It was a rough night for Montreal native Aaron Polsky on MasterChef Canada. After his team (Thea and Miranda) failed to impress during the restaurant takeover at judge Michael Bonacini‘s Auberge de Pommier eatery, it all came down to a pressure test.
Unfortunately, his Moroccan-inspired tajine just didn’t live up to the dishes created by his competitors, and the Montreal home cook was sent packing from the competition.
Following his shocking elimination, we caught up with Aaron to find out what he learned about making the perfect vegetarian dish from his loss, why it’s so important to taste all of your food and what his secret is to cooking for a crowd.
What was your biggest learning experience from the show?
The sky’s the limit. MasterChef Canada takes you out of your element, pushes you to your limits and shows you what you really can do if you’re forced to. Some of those challenges appear insurmountable. But when it’s do or die, you do get it done. It shows you to persevere in all aspects of life.
What about in terms of cooking techniques?
You can’t ever stop learning. If you think you know it all, that’s the moment you stop progressing, no matter your trade, business or hobby. Every opportunity that I have to hone my chops or work under pressure is a great learning opportunity. They’re skills that will come in handy when I pursue my future with Bar Linda here in Montreal.
You were constantly tasting your food on the show — how important is that when you’re cooking?
It’s critical to taste your food. Looking back to the tag-team challenge, we were really under the gun. The pressure was on and it was still so important to me that Miranda and I tasted our food. That was a big thing for me with the tajine challenge and it was my ultimate demise because I couldn’t lift the pot until it was served. I have never in my life served something that I did not taste to check for seasoning, to see if I needed to balance it with a little bit of acid. Add a little bit of salt. Hit it with a little bit of sweet. Chef Michael said he felt the tajine was a little bit bitter — some sweet would have gone a long way to balance that out and could have saved my life in that kitchen.
Have you made tajine since?
I have not — I was in a kitchen supply store with my wife last week and I saw a tajine and I didn’t even want to look at it!
What’s the trick to creating a great vegetarian dish?
You really have to consider texture. Texture, texture, texture. And keep it interesting. Something like half a spaghetti squash roasted with some creme fraiche, buckwheat honey, toasted sunflower seeds and some marjoram. It’s easy to bang that out in like 25 minutes when you get home from the gym and you don’t feel weighted down. It’s nice to eat vegetarian, it’s nice to eat light. I should do it more often!
Is there a trick to cooking for a large crowd?
It’s all about your mis en place; you’ve got to be prepared and you can’t be winging it. There was a crowd in the restaurant takeover, but it was well thought out. We were cooking in Chef Michael’s restaurant for his customers and there was no way he was going to let any logistical errors fall through the cracks. If you want to talk about cooking for a crowd? The burger challenge earlier in the season when we cooked for 150 hungry bikers — now that’s a crowd. Ultimately, my team’s downfall in that was our lack of preparation. We should have had dozens if not 50 burgers prepared and under a heat lamp so that we could just bang them out.
What are you up to now? Did you take Michael up on his job offer?
It was extraordinary praise and super humbling for Michael to offer me that job. I look forward to talking about it in more detail, but right now I have to strike while the iron is hot. I’ve been hard at work with my partner Anthony Benda of Cafe Myriade in opening a tapas bar called Bar Linda in Montreal. We’re bringing a really down-to-earth, Barcelona type of Spanish experience that’s going to be a lot of fun. We’re in demolition right now and optimistically looking at a late July opening.