When it comes to culinary twists on reality TV shows, the one that went down Thursday night on MasterChef Canada was hard to watch.
Sure, the episode started out light and fun thanks to a guest appearance by Jamie Oliver, who wanted the remaining home cooks to create an appetizer for his new restaurant. But following Thea’s big win, things went slightly downhill.
Not only did Matt and Justine, Barrie and Trevor as well as Miranda and Aaron have to join forces for a tag-team elimination challenge, but they were given one of the hardest challenges we’ve seen on the show to date: to recreate a modern and sophisticated bento box with about about a thousand different components. Oy.
In the end it was Justine Joyal‘s lack of Japanese cooking experience and Matt VanderHelm‘s disorganization that sent them both packing from the kitchen, effectively eliminating two of our front-runners.
We caught up with them the next morning to find out the secret to whipping up the perfect appetizer, how to cook effectively for a large crowd and why Japanese dishes are so refined.
What was your biggest takeaway from doing the show?
VanderHelm: MasterChef Canada was the catalyst to the rest of my life; it started me down the path in following my passion for food. It pushed me to try something new and that I was passionate about. After the show, I got home and started a company called VanderKitchen. In Dutch, “Vander” means “of the,” so it means “Of the Kitchen.” I’m catering events and classes, just getting out there and doing what I can. I’m on my seventh quote now, and I’ve booked a wedding and done a private dinner. So things are snowballing.
Joyal: I’ve developed so much confidence. I came to the show to prove a lot to myself, prove a lot to everyone. I grew so much as a home cook but also as a person. I can do so much in an hour now! It’s a matter of organizing… organizing my thoughts. I am even more determined now to pursue a career in the culinary industry — I would love to start my own catering business in Montreal. In the bigger future, I would love to have my own cooking show… maybe even a magazine or a cookbook. Who knows?
What tips do you have on how to cook for a larger crowd?
VanderHelm: Make sure you have your proportions under control. If you’re used to making a dish for two, you have the knowledge of saying, ‘Okay I need two of these, three of these.’ It’s doing the multiplication for 20 or 30 people. Keeping food costs under control and all that. But you have to give yourself more time and product than you think, because in the end you’re always going to need more than you think you need.
Joyal: Start organizing in advance. Do all of your prep before the guests arrive, and right before they’re ready to eat just put everything into place.
What’s your secret for making a perfect appetizer?
VanderHelm: It’s got to be that first thing or impression. It’s the first thing that hits your tongue and sets you up for the rest of the meal. It’s really important and usually where you try to showcase something more unique. Use more unique flavours; something that you wouldn’t necessarily want in a full meal, but a sample. It’s like the opening scene of a movie — it gets you hooked!
Joyal: You need to be hungry! Use lots of creativity. There are so many appetizers on so many menus in so many restaurants. You need to be creative and have a pop of flavour. Not too much and not too bold, but lots of packed flavours in a small dish.
What was it like having Jamie Oliver on set?
VanderHelm: I was fangirling out so hard. Jamie is one of my cooking idols — he’s not just there to promote himself and be a big name chef… he’s out for change and better schools and bringing people back to the table through food. It’s kind of what I’ve modelled my company after. To see him there and be able to talk to him was really cool. It’s funny because I was missing my girlfriend a lot at that point and she’s English. So hearing his voice was kind of a good reminder of my girlfriend and her family.
Joyal: I was freaking out, he’s one of my biggest idols. My nerves got the best of me, but it was amazing. I’m so happy I had a chance to meet him.
Tell us about that bento box.
VanderHelm: I’ve eaten a few of them before, but it’s just one of those things where you’re out for lunch and wondering what you can grab that’s quick. When they put out the first bento box, I was like, ‘Oh great. There’s so many components.’ And then they put that bento box aside and pulled out the ultra modern bento box and I was like, ‘Oh my God this is insane.’ To be honest, each little component wasn’t that tough. It was the fact that there were tons of those little components all packed into this one challenge and you couldn’t do it yourself. You couldn’t get into a zone.
Joyal: It was crazy. I don’t eat or cook Japanese food. I’d never seen a bento box. So just trying to decode the flavours and oils and vinegars was just crazy. I completely lost myself in that challenge. I’ve kind of had a grudge against Japanese cooking since then! I wouldn’t have imagined half the ingredients in even one of those sauces! For now I think I’ll stick with French cooking.
Did you learn anything in doing that challenge that you can now apply to your own cooking?
VanderHelm: To trust myself more. We were taking a lot of direction from the balcony, from Thea and Mai who were tying to help. In some ways it hindered us because you’re trying to think. It blows your confidence when someone else is telling you what to do. Trust yourself, listen to your gut and do what you know how to do instead of second-guessing yourself.
Joyal: Decode flavours and trust your palate. Do things you’ve never done before. It can be scary, but you have to go for it. Don’t be afraid in the kitchen; even though you might not be the best at something, just try your best and maybe it’ll come out great.
Which judge was the most intimidating?
VanderHelm: They’re all intimidating in their own way. They all have great acumen in the cooking world. Claudio can give you a look and his eyes say it all. Michael is a dapper gentleman and all you want to hear him say is, ‘Good job.’ And then obviously you’ve got the demon chef Alvin who, if you do something wrong, he’ll call you out on it. In their own way they’re all a little bit unique and scary.
Joyal: I was intimidated by Claudio. Of course he’s handsome, but he’s very severe in his critique. He knows what he’s talking about and he’s always right on what’s wrong. You can’t hide it in front of Claudio. He will detect any flaws in the dish as soon as he tastes it.
Who are you rooting for to win?
VanderHelm: I’m on team Thea! She’s a good friend and a great home cook. She’s really strong in the kitchen. She’s my pressure test sister. We were the only ones that cooked in all the challenges.
Joyal: Trevor. We were very close on the show. He’s very good and he could grow the most in that competition. Also Aaron, of course. He’s from Montreal and I’m definitely rooting for my city. It would be awesome to have the first Montrealer win the competition.