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West Kelowna cook dishes on what Master Chef Canada was like

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West Kelowna's Kaila Klassen is shown during competition on Master Chef Canada, which debuts on Jan.20.
A self-taught chef from West Kelowna is one of the top 50 home cooks in Canada.
But you'll have to watch the premier of MasterChef Canada at 8 p.m. on Jan. 20 to see how Kaila Klassen does.
On Monday, CTV announced the names of the top 50 amateur chefs, but the first show was actually taped in early October and Klassen, a Re/Max realtor, was sworn to secrecy.
"It's so exciting. I finally am able to talk about it. I've had to keep my lips sealed," the 25-year-old giggled on Monday.
"I love the show. I'm such a fan of the American show, so to be a part of the first Canadian series is pretty special. What an amazing experience. It was really fun. I can't wait to see it on TV. I think MasterChef Canada is really the Olympics of cooking competitions, and I feel like I've competed in the Olympics."
To get to the top 50, Klassen had to pre-audition in Vancouver, so she prepared braised short ribs with bone-marrow mash potato, and bourbon and honey-glazed carrots.
"They said: 'We would like you to come and cook for our chefs and see if you have the chops.' They liked that pre-audition dish, and I got a call saying I was going to be in the top 50. I think I was screaming. It's always been a dream of mine," she said.
"It was really, really fast, a real whirlwind. They phoned me 11 hours after I entered and said they would like me to come to Vancouver. A couple days after that, I flew to Toronto (for the taping of the top 50)."
For that, she prepared her favourite dish: seared ahi tuna with cannelini bean and summer black truffle fricasee, and shaved asparagus salad.
"I was really happy with how it turned out, fantastic. The judges' reaction was very interesting and exciting," she said.
"Cooking in your kitchen for your boyfriend or your family is one thing. But cooking in front of these prestigious judges is a little hectic, for sure. That's where the excitement comes in, all that pressure."
One of the most enjoyable parts was meeting the other 49 top home cooks, she added. "What a great group of people. It really was an eclectic group, people from all over Canada - I think it really represented Canada quite well."
The 50 contestants didn't have a chance to get to know the judges: Michael Bonacini, Alvin Leung and Claudio Aprile, she said. "Really, you had to make your food speak for yourself. There wasn't a lot of conversation with them. It was strictly based on the food, which I thought was fantastic: to be judged only on my food and nothing else."
Growing up with little money, Klassen's diet consisted of bland meat and potatoes. At the age of 17, her father took her to a fine dining restaurant, and it awoke her senses.
She moved to Vancouver from Penticton, worked in restaurants and spent her earnings eating out at the best restaurants. She soon realized she couldn't afford to continue to do that so she began recreating the dishes at home.
"It was really trial and error in the kitchen, but it was something I became very passionate about," she said. Then, three years ago, she met Kelly Dhaliwal.
"When we first started dating, he was a horrible cook. He's a great cook now; I taught him. Before I went on MasterChef, he always thought he was better than me. So I think I was able to prove to him I am the better chef," she said with a laugh.
As for who does the cooking now: "I am the only one in the kitchen and that is by choice. When you buy these great ingredients, you have to make sure that you have a loving hand to take care of them. And I wouldn't trust him with them."
The top 50 were culled from thousands of applicants from across the country. The grand prize is the MasterChef Canada title and a $100,000 cash prize to help make their culinary dreams come true. Klassen would like to open her own gourmet burger restaurant.

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