This week we had the chance to speak to the winner of MasterChef Canada, Season 3: Mary Berg, a clever home cook and the first female to take home the top prize. Berg shared with us a delicious New York inspired cheese cake just perfect for the holiday season approaching.
What made you decide to audition for MasterChef Canada?
My best friend is a bit of a reality TV junkie and, while we were neighbours, she essentially spent at least four nights a week having dinner at my house. For years, she had been bugging me to apply but I always thought she was just trying to be a good friend, supporting me in what I love to do. But one day, after much cajoling, I just decided to bite the bullet and apply!
I went in with zero expectations and my only goal was to push myself and do my best. It turned out way better than I could have ever imagined, and I now have my very first trophy to add to my gads and gads of participation ribbons!
You’re the first vegetarian to win on the show, although you still cook meat. What kind of challenges does this present for you?
I’ve been a pescetarian (fish eating veg) for about ten years and was a full vegetarian for about five years before that, so I haven’t eaten beef, pork, or poultry in about fifteen years. To be honest, I don’t find it to be a drawback in my cooking. Just because I can’t taste it, doesn’t mean that there are no ways for me to figure out flavouring and seasoning. When I look at a piece of steak for instance, I look at the thickness, fat content, and consider what I am going to be serving it with. This helps inform me on how much salt and seasoning is needed, as well as what type of complementary flavours I should use. When cooking meat, there are also so many things that can help inform you when it’s done. Things like colour, sound, feel, and temperature come in super handy!
You’re also the first winner of the show who—thus far, at least—hasn’t opened a restaurant. Do you ever see a restaurant in your future?
Definitely not any time soon! I am a lady who loves an early bedtime and, when I cook, I love to be able to sit down with the people I cook for to enjoy all of the flavours, company, and conversation that goes with a home cooked meal.
You have been cited as saying that the two people you would invite to your dream dinner party are Hillary Clinton and your mom. What would you cook for them and why?
Oh my gosh, I have no idea! I would definitely do something that could either be mainly prepped ahead so that I wouldn’t have to spend too much time in the kitchen, away from all the conversation! We would definitely have a good few glasses of wine though, I can tell you that.
You have two cookbooks coming out in the next few years. What sorts of recipes and anecdotes can your fans expect to find in these books?
I’m just in the process of finishing up the manuscript for my first cookbook, which is going to be called Kitchen Party, and I couldn’t be more excited about it! Kitchen Party is just an embodiment of how I love to cook for those that I love. I believe in the restorative powers of a good home-cooked meal, and I think opening your doors and inviting your friends and family in to dine at your table is just such an amazing, loving thing. To me, a party isn’t a party until everyone is piled into the kitchen, drinking, eating, and laughing the night away! Kitchen Party will have delicious and simple recipes that you can make for your friends and family — recipes that won’t stress you out or have you regretting the decision to invite people over into your home!
No Bake New York Cheesecake
(Serves 8 – 10)
2 ½ cups graham cracker crumbs
½ cup packed brown sugar
¾ cup butter, melted
2 – 250g bricks full fat cream cheese
½ cup sour cream
¾ cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 ¾ cup heavy cream
Fruit for topping
In a bowl, mix together the graham cracker crumbs with the brown sugar and butter until well combined. Press this into the bottom and up the sides of a 9” spring form pan. Pop into the freezer while you prepare your filling. Alternatively, mix together the crust and divide into individual serving cups and set aside to prepare the filling.
For the filling, beat the cream cheese in a stand mixer or using a hand mixer. Add in the sour cream, sugar, and vanilla, and continue to beat until very smooth and creamy.
Whip the cream to stiff peaks, then fold into the cream cheese mixture. Pour this into your prepared crust or serving cups and pop your cheesecake in the fridge for at least 1 hour to set. You can also serve the individual cheesecakes as is for a more mousse-like dessert.
Top with fresh fruit and serve.