It's all about food, family and festive cooking in the MasterChef Canada kitchen – as well as giving back.
The hit culinary competition is celebrating the yuletide season with the two-hour MasterChef Canada: A Holiday Special, airing Monday at 8 p.m. on CTV. Four home cooks from Season 1 return to the kitchen, joined by spouses, parents and siblings as they complete a series of festive food challenges for the chance to win $10,000 for the charity of their choice.
On the culinary hot seat are Dora Cote of Rocky Mountain House, Alta., Marida Mohammed of Toronto, Pino DiCerbo of Mississauga, Ont., and Tammara Behl of Calgary.
Mohammed (joined in the special by twin sister Narida – a Top 50 Season 1 contestant) was the runner-up in the MasterChef Canada finale last spring, losing to Eric Chong. Since then she and Narida have been working with different Toronto chefs to create themed pop-up restaurants. She has also been catering private parties and events. Her charity is the Daily Bread Food Bank.
Since finishing in the top 11, Cote has been working to open her own restaurant, Dora's Rocky Mountain Roadhouse, which serves Canadian soul food and comfort classics. She's cooking for the Canadian Diabetes Association.
Stay-at-home dad DiCerbo, who finished in the top six, is cooking for Brandan's Eye Research Foundation. He's now teaching cooking classes and has started a catering company, Chef Pino DiCerbo's Cucina Rustica.
Top-four finisher Behl has also started her own catering and private chef business, and is a motivational speaker. Her charity is the Canadian Mental Health Association.
Back to mix in their expert advice are MasterChef Canada judges Michael Bonacini, co-owner of the Oliver & Bonacini restaurants; Claudio Aprile, chef and owner of two Origin restaurants in Toronto; and Alvin Leung, owner of the Michelin-starred Bo Innovation in Hong Kong and London and Remedy 365 in Shanghai. Leung and Chong are collaborating on a restaurant, expected to open in the new year in downtown Toronto.
The judges sat down for an interview the day before taping wrapped up for Season 2 of MasterChef Canada, the most watched Canadian reality series when it debuted earlier this year, averaging 1.7 million viewers.
The special, a worldwide first for the MasterChef franchise, was the brainchild of Phil King, president of CTV, Sports and Entertainment Programming, who pitched it to format holder Shine International and also collaborated with production company Proper Television.
"I think it's going to be a fascinating show to watch. It's the first of its kind in Canada, in the world," Aprile said. "It was great to reconvene with Season 1's fantastic four home cooks and their families."
"It was a totally different dynamic to it," Bonacini said. "It was great to see the four home cooks come back to the kitchen. They each had their families. Some had little kids with them, some had their wives, their mothers with them. A real cross-section. But it turned out to be an amazing three days of gruelling challenges, fun challenges, interactive challenges."
Home cooks and their families participate in a mystery box potluck challenge, followed by a test race of holiday skills. The competition culminates in a feast, with the two remaining families serving up elevated versions of their holiday menus.
From their experience, the four also know how quickly an hour goes by. And yet it might not always be the seasoned home cook who steers the team. "That's what one would think, but what happens when you bring your mother on set, right, who usually rules the roost in the kitchen?" Aprile said. "Watch what happens."
"It's always great to cook with your family in the contest because you see these blame games shifted left and right," Leung said.