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MasterChef Canada: Jenny and Alyssa (and two others) fight to stay in the competition

Last week on MasterChef Canada, Chef Alvin Leung lived up his “Demon Chef” nickname by throwing a devilish Elimination Challenge at the remaining home cooks. By the time the flour had settled, Jenny and Alyssa were asked to remove their aprons.

But rather than just being shown the door, MasterChef Canada‘s producers threw them (and us) yet another twist: the two would battle it out to see who got to stay in the competition. This test isn’t new for MasterChef Canada, but it’s been done as a digital extra and the winner has just shown up on the television show. Having the test occur as an episode was much more effective, especially with Jenny and Alyssa.

Three men stand on a stage.And true to a season of great drama, Jenny and Alyssa weren’t competing alone: Rozin and Tony walked into the kitchen to fight for the lone apron too. I was of two minds about this. While I appreciate giving someone that has been cut a shot at returning, where do you draw the line at who is given it? Alyssa and Jenny had just been eliminated but having Tony and Rozin, dropped in past weeks, fight for a spot didn’t seem fair.

Regardless of my thoughts, “Knife Fight” was underway in a trio of Pressure Tests. After each, one home cook would be leaving. For good, I assumed. In Round 1, the chef’s knife was the star of the show and used to recreate a rice noodle salad with intricately cut matchstick vegetables. With just 15 minutes on the clock, Tony was convinced he had no chance. And though Chefs Michael, Claudio and Alvin agreed that julienning the veggies should come first, Alyssa opted to make her Asian dressing. Nicking herself was another step in the wrong direction for Alyssa and with five minutes left it didn’t look good, especially since she missed elements and her vegetables were tossed into the bowl. Sadly, MasterChef Canada said a final goodbye to Alyssa.

In Round 2, the filleting knife took centre stage, to be used to create Sole meunière, a French recipe using Dover sole, flour, brown butter, parsley and lemon. And, with just eight minutes to prepare it, it seemed impossible. Even with his impeccable knife skills, Rozin was having trouble with the sole. As for Jenny … the poor fish was being mangled. But Jenny nailed the sauce by allowing the butter to brown first; that gave the sauce a nutty flavour. Rozin neglected to do that, and Tony’s gaffe came when he added lemon juice to the pan instead of the plate. With no perfect results, Claudio, Alvin and Michael said so long to Jenny.

Five people stand in a line.For Round 3, Rozin and Tony put the boning knife to use to recreate a Frenched rack of lamb in 22 minutes. Tony cut himself early on, putting pressure on his already tight schedule. Rozin, meanwhile, sped through cutting the rib bones free of fat and membrane and it looked like he’d be getting that apron. When Tony cut himself a second time, he seemed destined to depart. But timing is the great equalizer, and Rozin neglected to pre-heat his pan; waiting for it to come to temperature allowed Tony to catch up. It was anyone’s game.

During the tasting, Chef Claudio pointed out that Tony’s lamb was underseasoned and Michael noted it was slightly underdone. As for Rozin’s, his meat was dead-on cook-wise, but an errant bone and under seasoning was noted by Claudio. In the end, it was Rozin who grabbed the apron and is back in the competition. Do I wish Jenny or Alyssa was in his place? Yes. But having Rozin in the mix again means some serious competition for the remaining home cooks.

Who do you think will win this season of MasterChef Canada? Let me know in the comments below.

MasterChef Canada airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CTV.

Images courtesy of Bell Media.


Asian influences highlight MasterChef Canada

Last week, the remaining MasterChef Canada home cooks were schooled when they made lunches for over 100 hungry kids and Rozin was eliminated from the competition.

This week, Chef Alvin took centre stage during the Elimination Challenge when he uncovered Asian treats for the participants to tackle.

But before all of that, there was the latest Mystery Box to get through. The seven home cooks lifted the lids to reveal two smaller boxes. One was clear, showing all of the ingredients. The other was black, hiding its contents. Which box each chose would go a long way to presenting their personalities. Were these home cooks risk takers or not? Josh and Andre—the last two guys in the competition, it should be noted—opted for the clear boxes and 45 minutes of cooking time while the gals went for it. The secret boxes held exotic ingredients like black cod, escarole and passion fruit. Six seasons in, I continue to be impressed with the challenges the producers are coming up with and Monday’s Mystery Box was just the latest.

While Chef Michael admitted he would have chosen the “safe” box, Alvin and Claudio said they’d have gone for the secret box to test their skills. Chanelle decided on a Thai inspired cod dish for her recipe, Alyssa with fish tacos, Jennifer with fish cakes, Jenny a po’ boy sandwich and Cryssi a pan-fried cod with vinaigrette and fingerling potatoes. Andre and Josh had 15 minutes to plot and plan their recipes, the former with dry-rubbed glazed pork and the latter a pan-seared pork chop with potatoes and butternut squash puree.

The judges chose to taste Chanelle’s plate (“The flavours were fresh and clean,” opined Michael), Josh (“Very nicely done,” Alvin said) and Cryssi (“Great flavours, good technique,” said Michael). From the glowing reviews she got, it was no surprise that Cryssi won the Mystery Box challenge but it was still great to see. And though she wasn’t safe and would have to cook in the Elimination Challenge, Cryssi got her pick of Asian-themed ingredients like abalone, uni, ebisudai, Waygu beef, black garlic and XO sauce and then assigned her competitors the rest.

Cryssi chose the beef for herself and then aimed to cull the herd, giving Andre the uni, Alyssa the XO sauce, Chanelle the abalone, Jennifer the ebisudai fish, Josh the black garlic and Jenny the matsutake mushrooms.

Meanwhile, Cryssi planned to honour the beef as a steak and a tartare. Alyssa opted to put the XO sauce on pork belly, and Josh was stoked he got the garlic because he cooks with it all the time and planned to top his pasta with it. Jennifer aimed for a carpaccio, Jenny and mushroom egg drop soup and Andre a cauliflower steak with uni sauce. As time ran out, Alyssa discovered her pork wasn’t quite done and would have to complete it in a frying pan. Everyone was out of sorts, except for Cryssi and that was her plan.

Jenny’s mushroom egg drop soup wasn’t up to par, according to Claudio and didn’t honour the main ingredient; Alvin deemed Josh’s pasta beautiful thanks to the creamy black garlic sauce; Claudio called Jennifer’s carpaccio amazing and Alvin was honoured she served it in the fried carcass; Michael advised Alyssa her pork was just cooked through and the XO sauce didn’t come through; Alvin loved Chanelle’s fried abalone; and Alvin was disappointed Andre used so little sea urchin on his slab of cauliflower. Finally, Cryssi’s tartare and steak were a mixed bag according to Claudio.

Jennifer came out on top with the best dish of the night. On the bottom were Jenny and Alyssa, who had struggled so badly with the ingredients Cryssi gave them. And while they were asked to remove their aprons, they weren’t eliminated yet; both face off in a Redemption Challenge in next week’s episode.

MasterChef Canada airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CTV.

Images courtesy of Bell Media.


MasterChef Canada: Blue Team fails school challenge

I still remember the high school lunches I enjoyed in the cafeteria. Plates of fries soaked in gravy AND ketchup. Ham and cheese on a kaiser roll, wrapped in plastic and set into a steam table so one half was dried out while the other was soggy. Fish and chips covered in gravy. Tasty? Yes. Healthy? Heck no. And none of it was to the standard the food the kids received on Monday’s new episode of MasterChef Canada.

Last week, we said goodbye to Tony and crowned Jennifer and Andre the leaders in the Team Challenge. And, to put their performance in academic terms: the teams overall got a B. Arriving in Rotherglen Elementary School in Oakville, Ont., the teams were informed that over 160 kids from Grades 2 to 5 would be descending on them and eager for lunch consisting of a main, vegetable and dessert. (My first instinct? Mac and cheese, caramelized carrots with maple syrup and chocolate chip cookies.)

Jennifer planned to make sure everything was covered and nothing overlooked while her Red Team of Josh, Alyssa and Chanelle cooked. Andre viewed this as the perfect experience for his plan of running a catering company; he chose Jenny, Rozin and Cryssi for his Blue Team. It didn’t take long for the Red Team to settle on square pizza with square pepperoni, brownies and veggies and dip, while Blue clearly overheard me and went with macaroni and cheese with a bread crumb crust, chocolate pudding and raw veggies with dip.

Jennifer’s Red Team got down to work, splitting up the brownie and pizza prep. They were moving quickly, efficiently, quietly and confidently. The same was true for the Blue Team and it looked like everything would run smoothly. Wrong. Chef Claudio’s math quickly revealed a shocking fact: there was not enough time for Rozin to cook 161 portions of mac and cheese. More burners were needed. Over on the Red Team, grating cheese for the pizza was taking up valuable time too. They decided not to cut up the pepperoni into squares and dropped a vegetable from their veggies and dip. The Blue Team, after tasting the pasta, opted not to include beef (how much time did Rozin waste cooking it?) or finishing it in the oven.

After a frenzied service, it came down to the judging: Jennifer’s Red Team topped Andre’s Blue Team by 37 points, sending Blue back the MasterChef Canada kitchen for the Pressure Test.

Talk about pressure; the four home cooks had just 20 minutes to create a Catalan fish stew in a replication challenge. I Googled the recipe and read a variety of cooking times, from 20 to 75 minutes so, technically, it could be done. I’d like to know how the home cooks knew they had to toast the noodles for the dish. Did one of the chefs tell them that? I can only assume the answer to that is yes because the home cooks had never heard of the stew before, let alone that the noodles should be toasted. Jenny cut herself and required a medic. Undaunted, she continued to work one-handed.

The plates were completed on time, but Rozin’s dish held far less seafood than his competitors. He was hoping the taste was enough to save him and Chef Michael was impressed with the flavouring. Sadly, Rozin’s squid tentacles were undercooked. It was going to take a miracle to save him. Cryssi’s seafood and her plating wowed Chef Claudio. According to Chef Michael, Jenny’s mussels weren’t presented in the half shell and her pasta lacked a little flavour. Andre’s plate appeared to be the best of the bunch in looks and taste, opined Chefs Alvin and Michael.

It was no surprise, then, that Andre was awarded best dish. And, because it was a replication test and Rozin failed it, he was eliminated from the competition. I’m going to miss Rozin’s passion, enthusiasm and the baseball caps.

What would you have made for the school lunch test? Had you ever heard of that seafood stew before? Let me know in the comments below.

MasterChef Canada airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CTV.

Images courtesy of Bell Media.


Mary’s Kitchen Crush showcases Mary Berg’s cooking skills and heart

When I first met Mary Berg, it was to shadow her during her MasterChef Canada Season 3 audition. As we spoke that day, I was struck by her enthusiasm and passion for food, and her humour. She went on to show that during MasterChef Canada, eventually winning Season 3. We reconnected during the filming of Berg’s first television series, Mary’s Kitchen Crush, and she hasn’t changed one bit.

Debuting on Sunday at 7 p.m. ET/PT on CTV, Mary’s Kitchen Crush has Berg’s touches all over it, from the recipes she makes—three to four originals per episode inspired by someone who has made a meaningful impact on her life—to the show’s set, sprinkled with photos and other personal items. In the first episode, it’s Berg’s mother, Myra, who arrives to enjoy the fruits of her daughter’s labour via an herb and garlic stuffed lamb tenderloin with oven-roasted asparagus, garlic and herb flatbread, and a strawberry-rhubarb galette for dessert.

“The reason I did catering was that I just wanted to share my food with people outside of my own kitchen,” Berg says during a break in filming last year. “The fact that I get to share my recipes with people through different avenues is really exciting.”

The program’s production company, Proper Television, is smart to let Berg be her charming, geeky self, madly waving her arms around (and uttering some truly bad jokes) as she creates tasty plates that are accessible and easy for home cooks. Thirty episodes of Mary’s Kitchen Crush were filmed—with a total of roughly 145 recipes—over a two-month production schedule.

“I’m a little bit of a Type-A personality and a control freak,” Berg says with a laugh. “It was basically me sitting in a barcalounger at my cottage writing and working.” Berg wrote all of the recipes, tested about half herself and tested the rest with the show’s culinary team. The goal is for the recipes to work and for viewers to actually make them. And while she loves nothing better than to spend an entire Sunday tweaking a recipe, Berg knows home cooks simply don’t have that time.

“All of the recipes for this show, and anything that I’m developing in general, I think, ‘Could my mother do this?'” Berg says. “She’s not great in the kitchen, and if Myra Berg can do it anybody can do it.”

Mary’s Kitchen Crush airs Sundays at 7 p.m. ET/PT on CTV.

Image courtesy of Bell Media.


MasterChef Canada: Beccy inspires the home cooks in teen Mystery Box challenge

Last week on MasterChef Canada, the home cooks found themselves preparing dinner for a couple and over 100 wedding guests. They were definitely out of their comfort zone having to work as a team so early in the season.

On Monday night, the remaining competitors were back in the somewhat cozy confines of the MasterChef Canada kitchen for the latest Mystery Box challenge. The cooks revealed pictures of themselves when they were teenagers (Josh’s frosted tips were something to behold), and asked to make something that was favourite back then. (For me, it would be elevated Kraft Dinner or a cheese omelette.) To inspire them, Chefs Alvin, Michael and Claudio unboxed a very special guest: Season 5 winner Beccy Stables. After a quick update on Beccy—she and her family have moved to Kelowna, B.C., and started a catering company, Bec Catering—the home cooks got down to business.

Alyssa chose to elevate hockey rink food by preparing lobster poutine, Rozin created a deconstructed lox and bagel, and Chanelle opted for egg-filled ravioli. Tony went with pasta too, re-creating his mother’s Pasta e Fagioli (The funniest/saddest moment of the night to that point was Beccy laughing at Tony’s teen picture because it was in black and white.). Time quickly became the enemy for most of the home cooks. Josh had forgotten about his fruit gel in the blast chiller and it had frozen; it was a key component to his cake and he opted for a coulis instead.

The judges chose Jennifer’s modern beef stroganoff (“You have a great culinary mind,” Chef Michael said.), Rozin’s lox and bagel (“I like it,” said Chef Alvin) and Josh’s Mexican chocolate cake with berry coulis (“It’s like a symphony of flavours happening,” Chef Claudio said.). Josh won the Mystery Box, signifying he should step out of his comfort zone and try to make the odd sweet treat. Josh was safe from participating in the Elimination Challenge, leaving his competitors to each pick a box with a trio of spices in them to cook with. There were also two “Got Out of Cooking Free” cards available; Alyssa and Cryssi snagged those and were safe.

Andre was befuddled by his trio of caraway seed, cumin and savory, Jenny dreaded her celery seed, fennel seed and cayenne pepper, and Rozin had perhaps the toughest spices in lavender, rosemary and white pepper. Regardless, the home cooks had 60 minutes to create something and got down to it. Chanelle’s spices tweaked Asian, so she went with shrimp; Jennifer’s cloves and cinnamon signalled an apple dessert; Rozin picked lamb to counter his floral spices; and Tony used nutmeg, coriander and cardamom in his pasta plate. Alyssa and Chef Michael both expressed concern that Tony was relying too much on his Italian roots. After all, MasterChef Canada is as much about exploring new things as it is on comfort.

Andre might have seemed confused in the beginning, but his oxtail with panko eggplant and caraway naan was a winner, and Chanelle’s vermicelli bowl with shrimp received a good review from Chef Alvin even though the sage was lost. Meanwhile, Tony’s cheese stuffed ravioli with lamb ragout was a dud for Chef Claudio, who questioned the home cook’s range; Rozin’s lamb Salisbury steak was overpowered by lavender and toughened by oat flour; Jennifer’s apple concoction was a winner. As for Jenny’s surf and turf … there was too much celery seed on her pork tenderloin and her kimchi was bitter, the mark of inexperience with spices.

The top home cooks for the week were Jennifer and Andre, who will be captains in the next team challenge. Sadly, Jenny and Tony were in the bottom, with soccer coach Tony being eliminated from the competition.

Do you think Tony deserved to go home? Which teen dish would you have recreated in the MasterChef Canada kitchen? Let me know in the comments below.

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

Images courtesy of Bell Media.