When it comes to the Filet-O-Fish, Mary Berg considers herself something of a connoisseur. “In every single country I go to, I go to McDonald’s to try theirs,” says the beloved Canadian food personality, author and newly-minted morning show host. The best FOF in the world could reportedly be found in Toronto’s Parkdale neighbourhood – the now-closed McDonald’s at King and Dufferin, to be exact. “It was better than Paris. It was better than Italy. It was better than everywhere,” says Berg with a sigh.
The McDonald’s at King and Dufferin may be no more, but Berg has finessed a solution to the Filet-O-Fish shortage. Her official recipe for Baked Fish Buttys – perfectly crispy, soft buns and a quick tartar sauce – can be found in her new cookbook, In Mary’s Kitchen: Stress-Free Recipes for Every Home Cook. “As amazing as [the Filet-O-Fish] is, I do have one bone to pick with it: why only half a slice of processed cheese? It feels strangely stingy,” she writes in the recipe introduction. “But rather than pick a fight with a clown, a big purple monster, and a very specific burglar, I’ll just make my own.” Her interpretation is classically Mary Berg: uber-easy to make, starring a concise ingredient list and straightforward instructions – as well as no stinginess with the cheese portioning.
In Mary’s Kitchen is Berg’s third cookbook, published in October on the heels of a high-profile daytime talk show debut. The Good Stuff with Mary Berg took over Marilyn Denis’ slot on CTV Morning this Fall, putting Berg even more squarely in the spotlight Canada-wide – nerve-wracking for most, but an increasingly familiar place for her. After being crowned the winner of MasterChef Canada in 2016, Berg went on to host her own national shows, like Mary Makes It Easy – the CTV Life show filmed in her own kitchen, which picked up another trophy at this year’s Canadian Screen Awards. Variety recently dubbed Berg ‘the millennial Ina Garten,’ a moniker she wears proudly.
This new cookbook again invites viewers into her home for a behind-the-scenes look at the life of Mary Berg. Like her other two cookbooks, In Mary’s Kitchen was photographed by her cousin, Lauren Vandenbook. Her sister-in-law Jenna Mariash did the art direction. “Bringing together the family crew, shooting in my own home – it just translates on the page into that coziness that I want to convey,” says Berg. ‘Cozy’ is an apt descriptor – the book is studded with close-up shots of knick knacks on shelves, family photographs and even her snoozing cat. The dishes are plated on mismatched dishware; floral china on one page, blue enamel camping dishes on another. “The older I’ve gotten, the more comfortable I’ve gotten with my food and with who I am as a person. That’s the main thing I’m trying to say,” she says.
Like the imitation Filet-O-Fish, all the recipes in In Mary’s Kitchen are simple, comforting and homey: French Onion Pot Roast, Eggplant Parmesan, Spiced Apple Cheesecake and a Sheet-Pan Sunday Roast are some of the classics. Many dishes have been created to feed the people Berg really cooks for – her Sheet-Pan Souvlaki, for example, was inspired by her mother’s love of North-American-style Greek food. Other dishes, such as the Chicken Noodle Roast Chicken, are a bit more inventive and combine multiple comfort foods. “I love a mashup recipe, but that’s maybe because I have an inability to make decisions when I’m creating food,” says Berg.
Every recipe, in true Mary Berg style, is as straightforward as it can possibly be. “The amount of effort I put into something, automatically for me, detracts from the deliciousness,” she explains. She calls it her “30/70 rule:” a recipe should require 30 percent effort and leave you with a delicious 70 percent payoff. “You know when you’re wearing something and someone compliments it, and you get to say ‘thanks, it was $5!’ or ‘thanks, I found it in an old bag!’ Like, that’s kind of the vibe,” she says. “It’s kind of like lying, but it’s not. It’s friendly fibbing.”
Relating to the experience of the average home cook isn’t unique to In Mary’s Kitchen – it’s part of Berg’s whole brand. Once asked to describe her show Mary Makes It Easy in three words, she chose “comfortable,” “goofy” and “love”. Her husband and mother, constant fixtures in her life, appear frequently on her shows and in her books. Where many on-camera personalities strive for sophistication, Berg is constantly striving for authenticity – but as the accolades and TV credits stack up, one may wonder how much planning and production goes into all those seemingly-candid moments. As she tells it, not much: the smoke and mirrors of show biz are just background noise, and the upbeat, quirky personality is both completely authentic and completely comfortable. “The person you see on TV or read about in my books – that’s me. I’m not a good actor,” she says. “I think I’d be really exhausted if I had to pretend to be this person. Because she’s a lot.”
What can you find in Mary’s kitchen? The method for perfectly reverse-searing steak, the many virtues of Frank’s RedHot, and why you should eat hummus for breakfast, among other things. Above all, you’ll find Berg breaking down the fourth wall that usually separates her from her audience – sure, she may critique elaborate multi-tiered cakes on the Cross Country Cake Off, but in real life she usually does a simple one-layer with peanut butter and cornflake crunch. “I’m realizing that I’m not 21 anymore and having friends over on a Wednesday for sangria and the fanciest thing I can think of,” she says. “I just really want to make good, tasty food, as simply as possible.” As the famous saying goes: simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.