MasterChef Canada finale: Eric vs. Marida

MasterChef Canada finalists Eric Chong and Marida Mohammed. (Handout: CTV)

MasterChef Canada finalists Eric Chong and Marida Mohammed. (Handout: CTV)

Jim Slotek, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:07 PM ET

In a way, Monday’s MasterChef Canada finale between Eric Chong and Marida Mohammed is consummately Canadian.

After all, “Canadian food” is Chinese, South Asian, Italian, Caribbean, Portuguese – all specialties represented by the various contestants in the top-16 of the show (and yeah, Nanaimo Bars, which nobody seemed to know how to make properly).

But it’s a match-up that also seemed improbable, especially given Eric’s constant appearance of being on the edge of losing it, whether as a captain in the team competitions, or cooking for his life in the Pressure Tests. His hang-dog look – combined with his ability to narrowly evade elimination – led some suspicious ex-competitors to question whether his fretfulness was an act.

If it were, he says, it would be a good one. “It’s a good thing to be underestimated. You get advantages, and people don’t target you,” he said in a joint interview with Mohammed prior to tonight’s finale.

“But those looks on my face, that wasn’t acting. There were a lot of tense moments, and I’m super-nervous. It’s scary going up to those three judges and watching them taste your food. I think the worst was (visiting American judge) Joe Bastianich, I think he was just there to mess with me. I think that’s the most nervous I’ve ever been.”

But last week, viewers got a look at a grin that practically ate Chong’s face. It came in the elimination leg, when Mohammed got to choose the seafood she and Eric would cook – razor clams and Dungeness crab. She gave Eric the crab.

“When I saw the expression on his face, how happy he was, I thought, ‘I just gave Eric $100,000,’” Mohammed says. “Like, I may have just really effed up. He was glowing. He was totally, like, ‘Thank you, mom!’” (Ultimately, third-place finisher Kaila Klassen was eliminated after she served some overcooked scallops).

“Right away, when they lifted the dish and I saw the crab, I knew that would have been my first pick,” Chong says. “I knew exactly what I wanted to do with it.”

However the finale ends (or ended, since it was recorded back in October), Mohammed and Chong were both thankful for one thing. The team challenges were over.

“I like cooking on my own. You don’t have to rely on somebody else for your fate. It’s MasterChef, not MasterChefs,” Chong says, making Mohammed laugh.

“Agreed,” she says. “That’s when we’re in our element, and we really feel the most comfortable and can totally control every move.”

Look no further than when Eric didn’t win a dim sum team competition. “That was a tough loss,” he says. “To stand there and just watch somebody else (mess up), it was so disappointing. My grandfather was, like, ‘Why?” And I’m, like, ‘You don’t understand. I have a teammate, it’s not all me.’”

Mohammed says her approach to the finale mirrored that of her entire season, whether she was cooking for the judges, for the Toronto Maple Leafs or at a Canadian Armed Forces base. “In a sense you have to have that feeling that you’re cooking for your family. That’s where I dug the most for passion. I went in there every time cooking for my family.”

Of the finale, she adds, “whatever happened before, this is way more intense. This is for the big prize, this is where we showcase what we bring to the kitchen, and what our cuisine would be like if you came to our restaurant one day.”

Twitter: @jimslotek

jim.slotek@sunmedia.ca


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