It’s one helluva potluck: Proper readies MasterChef open call

Playback talks to Proper Television exec producer Cathie James about the logistics of nationwide casting for the upcoming food competition series.
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Organizing a national casting call for a new competition series, which involves foodies, high emotions and, possibly, knives, is no small feat.

But eight seasons of nationwide searches for Canada’s Worst Driver have given Proper TV experience with casting calls, which, VP and creative director Cathie James tells Playback, takes “rigor and a lot of people.”

Toronto-based Proper Television is producing the upcoming Canadian version of the MasterChef format, which has been produced in more than 40 countries and watched in more than 200 territories worldwide.

In keeping with the format followed in the U.S., Canadian contestants will face individual and team-based cooking challenges, with one or more home cooks being eliminated each week. The series is slated to premiere on CTV this fall.

CTV and Proper are holding an open casting call for MasterChef Canada, with auditions to be held in Toronto at 7 a.m. ET on Aug. 10 and 11, while online applications are being accepted until the end of the open call, at 11:59 p.m. on Aug. 11. Amateur chefs are invited to bring one prepared dish to the InterContinental Hotel to be tasted by the judges.

Proper TV put the call out through CTV.ca and through television ads running during the broadcast of U.S. MasterChef, which resulted in almost 3,000 applications.

The casting team followed up with applicants, resulting in cross-country casting visits where potential contestants were put on camera, or invited to the Toronto open call. But, James says, “we also wanted to have that last push where anybody can show up with a dish, have it tasted, meet the producers.”

“If we’d had a bigger budget we may have looked at doing open call auditions across Canada,” says James, “but after talking to producers in Australia and in the U.S., I think that doing the casting as we did was actually more effective than doing five or six open calls. I don’t think price or logistics were our enemy or a challenge.”

While the majority of applicants are from Ontario, over 500 home chefs from across Canada are expected to show up over the course of the two day casting call. James points out that while many English language shows struggle to gain interest with bringing Quebecers to auditions, MasterChef Canada has not had a problem, because of Quebec’s “passionate food culture”.

Indeed, James promises that a variety of Canadian cultures and cooking styles will be represented. The cross-country casting sessions showed the diversity of the contry reflectecd in the dishes

“Its going to be really interesting to see the regionality of these beautiful ingredients come to fore – from Alberta beef to B.C. salmon and maritime shellfish,” says James. “When these formats come to Canada, its really an exciting opportunity to see what the Canadian population does differently and how the distinctiveness of our culture up here is reflected in that. Food is the perfect vehicle for that.”