Food

Son of St Mary

From Stirring The Pot @ Slick Chick, St Mary to Finalist on MasterChef Canada

Thursday, June 20, 2019

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Twenty-eight-year-old Andre Bhagwandat was on Tuesday, June 11 declared MasterChef Canada season six runner-up. The title was claimed by Jennifer Crawford. Of interest to Thursday Food though are Bhagwandat's Rock-solid roots!

“I was always a creative kid, very quiet and always interested in using my hands: drawing, painting, building and creating,” shared Bhagwandat in an exclusive interview with Thursday Food 24 hours after the finals. His story, stirring the pot at Slick Chick, Highgate, St Mary to finalist on MasterChef, Canada is the stuff of master classes.

The Canadian-born contestant, who is passionate about food, explained how frequent visits to Jamaica to spend time with his dad Tony Bhagwandat eventually led to his living on the island.”My dad at the time owned a restaurant named Slick Chick in Highgate,” he shared. “That was when I was exposed to the amazing fresh flavours of Jamaica... The very first meal I prepared on my own would be curry chicken, just something simple enough that I watched my grandfather prepare for years. My first attempts were nothing to rave about, but I eventually got the hang of it!” He certainly did!

After completing Grade 8 in Jamaica at Highgate Primary School, followed by a spell at Richmond Technical High School, he opted to return to Canada and complete high school there. His initial foray into cooking would enter its reduction phase then, courtesy of his beloved aunt Joan, with whom he lived.

“She created such a special home and made everything special... At Christmastime we would have baking contests where we would make cookies and have family members and guests vote for the best-tasting and/or best-looking Christmas cake. This annual tradition segued into cooking days that involved every member of the household.” He continued, “My day was Monday, and naturally I had to prepare something substantial so there was initially a lot of curry and pressure! But I would soon find my pace, rhythm and comfort in the kitchen.”

“My aunt,” he emphasised, “gave me the confidence by allowing me a free hand. She's a very special person who, in addition to juggling so many balls and achieving so much, made the time and effort to share her love with me.”

Bhagwandat credits his diverse roots for his eclectic approach to food. “I think a lot of my food combinations are a result of my blended family. I have Indian, Chinese and Filipino influences; so it's cool to try to balance those flavours with what I [already] know.” It has put him in good stead!

“The most difficult challenges on the show,” he revealed “were definitely the mystery boxes: creating something from an ingredient I most likely hadn't even seen before.” His best culinary advice came from past MasterChef winner Beccy Stables. “I felt like my worst skill was plating, so I asked for her suggestions. She told me to think about space on the plate and to not overcrowd it.” Advice came, too, from dad Tony: “Make sure you can see the seasoning!” he warned.

Bhagwandats' final dish, after 12 episodes of high-stake challenges and culinary showdowns, was dumplings with lobster rundown, curried goat, and deconstructed turon with five-spice waffle. Crawford presented Fancy Ants On A Log with poached figs and blue cheese mousse, a lamb dish and a cereal-inspired dessert. Judges Michael Bonacini, Alvin Leung and Claudio Aprile considered the overall story presented across the three courses as well as the finalists' culinary journey when making their decision. Eventually, Crawford emerged winner with a slight edge.

Bhagwandat might not have copped the title, but is not one to dwell on disappointments. In fact, he's pretty philosophical. “Losing to Jennifer [Crawford] doesn't change who I am and what I have accomplished. “In a way I feel like I've already won by making it all the way to the finale and being able to show some Caribbean flair on a Canadian show...The show has given me the confidence to go out and start something of my own. So that people in my community can be interested in my food and know what I bring to the table.”

His plan is to start simple: create dinner-party experiences and the occasional pop-up.

Our plan at Thursday Food is to watch and applaud his every stir even as we relish the idea of tasting from his flavourful pot!


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