Now that the weather's warming up, it's time to feel the heat of Chef Gordon Ramsay's wrath. He's not just on Hell's Kitchen
, you know. You can find him alongside Graham Elliot and Joe Bastianich on MasterChef
, too -- a show that judges tell us is "the biggest culinary competition in the world today." It's a pretty big deal, apparently!
So grab a glass of springy chardonnay, some truffled popcorn and your remote control, and watch as home cooks from across the nation compete for culinary glory, a cookbook deal and a $250,000 cash prize -- some of which Joe lights on fire within the first five minutes of the show. (This is, after all, summer programming. It may have some delusions of grandeur, but at least it can laugh at itself.)
In the two-episode premiere, the judges accept or reject contestants American Idol-style, shaming the most ridiculous amateur chefs between singing the praises of the talented cooks with heartwarming personal stories. A substantial portion of this season's "talent" pool apparently comes from the Honey Boo Boo school of cooking, serving up roadkill dishes like wild rabbit, bear, water bugs and Cajun beaver tail, all with a smile and some seriously crazy eyes. Other unique ingredients include dry Ramen noodles and breast milk. The judges spend a decent amout of time spitting out food during this segment.
When the serious contestants arrive, they come bearing dishes rich with personal flavor and family origin. It makes sense. Great food tells a story and evokes memories, and we're supposed to fall in love with these culinary creatives. Jordan wins the judges over with his ancho chile tostada, inspired by his late mother. He's given a MasterChef apron, signifying his promotion to the next level of competition.
Sweet Adriana's whole family accompanies her to the audition, where she impresses with her prickly pear cactus soup but almost isn't chosen because she might just be too nice for reality TV. She's eventually accepted, but only after promising Joe she'd gladly stab a lobster in the back for a chance at an apron.
Krissi, a single mom from Philadelphia, brings an Italian stuffed meatloaf and gets a surprise visit from her young son, who rates her cooking an 11 out of 10. (Aw!) Bime cries at the mere mention of his daughters, causing Joe to wonder if he's emotionally stable enough for reality TV (and the bar's already pretty low in that area), but Bime promises that with dishes like his plantain and shrimp mofongo, the next MasterChef could "be me." Bime and Krissi are both chosen, naturally, as is James, a Texan cook who grew up poor and suffered the loss of both parents recently. He makes a budget dish -- crispy pork belly with lentil hash -- with serious gourmet credentials. But James, like Adriana, is deemed dangerously sweet and timid. Expect these two to crack under pressure first.
In the next insanity interlude, cooking circus performers march through the audition process, literally throwing flames and accompanying their homemade robots to the judging table. One chef features butternut squashes with faces carved into the flesh of the vegetables, much like Ray Villafane's elaborate Halloween pumpkins. It's nice to see that MasterChef really isn't taking itself seriously at all. Gordon gives an apron to the robot but dismisses its owner. So many hopefuls leave apron-less.
The Art of Cooking
Unfortunately, a few legitimate talents come up just a little bit short, too. Nineteen-year-old Christine's Korean duck lettuce wraps just aren't quite up to par. Rudy of San Diego survived a massive fire years ago and now inspires the nation with his spirit. He serves the judges fry bread tacos with Native American buffalo meat. Gordon is moved by Rudy's story, but he's a bit underwhelmed by the dry buffalo meat and reluctantly says goodbye to Rudy.
A few others fare better. Sasha Foxx wows the panel with her fried Cornish hen, crepes and powerful singing voice. Jessie, a yacht stewardess from a Georgian food desert, comes bearing a sea bass dish from the '80s and fish filleting skills to rival Gordon's own. Former NFL player Eddie left football after crushing his wrist under a 125-pound dumbbell (which is heavier than I knew they even made them); the injury keeps him off the field but not out of the kitchen, where he whips up meatloaf and sweet potato mash like a pro.
Finally, a rejected chef from last season returns seeking redemption. Of everyone, Luca seems the most fit for culinary stardom. From New York (by way of Italy), the restaurant manager prepares an elegant dish of broccoli rabe ravioli with cream sauce, winning enough praise to secure an apron and a spot on this season's MasterChef. Luca's joy is lovely to see. It may not be a hugely serious show, but it's always nice to see someone succeed where he's previously failed. We'll have to wait and see if Luca and the others can keep the winning momentum going strong next week.
(Image courtesy of FOX)