Those who know Vernon opera singer Melina Schein know that, for her, keeping a secret for an extended period of time is the equivalent of scaling Mt. Everest.
Imagine Schein’s relief late on Monday, March 28, when she was able to announce to the world that not only had she appeared on Food Network Canada’s debut show Wall of Bakers – which aired at 7 p.m. Pacific Monday – but she was also the show’s debut winner of the grand prize of $10,000.
“It feels fantastic,” said Schein, 45, on Tuesday of her victory, and the relief to be able to finally share the news from the show which was taped in Toronto in June 2021. “I’ve been riding the wave of adrenaline, excitement and horror of seeing myself on TV. I had to keep the secret for almost a year. I wasn’t allowed to say I was on the show or anything about the result.”
Wall of Bakers is a spin-off of Food Network Canada’s wildly successful competition series Wall of Chefs, featuring amateur bakers. The format tests the skill and nerves of Canada’s home bakers as they battle in the Wall of Bakers’ kitchen, under the shadow of 12 of the country’s best pastry chefs.
Schein, who introduces her website – thesaucysoprano.com – as “An out-of-work opera singer’s meshuggeneh Jewish cooking blog,” was joined on the show by a homemaker from Innisfil, Ont., an event producer from Roseneath, Ont., and a restaurant supervisor from Calgary for the show’s debut.
“I love baking because it is very different from performing, being able to tell stories on a plate as opposed to singing them on a stage, that’s just really pure joy,” said Schein in her introduction.
In each episode, four amateur bakers face-off in three rounds of competition. In Round 1, they prepare the desserts that have made them famous at home, their crowd-pleasers. It was also the only dessert they could practice on before arriving for taping.
Schein, having grown up in New York City in a Jewish family with Middle Eastern influences, opted to make a Turkish banana and date tart with rosewater and cardamom whip cream. It nearly got her eliminated.
She and restaurant supervisor Curtis Leung of Calgary had the two least favourite crowd pleasers among the four pastry chef judges for the round, but it was Leung who was sent packing.
“That was the worst moment,” said Schein. “I knew I had made mistakes and that was the one dish I could practice. My poor family, they were so tired of banana rosewater tarts.”
In the second round, the home bakers are challenged to think on the fly and come up with a dessert using two ingredients that are staples in the home pantry of one of the chefs from the Wall. In this case, it was well known Canadian chef Lynn Crawford, who made the final three contestants use honey and Meyer lemons (which are less acidic and not as tart as regular lemons).
Schein wowed the next four judges with her spiced Persian fritter with side of homemade lemon curd to the point she won the round, advancing directly to the final against events producer Trevor Howes of Roseneath, Ont.
In the third and final round, the last two home bakers are inspired by another chef’s signature dessert to make their own bakery-worthy creation. Schein went back to her Jewish roots, creating the famous black-and-white cookie from Jewish delicatessens, a cake-style cookie topped with half white frosting and half chocolate frosting.
She paired that with traditional egg cream – a drink that contains neither egg nor cream, but rather milk, chocolate syrup and soda water.
“Every Jewish holiday included the famous black-and-white cookie and for me, it’s everything wonderful about childhood.”
Howes made a ginger cookie ice cream sandwich. In the end, Schein was declared the winner but has yet to spend any of the prize money.
“I really don’t know yet. Part of me wants to do something fun and indulgent, and the more rational, practical side of me-slash-my-husband-Craig- thinks I should pay down some COVID-related debt,” laughed Schein, who was joined by hubby and her mom, Ann, for a small viewing party Monday.
Ann lives in Florida, and does not get Food Network Canada, so Schein rigged up a system where mom could watch the show via Facetime through Schein’s mobile device.
She also struck up a friendship with fellow finalist Howes.
“We’re talking about starting a culinary podcast,” said Schein. “I think we’ll be lifelong friends after this.”
The Saucy Soprano is also contemplating a cookbook and dreams to one day have her own TV cooking show.