As a chef and a celebrity judge, Aprile knows all about being in high-pressure situations. The father of two, who is used to taking the heat, says life in the kitchen often prepares him for the pressures of parenthood. Here, he explains.

By Rachel Naud

IT JUST TAKES A FEW MOMENTS of watching Claudio Aprile judge a dish on MasterChef Canada to see the type of person he is: empathetic, encouraging, fair.

While he doesn’t sugarcoat the truth about the home cooks’ meals on the show, he’s quick to tell them how they could have made it better and will be honest if the dishes fell short of his expectations, leaving him disappointed.

This is a commonality between Claudio the MasterChef and Claudio the dad, he explains in a phone interview from his Toronto home.

“The show, at its core, is about mentorship and encouraging people to take risks and do things they really don’t know that they’re capable of doing,” he says. “It’s kind of like parenting.”

For Aprile, being a dad is about watching his children, Isabel, 9, and Aiden, 15, venturing out, trying new things and growing into independent, strong young adults. And just as in cooking, he teaches his children that while some of life lessons will leave you burned, that doesn’t mean it can’t also be delicious.

IN THE KITCHEN
Although Aprile has been cooking since he was 14 years old, he says being on MasterChef Canada has taught him something new about being a chef.

“It’s allowed me to really learn a new vocabulary as a chef,” he says. “I love what I do, but it can become predictable. You come in, prep the food, get ready for service and then you’re in the juice for a couple of hours while there’s a rush and then it stops. It can become monotonous. But, being able to spend two months on an incredible set with an amazing crew and be part of something that has the power to change lives is really inspiring. It has taught me how to trust. I think the show has made me a better chef.”

A STAR IN THE FAMILY
While appearing on a popular national television show most certainly gives Aprile some street cred, he says it doesn’t give him any special rank in the family—which is something he is very proud of.

He says that although his wife and children are fans of the show, he’s cautious about tossing around the term celebrity at home.

“I’m cautious about whatever fame or celebrity is, and my wife and I don’t glorify it in any way,” he says. “We know that it’s very temporary. I find the term celebrity chef cringe-worthy. I want my children to feel that it’s OK to eventually have a career where you’re not famous for it.”

KID COOKS
Aprile also wants his children to know their way around a kitchen, which is why he spends time with them, teaching them how to cook.

“I think teaching your kids to cook, how to navigate the kitchen, how to pick ingredients, how to know when fruit is ripe…as a parent it’s our responsibility to teach them how to make a good meal for themselves.”

Aprile says his son and daughter have been learning how to cook with him since they were just toddlers. In the time spent together, he says they’re gaining more than just killer knife skills.

“I’m teaching them so many lessons when cooking. It’s not just about the act. It’s about teambuilding, collaboration, how to respect nature and about nourishment,” he says. “It’s a nurturing act to cook for others. It also makes you a well-rounded person. It’s like someone who knows more than one language; they’re always the coolest person in room.”

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THE FREEDOM TO FAIL
When it comes to parenting, just as Aprile doesn’t handle the home cooks on the show with kid gloves, he also doesn’t hover over his children, trying to control their every move.

“I don’t hold too tightly onto them. I want them to experience the world,” he says. “I want them to learn that if they fall down, they have to get back up and try again.”

Lesson in point: a longboarding lesson with his daughter.

“I said to her before we went out, ‘You’re going to hurt yourself. It’s not a maybe. It’s going to happen. Are you OK with that?’ She went anyway. I told her it was her initiation.”

The same goes for emotional strife, says Aprile.

“The world is full of many people who might not be nice to them,” he says. “I want to set them up for reality. They’ll have to learn how to navigate those types of people.”

Still, that’s not to say Aprile doesn’t admit to having worries of his own as his son ventures into the depths of his teen years.

RAISING TEENS
Every day is a negotiation when it comes to raising a teen, says Aprile, who says his son is currently testing the waters of independence.

“He’s going through this stage of where he thinks he wants to separate from the mothership,” he says. “He wants more autonomy and is testing the waters to see how much he can take.”

While Aprile is happy to see his children be independent, he admits the teen years come with own set of worries.

“I worry about the pressures of the teenage years—drug use is a scary one for me. I worry about him getting in with the wrong crowd,” he admits. “There’s a point where the little bird leaves the nest. But what if they start to fly and get caught in a different vortex and end up in a dangerous place?”

Living with the unknown is something Aprile says he is learning to adapt to when it comes to raising teens.

“It’s tricky because, as a parent, you don’t get to interview the parents of the other kids or the kids,” he says. “It’s the unknown. We are increasingly relying on his own judgment and allowing him to make his own decisions.”

Putting trust in your teen can be hard but Aprile says it’s one of the best things parents of teens can do. That, and teaching them respect by showing them respect.

“Don’t talk down to them. It’s the biggest mistake you’ll make,” he says. “Lead by example. They watch everything you do. Even when you don’t think they’re listening. There’s no bigger responsibility than that.” ■

Season 4 of MasterChef Canada airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CTV, beginning March 2