Comox Valley-raised Thea VanHerwaarden has earned a second runner-up finish at MasterChef Canada. The 2021 series was an all-star competition among 12 returning cooks. She first appeared on the CTV reality television show in 2017.
“My goal was always to get to the finale,” said VanHerwaarden, a Vancouver resident who grew up in Comox. “I feel like I achieved that goal. I cooked really well the entire season, so I felt pretty good the entire time.”
The experience was both fun and nerve-wracking.
“When you have to cook delicious food, and plate at a quality that’s worthy of top chefs like the judges, in a short amount of time like an hour, it’s pretty challenging. You really don’t have any room for error.”
VanHerwaarden fainted during one episode because she was breathing too heavily. After sucking in some oxygen, she managed to get back up and continue with the filming.
“I wasn’t going to let a faint kick me out of the competition.”
The series included a vote among competitors where they rated each other based on dishes, from favourite to least favourite. Christopher Siu — who was eventually crowned MasterChef — finished at the bottom.
“We all have our time at the bottom, I think, at some point,” VanHerwaarden said. “I think the judges do a better job at selecting who’s better than who, because they’re more well versed in different types of cuisine.”
She primarily cooked Italian or Latin American dishes with a West Coast spin. For her final dish, she created a fish taco appetizer, drawing on memories of fishing in the Comox Valley and her family’s love of Mexican food. She used Vancouver Island venison for the main dish.
“I wanted to take a lot of the fresh ingredients from the West Coast and play with it, with those types of cuisines.”
VanHerwaarden plans to start some virtual cooking classes as the pandemic wears on, and eventually conduct in-person classes. Ideally, she would like to open a small restaurant in the Comox Valley, with some classes and date-night events.
For anyone interested in becoming a chef, VanHerwaarden suggests to try new things and to get creative in the kitchen.
“If it fails, no big deal. Just keep going. I think the best thing about being a chef is you’re constantly learning. You need to try new things all the time. New techniques, new foods, new flavour combinations. Once COVID is over, travel as much as you can. Try different cultures, different cuisine, find your culinary point of view, and keep going from there.”