Another year, another season, another new batch of contestants competing for the title of MasterChef. I remember when I was in their very shoes this time last year. I, along with other top home cooks, had just received a white apron from judges Gordon Ramsay, Joe Bastianich and Graham Elliot after the most nerve-wracking culinary experience of our lives. But soon, half of us would move on, and half would be going home. Our initial challenge last season was to make our best ground beef dish. I remember hearing the gigantic meat grinding machine emerge from behind and having no idea what was going on. I was bewildered to say the least. I can only imagine how the contestants this season felt when the doors opened, and they were swarmed by the herd of live sheep. As expected, MasterChef has stepped it up quite a bit this season. The amateur cooks were instructed to create the best lamb dish of their lives using any or all the parts of the lamb.
Now, I love lamb. I have a wonderfully simple Panko-crusted rack of lamb recipe in my cookbook, Recipes from My Home Kitchen. However, for this challenge, I'd probably go Greek and serve the lamb chops with a side of yogurt mint sauce and lemon roasted new potatoes.
MasterChef is a wild ride of twists and turns, and this season, judge Joe Bastianich pulled aprons off some cooks before the end of the hour. Based on techniques the judges had observed in the challenge, they were ready to kick some contestants out before they could even finish cooking or plate their dish. It's a harsh MasterChef world, and only the tough and tenacious will survive.
The 19 left standing got to enter the MasterChef kitchen and cook their first mystery box ever, which included a tomato, a potato, some bacon, and chocolate — ingredients so simple yet difficult to elevate without help of the entire MasterChef pantry. Using the staple pantry, I would've made a tomato basil quiche Lorraine or, if there was no cheese, then a Spanish tortilla with candied bacon.
Natasha won with a lovely, well-thought-out tart, and she entered the elimination round with immunity, plus the advantage of selecting the ingredient with which all her competitors will cook. Natasha picked langoustine, a highly revered prawn I've only seen on fine dining menus. I personally would've gone with the Stilton blue cheese because it's difficult to stand out (in a good way) with a dish centered around blue cheese — most would probably stay within a comfort zone and make a common salad, or go completely left field with a bizarre lamb stuffed with sweetbreads and blue cheese.
But langoustine it was. I'd lightly char the langoustine and then serve it over a bed of angel hair pasta tossed with sautéed shallots, garlic butter, fresh roma tomatoes, and sweet basil.
Some of the dishes, like Howard's citrus salad, were deemed ill-conceived by the judges. Other dishes had promise but were poorly executed. Sadly, it was Sasha who went home with a langoustine 'n grits dish in which the judges had trouble finding any precious langoustine. I'm sure Sasha's grits were great, but they didn't cut it in the MasterChef kitchen. The competition is hot this year.
Tune in to Fox next Wednesday at 8/7c to see how the first field challenge goes down.
Who do you think will be the next MasterChef? Who do you want to be the next MasterChef?
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