Do you crave having your cooking mercilessly scrutinized by the country’s best chefs? How do you feel about intense competition and under insane time constraints? Good?
Great, then MasterChef Canada might be the perfect reality show for you. The final auditions for Season 3 are taking place in Toronto on Saturday, July 18 and Sunday, July 19 at the InterContinental Toronto Centre Hotel. Get ready to rise and shine, because the doors open at 7 a.m. (May we suggest preparing a breakfast dish?).
The Loop sat down with MCC judge Michael Bonacini — who, if you don’t already know, is the owner/operator/head chef of over 10 restaurants in the T-dot, with more on the way — to see what it takes to make it through the audition process. Obviously Bonacini can’t give away everything, but he gave us plenty to chew on.
Tip No. 1: Do Be Interesting, But It’s All About The Food
It’s important to be TV-ready with a spellbinding or emotional backstory, but above all else, the food you present to the judges is the most imperative thing. Your story about being inspired by your 110-year-old grandmother is touching, yes, but if you slap down a plate of ice-cold goulash, chances are you’re not making it through.
“The personality of the individual as a character is always an interesting piece, but I think the food is the key part,” said Bonacini. “And if their dish is just okay, I break it down into the next granular layer of judging. I look at the nuanced details: How well is that vegetable blanched? How good is the precision in the cutting? Is the protein portion the right size? How passionate are they about food? What is their culinary dream? It’s all about their relationship with food.”
So don’t bother wearing that low-cut crop top, it’s not going to help you get on the show. After all, this ain’t Survivor.
Tip No. 2: Hit The Three Marks And You’re Golden
Bonacini has three criteria when it comes to selecting home cooks: “One is taste, that’s important to me as a chef,” he stated. “Plate presentation is Number 2, I think it’s about understanding how to put ingredients together on a plate to look aesthetically pleasing. It often sounds simpler than it is. And then [the third is] originality: how you’ve dealt with an ingredient or how you’ve worked it into a particular recipe.”
In other words, know your stuff.
Tip No. 3: Take A Chance, Take A Chance
Whatever you do at the audition, don’t let your dish be boring.
“A cook should never be afraid to experiment,” said Bonacini. “I want a home cook who’s truly fascinated about the world of cooking and ingredients, experimenting and trying different things. I want a home cook to look at a recipe as a guideline; it’s not something to be adhered to 100 per cent. You have to add some freestyle to it. Don’t have any white beans? Use asparagus instead. You have to have that flexibility and spontaneity. Home cooks will learn that you can take one recipe and move it in five or six different directions.”
Tip No. 4: Don’t Go Too Far With Your Dishes
But don’t take it to a ridiculous extreme, either. Bonacini has had his fair share of, um…interesting… dishes (he estimates that he’s tried tens of thousands). Don’t add yourself to the roster.
“I’ve had chicken that was pink once you cut into it,” he laughed. “I remember in the first season there was a quiche, with smelts, cheese, cream and eggs; the wrong components came together. It was a disaster. One guy came in with camel once. A vet brought in bull’s testicles, which he had castrated himself. He auditioned in his scrubs.”
Tip No. 5: Appearance Matters (Your Food, Dummy, Not You)
Plating your food properly is important. You can’t just slap the meal on a plate and hope the judges are basing their decisions on taste only.
“To properly plate, I think it takes a bit of work and fundamental rules about portion sizes, layering and adding height,” said Bonacini. “There are cooks who go too far and add too many ingredients. It ends up looking like a tossed salad. The ‘less is more’ approach is an important guideline; it forces you to showcase the right ingredients.”
Tip No. 6: Focus
This may seem obvious, but if you’ve watched even one minute of MCC, you’ll know that many chefs lose composure under pressure. Focus is something you need to master before you even consider auditioning.
“Focus is difficult when you’re a young wannabe chef,” said Bonacini. “You need to narrow it down so you have clarity. I think whatever you create has to be a part of whatever season we’re in. It has to be a part of the big inspiration. Cook with ingredients that are in season, and that will help you create a dish that translates into your focus. Strawberries, eggplant, fresh zucchini – that has to provide you the inspiration.”
For those of you brave enough to put your cooking chops on display, we salute you. Good luck!
MasterChef Canada Season 3 will premiere on CTV in 2016.