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MasterChef Canada: The home cooks welcome family but say goodbye to two

MasterChef Canada had a special treat for fans on Monday night, as CTV broadcast back-to-back episodes. Of course, the double-dose did have a dark side: we said goodbye to two home cooks.

In the first episode of the night, the Top 5 were surprised by some very special guests: a Mystery Box full of family. Josh’s wife, Cryssi’s sister, Jennifer’s boyfriend, Chanelle’s husband and Andre’s aunt was on-hand not just to cheer on their loved ones—which was what I expected—but to do the cooking instead. It was clear from the shocked looks the home cooks and guests weren’t prepared for the twist. Able to coach, cheer on and participate for a mere 18 of 60 minutes, the competitors could only look on as their beloved recreated a fried chicken dish with biscuits, gravy and coleslaw.

Josh opted to clock in almost right away, butchering the chicken and getting it marinating and prompting his wife to move faster. Jennifer jumped in next, working on the biscuits for her sweetheart’s plate. Andre tended to his biscuits, leaving his aunt to prepare the chicken and coleslaw. Chanelle stayed out as long as she could but buzzed in to help her husband and make sure he was making good use of his time. With 30 minutes to go, Cryssi (according to the episode’s edit) still hadn’t clocked into her sister’s aid, a clear indication of their closeness and confidence in each other.

Cryssi and her sister’s platter looked the tastiest and won rave reviews from Chefs Michael, Claudio and Alvin, but it was Andre and his aunt who was awarded the win. It landed Andre a much-coveted boost in the Elimination Challenge, which had the Top 5 spinning a wheel to determine the tropical fruit at the centre of their next concoction. Andre had his pick of the wheel and chose to make a savoury dish with passionfruit. Cryssi spun and landed on a sweet sugar apple recipe, Josh savoury tamarind, Chanelle sweet using soursop, and Jennifer a savoury coconut.

A group of people cheering.Andre was the only one that didn’t have trouble with their main ingredient—the sugar apple was full of seeds and Chanelle had no clue what soursop was—though Jennifer had a great game plan, opting to use coconut as the base of a seafood curry.

At the tasting, Andre’s passionfruit glazed scallop fritter was enjoyed by Alvin and Michael, Chanelle’s soursop filled crepes weren’t very flavourful, Jennifer’s curry en papillote was overcooked, Cryssi’s sugar apple tart was “Wow,” and Josh’s tamarind beef tostadas were disappointing because he failed to cut the meat all the way through and his tostadas weren’t hand made. The top home cook was Andre, and Chanelle, sadly, was shown the door.

In the second episode, the Top 4 travelled to Peterborough, Ont., to visit the Canadian Canoe Museum for an Indigenous ingredient-themed Team Challenge. There, they were greeted by Chefs Alvin, Michael and Claudio alongside Anishinaabe chef Johl Whiteduck Ringuette of NishDish in Toronto. The task? To create a three-course tasting menu utilizing one of the Three Sisters—corn, squash and beans—for First Nations guests. Chef Johl also came with a gift: white corn.

Andre, who was tops in the Elimination Challenge picked both teams. Andre picked Jennifer to be on his Red Team and facing Josh and Cryssi on the Blue Team.

Two men cook food on a stove top.Jennifer and Andre opted for pemmican inspired bison steaks with corn, partridge with sour cherries and beans, and squash cake while Cryssi and Josh chose to make corn chowder with corn fritters, venison with warm butter basted bean salad, and bannock and squash pudding.

When it came to the best dishes of the night, the Red Team triumphed, whisking Jennifer and Andre into the Top 3 and leaving Josh and Cryssi to fight in the Pressure Test. They were given 70 minutes to replicate a tempered chocolate sphere containing a pistachio sponge cake and bruléed figs.

Josh, who admits baking isn’t his strong suit, was in tough against baking pro Cryssi. And yet, he was the first to land his chocolate sphere in the fridge while she struggled to get hers to work. In order to make it work, Cryssi ditched the mould for a balloon. Incredibly, they both completed the task, though Josh’s creation looked a little better and nailed the replication aspect.

Cryssi’s flavours were dead-on, but would they trump Josh’s dead-on replication? No, and Josh moved into the Top 3.

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

Images courtesy of Bell Media.

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MasterChef Canada: History is made during Restaurant Takeover

It may have been a holiday in the rest of the country, but MasterChef Canada didn’t take the day off.

In the biggest test of the season—of every season, really, aside from the finale—the home cooks participated in the daunting Restaurant Takeover, as they served guests at Chef Michael Bonacini’s Leña Restaurante. Rozin, who earned his way back into the competition, joined the Top 5 as they prepared two appetizers and two main dishes for a select group of lunch diners, media and Bell Media guests. (Make no mistake, these folks weren’t paying customers and Chef Michael’s cred was not on the line. That doesn’t take away from the rigours of the test, I just want you to know.)

Cryssi and Josh, who hadn’t been team captains yet, were handed the blue and red aprons and picked their teammates. Josh chose Jennifer and Chanelle to be on Team Red, while Cryssi opted for Rozin and Andre. Andre (and I) was shocked he was picked last, especially because of his experiences with spice, something I assumed would come into play in a restaurant featuring South American flavours. The cool thing that struck me about this Restaurant Takeover—and it may have happened before—was the home cooks were making actual items from Leña’s menu. The broken avocado salad, clams and chorizo, Atlantic salmon and roasted lamb sirloin are available to order or have been, which made the challenge have real stakes. Cryssi, who grew up in a Portuguese household, was excited at the chance to make the plates. Josh was struggling to keep up.

A man and a woman stand in a kitchen.On the Red Team, Josh tackled the clams and Chanelle took on the salad with Jennifer helping where needed. Cryssi, meanwhile, handled the seafood for the Red Team, with Andre doing the salad and Rozin aiding when called upon. The small kitchen and constant orders coming in soon caused the expected trouble for both squads. In particular, the clams were being stubborn, causing Cryssi to sweat; I could feel the frustration and dismay in her voice. And Chef Michael made it known he wasn’t pleased either. The judges gave the plates a try and deemed it pretty much a draw.

Next up were the mains. Josh chose to prepare the lamb, Jennifer the salmon and Chanelle roving. Cryssi picked the salmon, Rozin on the lamb and Andre plating. The Red Team stumbled at first, with rare lamb and salmon slowing them down and Josh neglecting his duties as team captain. It was chaos. Things weren’t any better on the blue side, as lamb orders piled up and Rozin floundered in the weeds. Chef Michael had this to say when he was told it would be eight minutes until the lamb was ready.

“Eight minutes?! You’re killing me!” And perhaps blue’s chances at a win, especially when Michael called chef de cuisine Julie Marteleira in to help them. With one Red Team table waiting 90 minutes for their food, they weren’t vying for the win either, so Chef Michael got his hands dirty with them. All three judges agreed, upon tasting, that the entrees weren’t up to par.

Three men stand at a table, tasting food.The result? Neither team was safe and all six home cooks were headed to the Pressure Test, prepping breakfast for Alvin, Michael and Claudio. But before that, Cryssi and Josh were given the opportunity to save an MVP from their squad. Andre and Jennifer were picked and headed up to the gallery.

Three different breakfasts—full English for Michael, congee for Alvin and bizcocho for Claudio—just 65 minutes and a replication challenge seemed impossible for Rozin, Cryssi, Chanelle and Josh. I would have sat down on the floor and cried. The home cooks soldiered on and were in pretty good spirits. Rozin could only smile as he uncovered his blood sausage and discovered it had burst into a grey paté, and Josh’s congee turned into a soupy mess.

Chef Michael tasted the bizcocho first, enjoying Cryssi’s, marking Josh’s as dry, Rozin’s dry and overcooked, and Chanelle’s just wrong. Chef Alvin was up next tasting the congee, deeming Cryssi’s spot-on, Josh’s thin and bland, Rozin’s good but unbalanced, and Chanelle’s a good effort. Finally, it was time for Chef Michael’s English breakfast. Cryssi’s was tasty but her eggs were undone, Josh’s well executed, Rozin’s well done, and Chanelle’s eggs a little overdone.

With many little mistakes made, it was going to be a tough call but the judges made it: Cryssi was tops and Rozin was cut from the competition for a second time.

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

Images courtesy of Bell Media.

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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.

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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.

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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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