01/20/2014 11:03 EST | Updated 03/22/2014 05:59 EDT

'MasterChef Canada' Review: Add It To Your TV-Viewing Menu


Ever since "MasterChef Junior" ended in November, I've felt as though something was missing in my life. Sure, M3 aired a few marathons over the holidays but it simply wasn't enough. Thank goodness for "MasterChef Canada."

If "MasterChef" is new fare for you, the franchise -- which is now produced in over 40 countries -- features amateur chefs competing against one another in various challenges, both individually and as part of a team. Aside from the early weeding-out stages, the cooks will be eliminated each week, decided by the panel of esteemed judges, until one home cook is left holding the coveted trophy, $100,000, and the title of being the first "MasterChef Canada."

If you thought the homegrown version of the culinary competition series was going to be sweeter than the American version (of which we've already seen four seasons), think again. Sure, screechy Gordon Ramsay, Joe "If Looks Could Kill" Bastianich and the much nicer Graham Elliot may not be a part of Canada's version but if you've seen the promos for "MC" (and if you own a TV, then you've seen the promos), Alvin Leung is mean. And very, very intimidating. Gulp.

Leung, who's known as the "enfant terrible of Hong Kong's dining scene" and is the self-proclaimed "Demon Chef," is joined by Michael Bonacini (famed chef and co-founder of the Oliver & Bonacini Restaurants) and Claudio Aprile, the owner and creative force behind the Orderfire Restaurant Group, which includes Toronto's acclaimed Origin brand restaurants.

I naively expected the premiere to be nicer somehow, likely because it's made in Canada and we're so darned nice. But because of Leung, it might actually be scarier than what we've seen on Fox. Leung is quite aggressive with the first group of competitors and I have a feeling it's only the beginning. I've only seen the premiere but it's the perfect blend of bitchery, confidence and class -- from the judges and the competitors.

Unlike "Junior," which made viewers feel inadequate and less accomplished than ever, the one thing the grown-up version of the show does is make those who're second-guessing their paths in life question it that much more. To give up jobs and leave families behind for unknown stretches of time is both scary and admirable.

Because I'm an emotional wreck when it comes to reality television and people telling their life stories, "MasterChef Canada" was no different than "The X Factor" and "Dancing With The Stars." I was already sniffling watching the first aspiring chef. I know I'm a loser/sucker/blubbery mess, but I'm always moved by people who give up everything to make their dreams come true.

There are times when I get a little nervous about some competitors on shows like these, and think they're going to be like a bad "American Idol" audition. You know the ones, where family members and friends tell their loved one they can sing, and then they open their mouths for the judges and an ear-piercing, tone-deaf noise comes warbling out. Thankfully, there aren't too many moments like that on "MasterChef Canada," though there are a few people whose presence made me scratch my head. But, really, there's absolutely nothing bad about the show itself. It's suspenseful, dramatic, funny and heartbreaking. And as with the success of "The Amazing Race Canada," CTV knows how to take an internationally acclaimed series that's been done many times before and transform it into its own delicious hit.

"MasterChef Canada" premieres on Monday, Jan. 20 at 8 p.m. ET on CTV and CTV Go.

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