One of the best home cooks in Canada is right here in Winnipeg.
Jordan Levin, 23, was recently eliminated from the top 10 on MasterChef Canada — a TV show where 24 home cooks perform culinary challenges for experienced chefs and judges Alvin Leung, Michael Bonacini and Claudio Aprile. Contestants are eliminated following the challenges until only one remains.
The show seems like it would be challenging for experienced cooks, never mind amateur chefs. The competition kitchen is a pressure cooker — competitors often have to create culinary masterpieces in 60 minutes or less.
Challenges have included cooking for more than 100 new Canadians, baking a seven-layer cake blindfolded, and serving food to customers in one chef-judge's high-end restaurant.
Levin — a young, vibrant home cook — was eliminated in a competition to elevate tuna casserole, a dish he had never even tasted before.
As a twist, judges asked the competitors to say whether they thought they were in the bottom two chefs in that round. One of the self-nominated bottom two would be eliminated.
Levin admitted his tuna casserole was subpar, put himself on the chopping block and was sent home.
The CBC's Danelle Cloutier joined him for dinner to sample some tricks he picked up from the show, and to talk about cooking under pressure, why Winnipeg's food scene is booming, and his culinary guilty pleasure.
Why did you put yourself on the chopping block?
I almost in a way felt like I didn't have a choice. I felt like everyone else got these really amazing critiques and it was clear that there were two that weren't great critiques.
As much as I can think, 'What if I didn't volunteer? Would I still be on the show?' I don't think that would have been the case. I think they would have gotten me to come up because I would have been lying otherwise.
Do you regret your decision to volunteer for the bottom two?
Absolutely not. You make mistakes but you can't really change them and it's better to own up to something that you did poorly than to lie about it. I wasn't going to sit there and let someone else take the fall.
How do you make a dish in an hour or less?
You have to really just think, 'What's the order of everything I'm going to make right now and how can I do it within an hour?' There are certain things you can't make within an hour so you know it's off the table. You have to be very organized and very focused.
At home, you don't really cook like that. You take your time, you mosey around. You're not thinking about speed and really composing something within an hour. That was one of the more challenging aspects.
What's the biggest thing you learned from being on the show?
The biggest thing I've learned from being on the show is that this is what I'm meant to do. This is what I think I should be pursuing.
What's your favourite dish to cook?
Honestly, my favourite dish is pasta. It's something that I've kind of gotten into recently. It has become a passion of mine. I love pulling out the pasta maker, rolling out the dough and getting really creative with it.
How did you get into cooking?
When I was 19 years old, I was about two years into my biology degree and I decided, screw it. I don't want to be in school right now. I want to go on an adventure. I took two years off [from] my degree and I went to London, England, where I somehow got a job in fine dining.
Every single day we had to taste different dishes that the chefs were creating. I guess after tasting so much food, it really became something that I said to myself, 'Well, why can't I do this?' I slowly started to teach myself as the days went on in London and I came back and kept that as my passion.
What's your favourite packaged or canned meal?
When I was living in London, I don't know why, but I always got the craving for Kraft Dinner. I asked one of my friends when they came to visit me, 'Bring me so many boxes.'
It's a guilty pleasure, you grew up with it. It's one of those things that I don't feel like I eat that often but when you crave it, you crave it. It's so gross but it's one of those things.
What have you been up to since you got home?
Since I got home I've just been cooking a lot to improve my skill. I want to be strongest in my technical skill.
I've been planning a couple things that are under wraps right now, like different pop-ups, different events that are happening in both Winnipeg and across the country.
What makes Winnipeg so great for chefs?
I think the reason why Winnipeg is starting to get this booming food scene is that all of these amazing chefs have been travelling the world and experiencing things elsewhere and saying, 'Well, why doesn't Winnipeg have this?' So they've come and brought it here.
Winnipeg is a great city to start a business in because it's not as expensive as say, Vancouver or Toronto. I think it's a good place to go for starting a new restaurant.
What's your biggest cooking secret?
I think the biggest cooking secret you can learn is understanding balance within food. You have a lot of different components going on in food — salt, sweet, acid, savoury, fat — and it's about taking all of them and creating a dish that's balanced.
Yes, I did have to learn the hard way.
What inspires your dishes?
If there's anything I tap into most, it's childhood memories of classic kid food. Those are flavours that I feel resonate with the population in general. It's delicious food, it's comforting food, so I love doing plays on mac and cheese and things along those lines.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.