When Veronica Cham saw her family, she let out a childlike shriek of excitement — and it was all caught on camera and broadcast on the most recent season of MasterChef Canada. Moments before, one of the hosts had told Cham, a 36-year-old immigration lawyer at the Department of Justice and one of the final four contestants, to go into the kitchen for a surprise. There stood Cham’s mother, father and sister — all the way from Hong Kong and Vancouver. She ran toward them, into open arms, and when she later spoke to the camera, it was through tears. “My mom has been an inspiration for me in the kitchen.”
But not in the way you’d expect. On one hand, she instilled in Cham a love for Chinese cuisine. “But my mom’s cooking isn’t very creative,” she says with a chuckle. “So that motivated me to learn.”
Five years ago, she started training herself in the art of Chinese cooking. “I dug into my roots and got really into dim sum,” she says. Mostly by cooking classic dishes after work, she developed her talent. A pun lover, Cham often cooks dishes in the shape of the food she uses (mushroom buns shaped like mushrooms, for example). When she auditioned for MasterChef Canada last summer, her sumptuous duck done four ways won her a spot on the show.
In the end, that tear-jerking episode was her last. Cham finished in fourth place, but her culinary days aren’t over. In fact, she hopes to become a Michelin inspector, the Holy Grail of food-critic jobs. Not until retirement, though: it’s a job that requires anonymity. “Having been on television so recently,” she laughs, “everyone knows what I look like now.”
This story is from our Fall 2016 issue.
Photography by Daniel Ehrenworth