TORONTO – Like a great pie crust, “The Great Canadian Baking Show” requires training, practice, luck and the right ingredients.
The people behind Season 2, which begins Wednesday on CBC, feel confident viewers will like their new recipe.
The series launched to great expectations last season due mainly to the wildly successful original British version of the franchise. Home bakers across Canada were already familiar with former British judge Mary Berry’s dictum when it comes to pie crust: no soggy bottoms.
Some viewers, however, were less than impressed with both the tasks and the contestants in Season 1. According to all involved, the bar has been raised.
“The culinary team has really upped the challenges this season,” says host Julia Chan. Adds co-host Dan Levy, “some things even the judges wouldn’t attempt.”
One contestant, for example, astounded the judges by creating a masterful black forest cake.
French-born judge Bruno Feldeisen went so far as to tell at least one competitor they would be right at home in the kitchen of his west coast eatery. “We’ve seen skills only professional bakers have.”
Judge Rochelle Adonis, a Canadian-Australian pastry chef, agreed. “The skill level is very impressive. Everyone is really pushing themselves.”
That was the plan this season, says producer Marike Emery. “We really went after skill over personality.”
While still numbering well over a thousand, applications were down from the year before — a testament, Emery believes, to how intense the culinary competition played the year before. About 200 of the applicants were tested by professional chefs. “We arrived, without a doubt, with the 10 best bakers who applied,” she says.
The contestants will have one big advantage over last year’s home bakers: less humidity. Extra air conditioning units were added to the tent, which was once again erected on the lush back lawns of the Canadian Film Centre. The canvas and wood structure seems to trap all the humidity a sunny Toronto summer can muster.
Humidity is a killer in the kitchen, says Feldeisen, explaining that it can affect how well a recipe turns out.
Adonis adds that these chefs already have to get used to strange ovens and the pressures of performing on a deadline in front of the cameras. “The environment for these bakers is very tricky,” she says.
Levy feels that the role of the hosts is to keep everybody cool. “We’re there to cheerlead them and to encourage them and make sure they feel comfortable and confident going into these bakes.”
The “Canadian Baking Show” producers kept Levy happy by shooting around his “Schitt’s Creek” schedule. He’s a star, writer and executive producer on that comedy series, heading into a fifth season on CBC.
He even managed to squeeze in a guest-starring stint this coming season on the ABC sitcom “Modern Family.” Levy plays a vengeful courtroom sketch artist who draws the ire of Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson).”
It’s great to do a show that you’re a fan of,” says Levy, friends in real life with Ferguson. “The greatest take-away was how lovely the set was. It reminded me of the ‘Schitt’s Creek’ set — less a couple billion dollars.”
Hosting “The Great Canadian Baking Show” has made Levy a little more knowledgeable in the kitchen, but he admits he’s not at the chef level yet. “I’ve acquired a little more information,” he says, “but that doesn’t mean I’m going to apply it in my life. Basically, I’m an eater — an enthusiastic eater.”
— Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton, Ont.