"You have to in this business," insists the food guru, who operates a fleet of Ontario restaurants with partner Peter Oliver. "It can be cutthroat, it can be aggressive, it can be demanding and you have to be constantly 'on' when you're cooking."
Bonacini, along with co-judges Alvin Leung and Claudio Aprile, will be putting 50 Canadian home chefs through their paces when "Masterchef Canada" debuts Monday on CTV (check local listings).
The elimination-style cooking contest has had popular incarnations around the world — including the U.S. version hosted by tough-talking Scottish chef Gordon Ramsay. When asked if he'll be the "bad cop" on "Masterchef Canada," Bonacini demurs.
"You'll have to watch the show to find out," he says.
Shows like "Masterchef Canada," Bonacini believes, have proven to be a great source of motivation for home chefs.
"The growth of great TV shows and in particular something like 'Masterchef Canada' definitely inspires people to revisit that burning desire to get into the food business in some way, shape or form," says the chef.
"Certainly I think that what it offers home cooks is a window into professional kitchens."
The 50 finalists come from diverse backgrounds, with a plumber, opera singer and tattoo artist among the group.
Canadian cuisine, he notes, has changed dramatically in the two decades since he opened his upscale Toronto restaurant Canoe with a homegrown focus.
"The momentum that has grown over the last 18 years is enormous," says Bonacini. "I think that we understand in much more detail the local regional culinary flavours that we have to offer, the multiculturalism that the country has to offer, the great ingredients that are locally grown, foraged from east coast to west coast.
"It is that sort of fabric that allows us to showcase all that is Canadian cuisine."
Bonacini says chefs are "competitive by spirit and nature" and have "certain egos." There is a $100,000 prize at stake on "Masterchef Canada" and the judge advises competitors to "remain focused and go for it."
"You have to come out with your 'A game' every single challenge," says Bonacini.
It sounds like competitors can also expect some brutally honest feedback from the judges.
Says Bonacini: "You can be Mr. Nice Guy for a certain amount of time, but Mr. Nice Guy isn't always there."
The first elimination episode of "Masterchef Canada" will air following the Super Bowl on Feb. 2.