A Nanaimo woman cooked for a whole ‘wall of chefs’ and came out victorious.
Kenna Deo was the winner of last week’s episode of Wall of Chefs, a Food Network Canada TV culinary competition.
Deo said it was her husband who spotted a call-out for applications for the show, and “mentioned it very audibly in front of my young daughter.” At the girl’s insistence, Deo applied and ended up getting selected.
Wall of Chefs involves four home cooks who prepare up to three dishes for a ‘wall’ of 12 celebrity chef judges such as Massimo Capra and Mark McEwan.
The first round, in which competitors choose their own crowd-pleaser to prepare, Deo cooked Southern-style shrimp and grits with crispy fried okra and chorizo. Her dish was chosen best of the challenge.
She had practised at home and was pretty confident she could complete all the elements in the 30-minute time limit once she got to the studio kitchen in Toronto.
“The facility there is absolutely any home cook’s dream – they had anything you could possibly need and more,” Deo said. “So that may have even been easier than cooking in my own kitchen.”
The second stage of the competition required the home cooks to prepare a dish with ingredients from a “chef’s fridge” and the items were revealed to be eggplant, green onions and fish sauce. Deo made an eggplant and chickpea curry that chef Meeru Dhalwala and the other judges deemed their favourite dish of the challenge.
Deo said cooking in front of a wall of celebrity chefs adds “its own element” to the competition.
“I tried to focus on what I was doing and took it one step at a time,” she said. “At that point, you’re there and the only way out is through. So if they’re watching, they’re watching. You’ve just got to do it.”
In the final challenge, the home cooks were tasked with preparing an entrée-style salad and Deo decided on a warm grilled fruit salad with scallop ceviche. The other finalist shone in that challenge, too, and Deo said as they awaited the decision, she felt like she’d already won just by going to compete and putting herself out there.
Being announced as the winner, she said, was incredible.
“I was really honoured by the win and I’m still riding that elated high,” Deo said.
She won $10,000, which she used to take her family on a trip to Disneyland that she said was “really magical” for her daughters.
“They’re at that great age that it couldn’t have come at a better time to build lasting memories,” she said.
Deo works part-time as a server and as a health-care assistant and stays home with her kids as much as she can, and isn’t sure what’s next for her in her cooking. Wall of Chefs might have been her “15 minutes,” she said, but she would be interested in doing something else along those lines. She’s also thought about having her own little café or food truck, “but that will come when it comes.”
Deo enjoyed the whole process of competing on Wall of Chefs, where she was met with nothing but kindness and encouragement. She said the show portrayed her as more confident than she felt, edited out her more nervous moments, and made everybody look good.
“I would say if there’s anybody out there who sees an opportunity like that, absolutely, go for it,” she said. “It was so positive.”