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Cranbrook mom makes MasterChef Canada

Cranbrook’s Danielle Cardozo will take her elk carnita to the masses in January when she appears in MasterChef Canada.  - Courtesy MasterChef Canada
Cranbrook’s Danielle Cardozo will take her elk carnita to the masses in January when she appears in MasterChef Canada.
— image credit: Courtesy MasterChef Canada

A Cranbrook mother-of-three will appear in a national cook-off TV series starting in January.

Danielle Cardozo is among Canada's top 50 home cooks who will compete for the top position in MasterChef Canada on CTV.

After originally airing in the U.K. in 2005, the popular series began in Australia in 2009 and quickly became the country's most popular show. A U.S. version of the series began in 2010. MasterChef has now been localized in 43 countries.

In 2014, Canada will have its turn to find the country's best undiscovered cook in the first season.

Canada's top 50 home cooks will come together for a series of cooking challenges with weekly eliminations of contenders. Eventually one cook will be named MasterChef Canada.

Cranbrook's Danielle Cardozo is hoping to wow the judges in the series premiere with her specialty: elk carnita.

"It's basically elk tacos," Danielle says. "I grew up in Fernie and Cranbrook, so I'm no stranger to game meat. I am aboriginal so in our house it was very common to have family members give me meat, and it's always elk and moose."

It was Danielle's nine-year-old daughter who pushed her to audition for MasterChef as soon as she learned there would be a Canadian version.

"One day it came on while the show was airing that Joe Bastianich from the U.S. version says, 'Canada, it's your turn.' So my daughter goes and grabs my laptop from the kitchen counter and says, 'Okay, Mom, it's your turn,'" remembers Danielle. "It was right there and then, there was no waiting."

Although Danielle had been watching the series for years, she didn’t have much faith that her application would be taken seriously.

“I really didn’t think I stood a chance, to be quite honest. I felt like the application was kind of silly,” she says.

She was wrong: in July she got an email inviting her to an audition in Calgary. The only problem: it coincided with a vacation to Mexico.

“I’m post divorce and I’ve spent about a year saving for a trip to Mexico, just me, myself and I, no kids. Then all of a sudden I get an email saying I’ve gotten this invitation, and it’s when I’m supposed to be in Mexico,” says Danielle.

Rather than shorten the holiday and spend the time stressing over the audition, Danielle decided to cancel the vacation. Instead, she combined Mexican cuisine with Kootenay game meat for a unique signature dish: elk carnita.

“When I left the audition, I knew they were calling me back. I could just see it on the one chef’s face when he was tasting my dish. He looked at it like, ‘Oh my gosh, all these people are serving me these elegant dishes and you’re serving me tacos?’ But then when I saw the look on his face I could tell he was impressed.”

Less than a month later, Danielle learned that she had made the top 50, and was being flown to Toronto to take part in the series in front of the cameras.

“I was extremely nervous. First of all, flying across the country by myself. I was nervous about cooking for other people. I’m used to cooking for family and friends but we’re home cooks. Cooking in a professional kitchen, cooking in front of cameras, cooking for three of the most amazing palates in Canada... it was extremely intimidating.”

Danielle says she was immediately impressed by the other contenders in the top 50.

“There are definitely some standout individuals there that, when they started talking about food, and this chef and that chef and this technique and that piece of equipment, I went, ‘Oh wow, I’m over my head.’”

Danielle is not allowed to talk about what happened once the cameras started rolling.

“You’re going to have to tune in on January 20 and find out then,” she says.

Born and raised in the East Kootenay, Danielle comes from a foodie family. Her father owns Funky’s Pizza in Sparwood. Danielle and her sister operated Crumbs Cakery together, selling cupcakes at the Cranbrook Farmers’ Market. She held the fundraising event Cupcake Wars in Cranbrook over summer of 2012, in aid of Relay for Life. Danielle’s sister continues to run the bakery business in Sparwood.

And Danielle has just started working as a sous chef at the Heid Out in Cranbrook. She decided to apply after returning from her MasterChef Canada experience.

“I thought, ‘I’m going to apply.’ I went there and told her I had very little experience except for the fact I worked in my dad’s kitchen a little bit when I was younger,” Danielle says. “I just went in and showed her that I knew how to cook and she hired me.”

The mother of a nine-year-old daughter and two sons, 5 and 2, also works for the Ktunaxa Nation as its employment development officer. She’s a busy woman.

“It comes with my last name – my dad, my brother, my sister – we just constantly have to be doing something.”

Danielle has been passionate about cooking since she was 15 and began preparing dinner for her mom after school.

“I became addicted to the Food Network, started researching and learned that way,” Danielle says. “When I’m stressed out, when I’m sad or upset, that’s what I do: I turn to cooking. It’s a detoxifier for me; it puts me in a good place.

Cooking for family and friends is Danielle’s favourite thing.

“There’s nothing I like more than hosting my friends for a fun dinner,” she says. “It’s just nice; everybody’s in the kitchen and there’s not enough room but they just hang out and chat and have a glass of wine while we cook together.”

You can follow along with Danielle’s journey on Twitter by finding her @creeksidecook.

MasterChef Canada premieres after the Super Bowl, Monday, January 20 on CTV.

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