07/30/2013 11:12 EDT | Updated 09/29/2013 05:12 EDT

Lynn Crawford: Toronto Star Chef Says Many Twists, Challenges On 'Top Chef Masters'


TORONTO - Canadian chef Lynn Crawford calls her experience on "Top Chef Masters" — which included a jump from an airplane — one of the most "spectacular, fun, crazy" things she's ever done.

"The challenges that they set up for the production going into its fifth season, I just thought that it was over the top," Crawford said from her cottage at Buckhorn Lake near Peterborough, Ont.

"It was absolutely brilliant."

The 13 chefs were told on the first episode of the food competition show that if they leapt from the plane, they'd get an extra hour to spend preparing a dish.

Skydiving was not the only twist the producers dished up to the chefs vying for $100,000 for a charity of their choice.

Each chef could choose a sous chef, and Crawford picked Lora Kirk, who works with her at the restaurant Ruby Watchco in Toronto.

But the catch is the sous chefs are duking it out in their own competition, "Battle of the Sous Chefs," hosted by Canadian celebrity chef Hugh Acheson. The results of each online episode (on directly impacts the on-air "Masters" competition, awarding them advantages or disadvantages depending on their sous chef's performance.

"We all thought that we would be cooking together. That was not the case," Crawford said.

Kirk was marked down on her dish in the first online episode, with the result that her boss was not allowed to use proper chef's knives.

"I had to work a lot harder," Crawford added. "That's what chefs do. They are constantly faced with challenges and we're always trying to figure out how to overcome them and that's exactly what Lora and I did, went into this whole competition wanting to really cook with all of our hearts and do a great job and to play for our charity ... and make Canada proud and wow, what a huge honour. We had a lot of fun."

All episodes were shot in California. Crawford said returning host Curtis Stone announced to the group they were going to Paris to shoot the first episode. Then amid the excitement, he explained it was Paris, Calif.

"We were all thinking that we were going to board a plane and cross the pond and head off to our first challenge, Paris, France," Crawford said with a laugh. "But no. We were whisked away in a magic van and we drove to Paris, Calif., where we were faced with our first challenge."

The new head critic of the chefs from around North America is Toronto-bred Gail Simmons. Returning judges James Oseland, Ruth Reichl and Francis Lam are joined by new judge, food and dining editor Lesley Suter.

Celebrity guest judges this season include Mindy Kaling, Busy Philipps, Kathie Lee Gifford and the cast of "Days of Our Lives."

Crawford, who's had more than 25 years of culinary experience, including at the Four Seasons Hotel in Toronto and New York City, has chosen the Odette Cancer Centre at Sunnybrook Hospital as the recipient for her possible winnings in honour of a dear friend who died 1 1/2 years ago of the disease.

"The work they do at the Odette is absolutely incredible, not only for the patients but for the family around them," she said.

It's been an "action-packed year," with her second cookbook, "At Home with Lynn Crawford," scheduled to come out in September and a judging role on "Chopped Canada," which Food Network Canada hopes to premiere this winter. Crawford is also doing a Christmas special for her two-time Gemini-nominated show "Pitchin' In."

"Top Chef Masters" airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Food Network Canada.

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