Imagine a 16-year-old high school student who loves to cook and who works part-time at a local restaurant. Now imagine that same student stepping out of their comfort zone, taking part in a culinary competition on national television and being judged by world-renowned celebrity chefs, like Michael Smith and Roger Mooking.
Cameron Macdonald took a chance and did just that – and shined like a star.
Collingwood Collegiate Institute (CCI) now has a star student chef! Macdonald, now 17, competed on the first episode of Chopped Canada Teen, beating out three other students with culinary prowess, and making his way through the appetizer, entrée and finally the dessert round. He impressed the judges with his culinary skill and know-how, in particular with his grilled steak entrée round, and took home the top prize of Chopped Canada Teen Champion along with a cheque for $10,000.
“I really didn’t think I was going to win,” says Macdonald. “When you’re on TV, it doesn’t seem real. I felt like I was dreaming.”
But his hard work paid off, and it always has.
Cameron started showing interest in cooking when he first saw the movie Ratatouille as a kid. His family has been enjoying his creations ever since and he now puts his skills to good use as a cook at a local Oliver & Bonacini restaurant. His family and teachers aren’t surprised by his win and couldn’t be more proud.
“He was making chocolate soufflés in my class, which is something that’s made at the college level,” says hospitality teacher Chef Pamela Major. “He was the top student in his class. I need to get his autograph before he graduates!” she adds.
Being a contestant on the show was quite an experience. With over 2,000 students from across Canada who applied to compete, he wasn’t expecting to get the call.
“I was excited, but pretty nervous when I found out I was going to be on the show,” says Macdonald. “I wasn’t expecting to hear back, so when I heard, I felt nervous about competing right away,” he adds.
His parents were a huge support system and helped Cameron prepare for the show.
“They would run out and buy random groceries and have me practice with things that I’m not that familiar with,” says Macdonald. “Fiddleheads was one of the items. I’ve never cooked with those before!”
The day of the competition and show taping was a long one. Thirteen hours from beginning to end, including interviews, set tours, a practice round, meeting the contestants and finally the judges.
“We didn’t find out who the judges were until we were about ready to start the show,” says Macdonald. “That definitely increased my stress level at the time. I’ve seen Michael Smith on the Food Network so many times, so that added to the pressure.”
Cameron began strong in the appetizer round, but not without a slight concern from Chef Smith with his crostini (for using a traditional French bread as the type of bread used instead of raisin bread – a secret ingredient). His efforts were enough to get him to the entrée round, where he really shined.
“I prepared a steak, which most people can do, but it’s really difficult under pressure and a time constraint,” says Macdonald. “It showed more technique cooking a steak like that. And with the possibility of overcooking it – I could have been done right there,” he adds.
But he wasn’t. The judges were impressed with his ability and looked forward to what he could do in the dessert round.
With mandatory ingredients such as udon noodles, dried chamomile, cultured almond milk and banana chips, he made a stunning chocolate mousse with caramelized bananas that clinched him the win.
“I got a chance to talk to the judges after the show, and they congratulated me and told me I deserved the win,” says Macdonald. “That felt really good.”
After a long day of competing, he got to enjoy his win with his family while staying at the Royal York Hotel, an accommodation which was provided by the show.
“My stepdad had always mentioned that we should stay there sometime since it’s such a nice hotel. I was so thrilled when I found out we would be through the Chopped Canada Teen show – for free!” he exclaims.
Cameron has plans to put his winnings towards purchasing his first car. In terms of his career goals, the sky’s the limit.
“I’d like to own my own restaurant one day, and eventually have restaurants in the U.S. and Europe,” he says. “Being on Chopped Canada showed me what I can do, and that anything’s possible.”
We have no doubt of that. Congratulations Cameron!