Amateur cooks sharpen their knives on MasterChef Canada premiere
The inaugural season of MasterChef Canada kicks off tonight (January 20) at 8 p.m. on CTV, but don’t expect B.C. to be well-represented in the competition. Of the 50 amateur cooks chosen as finalists, only five hail from the province. Like most TV shows shot in Toronto, the majority of competitors—a whopping 33—come from Ontario.
MasterChef Canada is based on a reality TV cooking competition that originated in the U.K. and is now produced in over 40 countries. The U.S. version, which has Gordon Ramsay as a judge, recently completed its fourth season. The series has spawned additional shows like MasterChef Junior, where eight to 13 year olds are given fire and knives and encouraged to battle in a similar competition.
The premise of MasterChef is to find the best home cook in the country. In Canada, the winner receives $100,000 and a trophy. Competitors cannot have culinary training or previous experience working in a restaurant kitchen. After being selected at the provincial level, cooks are asked to create a dish and audition in front of producers.
Once flown to Toronto as a top-50 finalist, the home cooks have one chance to impress the judges with a signature dish. To many Canadians, the three judges selected for MasterChef Canada may be relatively unknown. Michael Bonacini is a chef and co-founder of the Oliver & Bonacini Restaurants, which operates 11 restaurants in Ontario. He has previous TV experience as the host of Food Network Canada’s Cook like a Chef. Claudio Aprile also presides over a brand of Ontario-based restaurants: the Orderfire Restaurant Group, which owns Toronto’s Origin restaurant. While this is Aprile’s first stint on TV, he has over 30 years of kitchen experience under his belt. Finally, Alvin Leung is perhaps MasterChef Canada’s answer to Gordon Ramsay. The self-described “Demon Chef” is best known for his Michelin-starred restaurant Bo Innovation in Hong Kong. Trained as an engineer, Leung claims to be a self-taught chef has previous TV experience on The Maverick Chef, Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, and Top Chef Masters.
On the first episode, viewers will see about half the competitors vie for a spot on the show. In the one-hour program, few cooks are interviewed on camera, including Vancouver’s Carly Tennant. The clothing-store owner who credits her mother for entering her into the competition makes turkey meatballs with parsnip purée and crispy kale for the judges, and while she does come across a bit frazzled in the five minutes given to finish and plate her dish, Tennant seems to want a spot on the show really badly.
Other finalists appearing in the first episode include Calgary’s Tammara Behl, who makes vegan samosas with two sauces; identical twins from Toronto Narida Mohammed and Natalie Mascia; young chemical engineer Eric Chong, who must stand up to disapproving Asian parents to fulfill his dream of cooking; wheelchair-bound homemaker Carmela Campolargo; and Alberta single-mother Dora Cote, whose pastry skills impress the judges.
Competitors who are ultimately selected to compete on the show will need to survive weekly culinary challenges and eliminations.