Everything about Masterchef Canada, eh?

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.

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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.

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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.

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MasterChef Canada: Tony’s not so great at leadership in first Team Challenge

Weddings can be one of the biggest events in a couple’s relationship. The clothes, flowers, venue, music and weather is, hopefully, perfect and leaves the couple and their guests with longlasting positive memories. Another huge component of a wedding is the food, which led to an incredible amount of pressure on the MasterChef Canada home cooks, who prepared a two-course meal for a Caribbean-inspired wedding. (I wonder if the pair had to audition and if the show’s production company helped pay for any part of the wedding?)

Tony, who has impressed judges Claudio, Michael and Alvin with his Italian dishes, served as the Red Team leader. Opposite him was Chanelle, leading the Blue Team. The location of the wedding? Madsen’s Greenhouse in Newmarket, Ont., where Chloe and Jeremy were set to say their “I do’s” in front of 121 family and friends. The Team Challenge? To make an appetizer and main for everyone. At first blush, the team with Andre—and his Caribbean expertise—on it appeared to have an advantage. That meant Tony’s team, which also included Jenny, Alyssa and Cryssi. Chanelle may have had the second pick on people, choosing Jennifer, Roz, Colin and Josh, but she was given the first choice at protein, getting shellfish and chicken and leaving fish and beef for Tony et al.

Tony’s team got off quickly, leaning on Andre’s plan of fried fish with ackee followed by stewed beef and dumplings. Tony’s soccer coach knowledge came into play early as he jumped from person to person, checking that everyone was on task. But then the stress of frying fish threatened to derail the appetizer, with a lot of yelling between Tony and Cryssi happening until Andre stepped in to help Alyssa. But Tony kept at it with Cryssi, and then Andre, and it definitely hurt team morale.

Chanelle’s group was more of a team effort with everyone weighing in until seafood soup with coconut and jerk chicken with beans and salsa. Chenelle’s squad was in a bit of disarray, and without Andre to help them, a little out to sea. Josh’s jerk chicken marinade seemed to be too heavy on the Scotch bonnet peppers but his teammates seemed to like it.

The happy couple and their guests were served appetizers and it appeared as though blue’s soup was a little too bland compared to red’s fish. And, to make things worse, Roz ran out of the soup, a major planning gaffe. They quickly thinned out the remaining soup they had with shrimp stock but received thumbs down from guests.

With just an hour left to prep, cook and serve the main dish, things went awry when Josh dropped a pan of jerk chicken on the floor. (Was it just me or did Chef Claudio seem to take great delight in that?) The five-second rule does not apply in the MasterChef Canada kitchen, but luckily Josh has prepared extra meat so they weren’t going to run short.

Chloe wasn’t impressed with the red team’s beef stew, saying it lacked a lot of flavour, while she loved the blue team’s chicken. In the end, Team Red won by just three votes. So while Andre was a help in his team’s success, Tony’s leadership style and losing track of time caused what might have been a landslide victory much closer. Chanelle and her team lost but I hope held their heads high. The red team was saved from the Pressure Test and elimination.

Back in the kitchen, Chenelle, Jennifer, Roz, Colin and Josh were fighting to stay in the competition, but not before they were allowed to pick one home cook to be saved from elimination. They chose, rightly, Josh. He owned the jerk chicken from start to finish and the guests liked it. In the Pressure Test, Chenelle, Jennifer, Roz and Colin were tasked with creating one sweet and one savoury cheesecake in 80 minutes. (If anyone is interested, I would have gone with a brownie swirl cheesecake for my sweet and made a buffalo chicken blue cheese for my savoury.)

With time running out, Colin’s watery strawberry cheesecake filling seemed destined to send him home before it got into the oven. As for Chanelle, hers came out of the oven intact but collapsed during plating. Incredibly, each cheesecake was completed and, overall, looked amazing. Jennifer’s everything bagel was enjoyed by Chef Michael and Chef Claudio deemed her chocolate attempt to be great; Chef Alvin didn’t enjoy Colin’s scallop lemon offering but Micheal loved his sweet strawberry concoction; Alvin liked the light taste of Chanelle’s goat cheese creation and, while Michael did like the flavour of her sweet matcha cheesecake, he pointed out its horrible collapse; Michael enjoyed Rozin’s Stilton cheesecake but opined it was a little heavy-handed, and Alvin refused to comment (on camera at least) about his tahini-themed plate.

In the episode’s closing moments, Alvin, Claudio and Michael awarded Jennifer top marks for her cheesecakes. Rozin overreached in his ambition but was saved from elimination. That left Colin and Chanelle, with Colin being shown the door. It wasn’t entirely unexpected—Colin was middle of the road in last week’s two-hour debut—but I was sad to see him go and thought his East Coast-inspired recipes would have been neat to see evolve.

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

Images courtesy of Bell Media.

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MasterChef Canada gets cooking with Season 6 on CTV

With the coming of spring (finally), so too was the return of MasterChef Canada (finally). And what a return it was! A jam-packed two hours kicked off Season 6 with, once again, the goal of awarding the top home cook in this fine land and giving them $100,000.

And, in a twist to the audition process, judges Claudio Aprile, Alvin Leung and Michael Bonacini personally sifted through a pile of audition photos to choose the Top 18 finalists to do battle. It’s always interesting to see how the finalists interact with the judges—and each other—this early in the competition. Nerves almost always come into play, as do egos and large personalities. Both can get you eliminated pretty quickly.

Once the hand-delivered messages from the judges were delivered, we had our Top 18.

  • Alyssa LeBlanc, Former Public Servant, from Tusket, N.S.
  • Andre Bhagwandat, Hospital Housekeeper, from Scarborough, Ont.
  • Chanelle Saks, Entrepreneur, from Calgary
  • Cliff McArthur, IT Support Analyst, from Scarborough, Ont.
  • Colin Buckingham, Car Salesman, from St. John’s
  • Cryssi Larocque, Former Airline Agent, from Thunder Bay, Ont.
  • Jamie Mayer, Healthcare Portfolio Manager, from Toronto
  • Jennifer Crawford, Senior Policy Analyst, from Kingston, N.S.
  • Jenny Miller, Stay-at-Home Mom, from Havre Boucher, N.S.
  • Josh Miller, Youth Care Home Manager, from Regina
  • Kimberly Fitzpatrick, Writer, from Ottawa
  • Laurie Dingwall, Retired, from Lac Saguay, Qué.
  • Lena Huynh, Lash Technician, from Burnaby, B.C.
  • Marie Le Bel, Entrepreneur, from Westmount, Qué.
  • Mark Hamilton, Firefighter, from Mission, B.C.
  • Rozin Abbas, Digital Marketer, from Toronto
  • Steven Lapointe, International Figure Skater, from Acton Vale, Qué.
  • Tony La Ferrara, Soccer Coach and Retired Teacher, from Whitby, Ont.

And, as has become the custom, those finalists were tasked with preparing a signature dish in hopes of sticking around and acquiring a white apron. Each group of six—chosen by Michael, Claudio or Alvin—took a turn cooking for the judge who signed their invitation. Alvin’s group went first, with the Demon Chef serving as coach. But, in a twist, the signature dish had to be made with chicken. That threw a wrench in the plans of any home cook expecting to make their special plate. I like the shakeup in gameplay, especially when Alvin took some potshots at Michael’s expense.

Cliff’s chicken and waffles landed him an apron, and Alyssa and Josh joined him. Sadly, the other three home cooks invited by Alvin were sent home.

Up next was Chef Michael’s six, preparing something with beef as the focus. Unfortunately, Tony nicked himself during prep and was sidelined for several moments, putting his future in jeopardy. He still finished it and received an apron. Marie was the lone home cook from Michael’s team who was not handed an apron.

Finally, Chef Claudio’s six home cooks took to the floor and prepared shrimp dishes. The standouts were Jennifer’s tart, Rozin’s shrimp and grits and Andre’s curry. Cryssi received the final apron of the episode, setting up the Top 12.

There was barely a moment to celebrate before Episode 2 kicked off with the Top 12 facing their first Mystery Box and Elimination Challenges of Season 6.

Root vegetables were the name of the game for the Mystery Box, testing each home cook to reveal their own roots with an original recipe. It was interesting to see how quickly home cooks like Andre and Colin settled into plating something celebrating their upbringing or background for the second episode in a row, with the former creating a spicy Cajun purée and the latter cod with root vegetables. The judges selected Jennifer’s trout with root vegetable “scales,” Cryssi’s roasted root vegetable soup and Jenny’s vegetables five ways. Jenny won the Mystery Box a test and was safe from elimination for the week.

The season’s first Elimination Challenge featured nine different proteins for 11 cooks. Jenny’s other advantage? Saving two compatriots; she picked Cryssi and Jennifer to stick around. While some home cooks were happy to select a protein they had experience with, others chose an item they didn’t, choosing to challenge themselves. Kudos to Chanelle for taking the octopus. Meanwhile, Colin was struggling over on his station and managed to burn his salmon and had to start again. Luckily, he had more to prepare but was running out of time. Rozin wasn’t so lucky and scorched some of his lamb ragu, and Cliff discovered his duck leg wasn’t cooked enough to pull away from the bone.

The Top 2 plates were prepared by Chanelle and Tony, who are captains for next week’s team challenge. At the other end of the spectrum were Colin, Steven, Alyssa and Cliff. Alyssa and Colin were given another chance, meaning Cliff and Steven’s time in the kitchen had come to an end.

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

Image courtesy of Bell Media.

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