Three Canadian amateur cooks compete to cook tajine for the first time, hoping to achieve an authentic Moroccan taste.
Rabat – MasterChef Canada, a competitive reality cooking television show, put three of their contestants up to the challenge of cooking a Moroccan-inspired tajine on July 8.
None of the contestants had ever cooked a tajine before.
“I grew up in a primarily Moroccan, Jewish neighborhood, so I have had the opportunity to taste these flavors quite a bit in my life,” Aaron Polsky, one of the contestant cooks, said with confidence.
Meanwhile, other cooks in the kitchen fumbled for the right vegetables and ingredients to craft a slow-cooked savory stew that would meet the North African standards. They reported cooking solely with their “instincts.”
“I know nothing about tajines, but I am pretty sure I’m going to use some peppers, tomatoes… I’m probably going to use pumpkin for a bit of earthiness,” explained Miranda Wasstrom.
She added, “By smell and taste and a little bit of luck — with a pinch of this and that — I will hope it works out!”
Judges limited the contestants to 45 minutes, supplying them with German-made kitchen appliances including metal tajines. As well, each cook received 28 unlabeled spices that were laid out for them to decipher and select to flavor their tajine.
“The tajine dish has an unusual shape to it. It traps that steam inside of it and it almost creates like a confection, that steam drops down and all those flavors and aromas get trapped inside of that pot — and they drop back down on top of that tajine,” said judge Claudio Aprile.
In addition to cooking a tajine, MasterChef Canada also challenged the contestants to make a side of couscous.
The most ‘authentic’ Moroccan tajine
“Couscous and a tajine — it’s like a marriage, they compliment each other,” said judge Alvin Leung. He praised Wasstrom’s dish saying, “you did that just right.”
Candidate Thea VanHerwaarden was told that although her palate was taking her down the “right avenues in terms of taste,” she fell short in her ability to properly flavor her dish.
Judge Michael Bonacini told Polsky that his tajine “definitely has positive notes of Morocco, I like the choice of your vegetables.” He complimented the cook’s homemade harissa before advising him to “cook slightly simpler” and “slow things down.” Judges deemed his dish as overpowered by the flavor of cloves.
Wasstrom’s instincts led her in the right direction and the judges concluded she was the only contestant to “achieve the textures and tastes of an authentic Moroccan tajine.”
Polsky’s familiarity with Moroccan cooking did not give him an advantage. The cook was let go from the competition, but not before Bonacini offered him a job at a new restaurant in Montreal next year.
MasterChef Canada’s process of elimination
Approximately 20 amateur chefs are invited to participate on the show each season. Each episode features new challenges that judge the contestants’ food plating, flavors, techniques, and sophistication.
Challenges are broken down into tests, including a “skills test” where cooks observe and replicate a judge’s dish and a “mystery box” test that challenges the contestants to create a dish based only on the ingredients inside a provided box.
The “elimination test” seeks to select chefs with the best dishes based on taste and visual appeal, criticizing and weeding out the worst dishes before eliminating at least one contestant from the show. “Team challenges” group the cooks into teams of two or three and send them to an off-site location to prepare a “fine restaurant meal” for diners. Diners get to taste the different meals and vote on their favorite, contributing to the judges’ final decision.
MasterChef’s latest Moroccan tajine challenge fell under the category of a “pressure test,” another challenge that results in cooks being sent home. Cooks receive a very limited amount of time to craft a dish based on specific guidelines. It is later judged on taste, visual appeal, and technique.
The winner of each season wins a $100,000 cash prize and a MasterChef Canada trophy, as well as the title of MasterChef Canada.