Gordon Ramsay, Graham Elliot and Joe Bastianich

Hello, MasterChef fans,

With only nine remaining home cooks left, the competition is intensifying, and things are getting personal! By now all contestants should be more than comfortable with our MasterChef mystery boxes -- they've had a lot of time and practice with this format. From here on in, Graham, Gordon, and I expect the bar to be raised with every task.

Scallops are not difficult to prepare. If you want to impress a professional in the culinary world, plain scallops won't do it -- there just isn't a lot to them. The temptation here was to get sucked into the obvious -- to take the easy way out by putting another seared scallop wrapped in bacon on a plate -- that's the kind of food you expect to be served at a wedding in Tallahassee. What we were really after with this challenge was sophistication and creativity -- for our home cooks to push their own boundaries and present something inventive. At this point, we know they can cook, but this is a competition to find the best amateur cook in America, and this far in the thick of things, a lot more will be needed to propel you forward.

With the exception of Christine, the ladies had a rough day, and the guys came out on top with Adrien, Ben and Christian presenting the best dishes. Ben's seared scallops with roasted banana was not quite at the same level as Adrien's or Christian's, but kudos to him for making such an odd combination work. He had a strong intuitive feeling about the dish, and he went for it -- a risk worth taking. Winning the challenge, it was Adrien who really nailed it with his scallops three ways  -- creative, risky, and cooked to perfection, it captured the spirit of this competition, and he deserved his victory over our reigning king of seafood, Christian.

Elimination with a twist

Tuesday night's elimination challenge was by far my favorite of the season! The pig is an animal highly revered and celebrated at almost all of my restaurants -- so much versatility in cuts, flavors and textures --from snout to tail, a whole pig full of endless possibilities. We were excited to see what the home cooks would come up with -- and especially curious as to how they would handle Adrien's individual selections for them -- very telling indeed! While he seemed to make logical choices in doling out the cuts -- they didn't pan out as planned.  Giving arguably the most difficult cut of pork cheeks to front runner Christian seemed wise -- but Christian proved up to the challenge and really delivered by presenting us with the best dish of the day. Hoping to knock out the self-congratulating Suzy with pork belly, he came close, but it was Alejandra who we had to let go -- a disappointing turn of events as she clearly had the easiest cut of pork loin to work with.  She's been so up and down in this competition, but it was clearly her time -- as we saw earlier this season, raw unsanitary food is always a no go.

Aside from Christian's stellar pork cheek dish, Derrick came out on top with a very tricky cut of St. Louis style ribs, and although Ben Starr had us a little worried during the end of preparation, his chili demonstrated a good way to make use of the tough cut of pork butt he was given.

The highs were indeed high, but sadly the lows were depressingly low. With nine contestants left, the level of cookery we should see is far above the disasters put forth by Suzy, Jennifer, and Alejandra -- what a fiasco! This competition is not a joke; thousands of people across the country tried out for a chance at what our remaining nine get to experience. I wonder how they felt when they saw Jennifer's ground pork patty thrown over plain vegetables. Maybe we should bring back Albert from the bayou -- Jennifer's dish combined with Suzy's made-up German twist on pork is enough to make me give that gator a second try. Our criticism might seem harsh, but remember -- we've been working with this group for a long time now, and we know when they can do better. We judges want this for them as much as they want it for themselves, and to see stupid or even lazy mistakes is absolutely infuriating.

We head into another challenge next week with the two most outspoken contestants leading the way -- Christine and Christian -- and the teams will face some rather outspoken critics of their own: hungry kids! Tune in Monday at 9/8c on Fox, and thanks for reading.

Joe