Cody Karey proved he was no small potato in Canada's kitchen.
The aspiring young cook from Fort St. James took the hardest road of any challengers on this year's MasterChef Canada TV competition, but he made it to the final four, and even when the panel of celebrity chef judges cut him from the program on the penultimate episode, they did so wincing and admitting his talent was every bit as worthy as the two who remained to vie for kitchen supremacy in the final stage.
Karey's youth showed in almost every episode. His 24 years were easily eclipsed by almost everyone involved in the MasterChef Canada production, and that inexperience led Karey through a weekly obstacle course of mistakes and missteps. Common themes for him were troubles with timing, letting his personality overpower his cooking skills, and getting on the wrong side of some of the other challengers. He was almost always in the bottom contingent each week when cuts were made by judges Alvin Leung, Claudio Aprile and Michael Bonacini.
Yet, there were other common themes for him, not the least of which was survival. Each week he made it through. At one point he was even eliminated on a technicality (forgotten raspberries on a replication task) but won his way back to the show through an unexpected restoration event.
If his time management skills were in question, his ingredient management skills were not. He always used up the clock, but he didn't waste a second preparing dishes the judges raved over and with creative presentations that popped the eyes.
His grasp of recipes, his preparation ideas, his lateral thinking under pressure, and his understanding of food properties from a variety of cultures and styles were almost impossible to believe for one so young, had they not been caught on camera.
He also showed by the end that personality assumptions (as a young, tall, assertive, handsome man, he was sometimes given a belittling eye by other competitors) were incorrect. Even his harshest personal critics became outspoken supporters of his kind, supportive and intelligent true self, revealed by the time the series drew to a close.
Sunday is the final episode, pitting David Jorge of Surrey against Line Pelletier of Edmundston, New Brunswick.
So how does Karey feel having to watch the boiling finale on television instead of being in it?
"It's really hard to describe," he told The Citizen. "After the first time (eliminated) I knew what the mistake was. I was fired up and upset because it was a bloody raspberry. It was cut and dried and there was no question about it. When it's down to how much seasoning is on a fish, it's surprising and disappointing. I really feel I put myself on a plate in that final challenge, and it came down to the other people up against me with just as much passion and determination. I'd have loved to go one step further, but by the same token, these are incredible cooks and to make it that far alongside them was a blessing and an honour and a fabulous experience."
He left with high praises from the judges. They made no secret of the anguish they felt sending home Karey and fellow participant Sabrina Poirier of Montreal on the second-last episode.
"I am one of the top four cooks in all of Canada. And that is nothing to be ashamed of. That is success," he said, and is already looking ahead at what his future might hold. He is a professional recording artist by primary trade, and he has shown a passion and talent for high cuisine as well, so he has twin art forms to work with.
"I just want to say a real heartfelt thank-you to everyone up there in northern B.C. who has followed the journey, before MasterChef Canada and during," he said. "It has been really cool and really humbling as well to feel that outpouring of support, so thank you and I hope walking with me through this has inspired some people to think big and reach out to go for it. I see so many people back home who are so close to realizing their dreams, so if I can be an example, I'd love to consider that one of the things that got achieved from this whole experience. To see a kid from Fort St. James on this kind of stage, and go right to the final four, might be that little nudge some people need to take that leap of faith. Go after whatever it is you want to happen in your life."
Karey listed a long menu of attributes for both Jorge and Pelletier and - aside from B.C. pride riding with Jorge - could not predict a winner between the two of them.
The final food fight happens Sunday night at 8 p.m. on CTV.