Winnipeg chefs among Food Network Canada cooking show judges

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

Canadian cooking competition Chiefs Wall is back with a new season starting Monday – and a cast of chef judges including 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, owner of 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 Canadian 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.

“As a home cook turned restaurateur, I’m always thrilled to participate and see these home cooks cooking with their hearts,” she told CBC. news radio host Marcy Markusa.

And after the havoc the pandemic has taken on the restaurant industry, she said having this kind of chance to celebrate people’s love for cooking was very special.

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

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

“Usually 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 the opposite,” he said.

“The [were] people all over the world, cooking cuisines I’ve never tried before… I actually came out of the wall [of Chefs] be inspired to try new dishes in my restaurant.”

Bruneau-Guenther said it’s time for Manitoba chefs to start being recognized on a larger scale.

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

“There are so many talented chefs and so many different cuisines here in Manitoba that maybe we’re trying a little harder to get noticed.”

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

Each of the show’s episodes sees four home cooks enter the kitchen to compete in three sets 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 that it’s not a formal culinary education that makes a good cook.

“The thing with skills, everything comes with experience,” Hitzer said.

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

The second season of Food Network Canada Chiefs Wall airs Mondays at 9 p.m. CT.