Q&A: Corey Shefman, Toronto’s only contestant on The Great Canadian Baking Show

Q&A: Corey Shefman, Toronto’s only contestant on The Great Canadian Baking Show

Last night, Toronto human rights lawyer Corey Shefman was forced to hang up his apron after just three weeks as a contestant on the CBC’s The Great Canadian Baking Show. We spoke to the always ambitious, frequently time-strapped home cook about what he did right, where he faltered and why he swears by his bagels.

Your contestant bio said your interest in baking was inspired by your mother.
Yes. My mom always had baked goods around the house. I grew up celebrating the Jewish holidays, so my mom made challah, and we had honey cake and pavlova on Rosh Hashanah. When I bake, I try to honour those traditional recipes and then add my own twist.

I’m glad you brought up pavlova, because that was the recipe that had you eliminated. The judges said your pumpkin pie pavlova tasted yummy, but it looked a bit like Thanksgiving threw up on itself.
My baking tastes great—it doesn’t always look so great, and that’s really what ended up being my downfall on the show. As judge Bruno said, we eat with our eyes as well as our stomachs. I think “Thanksgiving throwing up” is harsh, but there was a lot on that plate and it wasn’t necessarily beautiful.

You also faltered a bit with a rustically elegant pear tart that ended up being all rustic, not so much elegant.
Yeah, I went hard on the rustic because I thought that might make up for the elegance. With that challenge I think I got into my head a little bit, and I spent way too long cutting up those pears. It’s funny because I set my timer—like, this is when you are going to prep the crust, this is when you are going to cut the pears—but when it went off, I sort of just ignored it.

After dismissing you, the judges said they admired your boldness in terms of flavour and technique. Given that you got cut, do you wish you had played it a little more safe?
Maybe I could have lasted longer, but I don’t think being on The Great Canadian Baking Show is the time to play it safe. The fact is, this was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I’m never going to bake on national television again. I wanted to show the judges what I’ve got.

What part of being on a competitive baking show was more challenging than you would have expected?
The pressure to beat the clock was crazy. I’m a big fan of the British version of the show where they’re always scrambling at the end, but you wonder how much is editing. Now I can say that two hours is not enough time to bake a pie!

Who did you see as your biggest competition?
I was really blown away by the other bakers. This week in particular—Julian’s pavlova was just stunning. Judge Rochelle actually said she would sell it in her shops. Linda had amazing technical skills, and Sabrina and Jude were so creative. I think James is a real underdog—he has skills.

Were you ever tempted to sabotage another contestant’s effort? Say, swap their baking soda for baby powder?
Ha! No, it’s not that kind of show. We actually helped each other out—I think at one point Linda came over and cleaned my station. We still talk every day. We’re all friends now.

What do you consider to be your crowning moment on the show?
Definitely Rochelle telling me that my challah was the best she’s ever seen. That was really cool.

But is it better than your mom’s challah?
I think I might have to finally give in and admit that I have an edge.

Where do you go for baked goods in Toronto?
Roselle Desserts on King Street East is the best place in the city for pastries. And I love the bread at Prairie Boy on College.

Toronto’s best bagel?
I am a Montreal bagel loyalist. If it’s not from St-Viateur or my own oven, I wont eat it.

And yet, you didn’t do so well on the bagel challenge. What happened?
Hubris was my downfall.

When you’re not baking you work as a human rights lawyer with a focus on Indigenous issues. Did you have to take time off to be on the show?
Yes. It was definitely the most interesting summer vacation I’ve ever had.

Have your co-workers been following the show?
They have. And they enjoyed all the practicing I had to do in the lead up. I brought in pies, cakes and my bagels. I swear, they are really good.

With such an intense career, I’m surprised you have time to bake. Is it an outlet?
Definitely. I love that when you’re kneading dough, that’s all you’re doing. You can’t be on your phone or computer.

Is there a part of you that would love to quit law to open a cozy little bakery in cottage country?
No, baking is just my hobby. My first love will always be my work. I went to law school with the goal of representing Indigenous people. As a gay Jewish man, I know discrimination first-hand. I’m not saying it’s the same, but there are commonalities. Helping my clients achieve justice is the most gratifying thing.

And then sometimes after a heavy day, it’s nice to just go home and whip up a sponge cake?