Get ready for another gastronomical tour from the makers of the MasterChef series. This time, they will showcase the diverse cuisines of Canada, spanning from the West to the East Coast, on MasterChef Canada. What’s interesting about cookery shows like this and several others, according to judge Michael Bonacini, is that they have spurred the love for food among common people. Co-owner of Toronto-based Oliver & Bonacini restaurants explains, “After watching contestants on TV, youngsters want to cook. They are even buying professional kitchen equipment. They are open to exploring both humble cafes and high-end eateries. They are learning about cultures of a region from its food. These shows have impacted the F&B industry, most part of it I would say, in a good way.” No Reservations is one of his favourite food TV series.
On the show, he is joined by judges Alvin Leung (owner of Bo Innovation in Hong Kong and Bo London in London), and Claudio Aprile (the creative force behind Orderfire restaurant group in Toronto). While Bonacini judges contestants for their incredible passion towards food, Leung looks for strong flavour profiles, and Aprile appreciates textures.
In an interview, Bonacini and Leung offer tips for aspiring chefs, their wishlist, and food predictions.
Cooking in a kitchen that’s surrounded by cameras, and tough competition is no mean job, and Bonacini considers himself lucky to be on the other side of the table. “The number one pointer for aspiring contestants is to never lose sight of the job in their hands. Also, try to learn from judges and fellow cooks as much as they can, both what to do and what not. Third, sometimes less is more. Don’t try too hard to impress the judges,” says Bonacini, who considers chef Anton Mosimann as his mentor.
You also need to have nerves of steel, oodles of confidence and drive to explore food cultures to survive in the business. Bonacini recently returned from a food trip to London, where he visited 16 restaurants in three days! London has come up as a strong culinary hub in last 10-15 years, he tells us. He wants to fly to Brazil and Peru in the near future. India is also on the wishlist, says the big fan of pakodas and Indian curries.
Bonacini is also a die-hard lover of honey, and plans to start a beehive this year. “I eat honey every morning with peanut butter. My brother in Australia recently harvested 22 kilos of honey, and I am very envious (laughs). The honey craze runs in my family. As a kid, I used to suck honey directly out of waxcombs,” signs off the chef.
He calls himself ‘The Demon Chef’, and confesses to being the ‘toughest of the three judges’ on the show. “I don’t hide that (my personality). I think a lot of it is because I am an Asian. Whether you are a boss, or a parent, we are generally tougher,” says the chef of Chinese descent as it is.
While he is known for his distinct cooking style called ‘X-Treme Chinese’ — the name has to partly do with the edginess of his dishes, and partly with his lineage — he is most happy with a place of rice, from plain to fragrant.
One of his extreme dishes has been his 2010 charity dish “Sex on the Beach” — an edible pink condom laid on the bed of edible sand. “While I don’t have a signature dish, not that I wish to ever have one, this is something people remember me for,” says the Michelin-starred chef, refusing to divulge details about his next charity dish.
But he did offer us insight into a food trend of the future, not without first cracking his joke. “If I get to understand food trends, I will make the most of them, and be a very rich man. On a serious note, I think food trends go through cycles, like fashion. These days, I see a lot of people looking for casual eating out options. They are trying to find luxury from simple things. This trend will become big.”
Any tip for budding chefs, we ask? “It has to be the seasoning. A lot of home cooks underseason their food. For instance, they use less salt,” concludes the London-born, Canada-raised food icon.
Premieres on March 4, 8 pm on TLC
— Barkha Kumari