03/15/2013 03:50 EDT

'Top Chef Canada' Season 3: Cooking Competition Returns

Food Network Canada

"Top Chef Canada" is back for a third delicious season and recently, it was the media who had the opportunity to sit at the judge's table.

Head judge Mark McEwan held an event at his acclaimed Toronto restaurant, North 44, where the press, along with McEwan, fellow judge Shereen Arazm and host Lisa Ray, were treated to a five-course tasting menu by some of this year's promising talent. After each plate, scorecards were filled out, collected and tallied, with the winning chef receiving $1000.

The dessert -- cornbread with preserved peaches, Forty Creek whiskey cream and spiced pecans -- was the yummy favourite. (Ironically, dessert is the dish that often sends chefs off to "pack their knives" on the show.)

Clearly, the 16 competing chefs from across the country have never been hungrier to showcase their culinary skills and grab the grand prize. At stake is $100,000, a GE Monogram Kitchen worth $30,000 and a custom installation by Caesarstone Quartz Surfaces. Of course, there's bragging rights, too.

It won't be a cake-walk, though. Various challenges will take place on-location, away from any state-of-the-art equipment. Guest judges will include celebrity chefs Chuck Hughes, David Rocco, Robert Irvine, Elizabeth Falkner, Massimo Capra, as well as TV host George Stroumboulopoulos, seven-time WWE Champion Trish Stratus and comedian Russell Peters. And as usual, there will be plenty of drama in the kitchen.

"Every season has had a lot of character," says McEwan. "This year, we've grown into our roles of understanding the show, bringing the chefs out and just the way everyone works together."

"We've found our voices," agrees Arazm. "Our personas have forged themselves at this point. We know who each of us are and what to expect. I know what Mark and Lisa like, and dislike."

"We're all dating in our next lives," quips McEwan.

"Without revealing too much, we've definitely got more of a personal touch this season," adds Ray. "As a collective, and then with our personalities, we get a chance to come out."

Arazm notes that Ray, who was extremely nervous when she took over hosting duties in Season 2, has really blossomed in her role.

"You originally cried the first day we sent somebody home," teases Arazm.

After the noise level died down, McEwan, Arazm and Ray sat down to further discuss 'Top Chef Canada' with HuffPost TV.

What's a common misstep a lot of these chefs make during the competition?

McEwan: They try too hard. They get out of their comfort zone and experiment too much. They are not comfortable in that category. They'll worry too much about the presentation.

Arazm: Or the opposite. They're overconfident. We see some chefs that thought they were a force to be reckoned with and we see them totally fall.

McEwan: A lot of young cooks fall prey to abstract presentation, thinking that's going to buy them the day. When, in fact, you could serve a bowl of broth and if the broth is perfect, you could win the day. We try to come out of the gate making them understand that.

Last year, one contestant worked under Susur Lee. Do you have higher expectations when the chefs come from certain backgrounds or pedigrees?

Arazm: For sure. At some point in Season 2, when David was not really doing well, and he's not the chef who worked for Susur, but had an excellent pedigree ... I remember saying to him, "Listen, I'm really expecting more from you and I'm so disappointed. You take a cold shower and figure things out. You're not representing what you should be representing." I knew he was better than what he was showing.

McEwan: Today was a perfect example of where a chef conquerors the day by executing a simple dish that you would think your mother would make, and blowing it out of the park. That for me is what the show is all about.

Why do group challenges? Why not assess the chefs on their individual abilities?

McEwan: Chefs have to work together. There's no chef that works on his own. My kitchen brigades are a minimum of six people, up to 12 people on a shift. If one individual doesn't perform, it takes the whole team down, because all your timing is off.

They just seem to despise those challenges, though.

McEwan: Yeah, but there's a real high associated with a great service when it goes incredibly well, and a lot of anxiety when it doesn't. It's a very intense business.

Why do chefs have a love/hate relationship with Restaurant Wars?

Arazm: It's hard and it forces them to do front of the house, which chefs, besides Mark, generally don't like to do. They want to be in the kitchen. Great. Good on them, but part of owning a restaurant is being in front of the house.

McEwan: They are out of their comfort zone. They feel awkward. They have to engage the day in a completely strange way.

Ray: And you're relying on a team. It really is about the team work. Normally, Restaurant Wars comes about halfway through the competition, when people have formed a dynamic. And often, they don't really choose their teams. They are just thrown in with these people.

"Top Chef Canada" Season 3 premieres on Monday, March 18 on Food Network Canada at 9:00/10:00 p.m. ET/PT.