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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.

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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.

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The power of pop music is uncovered in new CTV original series This is Pop

From a media release:

From Auto-Tune to boy bands to the rise of country pop, CTV’s all-new original documentary series THIS IS POP dives deep into some of the most pivotal moments in pop music history over the past seven decades. Produced by Banger Films, the eight-part docu-series features exclusive interviews with the biggest names in music – including Shania Twain, Boyz II Men, and T-Pain – and explores their impact on the industry and pop culture. THIS IS POP airs Saturdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT, beginning March 6, on CTV, and the all-new CTV.ca and CTV app.

Each 60-minute instalment of THIS IS POP is directed by an award-winning Canadian filmmaker – such as Jared Raab, Simon Ennis, and Lisa Rideout – who bring their own style and voiceto one common goal: to look at how these seminal moments unfolded, and left long-lasting legacies on pop music and culture which continue until today.

The eight game-changing moments that THIS IS POP explores include:

“Auto-Tune” (Saturday, March 6 at 10 p.m. ET) – Love it or hate it, Auto-Tune has changed pop music. From Cher’s “Believe” to Kanye West’s “Love Lockdown,” the sound has penetrated the globe and revolutionized music since its invention in 1997. Some say the pitch-correction technology has ruined music, while others have found fame by using the tool creatively. Tracing Auto-Tune’s roots to predecessors like the synthesizer, the good, the bad, and the ugly of this game-changing technology is revealed, grounded in a personal account of Auto-Tune’s most famous user, T-Pain. This episode also features interviews with Auto-Tune inventor Dr. Andy Hildebrand, British record producer Ken Scott (producer and engineer for The Beatles and some of David Bowie’s biggest albums), and synthesizer pioneer Suzanne Ciani. Directed by Jared Raab (NIRVANNA THE BAND THE SHOW).

“Hail Britpop!” (Saturday, March 13 at 10 p.m. ET) – Britpop. The word can elicit an eye roll, an itch to get on the dance floor, or a sudden urge to cry and sing “Wonderwall.” In the early ‘90s, when America was hooked on grunge, The Brits retaliated with a return to catchy, witty, and downright fun pop, speaking to their own stories and cultural roots. This musical zeitgeist known as “Britpop” went far behind the headlines of “Oasis vs. Blur” – bands like Elastica, Echobelly, Pulp, Lush, and Suede became international exports with a unique sound. With musical scenes in both London and Manchester, Britpop was the “perfect storm” of creative songwriting, eclectic personalities, and cultural forces behind some of the catchiest tunes on the planet. Featuring interviews with Blur’s Alex James and Dave Rowntree, Skin from Skunk Anansie, and Creation Records’ Alan McGee (who discovered Oasis). Directed by Reginald Harkema (Monkey Warfare).

“Stockholm Syndrome” (Saturday, March 20 at 10 p.m. ET) – Since 1974, when a little-known group named ABBA won Eurovision’s song contest with their track “Waterloo,” Sweden has been a global force in exporting pop music. Cassette players and bedroom walls have been filled with the likes of Roxette, Ace of Base, and Robyn, and ‘90s playlists featuring Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys, and *NSYNC would be obsolete without the work of Swedes Denniz Pop and Max Martin. Today, Swedish producers and songwriters continue to be the powerhouses behind the biggest pop stars. Featuring interviews with ABBA’s Benny Andersson, Ace of Base’s Ulf Ekberg, and The Backstreet Boys’ Brian Littrell, this episode explores how one – Scandinavian country came to dominate global pop music. Directed by Jared Raab.

“The Boyz II Men Effect” (Saturday, March 27 at 10 p.m. ET) – Before Backstreet Boys, *NSYNC, and 98 Degrees, there was a “boy band” from Philadelphia called Boyz II Men that ruled the charts. With their incredible vocal harmonies and preppy-cool style, Boyz II Men became the “soundtrack to our lives” with hits like “End of The Road”, “I’ll Make Love To You”, “Motown Philly,” and “One Sweet Day” – heard at weddings, proms, karaoke bars, and funerals alike. Going back to the band’s humble beginnings in Philadelphia, this episode pays homage to the influential R&B group who set the template for ‘90s boy bands. Featuring interviews with band members Nate Morris, Wanya Morris, Shawn Stockman, GRAMMY® AWARD-winning producer and musician Babyface, and Nick Lachey. Directed by Chelsea McMullan.

“When Country Goes Pop” (Saturday, April 3 at 10 p.m. ET) – It’s a tale as old as time – a country song goes “pop” and country music fans protest. From Dolly Parton to Shania Twain to Lil Nas X, the scrutiny around what makes a song “country” has been a raging debate that shows no signs of slowing down. Featuring renowned Canadian musician Orville Peck, pivotal and controversial moments of the Country Pop genre are examined in this instalment, as artists including Brandi Carlile and Twain herself share their stories to help demonstrate why country music has such a fetish with authenticity. Directed by Simon Ennis.

“The Brill Building in 4 Songs” (Saturday, April 10 at 10 p.m. ET) – New York City’s Brill Building and pop music go together like bread and butter, or in this case, like King n’ Goffin, Leiber n’ Stoller, or Barry n’ Kim. In the 1950s and 60s, songwriters, record producers, and wannabe pop stars flocked to 1619 Broadway in New York with dreams of churning out the next big hit. Full of small rooms with upright pianos, The Brill Building was labelled a “song-factory”, but its true spirit grew out of a community that collaborated and challenged each other to achieve greatness. The result would culminate in an incredible musical era known as “The Brill Building Sound” and would define pop music to this day, delivering hits like “Leader of The Pack,” “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow,” and “Sugar Sugar.” Featuring interviews with singer Andy Kim, Neil Sedaka, Steven Van Zandt, and singer-songwriter Linda Perry. Directed by Chelsea McMullan.

“What Can A Song Do?” (Saturday, April 17 at 10 p.m. ET) – For decades, musicians have been using music as their weapon of choice against social injustice, discrimination and marginalization. From Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land” to Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright,” a song is one of the most powerful ways to transmit a message to a large audience. This episode explores the idea that music actually be a catalyst for change, with musicians like Chuck D, Arlo Guthrie, and Hozier sharing their unique approach to writing about injustice. Directed by Lisa Rideout.

“Festival Rising” (Saturday, April 24 at 10 p.m. ET) – There is no right of passage quite like the music festival. Millions of people attend them each year and now more than ever they infiltrate our culture from “festival wear” clothing lines to playlists. Taking a journey from ‘60s counterculture to modern-day “selfie” culture, the evolution of the music festival is explored to examine deeper ideas about the importance of collective experiences, and they act as a cultural mirror that reflect interests and ideals. Focusing on some of the most iconic festivals in history including Monterey Pop, Glastonbury, The US Festival, Woodstock 99, and Bonnaroo, accounts from Jefferson Airplane’s Jack Casady, Broken Social Scene’s Kevin Drew, and Bloc Party’s Kele Okereke bring to life to all the sights and sounds of the pop festival. Directed by Dylan Reibling.

THIS IS POP is produced by Banger Films in association with CTV. For Banger, Sam Dunn and Scot McFadyen are Executive Producers and Amanda Burt is Series Producer.

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Season 3 of CTV’s hit original comedy Jann begins production

From a media release:

CTV, in association with Project 10 Productions and SEVEN24 Films, announced today that production has begun in Calgary on Season 3 of hit original comedy series, JANN. Starring multi-platinum award-winning Canadian singer, songwriter, broadcaster, and author Jann Arden as a fictionalized version of herself, Season 3 consists of eight half-hour episodes.

Joining the cast of JANN in leading roles this season are Canadian actors Tenaj Williams (BIG SKY, WYNONNA EARP) and Charlie Kerr (SUPERNATURAL, THE MAGICIANS). Williams stars as Trey, Jann’s (Jann Arden) personal assistant; while Kerr plays Nate, who finds himself in a love triangle with Jann and her ex-girlfriend Cynthia (Sharon Taylor).

Confirmed to guest star on the series’ third season is GRAMMY® Award-winning Canadian singer-songwriter Michael Bublé as himself.

Season 3 of JANN is a period of new beginnings as Jann takes her life, career, and relationships into her own hands. She hires a personal assistant, commits to making a new album from the heart, and, after her girlfriend refused her marriage proposal, starts dating someone new… a younger man.

Returning cast starring alongside Arden are Zoie Palmer (PURE, Spiral) as Jann’s sister Max; Deborah Grover (My Next Door Nightmare, THE SURREALTOR, GOODWITCH) as Jann’s mom Nora; Patrick Gilmore (Travelers; You, Me, Her) as Jann’s brother-in-law Dave; Elena Juatco (Escape the Field, SCHITT’S CREEK) as Jann’s fired manager Cale; Jason Blicker (UMBRELLA ACADEMY, Finding Hannah) as Jann’s former manager Todd; Sharon Taylor (BIG SKY, Bad Blood) as Jann’s ex-girlfriend Cynthia; Alexa Rose Steele (Friends Who Kill, Vicious Fun) as Jann’s eldest niece Charley; Ceilidh MacDonald as Jann’s niece Sam; and Keaira Pliva as Jann’s niece Frankie.

Nominated for three Canadian Screen Awards in 2020 including Best Comedy Series, JANN continues to be led in Season 3 by EMMY® Award-winning producer Andrew Barnsley (SCHITT’S CREEK); President of Project 10, Ben Murray; and Playback’s “Production Company of the Year”, SEVEN24 Films (HEARTLAND, WYNONNA EARP) Executive Producers Jordy Randall and Tom Cox. In 2020, Jann Arden and Jennica Harper were the recipients of a Writers Guild of Canada Screenwriting Award for Best Comedy Series.

Seasons 1 and 2 of JANN are currently available for streaming on CTV.ca, the CTV app, and Crave, and in the United States on Hulu.

Set and filmed in Calgary, JANN was co-developed by Bell Media and Project 10 Productions, and is produced in association with Project 10 Productions and SEVEN24 Films.

JANN is created by Jann Arden, Leah Gauthier, and Jennica Harper who also serve as Executive Producers with Jennica Harper Showrunning.

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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 CanadaBack to Win airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CTV.

Images courtesy of Bell Media.

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