Mary Berg knew from the get-go that she didn’t want to be a chef, but from a very early age, food has been a huge part of her identity. “I knew I couldn’t work in kitchens, I have too much anxiety,” she jokes. “But food has always fascinated me. It was the place in my family I felt I could be most helpful. I grew up watching cooking shows. Good Eats with Alton Brown was my candy as a kid.”
The self-professed food nerd took the plunge and applied for MasterChef Canada Season 3 with zero expectations for her performance, and then to her surprise, ended up winning.
“Since then, life has been pretty bonkers,” Berg comments. With a new TV show and cookbooks in the works, she’s come a long way from the 4 year-old girl trying to make breakfast for her family.
How did winning Season 3 of MasterChef Canada change things for you?
It was a complete 180 from my former life, the most surreal thing that has ever happened to me. From MasterChef, I left with amazing new friends and confidence to take that step and pursue cooking as my career. I was never willing to do that before. Cooking was something to do in the future once I was established, maybe when I was retired. Pursuing passion as career is a hard thing to do. If you fail, is it no longer your passion? Cooking is second nature to me; it’s relaxing, completely, and totally enjoyable. I’m really happy that has continued.
How did Mary’s Big Kitchen Party come about?
MasterChef [Canada] is run through Bell, so I developed relationships working with them. I’ve been doing cooking segments on Your Morning and the Marilyn Denis Show. Being in that building and forming relationships has been amazing. I always thought I was interested in catering and recipe development. But being on set and learning about cameras, sound engineering, the whole process, I caught that bug. I’m so happy Bell has worked with me to build that in me. They called me at the cottage and asked if I was interested in doing a show. I jumped at opportunity. It was only two months ago, so it has been a whirlwind.
What’s the show all about?
I’m a huge proponent of kitchen parties. It’s a super Canadian thing, an East Coast thing. It’s not a good party until everyone is in the kitchen. The show is all about me cooking good, tasty, delicious food with friends hanging out.
Was it hard to convey that type of concept with it across as contrived?
When I first conceptualized the show, I was thinking of the original Jamie Oliver show when he’s in the kitchen and has his friends come over and he cooks for them. It was pretty natural because I do it all the time. I was able to let all my guard down and be most myself.
What was the most challenging part of filming a cooking show?
Really generic things like not turning your head too much. When you’re talking to someone, you want to look at them, but when there are cameras involved you need to think about it. Cooking is natural but with cameras you have to slow it down, take it step by step.
What guests do you have on the show?
There are a mix of my own friends and surprise guests. My husband may have had a little too much bourbon when he was on. It was very exciting and a pleasure to cook for every single person in that kitchen.
What makes the ideal kitchen party? What are the top three things?
- Everyone needs a drink as soon as they walk in.
- Getting people involved. When people host, they feel like they don’t want their guests to do things but I love getting in the kitchen. Getting people involved is integral and makes everything more casual.
- Food that just tastes good. Overcomplicating recipes and making them unnecessarily difficult is never a recipe for a good party. You want to make good honest food that doesn’t scare people and looks like it wants to be dug into.
Where do you get inspiration for your recipes?
I think about flavours I’d want to eat. All I do all day is think about food and flavours. It’s trial and error, really. I grab everything and mush it together in my brain until it works.
Do you have any food idols?
My all time favourite is Ina Garten. When I grow up, I want to be her. Her approach to food is so honest and simple and good. I don’t want to muddle up flavours or taste 20 different things. Ina is good at that. She makes straightforward recipes that still make you look like a superstar.
You also have a cookbook in the works. Can you tell me a bit more about that?
I’ve got a book with Penguin Random House due to come out spring/summer 2019 and is entitled Kitchen Party. It’s me. I love being in the kitchen and bringing the party in. It will be filled with recipes that are good and easy to make for a crowd. They won’t have you tearing your hair out or hating the dish by the time you’re done. I love eating out, but I want to invite people to bring friends into their own kitchen. Sitting in stretchy pants with friends and lingering over food, that’s so much better.
**Stay tuned for Mary’s Big Kitchen Party airing on Gusto and Fibe TV1 Fridays at 9 p.m. EST.