Everything about Masterchef Canada, eh?

MasterChef Canada heads to Italy (virtually, of course)

This season of MasterChef Canada has been like no other. By now, the teams will have gone outside for some kind of challenge. I’m assuming that to ensure everyone stayed safe, this didn’t happen. But, rather than missing that part of the show, I’ve relished staying in the studio and focusing on tough tests on-set.

The toughest so far took place on Sunday, as the remaining contestants were faced with Italian-themed challenges in a Pressure Test to eliminate at least one.

Following the Red team’s win last week, Blue team members Andrew, Jen, Mai, Andre and Barrie were welcomed by Chefs Claudio, Alvin and Michael, who informed everyone that one member from Jeremy’s winning squad would participate in the Pressure Test too … and he had to pick who. Whoa. I think if I was Team Captain and as confident in my skills as Jeremy is, I would put myself forward rather than someone else. Jeremy, instead, put Andy into the line of fire.

The two-part Pressure Test began with Chef Michael calling his son, Chef Oscar Bonacini, into the MasterChef Canada kitchen. And, whereas Oscar spent four months learning how to make hand-made pasta in Italy, the competitors had mere minutes to observe Oscar’s masterclass in creating three shapes of pasta (dimpled, braided, and curled), each more intricate than the one before it. Head-to-head battles ensued, with teams facing off to make one pasta and a traditional sauce to go with it. Red team’s Andy doled out the pairings this way:

Capunti with tomato sauce: himself and Barrie

Lorighittas in butter herb sauce: Mai and Andre

Trofie and pesto sauce: Jen and Andrew

The 25-minute deadline was definitely a challenge, though fresh pasta takes less time to cook. Everyone started in a frenzy, mixing the semolina flour with water to get just the right hydration and consistency. The sudden curveball that Barrie had experience making pasta threatened to derail Andy’s plan; Mai was confident she would beat Andre, but her Lorighitta looked less delicate than Oscars; and Jen opted to use her hands to shape the Trofie rather than use a fiddly bench scraper. With just minutes before the deadline, Andre’s water wasn’t boiling, Andy’s sauce seemed to have too much garlic and cheese added too soon, Andrew was bruising his basil in the blender, and Jen was taking too long prepping her basil with a mortar and pestle.

Andrew and Jen were up for judging first and Chef Alvin pulled no punches. Andrew’s pasta was inconsistent and his sauce was brown, but it had a nice flavour; Jen’s pasta was more consistent but small, but her sauce was delicious. Andrew got the win and moved to the gallery. Andre and Mai were next, judged by Chef Claudio. Though Andre’s pasta looked the most authentic, it wasn’t cooked all the way through; Mai’s pasta was pillowy and cooked to perfection but the sauce’s flavours weren’t as bright. Mai triumphed and moved to safety. Finally, Barrie and Andy presented to Chef Michael. Barrie’s pasta looked good and his sauce was vibrant, inviting, and on point; Andy’s pasta was within the size variance allowed and his sauce was darker and richer, and Chef Michael hinted there was an issue with it. The winner in the final round was Barrie’s better sauce.

But the episode was only half over. For the next test, Andre, Andy, and Jen created a Secondi, and a choice of making Eggplant Parmigiana, sautéed veal, or Chicken Cacciatore. Jen was tasked with making the veal, Andre the chicken, and Andy the eggplant. Andre plotted a fried chicken twist to the classic dish, Jen used rabbit instead of veal, and Andy an elevated baba ganoush.

Because of the teasers before the episodes rolled out, I knew an extra twist in the 60-minute test was coming. It arrived in the form of an added dish. Now the trio had to make a Contorno—a side dish—to accompany the Secondo. With just 30 minutes to go, I would have started crying, put down my apron, and walked out the door. Instead, Jen opted for a simple vegetable side dish, Andre a buttermilk-dressed salad, and Andy an orange and fennel salad.

Andy, who got emotional at the end of the cook, was judged first. Chef Claudio deemed the eggplant “sensational” and Chef Michael the fennel salad “beautiful.” Jen’s rabbit and wine sauce was a tad overdone, according to Chef Michael, but Chef Alvin said her veggies were flavourful. Andre’s fried chicken pop Cacciatore was a hit with Chef Claudio, and his frisée salad was “pleasant” but underwhelming according to Chef Alvin.

In the final judging, the chefs gave a nod to Andy, sending him to safety in the gallery. That left Jen and Andre in the bottom and, ultimately, it was Jen who left the competition.

MasterChef Canada: Back to Win airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CTV.

Images courtesy of Bell Media.


MasterChef Canada takes on its first team challenge

After two weeks featuring the returning contestants jockeying for position in solitary tests, MasterChef Canada threw the group its first team challenge of the Back to Win season. And what a doozy it was.

But when the Top 10 reported for duty in the MasterChef kitchen, April Lee was missing. Had she decided to leave? Turns out April Lee injured herself and had to drop out of the competition. I looked at it as one less competitor to worry about. I was wrong about that because the producers brought back a competitor to take her place: Barrie.

The global pandemic has affected everyone, and restaurants are no different. Many have adjusted by offered take-out and delivery menus, the latter of which use services to get food to customers. MasterChef brilliantly employed the same idea on Sunday, tasking the Red and Blue teams with creating recipes to be delivered to hungry folks using the “MasterChef Canada 4U” app.

Captaining the Red team was Jeremy, who chose Andy, Christopher, Thea, and Marissa for his squad. Heading the Blue team was Mai, who picked Andre, Andrew, Jen, and Barrie to join her. Each team created three entrees with protein, vegetables, and starch as the main feature, to be rated out of five stars. With just one hour to prepare before the app went live for 200 select customers (100 per team) and a 90-minute cooking and serving window, it seemed like an impossible task. (I would have started crying.)

Jeremy chose to go with his strength—Filipino food—with a chicken Karaage bowl, charred eggplant, and sweet potato stew. Andy worried that, since Jeremy was the only one who knew what the flavour profiles should be, the team would be confused. Mai opted for bold flavours in jerk chicken wings, soba noodle salad, and mushroom tacos. Listening to the Blue team talk it out indicated to me (Barrie rightly had concerns about assembling tacos) they might have the upper hand in the challenge. But things can change once the clock starts running … and footage hits the editing suite.

The Red team started off the hour focusing on prepping vegetables for Jeremy’s plan, with him tackling sauces and flavours and Christopher rice and chicken. On the Blue team, Andrew took on the sauce, Barrie vegetables, and Andre the chicken wings; Jen floated around, helping wherever she could. Mai was concerned with Barrie’s performance and his somewhat cocksure attitude and Thea was worried a lack of communication on the Red group would sink them when the app went live. With minutes before orders were scheduled to come in, Andrew’s pork tenderloin was still raw and he had to refire the lot in hot pans.

Then? Chaos.

Both teams reeled from the onslaught, struggling to keep up and figure out who should be calling out orders and who should be plating. With no servers and faceless customers, it was nuts. Andrew quickly recovered, calling out orders while the Blue team prepared containers. Andy, meanwhile, shouldered that for the Red squad so Jeremy could focus on plating.

Chefs Alvin, Michael, and Claudio, meanwhile, tasted and critiqued the food. Blue’s chicken wings were tasty but lacked true jerk heat. Red’s chicken Karaage poke bowl was impressive, but the trio yearned for more chicken pieces. And while Andrew was calling out orders for Blue, no one was doing that for Red, with Christopher telling Thea to “go look” to see what she had to prepare next. It was so concerning that Chef Michael stepped in and instructed Jeremy to do it. Not good.

Meanwhile, mushroom tacos threatened to be the Blue teams undoing. Three tacos and many ingredients per taco slowed them down considerably. What did Alvin, Claudio, and Michael think of those tacos? A nice concept but seriously lacking flavour. As for Blue’s charred eggplant, the trio used words like “underwhelmed,” “under-seasoned” and “bland.” Even worse, both teams were running low on ingredients. The Blue team addressed this by making more, while the Red chose smaller portions. I’d be upset if I was paying for food and got a small portion and Chef Claudio said exactly that.

It was time for the Chefs to taste each starch dish. Blue’s cold soba noodle salad with pork was a hit, and Red’s sweet potato noodles were “awesome” according to Chef Claudio.

It was up to the customers to decide, and with a 4.1-star rating out of five, the win was delivered to Jeremy’s Red team.

But in a bit of a shake-up with episode timing, we won’t find out which member of the Blue team might be leaving the competition until next week during a surprise-filled Pressure Test. Who do you think might go home next week? Let me know in the comments below.

MasterChef Canada: Back to Win airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CTV.

Images courtesy of Bell Media.


Masterchef Canada receives a master class in Japanese cooking

Some of my favourite episodes of MasterChef Canada have been when a chef who has a specialty drops by spotlight their skills. On Sunday’s newest episode, it came in the form of Chef Shigeo Kimura, a.k.a. the Godfather of sushi in this country, whose incredible knife skills were shown off in front of the remaining competitors.

The instalment started off on a sweet note, as Andre—the winner of last week’s Mystery Box Challenge—was saved from being kicked out. As for the rest, they would be run through a gauntlet of three grueling Japanese-themed challenges on the road to at least one cook going home. And while Jeremy was particularly excited, Barrie seemed concerned.

Chef Kimura prepared a snapper sashimi that was razor-thin and gorgeous. But where Chef Kimura had years to perfect his craft, the competitors had a mere 15 minutes to break down their own snapper and present it to Chef Michael, Chef Alvin and Chef Claudio. Chef Kimura would judge their knife skills and which Top 4 would join Andre in the safe zone in the gallery.

Andrew was confident his time working with fish in Halifax would help him, and Thea quickly called on a medic to staunch some bleeding. April Lee, meanwhile fell a little behind the rest of the group because she’d gone back to get the other snapper fillet after damaging the first. Jeremy and Andrew were the first to plate their snapper and were confident they’d be safe from elimination. As expected, Jeremy (his cuts were exquisite), was tops followed by Mai, Andrew and Thea, who headed to the gallery.

In the second round, the remaining contestants tackled maki, creating a customized roll with rice on the outside and a tempura element. The Top 3 dishes would earn those cooks safety. Marissa planned for a surf and turf maki, Andy went with a scallop tempura with yellowtail tuna, Barrie a fish and chips maki with tempura crab, April Lee aimed to add deli meat to her maki, Andrew a veggie roll, and Jen a ginger poke roll that had her scrambling (and swearing). Barrie’s sushi rice wasn’t ready, so he threw it into the cooler … and then returned to the wrong station. To say the test and time limit was a struggle was an understatement.

Jen’s swearing paid off: Alvin enjoyed her roll. Andy’s rice to ingredient ratio was off; Marissa’s consistency was off; Barrie’s roll featured rice sandwiched between two seaweed rolls, which wasn’t part of the challenge; April Lee’s executive deli maki was disappointing; and Christopher’s roll was good, but a little under seasoned. The Top 3 were Christopher and Jen, who were joined by Marissa.

That left Barrie, Andy and April Lee for the final test: creating okonomiyaki, a savoury Japanese pancake. As if that wasn’t difficult enough, this was a replication challenge, meaning the pancake must contain eggs, dashi, shrimp, cabbage and sauce, topped with grilled, marinated octopus, Benito flakes, pickled ginger and green onion. April Lee hoped her experience making it at home would give her an advantage.

With a 20-minute deadline, it seemed almost impossible. Everything seemed to be going OK … until April Lee flipped her base pancake. It actually wasn’t as bad as the show teased as they headed to commercial. April Lee’s pancake broke a bit but was by no means the catastrophe the edit hinted at. Barrie was the first to plate his pancake, and everyone was worried it wasn’t cooked all the way through.

Alvin deemed Barrie’s okonomiyaki little underdone, Claudio loved April Lee’s, and Michael loved Andy’s but judged it under seasoned. When it came down to it, Barrie was eliminated from the competition.

MasterChef Canada: Back to Win airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CTV.

Images courtesy of Bell Media.


MasterChef Canada: One Home Cook is eliminated, again

This newest season of MasterChef Canada (Season 7) is dubbed “Back to Win.” It’s pretty self-explanatory—past competitors have returned to the kitchen in a bid to capture the title—and I give credit to Proper Television for choosing worthy and interesting home cooks to do it.

From runner-ups like Jeremy, Thea and Andre, to personalities like Barrie and April Lee, this group deserved another shot and got it on Sunday night. It was great to see them back in the shiny stadium alongside judges Micheal Bonacini, Alvin Leung and Claudio Aprile.

The first few minutes of Sunday’s return was spent catching up with the 12 home cooks and what they’ve been up to. Jeremy opened a catering company, Thea does recipe development, Marissa is seeking a fresh start, Andrew runs a restaurant, Jen attended culinary school, Christopher had to close his cafe due to the pandemic, Andre has been a frontline worker cleaning operating rooms, and Mai started a dumpling business.

All want to take the title they feel they should have won the first time around and pocketed $100,000.

Not content with the usual challenges, Chef Michael warned the home cooks that the tests would be tougher than ever. That began right away, with the Mystery Box Challenge, which was the sole focus of Sunday’s instalment.

Under each wooden crate was the worst dish each home cook had prepared on MasterChef Canada, and they were tasked with making it a winner. Not only that, but at least one home cook would be eliminated from the competition. So yeah, the stakes were higher.

For April Lee, that meant re-jigging her disastrous piña colada dessert into a mousse; for Andrew is was turning a horrible soft-poached egg into shakshouka; for Christopher, it was transforming ground pork into dim sum; and for Marissa, re-working octopus and pork into a stunner of a plate. There were issues along the way, as Thea’s chicken wasn’t cooking properly and April Lee’s mousse separated; standard issues that could mean going home immediately.

When it came to judging, Andy’s lobster chowder impressed Michael; Dora’s beef cheek po’boy was flavourful but should have made her own bread, according to Claudio; Jeremy’s monkfish wowed Alvin; Christopher’s dim sum was delicious but needed more flavour, Claudio opined; Thea’s crispy chicken was dry, said Alvin; Andrew’s eggs were wonderfully runny; Marissa’s chicken and tempura squid with pork belly was clunky, said Claudio; Andre’s pickled coconut pasta and sea urchin was loved by Alvin; Barrie’s Waygu beef tartare impressed Michael; Mai’s salmon in green curry was very good according to Alvin; Jen’s steak and potatoes were delicious, said Claudio; and April Lee’s lemon curd was delicious but her presentation was bad, advised Claudio.

The result? Andre was deemed the winner, and will be given an advantage in next week’s episode. As for the bottom dishes, April Lee, Marissa and Dora found themselves in the bottom. And while April Lee and Marissa were given another chance, Dora wasn’t. She exited the MasterChef kitchen, again.

MasterChef Canada: Back to Win airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CTV.

Images courtesy of Bell Media.


Former competitors prepare for redemption in Masterchef Canada: Back To Win

From a media release:

Through the previous six seasons of MASTERCHEF CANADA, 82 competitors earned a coveted white apron, but only six rose to the very top earning the sought-after title. For the all-new season, talented and passionate former competitors return to the MASTERCHEF CANADA Kitchen for an unprecedented second chance in MASTERCHEF CANADA: BACK TO WIN. Airing Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT beginning Feb. 14 on CTV, and the all-new CTV.ca and CTV app, MASTERCHEF CANADA: BACK TO WIN sees former competitors from previous seasons compete for another chance at the life-changing title, $100,000 cash prize, and a “Chef’s Culinary Package” courtesy of long-running series partner and official major appliance sponsor, Miele.

MASTERCHEF CANADA judges and 2020 Canadian Screen Awards nominees for “Best Host or Presenter, Factual or Reality/Competition”, Michael Bonacini (O&B restaurant empire), Alvin Leung (Bo Innovation in Hong Kong), and Claudio Aprile (Xango in Toronto), return to advise, mentor, and critique the cooks as they compete in a series of culinary challenges. This season, the judges’ expectations are higher than ever, putting experienced cooks to the test as they face the toughest hurdles ever seen in the MASTERCHEF CANADA Kitchen.

The 12 returning cooks vying for the MASTERCHEF CANADA title are:

  • Andre Bhagwandat – Season 6, 2nd place – Private Events and Pop-Ups, from Whitby, Ont.
  • Andrew Al-Khouri – Season 2, 10th place – Restaurateur from Halifax, N.S
  • Andy Hay – Season 5, 2nd place – Food Content Creator from Dartmouth, N.S.
  • April Lee Baker – Season 3, 5th place – Private Chef and Caterer from Calgary, Alta.
  • Barrie McConachie – Season 4, 3rd place – Private Chef and Culinary Events, from Vancouver, B.C.
  • Christopher Siu – Season 2, 5th place – Bakery Owner from Markham, Ont.
  • Dora Cote – Season 1, 11th place – Former Restaurateur/Plumber from Wainwright, Alta.
  • Jen Jenkins – Season 5, 8th place – Culinary Student from Niagara Falls, Ont.
  • Jeremy Senaris – Season 3, 2nd place – Private Chef from Winnipeg, Man.
  • Mai Nguyen – Season 4, 4th place – Dumpling Business Owner from Edmonton, Alta.
  • Marissa Leon-John – Season 5, 7th place – Private Chef from Montréal, Qué.
  • Thea Vanherwaarden – Season 4, 2nd place – Recipe Developer and Content Creator from Vancouver, B.C

The 12 competitors span all previous six seasons, and include a range of former finalists and tough competitors who were taken out too soon. With sky-high stakes, the competitors will need to prove to the judges that they’ve further honed their skills, knowledge, passion, and creativity – they have a tougher mountain to climb as they vie for the title for the second time. The cooks will take on everything from high-intensity skills tests to gruelling challenges, while impressing special guests and world-renowned chefs. In the end, the top cooks face off in the finale showdown. Visit TheLede.ca for cook bios and photos.

Throughout the season, fans are invited to visit CTV.ca/MasterChefCanada for exclusive content, including information on the Season 7 finalists and the MASTERCHEF CANADA judges, as well as interviews, highlights, recipes, and more. CTV.ca and the CTV app also offers viewers a behind-the-scenes look at this season’s challenges, delectable dishes, victories, and defeats

Leading up to the Season 7 premiere, viewers across the country can satisfy their MASTERCHEF CANADA cravings and relive all the culinary action from previous seasons of the series available on the all-new CTV.ca and on the CTV app, along with Seasons 4-6 now streaming on Crave. New episodes of MASTERCHEF CANADA are available on-demand the day following their broadcast premieres on CTV.

The MasterChef format and finished programs are represented internationally by Banijay. With over 60 local adaptations broadcast in more than 200 countries, MasterChef is the world’s most successful cookery television format. MasterChef was created by Franc Roddam.

MASTERCHEF CANADA is produced by Proper Television in association with CTV. Proper’s Co-President Cathie James is the Executive Producer and Showrunner and Co-President Lesia Capone is Executive Producer.