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Comox woman makes Final 12 in MasterChef Canada

Highland grad appears on reality television series

Terry Farrell

Record staff

Thea VanHerwaarden, your road to fame and fortune begins … NOW!

A Comox woman has made the “Final 12” in this year’s MasterChef Canada competition.

The popular CTV reality television series is in its fourth season, and Comox fans will be paying more attention this year than ever before, thanks to Thea VanHerwaarden.

The 29-year-old broker, who graduated from Highland Secondary in 2004 and now lives in Vancouver, will be a Thursday night prime-timer, at least for another week.

She was one of 12 finalists, selected from a preliminary group of 24 in the Season 4 premiere, which aired March 2.

The series pits home chefs 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.

VanHerwaarden kept her Comox family and friends in suspense until the very end of the season premiere, as she was the 12th finalist selected.

All 24 contestants had to make a rice-based entrée on Thursday’s show.

VanHerwaarden created a dish featuring scallops – a risky move, considering she has no experience cooking seafood.

An odd situation for an Island girl to be in, but VanHerwaarden has a valid excuse – she is allergic to seafood.

She said taking such a risk, right from the start, was planned.

“I am a firm believer that you have to stand out in the crowd,” she said. “I was surrounded by wonderful talented home cooks, so I wanted to show the judges that I am willing to take a risk. I thought, what better way of showing it than cooking something I am allergic to.”

Eight contestants were put straight through to the Final 12 after the rice dishes were presented, and eight were sent straight home. VanHerwaarden was in neither group. She was part of the octet that had to perform a “second chance” cook-off, to determine the final four contestants.

At the end of that segment, two contestants went straight through without being judged, leaving six aspiring chefs competing for only two spots.

VanHerwaarden made a tostada with spicy pork belly mole, which Bonacini described as “a complete knockout; it is ‘next level.’ I can’t believe you pulled that off in that amount of time.”

She said that despite being the last contestant chosen to move on, she does not consider herself an underdog.

“Even if I was the last person called I think my dish in the second chance showed people that I’m a real contender, so I am hoping that that (helps) moving forward.”

VanHerwaarden said a serious injury is what got her into cooking.

“I broke my back (in 2006),” she said. “I had been exposed to fine dining my whole life. When I broke my back, I kind of used [cooking] as a way to deal with the stress and pain.”

So why is she a broker and not a chef?

“Ha ha, well… I used to be married, and my sister-in-law was a broker, and it was just an easy transition. I had a lot of dreams and plans before my injury, but … there is not a lot of money in cooking unless you go really far. So I just thought being a broker would be more beneficial.

VanHerwaarden said it was a former champion who encouraged her to enter this year’s competition.

“David George (Season 2 MasterChef Canada winner) and I go to the same event in Vancouver, the Dayton Cup… a horse racing event. So, being a big fan of the show, I saw him there. We started to chat and over the next couple of years, every time I saw him, it was kind of our own little thing. So at the last Dayton Cup, he said ‘you should apply and see what happens.’ So the next day I applied.”

And now she finds herself on national television.

VanHerwaarden said her strength is flavours, and her biggest fear is having to deal with live ingredients..

“I am not a huge fan of killing anything, so I am hoping there are no live lobster, or crab.”

VanHerwaarden said she could be away from work for two months, and whereas some of the contestants may have had to quit their jobs to compete, she considers herself lucky in that regard.

“My employers have always been very supportive of me,” she said. “I am very fortunate. For me it was pretty easy. I have just taken a leave.”

As for the competition, who does VanHerwaarden consider her biggest threat?

“It’s still so early, it’s really hard for me to tell, because there’s so many people with different strengths. Some are really good with food science, others are really good with plating… so I am not sure yet. But I would say Aaron (Polsky) is a good competitor. He might be in the finale.”

MasterChef Canada airs Thursday evenings on CTV. Check local listings times.

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