This week marks my return to the MasterChef kitchen...but this time, I'm on the other side as a guest judge. I could feel the nervous energy on set, and it's such a relief to be standing next to Gordon Ramsay, Graham Elliot, and Joe Bastianich instead of behind a station.
But first, the mystery box. Underneath, the contestants find a grotesque pig's head—This is when my lack of sight would be an advantage. Luckily, the cooks don't have to butcher the heads themselves. They are provided the tongue, jowls, snout, and ears. Poor Bri; as a vegetarian, the pig's head must be a nightmare. I, however, would personally love this challenge. Nose-to-tail dining has surged in popularity, and visions of head cheese, terrines, and barbacoa dance through my mind. I'd probably pressure cook all of the meats and attempt to assemble some of the above. If all else fails, I'd use the pork cheeks to fancy up dirty rice.
And the top three are Lynn, Jessie, and Jonny, whose dishes all sounded fantastic. But, as we all know, there can only be one winner. And that winner is Lynn. Finally!
Lynn is taken back into the pantry where—surprise!—I say hello and present three proteins—chicken, catfish, or crab—featured in my new cookbook, Recipes from My Home Kitchen, from which he will choose one for a single contestant to cook and another for the rest. Lynn plays it strategically and gives Krissi the catfish and everyone else a live Dungeness crab.
Lynn sits out this challenge, and he and I head up to the gallery. And the twist? I tell everyone they have to cook this challenge the way I did during all of Season 3: without sight!
Lynn describes to me the chaos happening below in the kitchen as everyone moves about slowly and with uncertainty. This goes on for several minutes while the judges snicker and Lynn watches in shock. "I'm so glad I'm not down there," he says.
Of course, we don't want to taste anyone's blood that day, so Gordon puts a stop to my joke, and everyone is allowed to remove their blindfolds. Luca tells me later that he was just about to sit down behind his station and give up.
When time is called, I join the judges on the stage for tasting. Krissi didn't skin her catfish, and the result tastes like a swamp. While many Vietnamese catfish dishes are prepared with the skin on, I prefer to take it off because I don't care for the taste nor slimy texture. And poor Luca, in a moment of cloudy thinking, decides to add fish sauce to his risotto broth because "it's one of Christine's favorite ingredients," he says. I know Luca's going to never hear the end of this—how can an Italian screw up risotto? And honestly, I think in teeny, tiny quantities, fish sauce could work in risotto, but not with Luca's heavy-handed pour.
But it is neither Krissi nor Luca that goes home. It's Beth for her mealy crab cakes. Beth, I hope you continue to pursue your culinary dreams.
The best crab dishes belong to Natasha and James, and they are team captains. They are tasked to cater the entrees for a wedding reception, which will be accompanied by an appetizer from Graham and a dessert from Gordon. Talk about pressure.
Out of the 103 entrees, 15 vegetarian options must also be prepared. James's blue team, with Lynn as first pick again, goes with eye of lamb with parsnip puree, spring peas, and wild onions for the meat-eaters, and a mushroom with crème fraiche for the non. Natasha's red team decides on seared halibut with beurre blanc and roasted baby carrots and salad, and, for the vegetarians, eggplant and tomatoes. All of the dishes sound delicious to me, and I'd have a hard time picking just one.
During service, Lynn is sweating from the stress, and Gordon catches him wiping his forehead with the same towel he uses to clean the plates—a huge health code violation. Gordon screams at Lynn, and this only makes him sweat more. Their team slips further and further behind until they are five tables behind the red team. This hellish service is likely what causes team blue to lose.
The next day's pressure test pits only two cooks against each other as the judges each pick a contestant to save (James, Jessie, and Luca are the lucky ones), plus Bri, in a twist of events, got to sit out of the wedding fiasco and thus excused from the pressure test. So it is Lynn versus Jonny in one of the most difficult pressure tests of all time: to bake a dozen macarons of two different flavors that must all fit inside a small box. After a nail-biting cook-off, Jonny, in a hurry, smashes his box closed, and the macarons crumble, just like his spirits must have at that very moment.
While both Lynn and Jonny's flavors sounded delicious, it is Jonny who has to say goodbye to the MasterChef kitchen. I guess that's the way the cookie crumbles. Good luck with your bright future in food, Jonny.
I had loads of fun being back in the MasterChef kitchen and hope to return again soon. Tune in Wednesday, July 10 at 8/7c on FOX for an all-new MasterChef with special guest star Eva Longoria.
Who do you think will be the next MasterChef?