Winnipeg chefs among judges on Food Network Canada cooking show

Looking for something with a local twist to binge-watch in the new year?

Canadian cooking competition show Wall of Chefs is returning with a new season that premieres on Monday — and a cast of chef judges that includes two who built their culinary careers in Winnipeg.

Christa Bruneau-Guenther, owner of the city’s Feast Cafe Bistro in the West End, and Mandel Hitzer, who owns Winnipeg’s Deer + Almond restaurant in the Exchange District, will appear among a cast of 23 culinary icons on the second season of the Food Network Canada show.

For Bruneau-Guenther, the experience of judging a group of home chefs competing for a $10,000 cash prize was exciting — and even felt a bit personal.

“Being a home cook-turned-restaurateur, I’m always so excited to participate and to watch these home cooks cook from their hearts,” she told CBC’s Information Radio host Marcy Markusa.

And after the toll the pandemic has taken on the restaurant industry, she said getting that kind of chance to celebrate people’s love of cooking felt extra special.

“It really brought us all back to why we do what we do as chefs and why we love to cook for people. And I think it just brought us all back to the basics of why we do what we do,” she said.

For Hitzer, getting a spot on the wall of judges this season was a nice change of perspective from what he’s used to.

“Typically in the restaurant, it’s almost like I’m in front of the wall of customers every night. So it’s kind of cool to be on the opposite end,” he said.

“There [were] people from all over the world, cooking cuisines that I’ve never even tried before… I actually came off the Wall [of Chefs] being inspired to try out new dishes in my restaurant.”

Bruneau-Guenther said it’s about time Manitoba chefs have started to get recognized on a larger scale.

“I think we’ve been the underdogs here in the centre of Canada for a long time,” she said.

“There’s just so many talented chefs and so many different cuisines here in Manitoba that maybe we push ourselves a little harder to become noticed.”

Mandel Hitzer, owner of Winnipeg’s Deer + Almond restaurant, will also appear as a judge on the show’s second season, premiering on Monday night. (Margaux Watt/CBC)

Each of the show’s episodes sees four home cooks enter the kitchen to face off in three rounds of challenges, with the judges eliminating one person after each round.

Both Hitzer and Bruneau-Guenther said the talent on display in each of those rounds showed it’s not a formal culinary education that makes a good cook.

“The thing with the skills, it all just comes with experience,” Hitzer said.

“I’m not a classically trained chef. I went to the school of hard knocks.”

The second season of the Food Network Canada’s Wall of Chefs airs Mondays at 9 p.m. CT.

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