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).