MasterChef 3: Top 18

I actually got to watch the third episode of MasterChef season 3 relatively on time tonight.  I re-learned how much I hate tweeting live…I miss half the show and have to keep backing it up.

This season is very, very strange.  The pace is off.  It’s either going so fast you can’t keep up, or it’s going so awkwardly slow you wonder if there’s some radio interference between the control room and the judges.

In the first half of the show they wrap up a few auditions that we haven’t yet seen, then they go straight into a massive elimination challenge where they dump half the top 36 contestants.  No knife skills challenge this year, which is understandable.  Christine, the blind competitor, wouldn’t be able to fairly and SAFELY compete with the group in a knife skills challenge.  So they take their 36 apron-holders and immediately make them turn ground beef into a miracle.

I’m not sure what I’d do with ground beef.  My first instinct would be shepherd’s pie, but that early in the contest I’m not sure I’d have the guts to serve that to Ramsay.  I’d probably make some dumplings stuffed with ground beef, ginger, scallion, and basil…maybe a hint of fish sauce, with a soy and citrus dipping sauce.  I feel like when you stay in the Latin American/Asian/Indian cuisines, you tend to be a bit safer because the judges are more comfortable with classic French/Italian and New American cuisines.

The think that immediately leaves a bad taste in my mouth is that they announce “12 of you have proven that you have the skills to move directly to the top 18.  12 of you are not cut out for this contest and are being eliminated without us even tasting your food.  And of the remaining 12, half of you will stay and half of you will leave.”

Ummmm…how contrived is that?  Let’s at least maintain the illusion that this is a cooking competition.  The numbers never fall that precisely, people.  BIG mistake by the producers, and it has completely pulled me out of the show.  On our season, they started with 100, and it took them 4 episodes to pare it down to 18.  The first 3 full episodes were signature dish auditions.  The 4th show was a knife skills challenge followed by a mainstream cooking challenge (whole chicken).  This year, with the SAME number of contestants, they did only 2 episodes of signature dish auditions, and the third episode was a few remaining signature dishes followed by a ground beef challenge, and then the bizzare mass eliminations.

While I know the judges CAN CERTAINLY ascertain by watching a contestant cook across an hour whether they have the skills to compete in the show, the likelihood of it coming down to 12 safe, 12 eliminated, and 12 that get evaluated for a magical 6/6 split…I mean…come on!

And then there’s this bizarre WalMart product placement…first a shopping bag in the initial opening sequence, then a commercial for how great WalMart beef is.  Don’t get me wrong.  I DO shop at WalMart. They do, in fact, have the best produce and meat in my area short of the upscale markets that cost twice as much.  I harbor no illusions about the goods and evils of WalMart, but we’re sort of stuck with them for better or for worse, and they DO have the power to invoke major change in the market, particularly in the realm of organics.  So while I’m on my soapbox, let me say that if you shop at WalMart, PLEASE buy their organic products…particularly eggs and milk.  Every time you make a purchase at WalMart, you are voting.  You are telling them “THIS IS WHAT I WANT.”  You can get a dozen organic, free range eggs at WalMart for $3.  That’s less than a Starbucks latte, so there’s NO reason not to buy it.  The more organic the market demands, the more producers will move in that direction.

Okay…my rant has ended.

When the contestants find out about the challenge, we get a gem of a quote from Ryan, who I have a special fondness for.  “I know that aprons don’t grow on trees.”  …okay…maybe it was funnier in the moment, but I laughed out loud.  This kid’s going to be full of laughs, I can tell.

Another one of my faves, Monti Carlo, spits out an amazing quote as her food is about to get tasted:  “I just don’t want them to vomit.”  HA!  Monti had me on the floor with that one.  Sweetheart, everything you’ve touched on the show thus far has looked stellar, you don’t have to worry about them vomiting.  I have a very soft spot in my heart for Monti.  And I think she has big things in store.

We a glimpse of some new competitors we weren’t introduced to in the auditions, including my girl Tanya Noble.  Her ground beef dish looked incredible and she was moved into the top 18.  A Facebook friend of min, Nandini Anant, wasn’t prominently featured but was in a compelling situation.  Nandini has been a vegetarian for 32 years.  (I’m honestly not sure how old she is, but I’m willing to bet that means most, if not all, of her life.)  The one thing that’s certain is that she had never cooked beef in her life.  And she cooked ground beef for the first time, and Graham told her it was “perfectly cooked” despite the fact that she couldn’t even taste it.

I’ve often wondered what it would be like to let a full-fledged vegetarian into the MasterChef core group.  Nandini cooked what she was ordered to, but didn’t taste any of the meat.  It would certainly be challenging to compete the full length of the show without being able to actually taste the primary proteins, but for someone as talented with flavors as Nandini, I certainly imagine she could hold her own.  I was VERY upset to see her get the boot, especially after not being featured.  *sigh*

Again, Christine Ha is just gripping when I watch her cook.  She has an assistant who basically acts like her eyes…she can help her select items in the pantry, though I saw Christine tasting things right there in the pantry which was at first unusual, but then I thought, “Why did I never do that?!?”  It makes sense to try things to see if they are ripe, how sweet they are, etc.  Her instincts for cooking are so thorough.  Christine’s assistant isn’t permitted to do ANY cooking, chopping, etc.  Only to act as Christine’s eyes, to grab something upon request, etc.  This is going to be a VERY interesting season.  Watching her walk forward to present her food to the judges, one of her fellow contestants helps her set down her plate, I believe it was Bubba.  A very tender moment that perfectly summarizes how I feel about competition: it should never EVER be “every man for himself.”  Contestants should want every other contestant to succeed.  It’s not fair unless everyone is playing at the top of their game.  I know producers want bloodthirsty, selfish combat.  But I truly believe that, as an audience, we love it more when we see people caring for each other and helping each other succeed.

Am I wrong?!?

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