Dora Cote has made a living out of solving problems in hot (and cold) water. She’s cleaned out the slimiest of clogged drains and is up for tackling any piping system pickle.
She’s now also proving to the country she’s an ace when it comes to knowing her way around the hardware in the kitchen.
The Rocky Mountain House plumber is one of the top 16 contestants selected to move onto another round of head-to-head competition on the MasterChef Canada cooking game show, the red and white version of the Gordon Ramsay series.
She is joined by others across Canada including a make-up artist, chemical engineer and freelance journalist. Cote, who grew up in Edmonton, is one of only two Albertans who made the cut to 16 from 26 after the show’s Monday night episode.
“The whole thing is surreal,” Cote, 37, said. “I’m such a huge fan of the American show so I had to keep reminding myself I was living it and not watching it on TV . . . I was very intimidated, too. I don’t come in with a whole fancy background. I cook for my family and friends and that’s it. I’ve never worked in a restaurant, not even something like McDonald’s.”
Cote first started dabbling in making tasty treats from scratch with her father when she was six years old. They would bake cookies together and pretty soon she was the only one in the family allowed to make the gravy.
“My mother still can’t cook to this day,” Cote said with a her signature full-bellied laugh. “She is improving though. But largely, I do all the cooking and baking.”
Through the years, she’s dubbed her oven-baked ribs, with apple pie for dessert, or a deconstructed blueberry pudding cake with caramel sauce as her secret cuisine weapons.
MasterChef Canada, starring three prominent Canadian chefs and restaurateurs — Michael Bonacini, Alvin Leung and Claudio Aprile — premiered on Jan. 20.
Everything was prerecorded and Cote, who is back at work in Rocky, has been sworn to secrecy over the results.
“They took our cell phones away the minute we arrived in Toronto and we only got 10 minutes a week to talk to family. I’ve never gone that long without talking to my son so no wonder my nerves were going crazy,” said the former carnival worker who also boasts a substantial collection of sugar skulls and enjoys crocheting in her spare time.
Cote’s winning ticket started with a simple strawberry rhubarb pie, presented in Calgary during her first audition last July.
“I love pie. I can make anything into a pie. It’s the all-perfect food but I really felt out of my league because I just showed up with a pie. This fellow beside me was doing this big thing that looked like it could be served on a space station and I’m thinking oh my god.”
She went on to stay in the top 16 with her hearty chicken pot pie after sweating it out in the bottom two during the judge’s deliberations.
“I was so worried. The others present such diversity, such ethnic choices. I’m not wildfire like that. I’m just solid, good old yummy food. But then you think well maybe my simplicity will be the thing that will win them over.”
The art of plating is Cote’s biggest fear.
“I’m so used to the quick process of serving a hungry family so to have that validation, when Claudio Aprile called my food elegant, that was one of my most important moments at this point of the competition.”
Meanwhile, she’s actively pursuing dreams of opening up her own modest diner somewhere around Rocky.
The next episode of MasterChef airs Sunday on CTV following the Super Bowl.