When people call Deanna Brown a celebrity chef it makes her laugh. “I’m neither a celebrity nor a chef! But I love to cook!” And after being a contestant on season two of the national televised cooking competition, “MasterChef Canada,” she’s keen to continue learning everything she can about cooking — on and off camera.
Deanna and her husband, Jeff, live in Milestone (30 minutes south of Regina) and farm with Jeff’s three brothers and their families at Brown Family Farms. The brothers invented a grain bag roller and with it a new business: Brown Bros. Welding.
Deanna embraces the farming experience. At harvest, she loves taking lentils off the combine to cook for the next meal, or hand-picking a sample of durum and grinding it to make fresh pasta. She, her sisters-in-law, and mother-in-law have a schedule for preparing meals when the men are working in the fields. When it’s her turn, she thrives with the challenge and the logistics of planning and preparing a meal, then keeping it hot while transporting and serving it from the back of a vehicle. For the past 10 years, she has been collecting (and creating) recipes to make an annual recipe book (complete with pictures) for herself and for Christmas gifts.
As a mother of two children (ages nine and 13), manager for the house and business accounts, and involved in the community, she still makes time to watch her favorite show, “MasterChef Canada.”
“I have always been interested in cooking shows and follow all the episodes,” she said. “I have pretended to have a cooking show since I was a little girl growing up in Avonlea!”
Brown applied online to “MasterChef Canada” in May 2014 “on a whim… to amuse my children,” she says, never dreaming she’d get in. She didn’t even tell her husband as he was busy seeding. A few weeks later she received a call from a production assistant and was interviewed over the phone. She was invited to Calgary to present a dish for tasting and an on-camera interview. “At the time I was thrilled, but I didn’t tell anyone (except for my husband and children)!”
She had the summer to prepare to go to Toronto, if she was selected. So she filled the freezer, cleared her calendar, helped the kids get ready for back to school, and got ahead on the farm accounts. She picked and canned saskatoon berries for a dish she had created and hoped to use: a 10-layer cinnamon torte. She practised cooking techniques (like filleting a fish). All along she expected to be eliminated. “I’m just a mom in southern Saskatchewan.” Yet she thought the producers would be looking for someone from Saskatchewan. Why not a mom from rural Saskatchewan?
The call came in mid-August that she had been selected as a contestant on the show. They wanted her in Toronto in a few weeks: right in the middle of harvest. Her sisters-in-law and mom-in-law adjusted their schedule of preparing meals for the men so she could get away. Those who knew of Deanna’s upcoming adventure were sworn to complete secrecy!
Of the thousands of people who apply, only 50 are chosen for the on-air cooking competition. After the first round, 25 receive the white apron indicating they can go on in the contest; the other half of the group are sent home. Deanna received the white apron — a highlight of her time on the show — and was promoted to the second round: the 60-minute ‘pressure test’ — and yes, you only have 60 minutes to plan, prepare, and serve a meal. She was more excited than nervous and thrived with the challenge.
Season two was filmed in the fall of 2014. Just before it was aired in February 2015, the contestants were announced; she remembers the people in her community were surprised and excited when they heard she was going to be on “MasterChef Canada.” Although eliminated after the second round, everyone was proud that she made it to the top 20. “My downfall was putting too much food on the plate. Coming from a farming background the goal is to have all the essential food groups and a substantial serving — not how the food is ‘plated!’ We dish out from the pots at home — except on special occasions when we might use serving dishes!”
All in all, it was a terrific learning experience and has inspired her to share her love of cooking with others. She has since had numerous opportunities to speak with women’s groups, demonstrate cooking on television, and support fundraising and farmers’ market events always with a focus on food. “People were pretty excited to have a ‘celebrity chef’ in the community. People are still interested in the experience.” You can follow Deanna Brown online, on Twitter at @DeannaMKB, or on Instagram at deanna.brown. †