Mark Hamilton loves to cook.
The Mission resident and City of Coquitlam firefighter enjoys dabbling in the kitchen, trying to create unique, bold flavours.
While his family and friends know about his cooking skills, the rest of Canada is about to discover his talents.
He will be competing for a chance to take home the $100,000 cash prize.
The 35-year-old father of three moved to Mission at the end of 2016 and says it was “the best decision ever.”
While he loves the community, Hamilton chose to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a Coquitlam firefighter.
“It’s like a family business,” he said with a laugh.
His passion for cooking began in his late teens.
“I moved out pretty young – I was 19 or so – and had to start cooking. I began playing with it a little bit,” Hamilton said.
Having an uncle who is a trained chef helped.
“It was always exciting to go to his house during the holidays. You got some neat foods.”
Hamilton became a dad at the age of 24, and nine month later he was a full-time single father raising a daughter. That’s when he really started dabbling in cooking.
“As kids grow, you have to develop their palate a little bit and introduce new foods, and it just took off.”
He became fascinated with a television chef named Chuck Hughes from Montreal, and began watching his show Chuck’s Day Off.
Hamilton said the show featured simple ingredients, but with outstanding flavours. He taught himself to cook by trying to replicate what he saw on TV.
“It just snowballed from there.”
Now remarried, Hamilton said he began to prepare all the large family meals, including Christmas dinner.
“I started to bring new foods to the table.”
His style of cooking is difficult to describe.
“I would say, to put a finger on it, it’s simple ingredients and big bold flavours. I would say kind of country. I’m a big eater so big portions and a lot of red meats.”
He grew up as a “meat and potatoes” man and he has kept that simple formula, though he’s made it a little more intricate.
It wasn’t long before people began to ask him why he didn’t try out for any cooking shows.
He said he came to the realization that he was actually doing OK in the kitchen and cooking some decent stuff.
“All my friends, especially my wife, kept poking at me, saying, ‘You have to apply.’ I just brushed it off. I never thought I could really hang in a kitchen like that.”
However, his competitive side came out. He started mulling the idea around a few years ago, but never did apply. Finally, he thought it might be time.
Sure enough, he got the call to appear on the show.
“It was a surprise. I couldn’t really put it into words. It was like, ‘This is real now.’ It was intense.”
Suddenly he realized he had to figure out how to make it work. He had to tell his wife that he had to fly to Toronto for filming and be away for however long it took.
Everyone supported him.
While MasterChef Canada doesn’t air on television until April 8, filming is complete and Hamilton is in a sort of limbo.
“I can’t say anything about the show.”
What he can say is the experience was surreal.
“It feels like a decade ago because so much has happened. It’s such an emotional roller coaster. It’s so hard to process because it happens so fast.”
He said the production crew told him to absorb every second of the entire event.
“You’re cooking away and that first opportunity you get to look at the clock, that big clock ticking away – that’s one of those notorious things you see all the contestants do. It’s that intense moment in the kitchen and just being there the first time and looking at that clock as it’s ticking away and you realize, this is really happening.”
He said it’s weird, but a good weird.
One thing is certain, Hamilton enjoyed his experience and learned a lot.
“The talent in that place is unreal. Every contestant there is there for a purpose… you learn different techniques, different flavour profiles, there are so many great ideas.
“There are so many talented people there, you almost have to stay humble throughout the process.”
Hamilton’s biggest challenge right now is keeping his secret. He signed an agreement not to speak about what happened during filming, but that doesn’t stop people from asking.
“Everyone wants to know what happened. My kids are the worst. I don’t like watching myself on TV so it’s going to be awkward.”
What he did say is he’s proud to have represented Mission. Other than that, he remains silent.
“If you want to know, grab some popcorn and watch.”
Season six of MasterChef Canada kicks off with a special two-hour premiere on Monday, April 8 at 8 p.m. on CTV, before settling into its regular time slot of Mondays at 9 p.m.
In each episode, the home cooks have their culinary expertise tested through a series of Mystery Box Challenges, Team Challenges and Pressure Tests, with the judges providing direction and feedback throughout the process.
At the end of each episode, at least one home cook is eliminated from the competition until only two remain, culminating in a battle during the finale for a chance to win $100,000 and the sought-after title of MasterChef Canada.