Plus Tammara shares her recipe for homemade teriyaki sauce!

Photo by Ingrid Kuenzel

Watching home cooks compete in stressful culinary situations like the ones you see on MasterChef Canada makes me question if American Idol is even that hard to win. I mean, of course you have to sing and the general public need to adore you, but you’re definitely not sweating bullets, accidentally cutting your fingers and trying to finish a plate of food with a camera in your face and judges staring at you or, occasionally, spitting out your food. Few cooks can handle that pressure, but one of those few is Calgary’s Tammara Behl.

Originally from Edmonton, Behl moved to Calgary with her husband seven years ago to further her career as a teacher. She now balances work and taking care of her two young girls. Chatting with the busy woman, you immediately get the impression that she is both vibrant and full of energy, but also business-minded. Qualities that a television camera loves, and a competitor in any television series needs.

Although she spends her days teaching and chasing after her girls, Behl has always loved the culinary arts. In her childhood, the young Tammara was always stirring and baking treats in her oven. Even if it was a small, plastic one.

“I started cooking when I was 3 years old in my easy bake oven!” She recalls. “Cooking – food in general – have always been an integral part of my life. Food is emotion, food is memories. I love giving these feelings to people through what I cook!”

Behl was part of a small crop of Calgary area folks in the Top 50 of the cooking competition when it premiered in January. After several large cuts, the group was whittled down to 16, where Behl remained as our city’s sole finalist. Needless to say, leaving her young family and her life behind while she filmed MasterChef Canada for six weeks last fall, was not easy.

“It was one of the hardest things I have ever done. Being away from friends and family in a competition setting was very difficult!” says Behl. “But, everyday I was gone from them made me want to work even harder to win. Not knowing who to trust [on the show] while missing my family, but trying to stay driven and focused was one of the biggest hurdles I faced.”

Approaching 40 years old, the home cook is happy to admit that she was the oldest female finalist, but attributes her age and life experience to her ability to handle pressure and, most importantly, multi-task.

“I think when you’re a mother of two, you’re always doing something. Watching one child, stirring a pot of tomato sauce, chopping an onion with some magical third hand!” jokes Behl as she explains her ability to juggle. “Watching some of my younger competitors on the show, they were running around with their heads cut off. If you’d watch us ‘older’ ones, you saw we were much more focused.”

This focus would take Behl far. From the beginning, she was a front-runner, winning multiple team challenges, and cooking solo in one of the many ‘pressure cooker’ situations. Her plates elevated as the competition progressed, but it was her homemade samosas that got her on this national stage in the first place.

“One of my best friends growing up was East Indian and I would always be over at her house trying all kinds of cuisine,” says Behl as fills samosas in her kitchen. “Her family loved me because I would eat all kinds of spicy foods, but my favourite thing to eat was always samosas!”

Though the self-proclaimed ‘Samosa Queen’ did not end up winning the show, she was a fan favourite and fought her way to a respectable fourth place. As is the case with any kind of competition series on television, it’s not so much whether you win or lose (although she does agree that an extra $100,000 would have been nice); it’s all about what you do with the national exposure.

“Life after MasterChef Canada so far has been a great experience. I have been able to get out of my house and into peoples kitchens. Do some catering work, some cooking schools, and even some professional kitchens as well. I have been cooking up a storm and there is no stopping me now!”

Behl’s Homemade Teriyaki Sauce

Behl says, “Be creative! If you like it spicy add some chillies. If you don’t have pineapple juice, no problem use orange! Use this recipe as a guide and make it your own.”

1/2 cup soy sauce

1/4 cup pineapple juice

2 Tbs sweet rice wine vinegar or Chinese cooking wine

1 Tbs plus 2 tsp brown sugar

1/4 cup honey

11/2 tsp minced garlic

11/2 tsp minced ginger

Place all ingredients in a saucepan; turn to medium heat and let cook until sugar and honey are dissolved, about 3-4 minutes. Transfer for suitable container and let chill in the refrigerator.

To make into a glaze, mix 1/2 Tbs cornstarch with 1 Tbs water. Follow above sauce recipe, cook on medium-high heat and add cornstarch mixture. Simmer until thickened, about 2 minutes.

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