I cook with wine, sometimes I even add it to the food. ― W.C. Fields
I woke up on the day of the audition feeling like crap. I didn’t sleep well, I was stressed about the audition, and I felt like not going. I tried to justify it in my head. I wasn’t very good anyways, and what was the point of getting up early to go. But of course, all of that justification just made me feel worse. I decided I was already awake at 0330am on a Saturday, I already had an invitation, and I already had a dish in mind. Why not go, and get it over with? With that positive attitude, I got out of bed, made the kebabs that I was taking to the competition, packed my stuff, wore a bright pink dress to enhance my mood, and drove downtown.
The Gardiner was, of course, closed for a triathlon, so after a few wrong turns, I finally made it down to Intercontinental hotel downtown on Front street. I parked for 10 CAD for the day until 4pm, and walked with my heavy cooler over to the hotel. I wondered if there would be anyone else there.
Imagine my surprise, when I get to the hotel and there is a long, long lineup that wraps around the hotel into the parking lot. I notice others in the lineup with their coolers, and I follow the lineup around to the end. I stand next to a man who has a goatee much like the evil guy in Aladdin. He pulls out a picture of himself and points to it, saying, ‘This is the next MasterChef Canada.’ That broke the ice and we started chatting.
Finally, the line started moving. Weirdly enough, I didn’t realize but I was in the VIP list, which meant that I would be one of the first ones to get tested. That was cool. The MasterChef people made us stand around in front of the hotel to take some video of all of us making a lot of noise. There were family and friends in the crowds as well, which made the crowd look bigger than it was. There were only 200 people who actually came for the audition, which really surprised me. Maybe the World cup finals had a bigger effect on the auditions than I expected.
As I was on the VIP list, I was called in with the rest of the 49 VIPs. We shuffled in, signed in, got our pictures taken and then entered the waiting room. It was much like the waiting room for a dentist – it had the same undercurrent of fear running through the people in there. We sat down on tables, introduced ourselves to each other, and then tried to distract ourselves from what was coming. I started speaking to a lady from Ottawa who had made little wonton wrappers with chicken and micro-greens. As soon as we started getting deep into our food conversation, we were told to get ready.
Everyone I spoke to was extremely nervous. This lady kept on saying, ‘I am shaking in my boots.’ Another guy was so nervous, he kept on saying he was going to throw-up. I kept on asking people about their dishes, and they would all look up at me with suspicion. It was funny to me, as I wasn’t actually about to steal their recipe now that we were already here. But it showed me how serious everyone really was, and how desperately they all wanted to win. I could hear it in their voices, in their tone, and read it in their body language. I felt a bit like an impostor amidst all of these enthusiastic, hard-working individuals.
While I had been sleeping from midnight to 5 am, some people told me they had been up all night practicing plating their dishes over and over again. In addition, some of them had spent months figuring out what they were going to cook. Most of them had a story that they had built up behind their dish – a story with their life and passions mashed into the spices and flavours.
I sat there, surrounded by all of this passion for food and I felt lucky to be in that room. As soon as I got comfortable, a MasterChef organizer told all of us in the room to pick up all of our stuff and go into the plating/judging room.
AT THE PLATING
There were tables laid out with table cloths. The numbers A1-A50 were written out at regular intervals on the table. We went over to our numbers (A15 was mine), and put down our stuff. We were told we have five minutes to take out all of our dishes, utensils, cutlery and whatever else we want. We could remove the covers of the dishes, but we weren’t allowed to mix our dishes or plate anything yet. We did so. There was again a pin-drop silence in the room as we readied ourselves for the moment. After that, the lady at the front did a 3-minute countdown and we frantically plated our dishes.
As soon as I looked around after the plating (kebabs, mango chutney on a plate of greens was mine), I knew I had nothing compared to them. The guy next to me (blog Zero to Gourmet) had a Rubik’s Cube of watermelon, cucumber, and feta cheese. That completely blew me over. He also had a spoon made out of pita. Another woman had made bacon-covered macaroni and cheese. Another contestant had marinated the steak that he bought to the event in Guinness for a period of days. There were a lot of beautiful plates and crystal in the room. A lot of the contestants had bought out wine bottles, wine glasses, and beer with their dish, enhancing the creativity of the plating. Everyone had obviously bought their A-game to the contest.
JUDGING AND TASTING
We plated our dishes, and marvelled at everyone else’s dish. There were some people around me who were still ‘shaking in their boots’. I could see that there was a undercurrent of tension in the room, underneath the food and the nervous laughter.
As we stood there with our dishes, we first had Claudio Aprile, one of the judges, come around to chat with us as well, not tasting anything, just picking up the dishes, smelling them, and giving valuable advice (mine was to learn how to make pastries, as that was a basic skill to have as a chef).
Being bowled over by Claudio, we were inundated next by the judges and the tasters. The judge came around to look at the creativity behind the plating and ask us a few questions about our inspiration, and our experience with cooking. Our judge was really nice about it – smiling and putting us at ease. She asked questions, took notes, and then wrote down something on our scorecard (a yellow piece of paper with our information on it). The taster came after that – he did almost the same. He asked us questions about our dish, what was in it, what spices we used, what was our inspiration, and how did we cook it. He took a tiny little bit out of the beautifully plated dishes, making all of us wonder if he even got a taste of all the hard work that went into each dish. He then put down some notes on the score card, and went off.
The judges and tasters went at a snail’s pace through the whole room, with 50 contestants in there.
When they were done with the whole room, they grabbed the score cards from our tables, and went off to figure out which people were moving forward to the next level. We were told to mingle and taste each other’s foods at this point, which I was more than happy to do. I went around to the whole room, taking pictures, talking to people about their dish, taking little bites of the foods, and generally having a jolly old time.
A few minutes of that, and we were asked to step back into our spots. They called out the names of the people who were going on to the next round. I wasn’t one of them, but I have to say this was one of the memorable experiences of my life. I had a lot of fun, hanging out with other people who love food as much as I do. I also loved trying out different foods cooked to perfection by other amateur cooks. I walked out of the hotel, happy that I came to the audition. I had given out my cards to everyone I spoke to, so I hoped to keep in touch with fellow cooks through the year.
I believe I am going to try again next year, as I had fun this year. I also know more about what the judges are looking for, so I feel like I would like to try again to see where I can get.