Masterchef

Hello MasterChef fans!

Only 12 contestants left in the game and the pressure is mounting. Emotions are running high, bonds are forming, rivalries intensifying, and nearly everyone was on the verge of tears at some point during the night -- Gordon included!

Monday night our remaining home cooks faced their third team challenge -- to create three passed hors d'oeuvres for a rooftop cocktail party at an elite Hollywood Hotel.  Passed hors d'oeuvres might seem simple -- but this format of conceptualizing, proportioning, and serving food is not what our hopefuls are accustomed to -- and the clientele might not have been either. Our invited guests are used to fine foods and have sophisticated palates. Well-heeled and well-traveled, they not only expect the best, they eat it every night. This food needed to be smart, sexy and savory, without any gimmicks.

Initially we judges were extremely concerned with the preparation for the night's cocktail party, and thought we might be headed for a big embarrassment.  This was particularly hard to stomach for Gordon, as it was an opportunity for the home cooks to really shine in his kitchen.  First we saw two extremes in the leadership styles of Ben and Christian, and both seemed to fall a bit short. Ben's sense of democracy showed he has real respect for his teammates and the opinions of others -- a true team player -- but as a leader you need to know when to step up and take charge. Where was he as Esther created batch after batch of unusable dough -- and that ridiculous filling that no one seemed to notice was so wrong? The blue team almost had nothing to show for dessert, and had that transpired, the blood would have been on Ben's hands.

While I admire Christian's decisiveness and  ability to take charge of his crew, a good leader knows to how to pluck the best from each member of his team -- they aren't just there to do your bidding! Being a chef isn't about being lord of the manor, it's about producing good food.  You use a heavy hand when needed, not just because you can. Choosing tartare might have been a risk worth taking, but Derrick's discomfort with it was evident from the beginning (something Christian either didn't pick up on or didn't care about), and unfortunately, that came through on the serving tray. To not have one guest prefer their tartare to Christine's bite-sized Beef Wellington had to hurt -- but also sent a loud and clear message that I hope they all learned from. All in all, the night was salvaged, our home cooks pulled it off and the guests left happy. On a high note, Adrien again showed us that he really has a way with flavors.  Christine's Beef Wellington clearly stood out, and both desserts ended up being crowd pleasers.

Despite our critiquing, the level of performance we now see from our remaining home cooks is extremely high at this stage of the game, and we needed a pressure test to match.  Layer cakes can be tricky, and everyone seemed to be worried about Tracy -- herself included -- as she admits to having very little experience baking. When first eyeing her lopsided cake, I thought for the first time that that day might be her last. To my surprise it  tasted phenomenal, and like Adrien, Tracy showed us she has knack with flavor combinations. Jennifer too proved she's come a long way from serving up raw lamb, as her play on a banana split came out to near perfection. Ben also was able to maintain his upward momentum by baking what was hands down the best cake of the group.

In the end it was Esther who turned out to be the remaining weak link, and our decision to eliminate her was a sound one. Although a good cook who's made a lot of progress in this competition, Esther's reccurring problems with timing and concentration eventually did her in. She truly excels at baking, so for her to falter with not only the dough at the London, but also with her layer cake made it clear she just couldn't keep her head inthe game enough to bring it home. And speaking of home, next week's MasterChef (Monday at 9/8c on Fox) will feature some very special guests, quite and near and dear to us judges, so stay tuned!

Thanks for reading everyone!

Joe