MasterChef: Giant Lobsters and $500 Truffles

If I’ve learned anything on MasterChef, it’s that you can be on top one day, and out the door the next.  So even though I’m coming off a pretty triumphant week, winning the catfish challenge, being a team leader, and making a 6-layer pumpkin carrot cake that Gordon Ramsay said was one of the best dishes ever created in the history of MasterChef…no time to rest on my laurels.

Today is yet another mystery box challenge…and these don’t normally treat me very well.  But today is different.  There’s a normal-sized mystery box in front of us, and a GIANT mystery box, the size of a coffin, in front of the judges.  What on earth?!?

We lift the box at our stations, and the first thing I see is red curry paste.  Then lemongrass.  Then coconut milk.  Hallelujah!  THAI FOOD!

I love Thailand.  I’ve been there many times.  It’s one of my favorite places in the world, and Thai food is definitely my favorite cuisine.  I’ll go head-to-hand with any of these people…heck, even against the judges…if it’s a Thai food throwdown.

But there’s a noticeable lack of meat under the box, so I know that massive coffin in front of the judges has our meat inside.  What could it be?  A side of beef?  A whole pig?  A dolphin?!?

They lift the box and underneath is an aquarium housing the largest 11 lobsters on planet Earth.  These things are RIDICULOUS looking…they don’t even look like lobsters, they look like monsters from a bad 1970s sci-fi film.  I walk up and pull my lobster from the water and I hold his claw up to my face…and it’s actually BIGGER than my face.  Each lobster in this tank weighs 4 pounds…some of them are probably considerably larger.

That might make an untrained chef get all excited, but the older a lobster gets, the tougher the meat is.  The best lobsters are always the smallest, youngest ones.  But this is TV, and MasterChef doesn’t do anything small.

First is the issue of off-ing this spiny beast, because he’s alive and kicking, full of piss and vinegar.  The most humane methods are to split his carapace between the eyes, instantly killing him…or putting him in the freezer, where he slowly goes dormant, before popping him into a boiling pot.  I can’t do the first, because then my boil water will invade his shell and dilute all the yummy juices I need from him.  So into the freezer he goes!

People seem to be freaking out about my statement that I eat my pets.  When you grow up on a farm, you get used to it.  You grow attached to a chicken or a pig or a sheep or a cow…then it goes to the meat locker and suddenly your freezer is full and you’re eating “Lamb Chop” lambchops for dinner.  That’s just life.  I know you city folk sometimes can’t understand that, but you should at least understand that for every single time you lift a fork of meat to your mouth, a life was taken for you to do that.  Is it better to raise your own animals, giving them a life of happiness and dignity before you dispatch them humanely and respectfully to take their place on the food chain…or to pretend to ignore the torture and atrocities that meat animals endure in the industrial agriculture system that supplies your grocery stores and restaurants, and eat meat pretending that the animal you are eating lived a GOOD life before it died?  This is something only those of us lucky enough to grow up on farms understand…and while we may seem barbaric to people who’ve spent their entire lives isolated from the food chain, I’d rather personally raise EVERY animal I’m going to eat to ensure it is done with respect, care, and integrity.

Okay…I’ll get off the soapbox now.  Back to lobster.  After he is frozen solid, I plop him into boiling salted water for 4 minutes to partially cook.  Then I twist off the tail, remove the meat and slice it to go into the curry, along with coconut milk, lemongrass, red curry paste, onions and garlic, and a reduction of shellfish broth and the juices that came from the lobster when I cut him up.  I carefully extract the claw meat from the largest claw in one single piece…no small task considering the shell is almost half an inch thick.

I’ve really been having to work on my presentation on MasterChef, because I honestly don’t present my food in a restaurant-quality way.  I thought if I could have an entire lobster claw, shell removed, resting on top of my bowl of fragrant curried lobster, I’d get bonus points.  But with only 10 seconds to go, I lay the perfect claw on top and it’s so ridiculously, comically large that it hangs over each end of the bowl and almost totally hides my curry.  Outrageous!  I’m not in the top or the bottom for this challenge…which is sad because I know my curry tastes incredible.  It just looks utterly ridiculous.

Jennifer, who cooks right next to me, takes the challenge with her baked lobster and roasted fennel, so she gets the upper hand in the next challenge, which is themed “Aphrodisiacs.”  Her 3 choices are oysters, truffles, and artichokes.

Artichokes?  Really?  Who thinks that’s romantic?

Really her only choice is truffle.  Oysters can be cooked, but are really best savored raw.  So if you’re wanting to show your cooking skill, and the judges offer each of us a $500 black truffle flown in fresh from northern Italy that morning, only a lunatic would pass up the chance to cook with that.

Keeping the romantic theme in mind, and knowing that truffles and eggs are a classic pairing, I decide on Breakfast in Bed.  What could possibly be more romantic than that?

For those of you who aren’t familiar with truffles, a truffle is a black fungus that grows underground in harmony with only a few species of tree roots.  They are sniffed out by trained pigs or dogs, and only a small amount are harvested each spring in Europe.  They are the most highly coveted ingredient on the planet.  And the fact that I’m about to cook with one is exhilarating!  It’s impossible to find fresh truffles in Texas markets.  It just never happens.  They all go to restaurants in big cities, and to ultra-luxury specialty markets on the coasts.  Never here.

The first thing I do is make a spicy homemade sausage from duck breast and truffles.  I top that with a truffle poached egg.  Then I bake fluffy buttermilk biscuits and smear them with truffle butter.  And to round out the plate, raspberries and kumquats tossed with truffle honey…basically honey which has had a truffle sitting in it to infuse all that dark, earthy flavor into it.

Each of the judges loves my dish.  But they tell me something I already know…my food may be delicious, but unless it looks professional enough to be brought out of a Michelin-starred kitchen, it’s not gonna win MasterChef.  My food is great, it just LOOKS amateurish.

Jennifer and Adrien narrowly escape elimination, and Erryn is sent home.  I’m sitting at my station, realizing that I’m now in the top 10 on MasterChef, and the air is filled with the heady aroma of fresh truffles.  I doubt I will ever feel like this again.  We’ve just gone through more than $5,000 worth of truffles, not even counting the cost of having them flown over from an Italian forest shortly after being dug up by a pig.  Just before this we cooked with 25-year-old lobsters with claws as big as my face.  Who gets to cook with ingredients like that?  I’m a very lucky guy.

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