With Chopped Canada currently in its inaugural season, MasterChef Canada (also in its first season) in full swing and Top Chef Canada's recent premiere for a fourth season, food television viewers may be equally overstimulated and addicted these days. Having said that, the notably high ratings of all of these three productions point to Canada's undying appetite for culinary content and I'm A-OK with that. I say the more eyes we have on food, the better, even if the final product is skewed slightly for the sake of entertainment.
From being born in Ontario to moving out to Vancouver to get a master's degree in journalism, and now back in Winnipeg with his wife, Mike Green has been all over Canada. Although green liver almost became his demise on the show until now, he's still slicing his way through the competition in the MasterChef Canada kitchen as Manitoba's only representative.
The bubbly writer, and clearly avid, home cook opens up about what it's like to be a finalist on the country's most popular cooking competition series, what he's looking to do when the show comes to a close and what he tries to avoid when it comes to cooking.
What was the application process for MasterChef Canada like for you?
The application process was kind of funny. I had been watching the American version of the show, but I never really thought about applying. My brother-in-law was a super huge fan and he had just gotten WiFi hooked up at their cabin, and it was, like, two days before the application was due. He was sitting there filling out the application [for me] while I was cooking dinner for a bunch of people. Yeah, they literally called, like, 12 hours later, which was awesome.
Initial thoughts on when you met the rest of the top 50 finalists in Toronto for the first time?
There were a lot of people who were very lively characters -- you know, big personalities. So, you’d meet some people and you’d be intrigued to see what they were going to actually cook. It was funny because it was probably more with the girls that were there judging other girls. Making catty comments about other people.
When you finally saw other competitors cooking, did you see anyone putting forward less than spectacular dishes?
Well, there was one guy, who ended up not being on the show when it aired, but he was cooking an omelette and I was just thinking, “Dude, that had better be the world’s best omelette.” You need to show technique, flavour, colour contrast and plating to impress the judges.
MasterChef Canada is a competition for home cooks, so I’m sure most of the finalists wouldn’t have known who the judges were. Be honest, did you?
For sure. I work as a food writer myself, so of course I had heard of Michael Bonacini. Alvin Leung; I became aware of him while I was watching Around The World in 80 Plates. For the Hong Kong leg of that competition, he was there and he was definitely the same on that show as he is on MasterChef Canada. Claudio Aprile; I had read about before in Toronto Life, things like that.
You’ve managed to beat out a lot of other competitors as the numbers dwindle from week to week. You’re clearing doing something right, but what was your culinary Achilles' heel heading into the competition?
Baking freaks me out! Anything that involves a lot of precise measuring. It’s just not something I do at home. The pasta challenge we had earlier on, as well. I was sweating in that one. I had never used a hand crank pasta roller before either, so I was sweating bullets, for sure.
In terms of the most dynamic characters that you’ve competed against on the show, I’d have to say that Dale and Kaila seem the most, um, intense. Do you agree with that?
Well, you could say pretty villainess (Kaila), I guess. Ha, ha. If you watch the show, both Dale and Kaila are fairly opinionated on food.
Do you think people who are more vibrant, in terms of personality, get more screen time because of it?
From my perspective, compared to some of these other contestants that have had some intense back stories, mine is pretty boring. You know, I come from a loving family, both my parents are still alive and happily married. I’m a fairly mellow yoga sort of guy, I probably don’t make that much of a zesty television character until you know me a bit more. Ha, ha, ha.
So, would you be happy to never see Dale again?
That’s pretty harsh. It definitely seems as though I didn’t get along with Dale on the show. At the same time, we could have a glass of wine after filming and everything was alright. We had some similar interests in wine and food, but, I just don’t like when someone is not very open to other people’s ideas. Especially when you’re in a kitchen, you’re on a team, so it’s more about sharing creativity.
Hm, who else? I don’t know, I didn’t really butt heads with too many people; that’s not really my style. There’s definitely a couple of people I wouldn’t call up if I was visiting their city to go for dinner with them; let’s just say that.
On the flip side of that, did you ever collaborate or get advice from fellow finalists during individual challenges?
There were some sharing of ideas, for sure. I remember when we were still in the top 26 stage; I was cooking beside Carly. I made this warm goat cheese vinaigrette and I got Carly to try it. We were tasting each others food as we were making it and it was nice to get that input. I think there were a lot of people that would have tried each other’s stuff, because it’s always good to get a second opinion, especially on seasoning and that kind of thing.
The MasterChef Canada kitchen looks pretty tricked out. Is it a home cook’s paradise?
It’s insane! It was pretty mind-blowing, actually. There was a full line-up of pressure cookers in there. Just the amount of equipment they had in there was incredible. I’d like to think that I have a pretty well-equipped kitchen at home, but wow.
Were there any downsides to working in that massive cooking space?
Using different knives. That was really tough for me for the first few episodes, trying to use these really heavy German knives that we had. I use different knives at home that are quite a bit lighter, so I cut myself pretty good while filming one episode, just from not paying attention to what I was doing.
Blood and cooking shows seem to go hand-in-hand though, I’d say.
Oh, yeah! You watch Iron Chef or any of those cooking shows and everyone cuts themselves all of the time. For one thing, there’s a camera in your face, so you have to look up and explain what you’re doing, and you’re not looking at your board while chopping. Yeah, I definitely cut myself a couple of times.
You’re already a food writer, so your career is culinary-focused, but once the show wraps up, are you looking to hop into the restaurant business like some of the other competitors?
For sure, I’m always trying to convince my wife -- that’s one of the main reasons why I wanted us to move back to Winnipeg in the first place -- to eventually open a restaurant or cafe here. I think Winnipeg is still in need of a real gastropub. They just don’t have that vibe of smaller space, longer bar tops, and stay-and-drink-for-a-while sort of feel. I think that culture is kind of missing and that’s what I’d like to eventually open up here.
At the end of the day, what benefits do you think you can reap from being on a show like this?
For me, the show is always going to be a bonus to myself as a food writer because I will have learned more culinary techniques and I’m going to get my name out there a bit more because of it. Food is one of my favourite things. In the past, I had a been a front-of-the-house kind of guy, so it was nice to see if my culinary chops could actually add up.