Judges Joe Bastianich, Graham Elliot and Gordon Ramsay

Hello MasterChef fans,


It's hard to believe that after starting out with 100 amateur home cooks at the audition round, only six remain -- it's getting down to the wire! From here on in, each challenge grows in intensity, and Monday night was no exception. It was sink or swim time, baby!
 
I was particularly excited for this challenge at Patina -- running the kitchen of a Michelin-starred, Relais- and Chateaux-endorsed restaurant is no joke! The level of precision and sophistication required to cook at this level, coupled with having to execute complex dishes on demand was asking a great deal of our home cooks -- but, I've been saying it since day one -- running a line in a real kitchen is nothing compared to cooking at home for family and friends. I don't care how demanding uncle Bob and aunt Jean might be -- paying, hungry customers are and always will be a cook's worst nightmare. Time is always of the essence, and from the moment that first order hits the line, until the runners send out your last plate, you're hustling -- the only way to stay in control is to be one step ahead of the game.  This experience will have benefited all contestants left, not just our winner.
 
To be honest, most beginning chefs do not start their careers in a kitchen like this one, and if they do, their role is a relatively small one. Looking back, I have to say I am extremely proud of the performances shown by our remaining six at Patina. Their refusal to crack under the pressure, even when things went horribly wrong, was truly impressive. Prior to this night, no one -- not Jennifer, Adrien, Christian, Suzy, Ben or Tracy -- had set foot in, let alone cooked in a professional kitchen, and I think all things considered, they held their own quite admirably. Even Christian kept that ego in check and worked as a productive member of his team. Didn't think we'd see that one!
 
Right away concerns amongst us judges ran high for the red team, and you could see why. It took them way too long to find their groove, and Suzy is clearly not a natural leader. Tracy also has much to learn on this end, and yet while neither really "nailed it," my hat is off to the two of them for taking the task as seriously as they did, and showing genuine respect for this industry. Although the blue team was more organized, they really had too many errors in their dishes. Seriously overcooking both the scallops and the vegetables made their dishes unsuitable for a restaurant of Patina's caliber. Overall, the red team put better executed food on the plate, despite the tailspin that was their first seating.
 
Our decision to have the losing team break down a full king salmon was again tough but necessary this late in the competition. This challenge was a real intuitive one, and helped distinguish who could be of value in a for-profit entity. How well you are able to work with a piece of fish like this is extremely telling of one's instincts on food handling, how to process proteins, and get the most out of what you are working with. What will keep you employed in the industry is as much about how well you cook as it is how much money you can save your employer.  Of course, chefs get better at this with practice, but even right off the bat, some have it, and some don't, and out of our three, Jennifer really stood out. It was obvious she felt confident about her butchering skills, and the lack of fish left on the bone was impressive. Adrien's performance was passable, but it was Tracy who we sadly had to let go -- the skill level was just not there in this challenge.  Tracy's departure is a loss for the rest of the team, as she was one of the most good-natured and congenial people we had with us these past few months. She's gone on to intern in my restaurant  Del Posto in New York, and think we have yet to see the last of her in the culinary world.
 
Monday night's episode marked one of the toughest days of the season yet. Though there were some disappointments, in the end, Gordon, Graham, and I agreed that we've been left with the most capable and deserving contestants to round out our top 5, and it is still very much anyone's game. Don't miss Tuesday's episode (9/8c on Fox) as our home cooks take on  a dish of Gordon's.

Thanks for reading!

Joe