09/19/2013 06:46 EDT | Updated 11/19/2013 05:12 EST

'MasterChef Canada' Introduces Judges Claudio Aprile, Michael Bonacini And Alvin Leung


TORONTO - Three high-profile chefs were literally bursting with excitement during their first day on the set as judges for the new TV show "MasterChef Canada."

Restaurateurs Michael Bonacini, Claudio Aprile and Alvin Leung will put home chef contestants through their paces in the Canadian version of the Gordon Ramsay hit, expected to debut on CTV in the winter of 2014, the network announced Thursday.

"It was incredible. It was lightning in a bottle," Claudio Aprile, the owner and creative force behind the Orderfire Restaurant Group, which includes Toronto's Origin brand restaurants, said during a break on Monday.

"The best part was finally just getting on camera, getting into wardrobe and really becoming part of this incredible experience."

The Uruguay-born chef who grew up in Toronto has some television experience, "but this is the biggest by far."

Bonacini, whose 11 Oliver and Bonacini restaurants include Canoe, Auberge du Pommier and locations at TIFF Bell Lightbox, said the experience of starting on the CTV set the day after the hectic Toronto International Film Festival wrapped was like going "out of the pan and into the fire."

The co-founder of the fine dining company does spots on daytime television, but "the big difference here is just the enormous scale that this production is on. It's incredible," said Bonacini. "The set, the team, the setup, the space, the lights, the number of cameras — it's absolutely astonishing. It's a scale I don't think anyone has ever seen here in Canada, which really sets it apart."

CTV put out a call for auditions in June and thousands of home cooks vied to be on the show. It will be up to the trio of judges to put the contestants through individual and team-based cooking challenges, with one or more cooks being eliminated each week.

Bonacini said the contestants have gotten this far "because they're damned good cooks, good home cooks, and part of our role is to whittle that down and then work with them by mentoring, our guidance, our commentary, our criticism and build them up to one of them becoming the first ever 'MasterChef Canada.'"

Leung, a self-taught Michelin-starred chef who's also a professionally trained engineer, said he may show the home cooks his tough side gleaned from growing up in Toronto in a family of Asian immigrants whose parents pushed them to succeed.

"I think I'm going to use the same approach for the contestants because I think I'm going to push them beyond the limit. I'm going to make them cry. But at the end of the day I hope they understand it and they love me for it," said Leung, who owns Bo Innovation in Hong Kong and Bo London in England.

However, Aprile planned to use the same care and compassion for the home cooks that he has when mentoring his own team.

"One thing that really appeals to me about 'MasterChef' is that it isn't a program about humiliating the contestants, the home cooks; rather, it's really about pulling out what they have inside of them," he said.

"At the end of the day all three of us started off as home cooks and I think that is where we fell in love with cooking and I think it's exciting to be in an opportunity to be in front of the country where we can potentially find another great chef or perhaps many other great chefs."

The three hosts, who also went through a tough interview process, said they're relishing working together. Production is expected to continue until October, the network said.

"I've known Claudio for a long time and Michael is so approachable, so I think personally we're working fine, we're working great," said Leung. "I'm really surprised at how we've bonded so closely so quickly."

Added Bonacini: "I think we're feeding off one another's energy. I think there's great judge chemistry going on and it all seems to be working together very well — so far. It's early days. You never know. That could change."

CTV also announced Thursday that Kraft Canada is the main sponsor of "MasterChef Canada."

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