Tag Archives: Graham Elliot

MasterChef: Sausage For All and Fungi Strategy

No two-parter this week, just one episode where our valiant cheftestants try to prove themselves worthy of that trophy and a lot of cash.

Hidden under those mystery boxes is a meat grinder, which means either making ground meat for hamburgers or sausages. Just as the long mystery box at the front is unloaded, I flashed back to a line in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off by the maitre’d to Ferris: “You’re the sausage king of Chicago?” Underneath it is all kinds of meat and even some vegetarian items thrown in as well. It is sausage heaven and they must create an entrée out of it. Sounds easy but we are talking gourmet here. Making breakfast sausage is not going to cut it. Well in the case of Natasha it does since she makes an upscale sausage with breakfast. Krissi, clearly in her comfort zone, nails it as well. But it is Eddie that outshines them all and gets the win. And back to the pantry he goes.

We saw something like this last season. They offer up three foods but you choose who gets the fresh or canned version. And Eddie chooses mushrooms knowing it would throw some people off. Canned varieties are not very good and require finesse to use them right. Fresh seems easy but Eddie knows that some out there will overcomplicate and end up on the bottom. I can tell Eddie would have been a great NFL player. He observes his opponents to determine their strengths and weaknesses. And then plans accordingly. So he gives Bri, Bethy, James and Jordan fresh mushrooms believing some of them will over think resulting in a bad dish. Everyone else gets the canned mushrooms. Yuck.

The interesting twist is that the canned mushroom group did better as a whole against the fresh fungi group. Luca, Jessi, Krissi and Natasha all passed muster with best being Jessi, Krissi and Natasha. Not one of them faced elimination and Natasha was one of two who won. On the fresh fungi side, only Bri made a dish that excelled and also was winner. That left Bethy, James, and Jordan on the bottom facing elimination. Eddie’s strategy worked. Each one of them failed to make mushrooms the star. Bethy used too much sesame oil so it dominated her dish. James had too much sauce and Jordan’s attempt at pasta was a bridge too far.

In the end, Bethy was sent home. Not a surprise since she had started to fade before this. And she forgot to get sugar forcing her to beg it from other cheftestants. And now we have eight left. One of those eight will be the next MasterChef. Who will it be? Next week, they go camping. You can view a clip of next week’s episode on YouTube.

We are at the point now where rankings are more relevant. Who is up, down, or just heading out the door?

Top Tier
Jessi has shown remarkable skill in the competition. And surprised many in the process. She is a serious contender to be one of the top four.

When he first auditioned, I was not sure about him. But over time he has shown a lot of creativity in his dishes and wowed the judges. He will have to really screw up to not make it into the top four.

She started out great, then seemed to muddle, and now has come back with a lot of really well thought out dishes. She aced the Walmart basket with limited time last week. Her dismissive comments about her fellow contestants at times are grating (or refusing to clap when Bri is announced as being in the top ten). She does not accept criticism from those beneath her station. Despite those negatives, her strengths as cook put her in the top tier.

A creative chef but took a serious hit this week and tumbles from the top tier. He has obvious strengths but is prone to overdo things.

James has finesse but like Jordan was humbled by the fungi. So he drops out of the top tier as well. Too bad because he is quite talented.

Krissi cooks well when the food is in her comfort zone. Outside of that, she has difficulty. However as this show goes on and the demand for high refined cooking really kicks in, she will likely be outside her comfort zone. Her attitude stinks, she is nasty to most everyone there, and is a bully. I do not see her in the top four but could happen if something dramatic happens to those ahead of her.

Bri being the only vegetarian in the group is at a disadvantage. Yet she has shown capability of handling meat but is not always consistent owing to lack of experience. She is a wildcard because of the ability to confound expectations and win challenges.

Luca is a nice guy but his food just gets by. He has shown great finesse at times. And I loved it when he took Jordan’s stand mixer in the cupcake challenge. That being said, his time is up. He does not have the chops to go head to head with some of the top tier people. So Luca, I like you but time for you to go.


MasterChef: Eva Longoria Drops By, The Worst Dish Ever Presented, and Chicken Three Ways

Walmart is really getting their moneys worth with the constant reminders that Walmart provides food to the show. You know it is getting ridiculous when it looks so obvious they are reading from a script.

Eva Longoria is in the house
When the aspiring winners came in, they remark about the large mystery box on the dais. You would think they might guess it is a surprise celebrity guest. Hopefully neither Paula Deen or Eva Longoria are claustrophobic. It must be weird standing inside that large box listening to people entering and commenting on what they are seeing.

I had no idea Longoria has a restaurant in Las Vegas. Joe Bastianich says she is the real deal when it comes to food. And from the ingredients she selected, it shows. An interesting mix of Mexican ingredients for the cheftestants. The three chosen to be judged are Bri, Eddie, and Savannah. Natasha does not like Bri much and upset her dish gets adored. Even more upset when Bri wins. Bri heads to the pantry and has to decide between two (Walmart!) baskets. One has fewer ingredients but has a whole hour to cook while the one with the most ingredients (including a steak) is only thirty minutes. She selects Natasha for the short time basket and everyone else for the 1 hour. Natasha does not like Bri and thinks a vegetarian does not belong in the top ten. Too bad, says Gordon, since he announces Bri is in the top ten. Natasha cools her heels while everyone else cooks away.

Epic Fail
Natasha does just fine with her challenge and wins rave reviews. Luca thinks his dish is bad, but obviously his prayers paid off as Joe likes it. The three on the bottom are Lynn, James and Krissi. Now over four years the judges have seen and tasted some awful dishes. The one presented by Lynn goes into that rare Epic Fail category. The judges were astounded he presented them with such an awful dish. It is visually unappealing, like cow puddings with fruit thrown on top. Really there are few adjectives that describe how awful it looks. While James and Krissi have poor dishes, Lynn is truly in a league all by himself. Needless to say, he is the one sent home. Which is a shame considering how good he is. Everyone is shocked by the elimination and it makes clear no one is safe. Except perhaps Walmart.

Surfs Up!
Gordon and Joe arrive by jet skis. I wonder how many times they had to do it to get it right? Graham is snorkeling and comes ashore. Trust me that is a sight not worth seeing. Our cheftestants are at Surf City USA aka Huntington Beach. Cue the Beach Boys! Sadly their music is not played and Krissi makes a dismissive remark about surfers (she will not be welcomed back to Surf City!). Their task is to feed them fish tacos. Jessi having won the elimination competition gets to pick her team and those left over form the other team. Oh and she gets to choose that team leader. She chooses Savannah thinking she is weak but she has strong leadership skills. Team Jessi is slower to get going and James’ sauce is initially rocket fuel requiring him to retool it. Team Savannah sidelines Krissi after tasting her fried cod going with a grilled fish instead. She is relegated to preparing the tacos and she instructed to make them nearly burnt (something later she denies hearing). Krissi is not happy with this.

Some miscues in serving lead to some wait times but in the end, all the surfers are fed. Now instead of pushing a button, they have the surfers jump on the surf board representing the team they liked best. It looks bad for Team Jessi at first but then the scores tighten up and they beat Team Savannah decisively. Back at MasterChef kitchen Graham has a Chicago Cubs shirt on. Now remember this was filmed many weeks ago but designed to be shown the week before the All Star Game, which by the way is being shown on Fox this coming Tuesday. The winners all get team shirts from their city and tickets to attend the game in New York City! Now that is a nice deal. Of course the bad news is that Team Savannah now faces a dreaded pressure test. One person is to be saved and the others face a difficult task.

Krissi and The Three Chickens
Team Savannah goes to the wine room to  decide who gets saved. Krissi lets loose and it quickly goes downhill. It gets so loud everyone in the balcony and the judges can hear Krissi’s profanities. Joe Bastianich, in his column over at People writes:

Speaking of never making it to L.A., had we heard the mouth on Krissi earlier, she might never have left Philly. I don’t mind a little attitude and spunk, but her behavior in the wine room was embarrassing – not to mention unproductive – and that bothers me. Keep quiet and cook, Krissi.

What was surprising was Bri. She is no pushover and gets in Krissi’s face, who threatens to beat her up (and says in the confessional she used to beat up girls like Bri in high school). Ultimately Jordan gets the pass and Savannah, Krissi, Luca, and Bri face the dreaded pressure test. And it is a doozy. Remember last year when they made Frank and Josh cook three different souffles? Well this is almost the same but even worse. Gordon wants a perfect pan seared chicken breast, Graham wants a perfect southern fried chicken, and Joe wants an Italian stuffed chicken breast (with cheese and meat). Oh and have them all done in 40 minutes please.

Only Krissi gets all three right (her pan roasted was just slightly underdone though) She gets the pass. Luca does too though his fried chicken and Italian chicken were not well cooked. This leaves Bri and Savannah. Savannah really botched all three preparations while Bri saved herself on the Italian chicken breast. Savannah turns in her apron and leaves but is reminded she did pretty well to get that far. And now there are just nine left. Next week: sausages!

Final Thoughts:
An interesting two parter. Eva Longoria adds a touch of glamor but, appearances aside, it was not an easy challenge to come up with a dish that would pass muster. The fact that Bri won is a surprise (especially to Natasha who dislikes her) and shows she has some serious cooking chops. However she has a serious limitation in being a vegetarian. This is not Vegetarian MasterChef, so she is going to be faced with more tough cooking challenges out of her realm. And Natasha does have a point, though crudely made. It will be very hard for her to win considering that she will have to masterly cook some upscale dishes that will include meat and poultry.

Seeing Lynn go was hard. This is a guy with a lot of talent but he put up a plate that was completely wrong. Perhaps it was pressure or something else that led to his making serious culinary mistakes. Krissi was not far behind with her awful cupcakes but Lynn was in a league all to himself with that dish.

The surfer competition was pretty neat. It got them out of their comfort zone again forcing them to cook under pressure for a large group of people. Savannah was the better organizer, I think, but once Jessi got her team into gear it went very well. Something must have happened to the quality of Team Savannah as time went on. They got a lot of positive reviews but Team Jessi got the win in the end. As for Krissi, I have already said she is an odious contemptible person (and a bully). Nothing shown here changes that appraisal. She is right about one thing, she will likely bring herself down. We have already seen when angry how she tends to fail (the infamous catfish and mashed potatoes). She goofed up adding an ingredient to her cupcakes that turned them into doorstops. It would be delicious if Natasha, who I think is better than Krissi, is the one to out-cook her. The pressure ramps up now with fewer people left in the competition. Surfs up!

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MasterChef: Pigs Head, Christine Ha, and a Wedding

1. Head Fake
Those sly producers and our Culinary Trio seem to love twisting things around and faking people out. When the cheftestants lifted the mystery box this week, they found a whole pigs head! Now last year as part of the offal challenge, they had a sheeps head in the mystery box. Dave Martinez used its tongue for a braised dish that got approval from the judges. So I thought this was something along those lines. Nope! It was just a prop since all the necessary parts (ears, tongue, snout) had been already been prepared for their use. Lynn really impressed the judges with his use of seasoning and won the round.

2. Catfish, Crab, and Christine Ha Too!
In the pantry we learn the guest judge is Christine Ha, who just published her cookbook. Lynn had to choose from three proteins Christine uses in her recipes: chicken, catfish, and crab. But here comes that twist that MasterChef is getting known for. Lynn can select one protein for one person to cook, and the other protein for everyone else. As predicted last week, the other contestants are none too pleased with Krissi and want to smack her down. She gets the catfish while everyone else gets crab. Krissi is not happy with Lynn.

3. Krissi and the Wrath of Joe
By now anyone who watches MasterChef ought to know Joe Bastianich does not suffer fools gladly. He walks over with Graham to see what she is doing with the catfish. He sees her frying it up in a pan and planning to serve it with mashed potatoes. Joe does not like what he sees thinking it is far below the standards of MasterChef. Krissi gets defensive about it leaving Joe to later comment later to Gordon and Graham that it looks like a Sunday leftover dinner. Since catfish is a bottom feeder, you really need to work on its flavor. It is often served with rice and corn bread in the south but mashed potatoes is not common. Mashed sweet potatoes, however, is often used and complements the catfish. When time is up, Krissi is called up right away. The judges are totally underwhelmed by it. Gordon says it looks like a tv dinner. And he finds the skin is still on it, which surprises him since it is like “snake skin.” She says she always leaves it on prompting Gordon to ask whether she is cooking for herself or the judges.

Christine panned her catfish as tasting too earthy and needs more elevated flavor. Graham says it is the $6.99 blue plate special. Joe spits it out and says it tastes like mud. And he also says she is wasting his time and says for him “you’re done.” Joe thanks Lynn for letting him know who is really here to play. Krissi goes back to her station and starts mumbling her fish was okay to the others around her. Joe calls her out challenging her to come down and say it to his face. She shuts up but Krissi got seriously slammed. Lynn hit a bullseye. Her anger colored the cooking choices and her banter with Joe only hardens a lot of attitudes against her.

4. Luca Goes Nuts
Once again we see what happens when someone tries to impress too hard. Luca presents a crab risotto that at first Gordon thinks is a soup. Gordon could not believe it and neither he or Christine are impressed with it. Christine says it is too salty. Turns out he added fish sauce to the risotto (he mentioned this to the camera while prepping) and Joe makes him bring the bottle up. The judges could not have been more disappointed with Luca and it shows. Fish sauce is used in Asian cuisine to add depth and flavoring. Using it in a risotto was just nuts and so he ends up in the bottom with Krissi and Beth. Fortunately for Krissi, she gets spared since the other two are worse but Beth’s raw flour crab cakes sends her home.

5. You are Invited to a Wedding
I often wonder in food reality shows where they find people who want there special event catered by a reality cooking competition. Is there some place you can go to put your name on the list? Apparently the lucky couple are serious foodies so perhaps the producers found them or the foodies did. The plus is that you do not have to pay for catering since the reality show picks up the tab for the food and possibly more. The downside is that you allow the event to be filmed, which means cameras are everywhere. And your guests have to be put on notice they will be on camera for the show. Both Natasha and James won so they are team captains. The teams all get sorted out but, once again, there is a wrinkle.

And the wrinkle is that one person from each team must be dropped. Natasha got Krissi after James picked Luca so she is dumped. James drops Bri despite the fact that last time out Jordan royally screwed up the fish. Natasha runs around like a crazed chicken until Gordon gets her to focus on the task of sending out food. It works and her team sends out the food well ahead of Team James. James is a decent leader but let down by unheated plates and Lynn screwing up badly. He plates dishes poorly but worse is unsanitary when his sweat begins dripping down on the food. Gordon grabs those plates and they have to replate. But Lynn screws up again! He uses the same towel used to wipe sweat off his forehead on the dishes going out! Gordon freaks out again! Team James really falls behind as people are waiting for food. In the end, they snap into gear (thanks to Graham Elliot) and the food goes out. Team Natasha wins and gets the save leaving Team James to face the dreaded pressure test.

6. Even The Cookie Monster Would Have Lost This One
The Culinary Trio decides who will be saved leaving only Lynn and Jonny to face what is to come. And they get to make twelve perfect macaroons. And they all have to fit perfectly in a presentation box. So too thick they will not fit, too thin and they will likely crumble. Your filling must be delicious but not watery. Nor can it be too thick either. Neither of them aced it perfectly. Lynn put the cookies that could not fit on top. Jonny mashed up some of his in the box. Both had good points but Lynn gets the win because at least he presented his cookies and Jonny lost many of them in the box.

Final thoughts
MasterChef seems more tricky this year not wanting to get locked into a predictable pattern. Over at CBS, the American Baking Competition while interesting is predictable. You can easily see who is likely to go in the end. Which is why it is not getting great ratings. Too boring and predictable. Krissi got a well deserved kick in the pants; she will no doubt respond in kind given the opportunity. Luca was the most disappointing. The next time Luca ends up in the bottom, it likely will be his last. Possibly the same for Krissi.

Next week: Eva Longoria drops by and possibly an unexpected departure!

MasterChef: Strange Food, Lidia Bastianich Gives a Cooking Lesson, and Krissi Shows Her True Colors

As we wind through the MasterChef season, we get to see more of our feisty home cooks all wanting that title, trophy, and cash. And in the process we learn a lot about them from their cooking and interaction with their fellow competitors. Once again I am not doing a recap as there are already plenty out there. Rather I am commenting on various things good and bad I liked about this two-parter.

1)What Is That!?
Okay the Culinary Trio got sneaky this week. The mystery box contained foods from all over the world. Some were easy to discern, like that bit of elk steak that was thrown in. Or the Japanese sweet potato. Other things looked weird, like the Chinese black moss that looked like hair but needs water to hydrate into noodles? Baby eels were tossed in along with a can of weird livers that Joe found disgusting. What I liked about this challenge is that they gave no instructions on what to do. The chefs had to figure it out on their own. In the end Eddie won for his elk steak. Jordan sneered at that when Eddie brought it up but Eddie got the win.

2)Lidia Bastianich Drops By For A Cooking Lesson
Joe’s mom was last seen in season 2 and now drops by to demonstrate how to cook a complicated pasta with a meat filling (with Joe to assist her). Alas for Lynn and James, Eddie sends them away as part of his reward to decide who gets to watch the demonstration. When they return, they have to make the pasta without seeing how it was done. Very wicked indeed! Neither of them does well in the challenge. James gets by with a pasta that is good but nothing spectacular. Lynn puts the meat through the food processor (makes it pasty) while everyone else used a meat grinder. Howard and Lynn have the worst dishes but Howard takes the walk when he is asked to do the right thing and leave. Lidia reminded Howard and everyone there that when you try play around with classic dishes, you have to stay faithful to its roots. Putting maple syrup like Jonny did was not wise (and he was in the bottom as well). Sometimes chefs get over creative and think they have to toss everything in to prove themselves but only make it worse. And Howard was a good example of that.

3) Visiting Glee
Okay you can guess what happened here. Someone decided to cross-promote Glee with MasterChef. Amazingly it worked well because they used Jane Lynch who did an incredible job of sorting out the teams. Blue Team was headed up by Krissi and Red by Jessi. The menu was set as each team had to prepare fried chicken (with fries and coleslaw), grilled salmon  (with asperagus and scalloped potatoes), and vegetarian lasagna (with mixed salad). Team Blue seemed to be functioning well while Team Red seemed chaotic. Both teams were unprepared though for the staggering demand for fried chicken, which at some points were unavailable. Red Team had a serious issue when Jessie cut herself and thus was out for a while while Gordon and the medic helped her. But Blue Team had a serious issue when raw chicken was discovered. Eventually it got sorted out but it royally angered Krissi. It would mean doom for Bime later.

Now the results were delivered by Jane Lynch accompanied by a drummer and cheerleaders with twirlers. Another good choice. Red Team wins it handily totally surprising Krissi. Her anger deepened at that point.

4) Krissi Lets It All Out
Team Blue is assembled for the pressure test. Gordon reveals some astonishing information. Bime’s chicken won hands down over the Red Team; it was not the reason they lost. What handed them the loss was Jordan’s grilled salmon. Only 2 people liked it! But that does not spare Bime. Krissi is given the chance to decide who gets saved and who faces the pressure test. She lets Jonny and Natasha get spared but not Bethy, Beth, Bime or Jordan. Now comes the decision she will be long remembered for. She totally trashed Jordan when he, as captain, bailed out and took the exemption. So she has the chance to show him up. Except she decided to get in the lifeboat and sail away. She tried claiming it was for her son but the hypocrisy was apparent to everyone who remembered her rant. She heads up to the balcony to gloat over those in the pressure test.

What made it worse was her joy in watching Bime fail. Bime mistakenly added cream of tartar thinking it was cornstarch. Krissi was enjoying every moment of it and crowing to the camera about how happy she was in seeing Bime going down in flames. Krissi, who is brash and loud by any standard, showed us a side that probably turned off most who watched. And likely her fellow contestants who could not fail to hear what she was saying and laughing about.

The hardest part was watching the pies being judged. Jordan came out fine no one else aced it. Watching what happened to Bime was not easy. Gordon sliced into the pie only to find there was no set curd. It was all wet! Up on the balcony, Krissi was smiling and eating it all up. Natasha turned away not wanting to look and saying so, but Krissi was enjoying the show. Bime’s pie was totally reviled by Gordon and it sent him home. Krissi’s hypocrisy and gloating over Bime’s demise no doubt turned off a lot of people. And it showed that she is an odious, contemptible human being. In a short word, bully. Fox is quite pleased with this. We all want to see Krissi get smacked down now by the judges when her food is bad.  Likewise we cannot wait to see how her fellow contestants try to take her down. So many possibilities in a kitchen. And good ratings for MasterChef as we tune in. A clip seems to show Joe getting in her face about something she said.

And next week season 3 winner Christine shows up and yes, they are going to cook blind!

MasterChef: Of Firefighters, Eggs Benedict, Burgers and Lobster

I will not recap this two hour episode, plenty of that at other sites around the web. Once cooked lobsteragain we had a two parter which means normally one person leaves at the end of each segment. Not this time. It took two episodes to finally determine who would leave. It opened with all our cheftestants cooking for 101 firefighters served banquet style and ended with Luca and Kathy competing to cook the best boiled lobster in butter sauce. Now here are some issues I had with these two episodes:

1. They gave Bime immunity despite the fact he poorly led his team. Actually both teams were poorly led. Gordon was totally frustrated at how each team were making very bad choices. Bime choose not to season the steaks and depend on the sauce. Bethy could not decide which sauce to serve and only at the end made up her mind. Lots of other problems materialized as well during service: components missing, undercooked food etc. So when Blue Team lost leaving Bimi, Jordan, Luca, Natasha, Bri, Krissi, Kathy, Beth to face the pressure test, I expected Bimi to have to wow them with his cooking skills.

Nope, they spared him and allowed him to choose one other (he choose Jordan). This inexplicable decision is probably because they feared he would be sent home. Considering the pressure test, I would sense he would not do well. Luca, Natasha, Bri, Krissi, Kathy and Beth had to cook the highly technical Eggs Benedict. It is not just slapping poached eggs on toast! The eggs must be poached perfectly, the muffin properly toasted and buttered, tasty and cooked properly Canadian bacon, and finally the hollandaise sauce must be perfection. Done right, it is heaven on a plate. Krissi and Bri got it right leaving the others with pretty awful dishes for the judges. Which leads to….

2. They could not agree who was the worst to be sent home. They have never had a problem in the past with figuring it out. The vote had to be split three ways for this to happen. All three judges have exceptional palates and I cannot believe they could not settle on one person. But it is possible that each one had only one person they believed ought to go and the other two had their own. So lack of at least two people means deadlock. When means another cooking challenge will be needed. With great dramatic flourish, Gordon leads the four out the MasterChef kitchen with the other cheftestants wondering what the heck was going on.

3. Next Stop, Las Vegas
Gordon Ramsay has a gourmet burger place in Las Vegas. These burgers are not your ordinary ones. These use the finest of beef with expensive toppings. I have no idea what Ramsay charges for his burgers, but such burgers are pricey. There is one famous one that costs several thousand dollars served on brioche and comes with champagne. Aside from free advertising for his place, the two teams must cook up burgers in a real kitchen with no one else to help them. A select group of people are coming in plus some VIP’s (which turn out to be the other cheftestants). Once again neither team seems to have what it takes to pull a win. Luca/Kathy struggle as does Natasha/Beth. Gordon acts as expediter which means he gets to be like his persona on Hell’s Kitchen in yelling at them to get the burgers done and sent out properly. One strangely comes back as underdone. Did Gordon notice it (he can certainly tell by squeezing it) or allow it purposefully to go out bad so he could shame the chefs?

In the end Natasha/Beth are safe leaving Luca/Kathy to face the final pressure test. Which then leads to…

4. Up on the Roof
I do not know who thought this one out. Did anyone find it odd they would need to cook their final meal on the roof? Where there no other places at all to film indoors? Then again when they pull out at the end to see the loser standing there all alone, I suppose that is what they were looking for, that long shot. It came across more staged and I got the feeling we have all been led down a path. That what happened back in MasterChef kitchen was more planned than we thought.

5. And now for Mr. Lobster
So they are tasked with cooking a very expensive lobster meal: poached lobster in butter and a salad. A classic Las Vegas meal for winners and those who aspire to be. Both Luca and Kathy put a lot of work preparing but Luca got his lobster first. After dispatching it, he began taking it apart. The judges were aghast when he left a major portion of the lobster behind which had a lot of meat in it. Kathy was running out of time but managed to get her lobster poached and into the butter in time to be presented. Kathy had a nicely colored lobster, excellent flavor, but to acidic on the salad. Luca’s lobster looked pale but tasted delicious as was his salad. Now remember he left a lot of meat behind? He served less lobster than Kathy and his was pale looking. Kathy’s only fault was that her salad was too acidic. Luca gets the win, and Kathy goes home. Gordon offers to mentor her in New York and I hope she takes it. Yet one cannot help thinking Luca did not quite deserve this win. Perhaps he won on the technical point of having his salad better than hers, but he is not destined to get that trophy.

Some other points:
1)Natasha is really a nasty person, probably an elite snob, who cannot handle criticism well. Despite her high opinion of herself, she really took a nosedive on the Eggs Benedict. She also was going to throw Beth under the bus if they lost the burger match.

2)Bri was the surprise here. She had never cooked Eggs Benedict before but really came through. She is someone to watch.

Next week: Lidia Bastianich is in the house and puts Joe in his place!

MasterChef Returns & American Baking Competition

You know it is summer when MasterChef returns with a new round of aspirants. As always, the initial stages are like American Idol where each person sings cooks for the judges. They get five minutes to finish the dish and make it look good. And like that other Fox show, you get a mixture of the good, the okay, the awful, and just plain weird. Showing up with a robot will get you noticed but little else if the food is no good. Likewise using breast milk as a twist is not going to win points with the judges either.

Like previous seasons, those who make the first cut are then put into the first group competition, which was to cook lamb and every part of that creature was made available for their use. They actually had real lambs come to drive home the point that you are lambs too, well you know how that ends right? So as they cook Joe Bastianich, Graham Elliot, and Gordon Ramsay (the Culinary Gods) observe how they cook and began making judgments (thumbs up, down, or a question mark). The twist this year was sending the Angel of Death (Joe Bastianich) to walk amongst them to tap those who had to turn in their apron and leave. As usual at the end, they were divided into three groups: those going to the MasterChef Kitchen, those going home, and those they were not sure about.

After sending the one group home, they spent time going over those they were not sure about. One of them was Luca, who tried out last season and did not make it beyond the initial round (Joe voted for him, the other two against). Fortunately his dish passed muster and was given the apron! So off we go now to the real competition where each meal you cook might be the last you do in MasterChef. This year, for programming reasons, they are putting two episodes together rather than splitting over two nights. So you get two doses of MasterChef in one sitting.

From what was shown thus far, this is going to be a good season to watch. There are some really strong competitors along with some strong personalities to match. In the most recent episode, Luca won the mystery box and choose everyone to cook cupcakes. As usual he got a free pass to watch from the gallery but then Gordon told him of another major bonus. He could take the stand mixer from one of the cheftestants! He choose Jordan, who pulled a “Frank” by saving himself from the pressure test his team faced for losing in the first field competition. That forced Jordan to work even harder to mix the ingredients the old fashioned way-by hand! He actually came out well in the end and Luca, after tasting his cupcake, said he was safe. But there were some hideous disasters. Jessie had “whack-a-mole” cupcakes, another decorated like they were in kindergarten, and Malcom (who was sent home) made cupcakes with a filling that totally disgusted the Culinary Trio.

This season looks very good thus far.

CBS has come up with its own cooking show that competes with MasterChef (at least for the first hour) called the American Baking Competition. At first I was not sure about this show. This is one time I am glad I have a dual tuner DVR so I can record both. The concept is simple. Amateur home cooks compete in a baking competition until one is left standing to be called America’s Best Home Baker with $250,000 prize. It is based upon the UK show The Great British Bake Off. Each episode has three challenges: a signature bake, technical bake, and showstopper bake. Jeff Foxworthy is the host offering some comical relief. Marcela Valladolid and Paul Hollywood are the judges.

While the show appears low key compared to MasterChef, it is just as stressful for the participants having to produce a winning dish each time. And the judges are just as picky as the Culinary Trio. Paul Hollywood does not have the patented Joe Bastianich stare but try to pass a bad pastry to him would be unfortunate. While Marcela will hold back from saying something bad (like that the swirls on a pastry remind her of something in the garden). Paul has no problems saying it looks like dog poop. However when they are quite pleased, they let you know.

The show lacks, I think, the pop of Food Network’s Chopped or MasterChef. On Chopped, it has appetizers, main course, and dessert. Each meal round mean some go forward while one goes away. Now that would not work on a hour show like this but two rather than three dishes would be better. The technical bake off is a good idea. You give the chefs the same recipe but with one key direction missing so they have to figure it out. Having something like a Mystery Box challenge to start off then ending with the technical challenge might do the trick.

Otherwise the show is somewhat predictable and a bit boring at points. You get some interesting personalities just like on other cooking shows. However if they ramp up the intensity and tweak the format, it would make a difference in the ratings. Worth watching later if you have something more important to watch (like MasterChef).