MasterChef’s Joe: Was a Vegetarian Main Course Too Challenging?
Hello again, MasterChef fans! I hope everyone had a great Fourth of July.
Tuesday night we found ourselves down to just 13 amateur home cooks, a far cry from the thousands who lined up to audition across the country just a few short months ago. Observing this group as they focused tirelessly on the mystery box challenge of a vegetarian entrée, we judges felt we were finally seeing execution on a professional level. No panic-stricken looks and fewer last-minute scrambling runs to the MasterChef pantry -- it was evident that we were left with the most capable group thus far.
Although all looked well on the surface, concerns loomed amongst us. With full-on vegetarian cuisine becoming more mainstream, a vegetarian entrée mystery box seemed like a great idea at the time. Our winner needs to be able to put something beyond baba ghanoush and artichoke dip on the plate if they want to hold their own in today's culinary world. However, as the hour progressed, doubts began to creep in. Was it too much to ask for an all-veg main course at this stage in the game? Are we going to see a bunch of apps thrown on a plate? Old stereotypes plagued my thoughts -- did the women have an unfair advantage here? What will our group of protein-heavy, beef-eating guys do with Japanese eggplant and curry powder?
Gordon meant what he said about wanting them to succeed. Everyone should walk away hands down better chefs than when they came in, but it's a fine line between pushing them to perform at their best, and shattering their confidence altogether. Unfortunately, our fears were somewhat founded. Christian was the huge disappointment for the night -- and I'm not just talking about his dish. No way will that attitude fly in any professional kitchen -- you'll get your a-- handed to you on the first day. His defensive retort reeked of fear, and taking pot shots at Esther in an attempt to get the heat off himself was just plain weak -- I expected more from him.
On a high note, Jennifer's terrine might have been her best dish of the competition yet, and once again Adrien and Alejandra rounded out the Top 3 with their near-perfect creations. The two of them have put forth some of the most inventive and surprising flavors I've had in this competition -- and I see moments of brilliance there. Which makes it all the more mind-boggling that, in a horrific repeat of last week, both would find themselves once again on the chopping block. How in the world do you manage that --not once but twice?? An inability to follow the simplest directions at this stage of the game made me wonder if they can even handle this competition -- and really crushed my high hopes for both of them. Graham, Gordon, and I truly believe in this concept of MasterChef -- that somewhere out there in this country there are amateur cooks with enough talent, that after a few months of mentoring, can be up to par enough to work at the top of this industry. These bipolar performances really shake that belief. We did it last year -- look at Whitney Miller -- her cookbook is phenomenal, she's cooking and traveling all over the country and has her own place in her hometown that's garnered quite a following. Are we going to find that this year? Or are we all (us judges included) going to fall flat on our face?
Needless to say, the elimination challenge kept us on shaky ground. Feelings of ambivalence took over as we judges wondered, did we give Jennifer too much of an advantage? Is it really fair to ask them to re-create a dish ingredient-for-ingredient after only a few tastes? After thinking it through, my answer is "yes" -- nothing less is acceptable than being able to execute the same dish the same way over and over again, every single night, in any restaurant worth its salt. So if they can't do this, how could they ever work on a line? After an emotionally exhausting day we forge ahead to next week. The pressure is intensifying, the claws are coming out, (Christine -- wow!) but let's remember, these home cooks are being given one hell of an opportunity, certainly one that is, in my opinion, worth fighting for. I just hope they agree.
Thanks for reading everyone! Be sure to tune in Monday at 9/8c on Fox for the next episode.