We chat brownie memories, bubble waffles and cooking for Star Trek with the host of the new SBS Food show, Mary's Kitchen Crush.
By
Kylie Walker

27 Apr 2021 - 10:59 PM  UPDATED 16 Jun 2022 - 7:48 PM

--- Join Mary Berg in her kitchen in Mary's Kitchen Crush, streaming at SBS On Demand --- 

 

"Cooking is my way of showing that I care," says Mary Berg, the Masterchef Canada winner with an engaging smile and very cool glasses.

In each episode of Mary's Kitchen Crush, the popular Canadian cook invites friends and family over for a meal (it was filmed pre-COVID), putting her spin on home-cooked classics and having plenty of fun while doing so. From cereal milkshakes for a kids' sleepover to Canadian lobster rolls and the brownies that remind her of her late father, there are treasures in every episode. 

Ahead of the start of the show, we grabbed her to talk about the recipes she'd love us to try, how the pandemic has affected her cooking, and the thing she'd love to come to Australia to see (it totally surprised us!)

You say in the show that every meal you make is "a love letter to the people in your life who matter most". Can you tell us more about why you love to cook for others? 

I just can’t think of a better way to show and tell someone that I love them than with delicious food! I mean, we all have to eat but making something specifically for someone in your life can convey so much love in just a few bites.

When I cook for other people and sit down to dinner with my family and friends, the food just seems to taste so much better.

How did you learn to cook?   

I wish I could say I learned at my mother’s knee but, truth be told, my wonderful mom, for all of her strengths, hates cooking! I like to joke that I learned to cook out of necessity but really, it was just curiosity and the desire to help my mom out around the house. After school, I’d park myself in front of the TV, turn on a cooking show, and flip through every and any cookbook I could get my hands on. From there, it was pretty much just trial, error, and lots and lots of dishes!

Is it true that you worked as a culinary consultant on Star Trek: Discovery? What was that all about?? Were you cooking for the cast and crew? Advising on on-screen alien eats?

I did! I worked as the food stylist on the episode Vaulting Ambition (s01e12) in which a very tense dinner party of sorts takes place. In addition to a huge feast of alien dishes, the main course had to feature these tentacle-like ganglia from a Kelpien (which obviously don’t exist in real life - I mean, I couldn’t just go to the market and order a kilo of Kelpien ganglia!)! And it all had to be vegan to accommodate the actors’ dietary restrictions! No pressure, right?

We carved a ganglia out of clay, created a silicone mold of it, and made a mixture of almond milk, food colouring, and agar agar (a vegan version of gelatin made out of seaweed) and, after getting the feast all set up, I set up shop in a props trailer next to a bunch of Klingon battle axes and made as many ganglia as I could!

It was pretty cool getting to experience how food is designed and shot for TV shows that aren’t all about cooking!

Have you found cooking to be a comfort during the craziness of the past year? 

Oh my goodness, have I ever! The kitchen has always been the place where all of the stresses of the day sort of melt away and I just get to do something creative and delicious. My kitchen has continued to be my ‘happy place’ throughout the last year and I think my cooking has become even more creative because of it! I shop my pantry and freezer more than ever before and have been working hard to use up every last bit of food I have. I’m grocery shopping only a few times a month now whereas, in the before times, I was perusing the aisles of the market almost every day so that’s definitely changed the way I cook.

I’ve loved seeing so many people getting into the kitchen creating food for themselves and their households. Whether it’s trying out banana bread or sourdough, cooking and baking is still such a social thing to do - even if the only way to share with people is by dropping off care packages on their front porch!

There’s so much good food in Mary’s Kitchen Crush that it’s hard to focus on just a few dishes, but we have to say, those egg waffles are pretty eye-catching. Are they a big thing in Canada?

They are pretty cool, aren’t they!? Those bubble waffles, also known as eggettes, are actually a popular street food in Hong Kong and can be found at a bunch of different shops in Chinatown in Toronto where I live! My good friend Veronica who I cook those waffles for on Mary’s Kitchen Crush was the first person to introduce them to me and I immediately fell in love with them. They are so delicious, sweet or savoury, and are so much fun to eat! Now, if you can’t find an eggette maker, the recipe also works perfectly in a classic waffle iron so don’t worry! You’ll still be able to enjoy those crispy, cheesy waffles without that fancy iron.

And let’s talk brownies. You take a stand on brownie style in the show – “Any time I see a brownie recipe that doesn't involve a double boiler, I know I'm not gonna like it. If you don't do this method, it basically is more like a chocolate cake.” So, you’re a fudgy brownie fan?

Haha definitely! If I want a brownie, I want it to be dense, chocolatey, fudgy, and rich! Without that double boiler, it’ll be more like chocolate cake (which is obviously also delicious but definitely not a brownie!). 

It sounds as if brownies conjure up some wonderful family memories for you?

Food and memories are so closely tied in my family. When I was little, my family was in an accident and my dad passed away. Before that, he was always the cook of the house and was an absolute lover of all things food. There are so many dishes and flavours that remind me of him and brownies are pretty high up on that list along with sour cream and onion potato chips. Whenever I want to feel close to my dad, one of those two things are always on the menu.

Are we right in thinking you love playing with twists on classics – like those pretzel dogs in the 'Game Time Grub' episode? 

Totally! I love how creative you can be with food and how just a few tweaks can bring new life to something tried and true! Also, any chance I have to make two of my fave things into one dish, I’m going to do it and those pretzel dogs are a perfect example of that!

Are there any other recipes in particular in the show that you’d love to highlight to your new Australian fans? 

Ooo this is a tough one! But I think I’d have to say the blueberry cream cheese crumble and the butter-poached lobster rolls! These dishes are the true taste of Canadian summer and are both so easy to put together! I know that the rock lobsters found in Australia are a bit different to those we have here in Canada but their meaty tails would be delicious in this recipe. You could also use prawns in place of the lobster for a delicious prawn-y spin on a Canadian classic!

Have you ever been to Australia? 

I have not! But once this whole rigmarole is over, Australia is at the top of my list! This is probably a bit on the dorky side but, when I’m not in the kitchen, I love to go birding and Australia has some pretty cool birds! I’ll just have to be sure to pack my binoculars and pick up a good bird guide first!

You have a lovely blog (we noticed you’ve just shared a recipe for a Canadian classic, tourtière, which looks perfect for the cold weather we’re heading into here in Australia – and we love that you say it is also great cold from the fridge as a late-night snack! We’re all for recipes that are just as good as leftovers!). When did you start your blog?

First, that tourtière is so great! And it’s almost even better as leftovers from the fridge!

I started the blog about five years ago as a sort of personal cookbook of sorts, to be honest! It has since become a good hub for all of the different things I’m working on and places you can find my recipes (from shows to books and beyond!).

The past few years have been jam-packed with recipe development for Mary’s Kitchen Crush and my new show that we’re currently filming as well as for my cookbooks, Kitchen Party: Effortless Recipes for Every Occasion which came out back in 2019 and my forthcoming book, due out this fall, but as recipe inspiration strikes it’s a place where I can quickly and easily share them!

And finally – just wanna say, we love your glasses! 

Haha thank you so much! I usually respond to that lovely compliment with “They help me see!”! I have worn glasses since I was six years old and have a great glasses guy who hooks me up with some pretty fun specs!

Find more of Mary's recipes from the show here, including her poppy seed squares, crisp parmesan potatoes and easy fruit galette. And for brownie lovers, there's an excellent blondie, too!    

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