Michael Nardozza: From Family Cook to Wall of Chefs Winner!

by Sonia Ruivo

Horizon High School teacher Michael Nardozza ’s culinary skills were recently rewarded when he won the Wall of Chefs competition on the January 31 episode of the popular Food Network Canada show.

For years, his family and friends had complimented Michael on his culinary prowess. He wanted to see just how good a cook he was, and he decided to apply to appear on Wall of Chefs. The opportunity to compete and cook for world-renowned chefs was appealing.

Michael headed to Toronto in July 2021 for the taping. Along with 3 fellow home cooks, Michael was excited and nervous to show his culinary chops. His first objective was to make it past the first round. The day of taping brought out the nerves, especially the first round. “Just having the chefs front and centre, on an elevated platform” right in front of the 4 competitors was nerve wracking. But the nerves didn’t last for long. “I didn’t hear anything the chefs were saying. I was in a zone.” Being in his zone helped him focus on the dishes he needed to create.

Prior to taping the show, Michael trained and prepared. A chef friend allowed him to use his professional kitchen to practice. This gave him additional confidence as he’d never used a gas stove. After planning and practicing, Michael had a game plan. Since each show follows the same structure, he knew that he needed to be prepared, especially for the “Chef’s Fridge” segment where the home cooks are given 3 secret ingredients picked by one of the chefs. Michael had a list of 5 dishes that he could manipulate any ingredient to. When he saw that the mystery ingredients had a Mediterranean flavour, he knew which dishes to create: baba ganoush with zucchini, grilled lamb chops with za’atar, and fattoush salad. Despite his initial confidence, after the second round, his confidence waned because he did not garner the most points. Despite his low confidence, he still made it to the final round.
In round 3, Michael and fellow home cook Deborah were competing for the win. Michael speaks very highly of his competitors and says that he would have been thrilled for Deborah had she won, “regardless of the outcome, I would have been very happy either way.” In the end, his Montreal-inspired brunch poutine with filet mignon, cheese curds and hollandaise sauce won over the judges. Michael appreciated that the judges understand that the competitors are home cooks and not trained chefs.

Michael knew he’d won in July 2021, and it was tough to keep the secret. When the episode aired, family, friends and colleagues were thrilled for Michael. He was pleasantly shocked to win the competition. He hopes that his win inspires his students to get out of their comfort zone and try doing something that they can do but are reluctant to do.
What did Michael gain from the experience, apart from winning? “Taking a risk was worth it. Going outside my comfort zone… it could be a nerve wracking experience, but I’m glad that I took the chance.”

Michael is planning to put some of his winnings towards a new car for his growing family. And he will donate part to his parents’ non-profit organization, Bearers of Love International, which supports orphans and drug rehabilitation centres in the Ukraine.
Will Michael join another culinary competition? In the moment of the competition, he would have said, no! But once the competition was done, he thought he’d love to compete again. In the meantime, he’ll cook his famous pizza for his family and friends. Congratulations, Michael, on your exciting win.