Joe Bastianich, MasterChef

Hello, MasterChef fans,

Last night was the first real opportunity we judges had to closely critique and mentor our remaining hopefuls through the cooking process, and found our gut instincts from the audition round were indeed correct -- we've got some serious talent on our hands this year! However, this is a competition, and the weeding out must continue! Last night we saw two major mistakes that proved to be the undoing for contestants Marc and Angel.

Salmon I thought was a pretty fair choice for our first mystery box challenge. Likewise, French cuisine is something that most people in America are at least somewhat familiar with. If the contestants were to fail here, it would be as a result of their own lack of culinary know-how, and not due to any curve balls being thrown their way. During the French cuisine elimination challenge, it was Angel's lack of versatility that did her in after she failed to deliver on a basic French fruit tart. Angel is a perfect example of someone who cooks what they know and can cook it well. If I could give her any advice it would be to venture outside of her comfort zone and experiment with new cuisines, as she's past the point of perfecting her hometown favorites.  The next MasterChef needs to be well versed enough to take it to the next level.

Marc unfortunately violated a cardinal rule in the kitchen -- never, ever serve up raw flour in a dish like mashed potatoes -- ever. The worry (for us judges at least) with home cooks is that you never know if during all their experimenting at home and their self-taught trial and error, have they missed basic yet significant rules of cooking that most culinary students learn on Day 1? There are no tasters here in the MasterChef kitchen, and we judges take a risk every time try a dish! Marc put forth good effort, but in the end his mistake left us judges wondering (and fearful) of what else he doesn't know.

By far my biggest disappointment coming out of last night was Jennie with the glorified baby food she tried to pass off as soup. She heads into tonight's challenge on extremely thin ice. However, she surprised me with her deliciously inventive salmon tart, so who is to say she can't pull off a Top 3 dish again? She took a major risk by chopping down that gorgeous piece of fish, and she really delivered, so at this point she's still a wild card to me. On the up side, Giuseppe's perfectly cooked pastry was a surprise I honestly didn't see coming. A big Italian guy with no professional training who can turn out a delicate French pastry like that is someone who knows what they are doing. He's certainly one to watch and also a great example of what unfortunately Angel is not -- someone who can deliver in multiple arenas.

Although the talent has been raised to higher level this year, the problem is, they know it.  Max and Suzy are shining examples of home cooks functioning at the top of their game, but who are in serious danger of being brought down by their own egos.  I sense a deep passion in both of them, but I fear that passion may be for their own self-advancement, and wonder if cooking just happens to be their vehicle of choice -- and one that unfortunately might run them both off the road.  Too busy worrying about what the other is doing, they may lose sight of what they put on the plate. Both could stand to take a page out of Christian's book, and focus on the act of cooking itself, and not what to prepare solely because it will gain them notoriety or garner them extra attention. Speaking of Christian, winner of our first mystery box challenge, he heads into tonight's episode as a major contender. His dish was devoid of ego. He did exactly what we asked of him -- didn't let his head get in the way and over complicate his dish or waste time and precious mental energy stewing over what someone else was doing.

However, we are still fairly early on in the competition, and there's no telling what we'll see as we continue. Perhaps there is another side to Christian ... maybe Max and Suzy will show a little more heart and prove me wrong. Tune in tonight and see what's next in store for our Final 16.

Thanks everybody for reading. Until next time!

Joe

MasterChef airs on Mondays at 9/8c and Tuesdays at 8/7 on Fox.