellows might just make the perfect pair to solve the most tempestuous crimes.

“The Weather Girl Knows is a procedural crime drama, with real-world science at its core. The format has been a huge success in Japan and we are thrilled to bring these characters to new audiences,” said Christina Jennings, Chairman and CEO, Shaftesbury.

“I knew TV Asahi had created something special the minute I saw The Weather Girl Knows. I’m sure it will resonate with audiences around the globe and I couldn’t be more excited to be working with Christina and her team,” said Matthew Wexler, CEO and Executive Producer, WexWorks Media.

“We are excited to have the opportunity to work with Shaftesbury and WexWorks Media on bringing The Weather Girl Knows to the worldwide audience. The script is unique yet universal and is bound to capture the hearts and imaginations of the global audience,” said Yuka Kakui, Head of Format Development and Sales, TV Asahi.



Preview: Burden of Truth rests with two-hour season finale

What the heck will Billy and Joanna do now? When we last left our heroic lawyers on Burden of Truth, Joanna had been booted off the case, leaving Billy to fend for himself. Undaunted, Joanna sat down with Nate to take his statement. Looks like he’s willing to blow the whistle on Matheson after all.

Meanwhile, Owen was the victim of a massive beatdown at the hands of his boss, Mercer. Is he going to be OK, or did this whole case lead to a loss of life?

Wednesday marks the two-part season finale of Burden of Truth beginning at 8 p.m. on CBC; here’s what the network has released as episode synopses for “Home to Roost,” written by Lynn Coady and directed by Grant Harvey and Doug Mitchell, and “Cause in Fact,” written by Brad Simpson and directed by Grant Harvey and Doug Mitchell.

Joanna faces the one person who may be able to defeat her father: her mom.

Using the law to her advantage, Joanna herself reinstated on a technicality plays her trump card. When it’s not enough to elicit a settlement offer, Joanna makes it personal.

And here are some spoiler-free hints as to what else to expect.

The needle in the haystack
Matheson is compelled to hand over their files to Billy; now it’s up to he and Luna to find evidence Matheson’s parent company, PNL, knew illegal dumping was taking place in the field. That’s going to be tough, especially without Joanna to help them.

David Hanley takes one on the chin
Figuratively, of course. But it sure feels good to see it happen. We also get some major dirt on him. It’s pretty good stuff. Then David shows his true colours while building the case with Alan against the girls.

We get an update on Owen
And the news isn’t good.

Road trip and family reunion
Joanna and Luna hit the road to Winnipeg to visit Joanna’s mother. There are tears. And facts pertinent to the case.

The court case begins
We’ve been leading up to this point all season long. Emotions are high, bombshells are dropped and the payoff is huge. Congratulations to all on a stellar first season of Burden of Truth. And I’m excited to see where the show goes in Season 2 on CBC. Kristin Kreuk and Peter Mooney will both return as Joanna and Billy for eight new episodes written by showrunner Adam Pettle, creator Brad Simpson, Shannon Masters, Hayden Simpson, Eric Putzer, Felicia Booker and Renee St. Cyr.

Season 1 of Burden of Truth concludes with back-to-back episodes on Wednesday at 8 and 9 p.m. on CBC.



MasterChef Canada reveals its Top 12 for Season 5

It’s doesn’t really feel like spring—at least to me anyway—unless MasterChef Canada is on the air. And, after four excellent seasons on CTV, it’s become a rite of this time of year. As flowers bloom in gardens and those first crops begin to grow, home chefs from across the country are sweating it out in the kitchen fighting for the grandest of prizes: $100,000 and the title of MasterChef Canada.

Back to judge, critique and encourage are Claudio Aprile, Michael Bonacini and Alvin Leung, who will put the contestants through their paces and the emotional ringer each week. Last year it was MCC staffers who dropped off cases to the home cooks. This time around it was the judges themselves shocking folks in their hometowns—in kitchens, the workplace, while hunting—to deliver the good news they’d made it into the competition and a request to bring a special ingredient that represents them and their community to the kitchen for their audition dish. In an interesting twist, the three judges were walking around, watching the home cooks during the 60-minute challenge. If they weren’t impressed, a home cook was tapped on the shoulder, signalling they had been eliminated. It was an ingenious way of shaking up the audition process and a reminder you can never get comfortable in the MCC kitchen.

An early exit befell Dawn and her blueberry grunt and Oyak, who’d cut himself and was struggling with nerves and his pot of rice.

With Season 5’s return on Tuesday night, there were a few contestants of the Top 21 who I made note of right out of the gate either because of their skills or signature dishes on the road to scoring that all-important white apron and the Top 12.

  • Beccy, of course. Her beetroot and steak wowed the experts. The fact she’s only 19 serves notice that youth is not a hindrance and may, in fact, help her in the weeks to come.
  • Jonathan. He showed skill in taming the heat of the ghost pepper for this chicken stew. I’m hoping he uses his Trinidadian background as much as possible to keep things interesting.
  • Reem. I loved her statement on her Muslim background and her baba ganoush. I wanted to reach through the TV and devour it.
  • Eugene. I’m impressed by his resilience and guts for keeping his nerves in check when called upon to re-do his audition dish a different way. He’s got some promise, but I worry his nerves could let him down in future weeks.

Next week the competition gets going for real as the Top 12 head into Mystery Box challenges, team challenges and Pressure Tests designed to break spirits and weed out the weaklings. Guests this season include the cast of Corner Gas, Lloyd Robertson, past MasterChef Canada winners and dogs. Many, many dogs.

MasterChef Canada airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on CTV.

Images courtesy of Bell Media.




Web series Learning Nature with Chris Locke is balls-out hilarity with an edge

You might, as I did after watching two episodes of Learning Nature with Chris Locke, think it’s a one-note web series. The tale of a pudgy man named Chris who casts the cruel, unfeeling big city away for the embrace of nature … but has no real clue how wild the wild truly is.

But to watch all eight webisodes of Learning Nature with Chris Locke—available on Funny or Die now—is to see a man enamoured with trees, rocks, the sky, birds, worms and water but having no real knowledge of them and left struggling to survive. Locke, a hilarious stand-up comic who has also appeared in episodes of Mr. D, Baroness Von Sketch Show and The Beaverton, teamed with longtime collaborator Derek Horn to create the eight-part opus.

“People watch the first episode and say, ‘I get it, web humour,'” Locke says over the phone. “But stick with it and you will see my butt.” While Horn (who has worked with Locke on such projects as Hello, What? and Kelly 5-9) directed, edited, lit and worried about the budgets for Learning Nature, Locke established the character, a friendly shlub who aims to educate viewers on facts regarding a plethora of things you see in nature.

The first instalment of the iThentic production, “Trees,” features Chris welcoming us into a lush forest for his first-ever documentary. Chris is super-enthusiastic as he hugs a nearby tree he dubs one of “the mighty tall giants of the woods.” He expounds on their multiple uses, including making paper out of them, building log cabins … or creating a wooden sword to practice fighting with. The hilarity and oddness of Learning Nature are in camera angles lingering a little too long, unsure footing and Chris’ meandering patter. He knows a little too little about nature as it turns out, leading to uncomfortable facts about his personal life being revealed. It’s a character Locke has been perfecting for years.

“I’ve been making shorts since 2005 or 2006,” Locke says. “And I’ve always been honing that kind of guy. A dumb, worried, idealistic weirdo. It was always in the back of our minds that if you like our brand this is what it is if we had freedom.” The duo—along with friend/production assistant/spiritual advisor Aaron Eves—spent three full days at Headwaters Farm in Cobourg, Ont., as Locke rumbled around in the brush, his character spouting questionable nature know-how and some core beliefs. It all comes to a head in “Worms,” when an event sends Chris into an emotional spiral. A lot of work went into those three days, production-wise, figuring out logistics and camera angles.

“Visually you look at it and you think, ‘Oh, he’s just being a goof,’ but the technical aspect behind that is huge,” Locke reveals. “And I can’t stress this enough that Derek did it all by himself.” Filming had its challenges and wasn’t restricted to just weather, fauna and foliage. Capturing a key scene at a lake was delayed until the last possible moment thanks to a group of young guys who wandered into Locke’s vicinity.

“I was like, ‘Oh my god, are you serious?’ We had waited all day to get this shot,” he says. “They ducked behind a bunch of bushes, probably to smoke something, and as soon as they did I said, ‘Let’s go,’ stripped off all my clothes and jumped into the lake in one take.”

Learning Nature with Chris Locke is available on Funny or Die now.

Images courtesy of iThentic.