They must be able to handle incredible stress and put their lives on hold for a chance to win $100,000.
"You are giving up, really, your life in order to realize your new life, which is hopefully ... to become a chef," said Claudio Aprile, who along with Michael Bonacini and Alvin Leung are reprising their roles as judges for the second season of the show, which kicks off Sunday on CTV after the Super Bowl.
"The last (challenge) we saw, I wouldn't want to do it," said Aprile, shaking his head, in an interview the day before taping wrapped.
"We were thinking, 'How are they going to do this?' A seasoned chef would have had a very difficult time achieving what these cooks achieved in one of the last tests. It was incredible to watch."
In Sunday's "Fit to Be Tied" episode, 50 home cooks prepare their signature dish in the hopes of advancing with 15 others into the real competition.
The finalists are picked from a diverse group that includes a retired pro-football player, a rural veterinarian, a recording artist, a bus driver and a Canadian military veteran.
The judges marvelled that half a dozen of the top 16 from season 1 are already working in the culinary world. Champion Eric Chong of Oakville, Ont., is opening a restaurant in downtown Toronto with Leung called R&D, featuring Asian-inspired casual fare.
The blue-haired Leung, dubbed the "demon chef," said ahead of last season's filming that he was going to make the home cooks cry.
"That wasn't difficult. There's a lot of emotion going on and a lot of times, especially during elimination challenges, you can slice the tension, and they're away from their family as well so they're not getting the family support," Leung said.
"I'm tough on them and sometimes they bawl and they cry and all that, and I just say, 'Well, just don't come near me. This is very expensive so I don't want it to get wet,'" he said, pointing to his clothing with a chuckle.
The judges too must battle it out — but behind closed doors — to chop the contestants.
"Sometimes it's clear to us, we know within a few minutes, but there are many times we have to go back and take a look at photographs and talk about the dish and how they worked, the expertise, the sauce, the colour, the consistency, the texture, the innovation, et cetera, et cetera, and weigh all that out," said Bonacini, co-founder of the restaurant empire Oliver & Bonacini.
A dash too much salt, 30 seconds too long for a sea scallop in a pan, or a broken yolk in a poached egg can make the difference.
"It's like running a high-speed race. It's all about milliseconds, right. That's how it's decided," said Aprile.
After the season premiere, the show continues on Feb. 8 in its regular time-slot of Sundays at 7 p.m. ET/PT.
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