In March Madness, the biggest upset may have been Mercer over Duke. In April Madness – a.k.a. the MasterChef Canada semi-final episode – it was the elimination of the “unbeatable” Tammara Behl.
The Calgary schoolteacher had never lost a team challenge through the 15 weeks of MasterChef Canada, and never had to cook for her life in a pressure test.
And she was the first one eliminated Monday, in a show that whittled four finalists down to two – Oakville engineer Eric Chong and stay-at-home Toronto mom Marida Mohammed.
Appropriately, Behl was joined by her scrappy underdog opposite, Kelowna realtor Kaila Klassen, who had the bad luck to be in every pressure test but one, and had narrowly avoided elimination week after week. Her Cinderella story struck midnight when the judges decided she’d cooked her scallops 15 seconds too long.
“They were really close to perfect,” Klassen said in an interview Tuesday. But the judges were right. They were about 15 seconds over.
“That 15 second difference really cost me the title, it’s devastating. But I’ve had time to heal and I’m really proud of what I did.”
As for Behl, I gently scolded her for ruining my pre-show picks. “You picked the right one to win,” she said. “I tried my best.”
Behl’s elimination came during a simple first round Mystery Box challenge: make something Italian for visiting American MasterChef judge Joe Bastianich. Kaila actually won that round with a stuffed veal loin. Eric sailed through with a simple pasta and sauce. Both kind of bugged Behl, who was eliminated for an “overcomplicated” veal medallion, spaetzle, fried capers and tomato salad.
“Eric’s pasta was pretty plain. Did it bother me? Yes, it’s the biggest restaurant show in Canada and the dish I made was restaurant quality. When I eat things I want variety. And sorry Kaila, but that’s not just meat on a plate.”
A “Jewish mama” who specializes in Asian and South Asian cooking, Behl admits Italian food is not in her comfort zone. “Honestly with that dish, I wouldn’t have changed much. I had to stand behind my dish.”
She said after her elimination, Claudio Aprile told her, “Just because they taste your food and don’t like it, doesn’t mean they’re not going to like it the next time.”
Meanwhile, both Klassen and Behl are intent on cooking professionally, with the former starting a restaurant in Kelowna, and Behl launching a Calgary catering service.
Klassen’s Krafty Kitchen & Bar has a July launch date. “We’re going to be a very trendy restaurant, with small sharable plates. It’ll be cozy, with a comfortable atmosphere.”
Meanwhile, Behl says “Chef Tammara’s Catering” is already fully booked, and she’s looking to hire more staff. “My specialty is Asian, and my clientele knows that.”
She says the mass-cooking challenges – including a meal at a Canadian Forces base – “helped me figure out portions. As a home cook you know who you’re cooking for, maybe 20 people at the house for Christmas or Hanukkah. If you’re cooking for 100 or more, it’s all in the prep.”