Finally, the day has come when I will pass the MasterChef America title and crown on to a successor. Will it be Natasha or Luca? Let's break down the finale cook-off.
But first, the production has to get in some tear-jerking sentimental moments. Natasha reunites with her family while Luca says a touching hello to not only his wife, but his dad and sister all the way from Italy. All those tears you see are real. I remember when, after several long weeks of little to no communication with our families and friends, it was overwhelming to have them come cheer us on.
Now on to the real stuff... Similar to my season's finale, each cook has to prepare and serve a three-course meal. Unlike my season, though, instead of having to make all three dishes at once in two hours, this season's contestants get 60 minutes to make their appetizers, 60 minutes for their entrees, and then another 60 minutes for the desserts. At first, I thought this format was so much better. But then I realized they had to make three servings — one for each judge — and then I thought, this might be more difficult.
Natasha's appetizer is seared scallops, seaweed salad, couscous with apple and sesame seeds, and an heirloom cauliflower puree. It sounds complex and strange, one of those dishes I'd be unsure about but would like to try. Luca's first course is a pan-seared foie gras with Asian Pear chutney, caramelized peaches, toasted brioche, and parsley oil. Now that is a dish I'd definitely want to taste.
All the judges bestow lavish praise on Natasha and Luca's appetizers. Gordon even says both appetizers are a league above last season's ... thanks, Gordon!! Will they be able to deliver entrees that can follow such strong appetizers?
Natasha's entree is a five-spice monkfish served with infused jasmine rice and drizzled with coconut curry sauce. Graham's curiosity is piqued when she wraps her monkfish in tripe. Meanwhile, Luca is preparing tamarind and balsamic beef short ribs, sunchoke and truffle puree, chanterelles mushrooms, and a watercress puree. He cooks his short ribs in the pressure cooker (much like I did with my pork belly in the finale), and I understand how worrisome it may be to not know how the main component of your second course will turn out until you open that lid. But, yet again, all three judges commend both entrees, though it seems Natasha receives a few more compliments than Luca. In my opinion, both entrees sound splendid, and I've been told Natasha's plating is a little more elevated while Luca's is homey and rustic.
The last course is a dessert, and both are making pannacotta. Natasha wants to go above and beyond and make two pannacotta: one lime and one coconut (sounds a bit like the flavors from my finale dessert, except she's taking it to a whole other level). Luca is making a single basil pannacotta, honey-mascarpone cream, tomato jam, and granulated basil. Out of those three pannacottas, I definitely want to try Lucas' — the concept is interesting, but not too out there where it scares me away.
Luca forgets to strain his pannacotta, and he has to start over. Meanwhile, Natasha's lime pannacotta is not up to par, so she trashes it and decides to serve up a single coconut yogurt pannacotta with passion fruit coulis and an edible flower arrangement. This sounds heavenly.
Part of being a chef is knowing how to design a menu. It's about taking the consumer through a gastronomical journey that involves a balance of complementary flavors, textures, and temperatures. The dishes must be cohesive. Natasha's menu was influenced by eastern ingredients, while Luca stuck with mostly western flavors. It was interesting to see how two determined cooks played to their strengths and presented restaurant-worthy dishes side-by-side.
In the end, the judges — in the toughest decision they say they'd ever had to make in their lives (surprise, surprise) — name Luca as America's new MasterChef. And my predictions were right. Luca and I are friends, and for months, I've been texting him, saying, "I think you're going to win the whole thing!" But of course, as I did myself during the airing of my season, Luca kept mum. He simply teased me for guessing. I'm happy for Luca. I'm happy that even after being denied a white apron last season, he continued to pursue his dreams and came back for a second go. I'm happy for his family and his bright future. And I'm happy to be passing on the MasterChef title to him. Natasha is not so shabby herself, and I know she will continue making waves on the cooking front. Congratulations to both of them.
Well, that's another season wrapped. Do you think you have what it takes to be the next MasterChef? Visit http://www.masterchefcasting.com/ to learn how to audition for Season 5. And don't forget to tune in on Friday, Sept. 27th at 8/7c on FOX to catch the premiere of MasterChef Junior — I can't wait to see what those kids have in store for us.
Thank you for reading. Please follow me on twitter @TheBlindCook.