Master Chef Canada Call and Cast Audition: More Than a Culinary Adventure

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Master Chef Canada Call and Cast Audition:

More Than a Culinary Adventure

08.16.2013

By Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez / @ZaraAlexis

I’ve never been one to be in the kitchen except to help set up the table or to grab my food and eat. My mother tried teaching me how to cook when I was a child, but my instincts for it were pretty bad. Without a recipe and its detailed measurements, I felt lost and overwhelmed.

I had made a home-cooked meal on my own when I was about 12-years-old and set it on the table for my father to eat at dinnertime. Unfortunately, my father refused to touch it or even to try it, and I think it had nothing to do with its appearance or its potential taste, but that he was used to and preferred to only eat my mother’s cooking. Needless to say, a 12-year-old girl who’s already insecure about her own cooking did not understand that. And so, from then on, I took a silent vow never to cook again.

And I didn’t. Not really. Not in a substantial, award-winning way. I’ve stuck pretty much to basics, which has allowed me to let others shine in this area. (And when I say, “shine,” I mean from the sweat of being near the proximity of a 350-degree oven.)

We all have our different gifts. Mine is reading and what I’d like to think of as my gift of gab, as well as my writing. For others it’s a keen palette and a fearlessness of stoves, ovens, and sizzling objects prone to burning.

While my cousin, Myra, has often disclosed that she’s “not a word-person,” she can, however, create a culinary storm in the kitchen, which stems when asked, from her love of eating—and luckily for us both, we absolutely share that in common.

And so, it was with great pride that I did a few visual somersaults when I heard the news that she was invited to the national cast and call audition for the MasterChef Canada season, a reality cooking show, which is expected to air sometime this fall.

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Photo Credit: (c) Myra Tira. All rights reserved.
Photo Credit: (c) Myra Tira. All rights reserved.

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And while I’m no Master Chef, I am a firm believer in supporting those you love in the things they are passionate about. My brother is an aspiring actor; my aunt, a line dancing teacher; one of my cousins, an artist, and the other, a screenwriter, to name, but just a few. And I’m the type of person who’s eager to show my support in real ways even if it means simply attending a line-dancing class, an audition, art show, or a reading.

And because MasterChef Canada also encouraged its competing incumbents to bring along official “support” people, I thought, What better way to spend a Sunday afternoon?

***

But, the day did not come without its complications. I had woken up at 5:00 a.m. with only a few hours of sleep from the night before (after attending my niece’s birthday party) and still needed to prepare my travel plans. As a hometown girl from the suburbs with an unfamiliarity with Toronto, I had to be sure of how to get there and independent enough to travel without a data plan (I can only phone or text from my cell, which is the price of my own personal frugality and not jumping on the bandwagon by buying the latest version of the iPhone, which by the way, died on me because of my lack of a phone charger in my purse.).

Aside from that, my Presto Card was empty, I couldn’t find my husband’s card until I was forced to wake him up to tell me, and I dragged my feet all the way to the downtown bus terminal with a gorgeous Steve Madden purse on my shoulder filled with about 20 lbs. of stuff in the hopes that no one would feel inclined to mug me or rape me in the early hours of 6:00 a.m.—and then finally arrived at the station to only miss my bus by a mere shadow of TWO minutes! And, of course, my luck would have it that it was a Sunday and that the bus I was supposed to take was scheduled on its holiday schedule, which in layman’s terms meant I would have to wait a whole other hour for the next one to arrive. *sigh* [Insert deep breath here.]

While my original plan was to travel alone, apparently my aunt had also told my cousin that she might head on down to Toronto to cheer her on for her audition, too, so I was told by my cousin to also give her a call—which I did—and which also ended up delaying my trip by uh…oh, I don’t know…four hours!

After an insurmountable number of obstacles including unexpected trips to the bathroom, the Yorkdale Station locked down until 9:00 a.m., the closure of the Yonge-University subway line from St. George into the downtown Toronto core for the weekend, wrong directions given by TTC staff on not one, but two occasions, and an aunt who was cranky out of hunger, impatience, stress of walking, getting lost, and not having things go as she had originally planned or pictured it (my aunt’s a planner, as well as somewhat of a control freak—it’s in our gene pool and I suspect can really only be helped with years of therapy and medication)—well, it was a miracle I even made it.

But, I did.

Here are the front doors of the Intercontinental Hotel, where the cast and call auditions were being held for the weekend:

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Intercontinental Hotel on Front St. W., in Toronto, host of the Master Chef Canada casting call and auditions 2013. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Intercontinental Hotel on Front St. W., in Toronto, host of the Master Chef Canada casting call and auditions 2013. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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And while it doesn’t show here in the photograph below, the stress of getting to the Intercontinental Hotel in the name of supporting my cousin for her audition was indeed substantial! (And somewhat worsened throughout the day because of what seemed like perpetual waiting, incessant inquiries, anxiety, impatience, and disagreement!)

—My aunt had her own plans of breaking the “no supporters allowed [in the basement of the hotel] to accompany competitors,” while I was more than happy to comply, follow the rules, and wait out the auditions by taking a personal tour of Toronto with my camera. My aunt won out as my compliance also seemed to mean I also had to follow her directions and go against my better instincts, which was to either stay put in the lobby and wait, share a conversation or two with other supporters who were also waiting, or start clicking away at the downtown core that I promised myself I would see.

Master Chef Canada - supporters
“Official” supporters of Myra’s audition for Master Chef Canada 2013. Photo credit: (c) R. Garett. All rights reserved.

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And so, even though I was held hostage for most of the day by a cranky aunt and suspecting MasterChef Canada staff and security, I was, at the very least, able to fulfill my first purpose: literally be there for my cousin in support of her passion in the culinary arts—and as an unexpected bonus, also be able to enjoy and appreciate some of the Intercontinental Hotel’s decorative paintings…

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Painting inside the Intercontinental Hotel, Toronto. Photo credit: (c) Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Painting inside the Intercontinental Hotel, Toronto. Photo credit: (c) Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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…receive hospitality from some of the MasterChef Canada staff…

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(c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
(c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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…and enjoy the fine art of Toronto’s famous roadside dogs!

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Where we dropped by for lunch. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Where we dropped by for lunch. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Lunch while waiting for Myra to complete her registration process. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Lunch while waiting for Myra to complete her registration process. My dog is the one on the right. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

***

While the waiting was tedious, but obviously part of MasterChef Canada’s strategy to put some kind of stress-test on its incumbents, I was able to peek at my cousin’s cooler of food goodies while warding away any potential competitors’ secret desire for sabotage (and no, the Starbucks Food package wasn’t part of her ingredients, but was her actual pre-packaged lunch.).

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Myra's cooler with "secret" ingredients. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Myra’s cooler with “secret” ingredients. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Plantain and plating utensils. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Plantain and plating utensils. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

***

While the waiting game was effectively played, I was especially proud of my cousin’s calm and collected composure. She, like most, were waiting patiently, eager to complete the registration process, and then showcase her personal dish to the preliminary judges. No unnecessary drama, excessive call for attention, or gimmicks on her part—while for others, I unfortunately can’t say the same thing,—but alas, I suspect the loudest competitors were most likely also the worst cooks since food should be able to speak for itself (especially if you get the seasoning right).

Myra, on the other hand, was simply there to present the judges with a creative and delicious concoction of her own culinary making. (And not because she lacks in personality—she’s got a lot of that on her own once you really get to know her—but she also certainly didn’t lack any self-control, which is what made me especially proud of her.)

She was also part of Sunday’s second competing batch, tagged and ready as competitor #118, ready to go into registration at noon, and eventually slotted as #J8 to plate her dish in the early evening.

Myra's tag number, lucky #118. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Myra’s tag number, lucky #118. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Myra's "plating" number: "J8," as in "The Judges just ate Myra's dish and fainted from bliss!" (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Myra’s “plating” number: “J8,” as in “The Judges just ate Myra’s dish and fainted from bliss!” (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

***

And, so, after my aunt left Toronto to attend a BBQ later that evening, while I decided to stay and perhaps get a little taste of Toronto for myself, and Myra needed to return to the holding room to prepare to finally “plate” her dish before the judges (a timed feature, no less),—I was free to take on my own little adventure by finally stepping away from the hotel and hitting a Starbucks for a much-needed coffee and my favourite roast: a Tall Blonde (because really…who doesn’t love a tall blonde?).

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My order of a "tall blonde," because really...who doesn't love a tall blonde? (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
My order of a “tall blonde,” because really…who doesn’t love a tall blonde? (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

***

And because I’m a writer, sitting alone in a coffee shop in a city I’m unfamiliar with, is nothing really new to me. Loneliness can take on many forms, but for me, sitting alone in a coffee shop isn’t one of them, but rather a much welcome form of rest and relaxation. It gave me a chance to filter out the noise and stress of the day and simply sit back and enjoy the moment. Alone. Quietly. [Insert another deep breath here.]

But, I wasn’t entirely alone. My introversion also means my senses (as I was told) are somewhat more acute than my extroverted counterparts. That, and I had with me, my beloved camera.

Capturing an image, however ordinary, is to capture an essential moment in time, or to capture an image that evokes a particular memory or emotion for me. And what I usually see behind the lens is not necessarily what others may even care to notice. But, that’s what I love about photography. An end to a digital “roll,” can give me a visual layout of my day—and even document in my mind those moments that weren’t intentionally or unintentionally caught on camera.

Here are a few images I stored with my camera lens while waiting for nothing in particular to happen:

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The view outside my window and its small wildflowers. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
The view outside my window and its small wildflowers. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Grainy wood panel. Well...because. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Grainy wood panel. Well…because. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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Picking coffee beans. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Picking coffee beans. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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She's winking at me. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
She’s winking at me. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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"Reflecting" on my day at Starbucks. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
“Reflecting” on my day at Starbucks. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

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But then again, after a 45-minute wait, my coffee was getting cold as was my tolerance of the servers’ shifty glances in my direction. While unsaid, I’m sure there’s an unwritten rule about how long you can hold a table in a coffee shop based on the amount tendered on your receipt, which in my case was a measly $2.26 (with free refills due to my Green membership level on my Starbucks card).

So, I texted Jon, another cousin of mine, who, while we didn’t grow up together as children, nor have had much contact with each other for years with exception to maybe two, short, scarce meetings, not only shares his genetic code with me, but also a professional hobby, as well as the same personality type. We’re both writers (myself, a fiction and poetry writer, and he, a screenwriter)—and are both introverts.

I texted Jon for a potential meet-up at Starbucks, figuring three things: 1) he lives relatively close to where I was already located, 2) I’d really love to see him and connect with him and, 3) if he says no, I’ll just continue sipping my coffee and eventually head out and tour Toronto on my own.

Amazingly enough, Jon took me up on my invite and texted me back saying, Absolutely, I’ll be there in about 20 minutes-ish.

That was a pretty exciting “20-minutes-ish” wait, let me tell you!

***

When Jon finally arrived, we hugged in greeting as if we had grown up together. And then, of course, there was an entire conversation to tackle, easing in first with some small talk, and then later, sharing a little bit more of ourselves. (Who am I kidding? I pretty much shared any and every detail of my life as soon as I saw him! But, that’s just me. Who bloody has the time for small talk?!?)

I blame nervousness and the Tall Blonde for my jittery, spastic talk. The need to impress and share as much as possible in a short given time turned me into a hyperactive chatterbox. I mean, when was I going to see my long, lost cousin again? Really? It could be another 10 years, at which point, I’d have a whole new, slew of information to share in nano speed.

But, as time passed, it became a little easier. (I had already renewed my introverted energy by being alone for a good 45 minutes prior to his arrival.) And thankfully, in getting to know Jon again, I quickly realized we have quite a lot in common, both in the way we carefully and thoughtfully analyze and shape our thoughts into speaking, and the moral fibre we tend to appreciate and gravitate towards.—Okay, wait.—Jon is more careful than I am. My analysis is quick, but my mouth tends to be quicker, which means I can trip over my words as they come out.

And it made me also realize, I’m a self-professed introvert who really yearns to be something else entirely. But, I tell you this (there I go, talking again), being around a number of people especially over the number two, completely EXHAUSTS me. It’s not that I’m necessarily shy. But being in a big group puts an invisible pressure on me to “perform,” rather than sit quietly and absorb information and work things out for myself. I care deeply about thoughts and feelings more than I ever will about say…the rise and fall of the stock market (I should know, I worked for Merrill Lynch Canada for a number of years).

And what was even more exciting was the serendipitous way in which I scored my very own vintage typewriter that day! While talking, I tend to switch topics easily, or at least say what pops into my head at any given moment. I’m sure you can tell with my “bloggish” writing that this is in fact true. And so, while our conversation took a short pause, I blurted out quite randomly,

                    You know what I want? A vintage typewriter!

It’s true. I blurted it. Randomly. I’ve been yearning for a vintage typewriter for a very long time. I’ve searched thrift shops. I’ve checked eBay, Etsy, Kijijji, Craiglist, but could never find something I could quite afford (sellers seem to really put a hefty price tag on nostalgia). And you know what happened?

Jon’s face broke into a huge smile.

                   Really? Because I’ve been trying to get rid of one of mine!

Ah ha! You see what I mean? Kismet. My meeting with Jon was predestined. Coincidence? I think not. Serendipitous? Absolutely. This was an important moment of connection and I was ecstatic!

Why am I sharing this pedantic information with you? Well, the point about the typewriter is what led us to eventually leave Starbucks, hop on the TTC, take a short tour of the former Maple Leaf Gardens, which is now sadly a Loblaws supermarket (which was not only bittersweet for me, but angers me enough to want to join a protest movement against it), and visit Jon’s apartment, and his cat, Alice, who I’m deathly allergic to, in order to pick it up (the typewriter, that is—not the cat). [Another breath needed here.] <—This is how fast I really talk, by the way.

***

(c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
(c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

***

Centre ice is now located in aisle 25, now home to canned vegetables, packaged beans, and canned meat. A travesty. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

***

Maple Leaf Gardens centre ice. A sacred spot now housed in aisle 25. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Maple Leaf Gardens centre ice. A sacred spot now housed in aisle 25. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

 ***

The least Loblaws could do by commemorating the Toronto Maple Leafs: painting picnic chairs in our hometown blue. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez.
The least Loblaws could do by commemorating the Toronto Maple Leaf Gardens: painting picnic chairs in the shape of our hometown blue. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

***

But, I have no ill feelings toward Alice. It’s not her fault I could at any time be thrown into a hive attack or a choking frenzy by simply being in her presence. It’s enough to make a cat really insecure. She was, actually, quite shy, curious enough to peek at me while I was in the bathroom, and then somewhat self-conscious when I came out, that she had no choice but to hide under the bed, which is why I have no photograph of her. (It’s okay. I think she was more relieved than I was disappointed.)

I do, however, have photographs of Jon’s stoop, his sneakers, and a red house across his apartment. Like the classic introvert that Jon is, he refused to sign a photo release, which would allow me to post his picture on my website. Hence, his shoes will have to do.

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Jon's stoop---and no, he doesn't live in the rental office. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Jon’s stoop—and no, he doesn’t live in the rental office. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

   ***

jon red house
The Red House as in “The Red House” by Mark Haddon, except in downtown Toronto. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

***

You can't really know a person until you walk in his shoes. These are Jon's. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
You can’t really know a person until you walk in his shoes. These are Jon’s. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

***

Okay, I have to insert this here. I was staring at the above picture and thought,

Shoes? That’s the best representation I can share of my cousin, Jon? C’mon! That’s CRAZY.

And so, even with his introverted nature and his refusal to sign a photo release, I thought I’d go ahead and compromise. This is Jon…with his face covered, of course.

***

Jon. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.
Jon. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

***

To be quite honest, I really don’t know why Jon would prefer his photograph not be shared with the world. He’s quite a handsome bloke! Behind that graphic heart is a heart-throb who simply hasn’t realized it yet. (He’s intelligent, witty, and kind, too—just saying.) But, as his cousin, I must respect his need for privacy.

***

And while his vintage typewriter was busy saying its last goodbye, Myra, was also busy plating her dish for the MasterChef Canada judges:

(c) Photo credit: Myra Tira. All rights reserved.
(c) Photo credit: Myra Tira. All rights reserved.

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Myra's audition dish: Poblano Aioli, Coconut Shrimp and Scallop Ceviche, Mango Salsa, Pickled Red Onions, Toasted Coconut with Plantain Chips. (c) Photo credit: Myra Tira. All rights reserved.
Myra’s audition dish: Poblano Aioli, Coconut Shrimp and Scallop Ceviche, Mango Salsa, Pickled Red Onions, Toasted Coconut with Plantain Chips. (c) Photo credit: Myra Tira. All rights reserved.

***

She did an outstanding job! When she told me what she might be making, I actually didn’t know what she was talking about. It was beyond me! Like I’ve always said, she’s the Master Chef and I’m the Master Eater. Brilliant, Myra! Your dish was magnificent!

***

My newly-owned vintage typewriter. An early birthday present from Jon. Affectionately named, NEIL. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. Alll rights reserved.
My newly-owned vintage typewriter. An early birthday present from Jon. Affectionately named, NEIL. (c) Photo by Zara D. Garcia-Alvarez. All rights reserved.

***

The day, overall, was an exceptional one. The moral of the story?

  1. Support your family’s personal endeavours and passions. In essence, support them.
  2. Waiting has its advantages.
  3. It’s not always about winning, but about showing up.
  4. Plans are sometimes made to be broken. Live a little. Explore.
  5. Cousins are awesome people. Aunts are, too (when they’re not hungry, that is).
  6. Make friends with strangers. How else do you make friends?
  7. Pretend to be a tourist. It’s easier to take photographs that way.
  8. Bring a pen and copies of a photo release with you wherever you go.
  9. Take risks. Even if it takes the form of meeting someone you haven’t seen in years.
  10. If you own a Starbucks card, register it, and get free refills on coffee and tea.
  11. Always have allergy medication (and a phone charger) in your purse for emergencies.
  12. It isn’t where you go, but who you’re with, that makes all the difference.
  13. A stoop is as good a place as any to get to know someone.
  14. Learn how to cook even if you get your feelings hurt. You never know when you’ll have the opportunity to audition for a cooking show.
  15. Find out what “ceviche” really means.
  16. Sometimes it’s best to follow your better instincts even if it doesn’t agree with someone else’s.
  17. MasterChef Canada auditions are not the same as Canadian Idol ones. No screaming required or support people outside holding rooms.
  18. It’s not important to get on television. It’s more important to know how to cook.
  19. Vintage typewriters can be free if you’re related to someone who wants to give one away.
  20. Don’t step on the sacred spot that is centre ice in what was formerly known as the Maple Leaf Gardens. Even if you have a shopping cart. It’s simply sacrilegious.
  21. People paint themselves in colour and actually stand still pretending to be statues. Toronto doesn’t seem to mind this.
  22. Feed your aunt.
  23. Don’t talk like a hyperventilating maniac. It scares others.
  24. TTC buses are crowded. GO Transit is extremely fast.
  25. And most importantly, don’t be afraid to wait for the next bus.

***

A special thanks to Myra for being a chef in her own right, which allowed me to live vicariously through her audition experience. And a special thanks to Jon for putting up with my incessant talking.

No animals were harmed in the production of this blog post. Especially Alice.

***

zara bird autograph

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