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York Region firefighters hit small screen on MasterChef Canada
March 17, 2016
Amanda Persico

Main Street Unionville had its 15 minutes of fame last fall when the historical and picturesque street was closed off and transformed into an open-air kitchen.

Calling the business hub part of “rural Ontario”, MasterChef Canada selected Unionville as its location for chefs from the show to compete in this season’s first team challenge.

And 121 firefighters from across York Region were treated to a tasty feast of barbecued baby back ribs.

“I didn’t eat today,” said Markham firefighter Jeremy Acton, who, along with 120 others, was waiting out of sight near the Stiver Mill.

“I came hungry.”

During the “Trial by Fire” episode of this season’s show, which aired Sunday, the home cooks were put to the test in a 90-minute rib-off in the middle of the street.

Aside from creating mouthwatering ribs, the teams were also charged with creating two signature side dishes for the tribute barbecue lunch.

Seven-foot tables all joined together and decked in crisp white linen and blue and red plates lined the centre of Unionville’s Main Street, with enough seating for 121 of the region’s “heroes”.

While the firefighters were secluded from the cooking action, that didn’t stop them from salivating as plumes of barbecue goodness wafted through the air.

They may have the uniform in common, but what makes for finger-licking barbecue all comes down to personal taste.

“It’s every man for himself,” Acton said.

“For me, bring on the heat and the mess. There’s nothing wrong with messy.”

While Acton’s approach was to reserve his vote for the plate that blew his mind away, others had a more methodical approach.

For Joe McDonald, an East Gwillimbury firefighter, judging the best ribs was a complex formula that started with smell.

“First, you smell the ribs,” he said. “You should be able to smell the seasonings, smell the barbecue flavour.”

After smell, it’s a matter of taste and aftertaste.

Second only to taste is the texture — having a high fall-off-the-bone factor was key.

“The meat has to melt off the bone,” said Paul Taylor with Vaughan Fire and Rescue Services.

“If not, it’s too fatty. There’s nothing worse than bad ribs where you have to chew like crazy. Ribs have to be meaty, not fatty.”

MasterChef Canada judge Michael Bonacini could not agree more.

“You know it’s bad when it sticks between your teeth and you need dental floss,” he said during the Unionville taping.

“Dry ribs are the worst.”

The trick is to cook ribs low and slow, he added.

Even before taste factors into the judging, looks play a big part, added chef and judge Alvin Leung.

“Before you taste it, just look at it,” he said. “It should look plump and juicy, not dry like cardboard.

A good barbecued rib combines a great rub, flavourful and sticky sauce and a zap of heat, said chef and judge Claudio Aprile.

Don’t forget to add a whole lot of time and patience, he added.

“When that all culminates together, it’s a work of magic,” he said.