Edmonton bakers rise to the occasion on The Great Canadian Baking Show

Edmonton’s Chris Koo left the baking tent this week on The Great Canadian Baking Show semi-final, but local fans still have a lot of pie crust in the game.

Nataliia Shevchenko, the 33-year-old administrative assistant who is also from the city, is in a tight race to win the reality show’s season finale.

Edmonton’s Nataliia Shevchenko is in the season finale of The Great Canadian Baking Show airing on Wednesday, Nov. 6. (Courtesy of CBC)

Out of the hundreds of bakers from across Canada who auditioned for one of 10 spots in each of the show’s three seasons, six have hailed from the Edmonton region, 20 per cent of contestants.

That puts Edmonton ahead of the Greater Toronto Area — home to more than six million people — which has sent five contestants. 

Meredith Veats, a casting director for the show which airs on CBC and CBC Gem Wednesday nights, can’t explain why, but notes the spike happened right off the top.  

“It really started with a Canada-wide outreach,” Veats, who happens to be from Edmonton, said in an interview on CBC Edmonton’s Radio Active Wednesday.

“I think once people started filling in the applications that’s when we saw the spike for Alberta.” 

Why are there so many Edmonton contestants on the Great Canadian Baking Show? Radio Active director Julia Lipscombe asked some experts. 7:35

‘Frugal prairie folk’

Local chefs say the disproportionate number of Edmonton home bakers is no surprise. In fact, they say, it’s baked into Alberta culture.

“A lot of us come from frugal prairie folk,” said blogger Karlynn Johnston, author of The Prairie Table cookbook. “Both sides of my family are farm acreage folk and frugality is definitely a big part of their food culture. 

“You make everything at home: you bake, you cook, you harvest, you store, you can. So I guess that’s sort of been passed down.”

Edmonton region’s Megan Stasiewich, who made it to the show’s Season 2 finale last year, agrees. 

“Alberta is really rich with farming,” said Stasiewich, who lives on a farm outside Leduc. “And I think people take pride in using what we grow ourselves.

“And Edmonton, I think it’s just a really beautiful tight-knit community so we can take pride in supporting each other and continuing forward that way.”

Contestant diversity

But most of the contestants from Edmonton are not from a line of homesteading Alberta families. 

Two other Edmonton-area bakers made the cut last season.

Sadiya Hashmi grew up in Bahrain and Timothy Fu, a 19-year-old University of Alberta undergrad, incorporated traditional Chinese flavours and spices into his baking.

Shevchenko, this year’s Edmonton finalist, emigrated from Ukraine three years ago. 

One thing the Edmonton contestants have in common is the region’s long, cold winters. 

“We get some really harsh weather conditions where you don’t want to leave the house,” Johnston said. “And I know a ton of people who will just open up a cookbook or go search up a recipe and just start cooking.

“That’s something to do when you’re snowed in.”

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