Masterchef Canada Recap, episode 1: Don’t mess with the maniac in the collarless pantsuit
Watching the Canadian version of a popular American reality show inevitably provokes feelings of self-consciousness—if not profound embarrassment. It’s one thing to watch a semi-fictional-seeming celeb chef march around a sound stage blasting spittle on terrified strangers; it’s another to see an otherwise respectable local businessman do it.
Yet so it was on last night’s series premiere of Masterchef Canada, the show where skittish amateurs battle it out in a giant kitchen for the chance to win a suitcase of cash and a Lucite trophy. For the most part, judges Michael Bonacini, Claudio Aprile and Alvin Leung did a reasonable job of aping their U.S. counterparts, and the show looked and felt pretty similar to the version popularized by Gordon Ramsay—meaning any actual cookery took a backseat to overwrought sob stories, dramatic cuts-aways and other non-culinary shenanigans. Here, our rundown of episode one.
Fifty home chefs from across Canada were given one hour to prepare a signature dish, and then five minutes to plate it for the judges in a huge concrete dungeon. Contestants whose dishes got the thumbs-up from at least two of the three judges earned Masterchef aprons and made it to the next round of auditions.
Every good tele-culinary show needs one mean, intimidating judge. If it wasn’t clear who that would be coming into the inaugural season of Masterchef Canada, there’s no doubt now that it’s a tiny, pant-suited tyrant with a midnight-blue shag. Alvin Leung, the self-proclaimed Demon Chef, asserted his villainy off the bat by throwing cut-eye at the assembled wannabes, peppering them with one-liners (“Amateur hour is over”; “It is not going to be easy”) and working a pretty awesome poker face (the effect of which was ruined when he proceeded to brag about it to contestant Tammara Behl while sampling her Indian samosas). If Leung is the villain, Aprile seems to be going for a Joe Bastianich–style corporate businessman vibe, while Bonacini is playing the stern-but-kindly schoolmaster angle.
Like all reality cooking shows that aren’t Chopped, the first few episodes are about whittling a huge group of contestants down the ones that will be on the real show. Viewers can pretty much skip a good quarter of the season, unless they take pleasure in watching people’s dreams get nipped in the bud. That’s what happened to poor Billie-Jo Picco, whose lousy dessert gave us one of the night’s most memorably dramatic crying scenes (“Caramel Sauce—it ruined me!”). The award for most excruciating rejection, though, goes to mother of three Carmela Campolargo, whose wheelchair-bound status for some unfathomable reason earned her the privilege of being personally wheeled out of the audition room by Michael Bonacini and having her failure ceremoniously announced to the remaining contestants.
As for the successful few, we weren’t wowed by their ambition. Turkey meatballs made with prepackaged Cajun seasoning are more of a it’s-seven-o’clock-and-all-I-have-is-ground-turkey-and-prepackaged-Cajun-seasoning style meal, rather than a $100,000 showstopper. The humdrum dish didn’t stop B.C. native Carly Tenant from making it through to the next round, just like a visibly burnt duck breast wasn’t a deal breaker for 21-year-old Eric Chong. The only restaurant-quality dish came from the contestant who is clearly being set up as the resident competitor-villain, Dale Kuda, who within two minutes pronounced himself the Gay Martha Stewart of Canada, dissed all his fellow contestants and showcased a dead-eyed glare matched only by Leung himself.
We will continue watching this show for the pure spectacle of Michael Bonacini’s amazing awkwardness. Whether it’s watching him lick his incredibly long fingers while grinning into the camera or hearing him demand a “big plumber’s hug” from final contestant Dora Cote, we’re confident that he will henceforth provide a near-limitless supply of delightful cringes. That said, the official awkwardness award must go to Leung, whose observation that bad-boy Dale probably had tonnes more tricks hidden “under his bright green pants” was so startling that it prompted Aprile to widen his eyes and sum up precisely what we’d been thinking for the entire hour: “Um, that’s awkward.”