Thea VanHerwaarden, of Comox, is a pressure test (or two) away from becoming Canada’s next MasterChef.
When we last checked in on VanHerwaarden, she had just been selected as one of 12 MasterChef Canada finalists, for the fourth season of the reality television series. The show pits home cooks from across Canada against each other in head-to-head competition, in pursuit of a $100,000 grand prize.
Celebrity chefs Alvin Leung, Claudio Aprile and Michael Bonacini are the judges in the competition.
The competition is coming to an end, with the semifinal episode to air May 25, and VanHerwaarden is one of three home cooks remaining.
Barrie McConachie, an employee relations consultant from Vancouver, and Trevor Connie, a plumber/gas fitter from Edmonton, are the other two semifinalists.
Thursday’s show will knock one competitor out, leaving a season finale showdown between the two remaining cooks.
“It’s a big deal – a very big deal,” VanHerwaarden said, in an exclusive interview with the Comox Valley Record. “It’s crazy.”
VanHerwaarden, an insurance broker, said that while it’s an eclectic group that remains, every one of the three semifinalists have proven their worth so far.
“This show is about growing and learning… So I am not surprised at the top three. I think all of us have learned… so I think we are deserving of it.”
VanHerwaarden said she may hold a bit of an advantage over the other two, as she has been dealing with more pressure throughout the series. While certain contestants are saved from pressure tests and elimination challenges each week, in the first 10 weeks of the show, she has rarely been among those watching from the balcony.
“I think of the 21 total (pressure tests and elimination challenges) I have had to cook in 18. I have definitely had to earn my spot.
“I think definitely it is an advantage to be in the kitchen more; you are used to the stress a lot more. Out of the four (elimination challenges) I’ve been in, I’ve had the top dish three of the four times. So I think I do really well in intense pressure situations, and Barrie and Trevor have both not really experienced that. For the most part, they are on the winning teams (from team challenges), so they haven’t had the amount of pressure that I have had.”
VanHerwaarden came close to leaving the show in Episode 8, when she was involved in a pressure test to cook a vegetarian tagine. In fact, she even told one of the judges she thought she was going home.
“I’ve gotten some backlash about that. a little bit – people saying I was quitting. But that wasn’t the case. I just felt like I had the worst dish at the time.“
Instead, it was Aaron Polsky – the one VanHerwaarden predicted she would meet in the finals (in her March 9 Comox Valley Record article), who turned in his apron.
VanHerwaarden also had one instance where she looked like she was in trouble, only to be saved from judging by a last minute rescue from the gallery.
But perhaps her greatest challenge this season was a couple of weeks ago, when she was forced to cook with prawns in an elimination challenge.
VanHerwaarden is allergic to seafood.
She had to wear surgical gloves during the cook.
“Honestly, it was really difficult – not just the fact of cooking the prawns, but also the fact that I couldn’t taste anything and I couldn’t really touch anything. It was definitely a struggle. Definitely a double disadvantage for me.”
As for any disadvantages going into Thursday’s semifinals, she said time management and plating are her concerns.
“Competing in so many challenges, I’ve gotten better with (time management) but I think the biggest struggle I have is plating. I’m actually a really good plater, but not in a short amount of time. So under pressure, my plating kind of sucks.
“I think that’s where Trevor has the advantage. He is very artistic, he knows how to make things look good. But he lacks in flavour, and I am the ‘flavour queen.’ ”
As for McConachie, who, at 53, was the oldest competitor in Season 4, VanHerwaarden is not counting him out.
“I do feel like Barrie has really shown how well he has done – he is calm, cool, and collected, and I think that’s an advantage for him… So we will see.”
The penultimate show of MasterChef Canada Season 4 runs Thursday, May 25 on CTV. Check local listings for times.