Wednesday, 29 January 2014

MasterChef Canada Episode 2 'Chicken Little' OR "Pardon Me, Would You Have Any Grey Poupon?"

The white apron auditions continue on MasterChef Canada, or what I like to call 'MasterChef Lite'.

First up is Danny Raposo, who presents his homemade Chorizo - a family recipe, to the judges. The best one-liner of the episode is delivered by Michael Bonacini who says, "You're very proud of your sausage, aren't you?". Now that was a mouthful. I wonder if Bonacini thought that line up while watching Danny prep his dish, or was it just one of those things you say without thinking, then regret later. Either way, I can't imagine Ramsay saying that. Danny decides against serving the sauce, a beer-reduction with 'plastic bottle' mustard. That was Leung's dig at the pedestrian French's mustard. I guess there was no Grey Poupon in the MasterChef pantry. Regardless, Danny earns his white apron.

More white aprons are handed out to:

Sparkle Davis
Evan Ouaknine
Meaghan Toth
Peter Smith (Bubba)
Mike Green
Josh Gale
Danielle Cardozo
Rob Slivchak
J.P. Lessard
Allison Abernathy
Natalya Demberg

Once again, some of those are not even identified by name. That brings the total number of white aprons the judges have handed out to 26. Apparently, 26 white aprons are way too many home chefs, and it sets up a good opportunity to instill some drama. Got to get that roster down to a more manageable 16. Time for a Stress Test!

This first elimination is supposedly inspired by Canada's first settlers. One burner (because I guess our settlers had electricity), one pan, and chicken? Leung carries a chicken out to show the home chefs. Here we go. Or not. Just when everyone thinks they are going to have to butcher a chicken on television, 26 cooking stations are ceremoniously revealed, each with a nicely cleaned and plucked chicken. They have one hour to prepare a dish using all or any part of the chicken. Aprile encourages them to showcase their cultural diversity. The three judges have a side-bar. The biggest mistake would be to cook any part of the chicken on the bone - there isn't enough time. Some of the home cooks start dawdling in the pantry.

Oh the drama! Most of it is obviously manufactured for the enjoyment of the viewing audience. Of course, the 26 cooking stations were made to be very confining. Some have troubles with this, then we see Dale Kuda making a chicken liver pate, using a stylized, one-handed knife chop on the livers. The other hand is on his hip. Was he purposely being obnoxious? Trying to psych-out the others? Or was he just that bored?

The judges take the long walk down the line of 26 home chefs, tasting and critiquing as they go. They ponder whether or not some of the dishes are up to MasterChef 'standards', especially Bubba's sandwich. That's when I say, "Hey, what's wrong with sandwiches?" Besides, they were named after one John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich. Fact. The earl could eat his sandwich and play cribbage at the same time. If it was good enough for some 18th century English Earl, then that's snooty enough for me. Not up to MasterChef standards? Harrumph. Hey, you guys aren't exactly Gordon Ramsey, you know.

Time to start chopping the field. The judges show their versatility. They pull out three elimination methods from their repertoire.

Elimination Method 1. They call up one group: Mike, Marida, Julie, Meaghan and Josh. They get the standard lines from the judges, deliberately meant to make them, and us wonder if they are in or not. They are safe.

Elimination Method 2. Two groups are called up. Group 1 is Rob, Sarah. J.P., Allison, Natalya and Jordan. Group 2 is Tammara, Eric, Pino, Ben, Danielle, Carly and Brooke. It's obvious that one group will be cut, even before Bonacini, Aprile or Leung open their mouths. They keep group 2, and ask Group 1 to turn in their aprons.

Elimination Method 3. Eight home chefs remain to be judged. What to do, what to do? Hey, I know. Let's make them sweat and call them up in pairs...give them personal admonishment. These guys even have their dishes presented and tasted. The other 12 who kept their aprons didn't have to go through this.

- Dale and John. Dale's in. His chicken liver pate was a gamble. John's out, because his chicken was cooked in the pan with the bone in. A mistake. Chicken was pink.

- Sparkle and Bubba. Both out. Here we go with the MasterChef standards again. Okay so maybe the sandwich showed lack of imagination. Or maybe Bubba couldn't find the Grey Poupon either.

- Evan and Kaila. The judges ask Kaila if she thinks her dish is good enough for MasterChef Canada. Before she can give a complete answer, Leung interrupts with "We'll be the judge of that", or something to that effect. This only reinforces my opinion that there are no correct answers. These guys are going to get you no matter what. Don't even try. Anyways, Kaila is in and Evan is out.

- Dora and Danny. The last two. They just also happen to be a plumber and a construction worker. Funny how that went down. They hold hands, waiting for the decision. Only on MasterChef Canada can we see a plumber and a construction worker holding hands while waiting 3 chefs to pass judgement on their cooking skills. The transparency here is painfully obvious. The sequence was: one in, one out; two out; one in, one out. It only made sense that these two would be in. Besides, Dora and Danny are the two most interesting out of the lot! No worries, they both got to keep their aprons.

So that sets the field at a nice even 16 home chefs. For those keeping track, the breakdown by province is: 9 from Ontario; 4 from British Columbia, 2 from Alberta; and 1 from Manitoba. Of course, this isn't a provincial competition, but there are always people who need to know this information. The real competition begins with the next episode on Sunday, ...whenever the Superbowl ends. I still don't see the relationship between the Superbowl and MasterChef Canada. Perhaps they should have kept Bubba and his sandwich. The MasterChef Kitchen will be revealed, and the competitors face their first mystery box challenge. It looks like the first rivalry also develops, between Kaila and Brooke. The preview also promises a 'surprise elimination'. I don't know if that is a scheduled surprise elimination, or if the judges spontaneously boot someone out.

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

MasterChef Canada Episode 1 'White is the New Black' OR 'You Guys Don't Understand!!!'

It has begun. MasterChef has come to Canada, and along with it all the hopes and dreams of 'home chefs' across the country.

Of course, it starts in the usual manner. There is the typical montage of of applicants expressing those dreams. "I have the courage/vision/determination". "I'm doing this for my son/daughter/mother/grandmother" or "If I win, it will completely change my life/future".

But the problem is, this is Canada. The first episode moves way too quick. So quick they don't even bother to identify some of the applicants. Come on...these people took time out of their lives, and the showrunners couldn't even give them that 5 seconds of glory? How sad. Even some of the people who advanced and received their white aprons didn't even get a nod. Which is kind of curious. Were they not that good, but passable enough to fill the roster? Or maybe they were TOO good, and stood head and shoulders above the rest?

Here are the home chefs who advanced:

Tammara Behl. Calgary, Alberta.38 years old, Special Needs Teacher.
Marida Mohammed. Toronto, Ontario. Stay-at-home Mom.
Eric Chong. Oakville, Ontario. 21, Chemical Engineer.
Carly Tennant. Vancouver, B.C. Boutique Owner.
Kaila Klassen. West Kelowna, B.C. 24, Real Estate Agent.
Dale Kuda. Toronto, Ontario. 26, Self-Employed House Cleaner.
Dora Cote. Rocky Mountain House, Alberta. 37, Plumber.

Well, those were the ones that were identified during the episode. There were approximately 6 to 8 people who received a white apron, yet went nameless. Maybe we'll find out their names in the next episode, when the field is reduced in the first challenge. Or will they end up getting cut, doomed to anonymity forever?

(UPDATED Jan 27). I have attempted to identify those poor 'unnamed' contestants:

John Chung Yin Leun. Calgary, Alberta. Radio Operator
Sarah Nguyen. Oakville, Ontario. Stay-at-Home Mom.
Jordan Casey. Amherstview, Ontario. Financial Service Representative.
Pino Di Cerbo. Mississauga, Ontario. Stay-at-Home Dad.
Julie Miguel. Woodbridge, Ontario. Bankruptcy Analyst.
Ben Miner. Toronto, Ontario. Stand-up Comedian.

Of course, I could have missed one or two.

As for the celebrity judges, there has been a lot of criticism aimed at their comments. Especially Alvin Leung. "Too harsh", "nasty", "mean". Well, guess what? Get over it. First of all, this is a television show and the producers have to dramatize it. Second, the competition is not going to be a piece of cake. Sorry for the bad pun. Last, but not least, life in this career is not easy. If you want to survive in the industry, you have to buck up. Like baseball, there is no crying in the kitchen.

How many times have people, disgruntled with their direction in life, wished that they could quit their jobs and become a chef? It's almost become a cliche. The worst part of it is, it is almost always people who know absolutely nothing about the reality of that profession. MasterChef, basically, is built on that premise. That is why one of the most amusing parts of the episode was one applicant who, when turned down by the judges, declared "You guys don't understand!" The irony of it should have sent Bonacini, Aprile and Leung tumbling off their chairs in laughter.

The season looks promising. Apparently, team challenges the home chefs will be facing include cooking for the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Canadian Armed Forces. There will be a special guest judge...Joe Bastianich from the U.S. version. Nice. From the previews, we can also expect to see a lot of slipping, tripping, fumbling and crying. What fun.