By BILL HARRIS
Special to The Lede
No matter what Jennifer Crawford does from now on, whether it’s in the food industry or elsewhere, her resume forever will include these show-stopping words: “MASTERCHEF CANADA winner.”
Jennifer earned the title in the season finale of MASTERCHEF CANADA, which aired Monday night on CTV. Both Jennifer, a senior policy analyst from Kingston, N.S., and runner-up Andre Bhagwandat, a hospital housekeeper from Scarborough, Ont., greatly impressed judges Michael Bonacini, Alvin Leung, and Claudio Aprile, but Jennifer had the slightest of edges and took home the $100,000 prize.
We asked both Jennifer and Andre about their experiences on MASTERCHEF CANADA, from the audition stages all the way to the pressure-packed showdown between the final two:
Q: What was the best piece of advice you got on MASTERCHEF CANADA, and who gave it to you?
Jennifer: “The best advice was from my home-cook pal Alyssa LeBlanc: ‘Do what you want. Who gives a (bleep)? Do what you want!’ ”
Andre: “The best advice I received was to think about the negative space when plating, given to me by special guest (and MASTERCHEF CANADA Season 5 winner) Beccy Stables.”
Q: Was there an element of appearing on MASTERCHEF CANADA that was harder than you thought it would be, or harder than it looks on TV?
Jennifer: “Saying farewell to other home cooks guts you every time, it physically hurts to watch. You've tethered yourselves to each other through vulnerability and courage, and it's a searing pain when those ties are severed. Intensity breeds closeness more than duration of time, and these are friendships forged in white-hot fire (sometimes literally, ha ha).”
Andre: “Definitely the mystery boxes. It really is a crazy task to think up a dish with something you’ve probably never worked with, or seen, before.”
Q: For Jennifer, Chef Claudio described you as "the most creative home cook we've seen in six seasons." What do you think made the biggest difference for you to emerge victorious? And for Andre, Chef Claudio described your flavours as "explosive." Looking back, knowing there can be only one winner, would you have done anything differently in the finale?
Jennifer: “Fourteen months ago, my PTSD was so debilitating that I could barely create a way out of bed, let alone create even the most basic of meals. Healing is an astonishingly powerful force. I'm the first queer winner of MASTERCHEF CANADA. When you've been told that your gender, or the way you have relationships, or whatever you value, is simply unthinkable - yet you're out there living it anyways - I think that kind of thing breeds a delightfully queer curiosity and equanimity that works its way into everything you do, including cooking. Like, ‘Oh, something unimaginable? Let's imagine it.’ "
Andre: “Hearing Chef Claudio’s compliments means so much. I’m the type of person that listens and learns from my mistakes, and having an established chef rave about my food really puts things into perspective for me. Looking back now, I wouldn’t change a thing. I did what I set out to do, show what I’ve learned, and put my family and culture into the meals.”
Q: With this experience under your belt, what's next for you in the cooking world?
Jennifer: “I have a big heart full of enthusiasm, grit, and curiosity. I love food and people so much. I loved filming this show and everything that came with it. For today, I'm just going to sit in the head-shake level of awe and gratitude about this whole wildly improbable situation, thank my lucky stars and family, and probably order a really nice pizza.”
Andre: “With these new skills and experiences, I’ll begin with private dinners and the occasional pop-ups to showcase what I’m capable of.”