In times like these when the world seems like it is on fire, we need peaceful, soothing television that makes us proud to be Canadian. It’s the perfect time to be welcomed back to the world of the Great Canadian Baking Show.
We are picking up the action in episode two, please blame me, and not the nice people of EatNorth for the delay.
The tent is a slightly different place this year. Our hosts, the beloved but extremely busy Dan Levy and Julia Chan, have been replaced by the sardonic and lovable Carolyn Taylor and Aurora Browne from the Baroness von Sketch show. They are a little awkward, but that is kind of their schtick. I hope they let their keen observational humour loose. In the meantime, I’m just happy that they both eat.
But the biggest change is that there is a new judge. Bruno Feldeisen thankfully remains, and so will his one-liners. Rochelle Adonis, the barely Canadian judge from New Zealand, has been replaced by Kyla Kennaley. As the former owner of Toronto’s Madeline’s Bake Shop (RIP) and the owner of a wholesale bakery, Kyla brings real world knowledge to the show. She has TV experience but alas, is now living in London, England. She is also, for lack of a better word, perky. She is always smiling, even when she is critical. And you get the feeling that she is always rooting for the bakers.
With all those changes at the top, what’s the same this season? We still have quirky bakers from different parts of Canada. They still talk to the ovens, burn the edges, get stressed out, and support each other. As always, there are good technical bakers, creative artists and some people whose baking isn’t quite up there but provide excellence commentary.
The early lead is Nataliia Shevchenko, who immigrated to Canada a few years ago for love. She is a receptionist in Edmonton. She has won star baker two weeks in a row and looks to have both artistic and technical skills. Her ideas seem fully formed as she bakes, which keeps her in control. We will see if she extends herself outside of her Eastern European flavours. Is this going to be like last year when there was one baker who pulled ahead and stayed there for the whole season?
Andrea Nauta is the blue and pink-haired barista and creative baker from Comox, B.C. Is she the Megan of this season? Or is she the whimsical Jude? We will see. She brings whimsy and lots of colour to her bakes.
Liam Harrap is a journalist from Revelstoke B.C. He blushes a deep crimson when he is embarrassed and has a great giggle. I suspect he will remain in the middle of the pack as his execution isn’t quite as good as the others… unless that’s a ruse.
Chris Koo is a family doctor from Edmonton. He seems very organized and uses some interesting flavours, but in the first two episodes, he was overly ambitious and encountered some issues.
Jodi Robson is from the Okanese First Nation and lives in Regina, Saskatchewan with her wrestler husband. Jodi’s work is both beautifully-detailed and has flavour. I hope that she has the technique to back up her ideas. It’s early days, but I am in her corner.
Jay Smidt manages a gay rugby league in Cantley, B.C. and, according to the press release, works for the government. He brings some interesting Nordic flavour combinations after living in Sweden. I think he hasn’t hit his stride quite yet.
Jasmine Linton, is a university student from Richmond Hill, Ontario. She is the youngest baker in the tent but has a mature palate and seems to have some technique. She is very creative. I hope she sticks around.
Mary Lou Snow from Newfoundland is this year’s resident grandma, except I learn from the press release that she is also a college physiotherapy instructor. She has a homey style and seems very nice.
My fan favourite vote may head to Colin Asuncion (maybe against Liam and Jodi). He is a singer and does a little riff each week. His work is artistic, and he is fun to watch.
This week’s episode--episode two--was all about biscuits and crackers. In the Signature Bake, the bakers had to make a set of uniform savoury crackers with a dip. As always, the judges were looking to learn more about the bakers from their creations.
Nataliia said she never makes crackers because they are easier to buy; I totally agree, but her Ukrainian-inspired twists and dip were good. It was Chris’s matcha cracker and Japanese fusion dip--which I would like to eat for lunch--that put him at the top.
The other bakers all struggled with consistency and timing.
The Technical Bake was a marshmallow dip cookie. It’s essentially a Mallomar or Viva Puff, they just can’t say the trademarked name on the show. Bruno looked suspicious of Kyla’s choice but agrees they are delicious.
This cookie has four tricky components: a cookie, jam, homemade marshmallow whip and tempered chocolate. Most bakers struggled with tempering the chocolate and served up melty and messy cookies. Chris’s and Jay’s were the best.
I’m just glad I wasn’t a judge because I don’t like marshmallows. As a viewer, I was happy that it was a challenging technical bake.
The Showstopper was to build your fantasy out of cookies. I’m sure there were some off-colour jokes in the writer’s room on this one, but they just let Carolyn and Aurora hint at the idea of a fantasy in cookie form.
The fantasies were all intricate, but the reality was a little different as the cookies crumbled all over the place.
I don’t think anyone was surprised that Liam made a gnome house. It just seemed to fit his personality. It must have looked better in the tent than on TV as the judges were happy with it.
Andrea also stayed true to type and made a fairy’s house with lots of pretty icing.
Jay’s noble fantasy is to rescue all unwanted dogs, but his dog park was not quite up to the epic expectations of the judges.
There were some sexy mermen happening on Colin’s under-the-sea fantasy. He, along with the judges, was very happy with his bright blue dough.
Chris attempted to make four different doughs, which didn’t give him enough time to really perfect any of them. His gamer’s dragon battle didn’t look quite as good as he envisioned. He had the lead going into this challenge but didn’t keep it.
Nataliia made a space odyssey for her husband and it was a colourful and technical feat. Bruno made her try one of her cookies, which seemed suspicious, but he agreed with her when she said it was good.
The detail on Jodi’s dragon hoarding a treasure was very beautiful. The judges were impressed, even though Nataliia won in the end.
Jasmine had a great idea of suspending a cookie superhero replica of herself between two cookie buildings. Gravity got the best of her, but her creation still looked good.
Mary Lou, however, underbaked her shipwreck boat and the whole thing fell apart on her. She tried to glue it together, but the final product was just a big white mess. She was sunk, and she knew it.
The judges had a half-hearted discussion about who should go home, Jasmine or MaryLou, but it really wasn’t a fair comparison. Mary Lou was sent back to Newfoundland. Her loss is proof that it only takes one bad day to send someone home. If her shipwreck boat had worked, the judges would have had a more difficult choice to make.
I think Bruno and Kyla have much better chemistry than what’s her name and Bruno did. They seem to enjoy each other. I do wonder why the producers can’t find a Canada-based pastry chef to be on the show.
I’m picking Nataliia, Jodi and maybe Chris as my top three. Let us know your favourites in the comments!
Listen to the next EatNorth podcast, More than Maple Syrup, to hear me, Phil Wilson and guest Megan Stasiewich (runner-up on last year’s show) break down this season’s show. Both Phil and Megan are from Edmonton, so they will be rooting for their hometown bakers and possibly, gloating a little. We also have an interview with the judges.
Great Canadian Baking Show airs on Wednesday nights on CBC Television at 8 p.m. and on the CBC Gem app.