'Chopped Canada' serves up format of U.S. version but with Canuck flair | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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'Chopped Canada' serves up format of U.S. version but with Canuck flair

"Chopped Canada" host Dean McDermott with judges John Higgins, Vikram Vij and Michael Smith. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ho
December 30, 2013 - 8:51 AM

TORONTO - Fans of the hit U.S. version of "Chopped" can look forward to much of the same format on the new Canadian incarnation — save for a few Canuck faces and mystery basket ingredients.

"Not only are we using Canadian celebrity chefs and Canadian chefs across Canada, but we're using foods that are indigenous to Canada: maple syrup, donair, lentils, spruce berries," says host Dean McDermott. "It's very Canadian."

"Chopped Canada" premieres Thursday on Food Network Canada at 10pm ET/PT.

Like its American counterpart, each episode challenges chefs to use mystery basket ingredients as they create a three-course meal under strict timelines for a panel of judges watching the action unfold just metres away.

The initial field of four chefs is narrowed down, one by one, course by course. The winner of each episode gets $10,000.

Also like the U.S. show, the Canadian version serves up much drama, starting with a profile of the contestants and their backstories.

"People join the competition to figure out if they're on the right path," says McDermott, who has studied at culinary school, won season 2 of "Rachael vs. Guy: Celebrity Cook-Off " and is planning a June publication date for his cookbook "The Gourmet Dad."

"It's a real (situation of), 'If I lose, I'm done. If I win, I know I'm doing the right thing.'"

Others, he says, are in it for the prize money.

"(They're) playing for a parent that's never seen their sister from another country and they want to fly them in or take them on a trip, or there's health issues in the family that the $10,000 would go towards helping them, (or) the $10,000 would go towards opening their own restaurant."

The high stakes made it difficult for some of the judges to eliminate contestants.

"It's been a roller coaster of highs and lows, because you get attached to certain people and you want them to do well, and then they don't go forward," says star chef/judge Chuck Hughes.

"No matter what, it is a show, but in the end somebody is really going to get a life-change by the outcome. So it's a lot more personal, it's a lot more intense than I thought it would be. It was kind of a surprise, to be honest, that we would get so involved."

Chef Roger Mooking found it fun but also "really heartbreaking" being a judge at times.

"People were in tears many days on this show," he says.

With their strong will to win, some of the contestants pushed themselves to the extreme — to disastrous results.

"I've seen people cutting themselves and pretending nothing has happened," says celebrity chef/judge Susur Lee. "I said, 'Wait a second, don't be a tough guy, wrap your finger up.'"

He also saw contestants accidentally drop food on the floor and pick it up as if nothing happened.

"They start mixing it with the salad. I said, 'I see everything, buddy.' I could see (some) even giving goo-goo eyes to the judges," Lee added with a howl. "'Ah, you can get a little bit of a better mark, right, buddy? No, you're not!'"

At times, Lee wanted to "jump over there and help them."

"I could feel like, 'What the hell are you doing?' Like screaming at them," he says. "I had to really control myself."

Adding to the intensity was the basket of mystery ingredients, which — as fans of the U.S. version well know — is often a bizarre mix of fresh ingredients and unusual or processed ones.

"If it's that marshmallow fluffy stuff or those crunchy, cheesy corn things, and then you're putting that with beautiful B.C. halibut or lamb loin and then it's spruce tips, whatever it is, there's endless possibilities," says star chef/judge Lynn Crawford.

"It's a wonderful world of food out there, however not a lot of those foods are meant to be married together in one dish."

Judges marked the dishes on presentation, taste and creativity. No matter the offputting mystery ingredient, they had to at least try each dish.

"Were there things that I would not like to taste ever again in my life? Yes, many!" says Crawford with a laugh.

"The quality ranged from stuff that I would expect from a master chef, down to something I'd expect from my four-year-old," says Mooking.

Some of the judges — who also include chefs Michael Smith, John Higgins and Anne Yarymowich — even learned a thing or two from the contestants.

"I learned a few new ingredients that I've never seen before and a way of how to use (them)," says Lee. "I said, 'Oh my God ... I'm going to try it on my menu.'"

And all judges say they were impressed with the high level of talent in this country.

"I walked away thinking, 'Wow, we as Canadians should be so proud of ourselves," says celebrity chef Vikram Vij.

"In general, I would say that the food is a lot better than what I thought," adds Hughes. "So I think the Canadian landscape of chefs is pretty amazing."

News from © The Canadian Press, 2013
The Canadian Press

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