MasterChef: Week 3

“And the worst dish today belongs to…Ben Starr.”

WHAT??? The WORST dish of the day?

Well, I guess someone has to be the worst…

Wait a minute…backtrack.

18 of us. From 100 finalists. From 30,000 who auditioned. That feels cool. And we enter the MasterChef kitchen for the first time, each of us thinking we’re going to take this competition. It’s a far cry from the dark, dusty warehouse where we cooked our signature dishes.

But scarcely time to absorb the wonders around us before we realize there’s a giant cedar box sitting at each of our kitchen stations. The dreaded Mystery Box. I remember these from watching last season.

We lift the box and the first thing I see is a giant slab of salmon. Not nice, deep red, thin fillets…the sign of true wild-caught salmon. Fat orange fillets. Farm raised salmon. Alas, it’s not yet time for the salmon run in the Pacific Northwest, so we’re having to cook with farmed salmon. *sigh*

Salmon. Okay, let’s face it. I’m a Texan. From deep West Texas. If it ain’t catfish or bass or crappie, we don’t touch it. Right?

Well, Seattle has become a second home to me, so I can cook a mean salmon fillet.

What else?  There are also strawberries. Balsamic vinegar. Pistachios. Fennel. These are things I love. I can make this work. Strawberry balsamic reduction? Sounds good. And fennel cakes crusted with pistachios. Winning combo. Not what I’d cook at home, but these people around me are brilliant…I have to do something to compete.

The time goes by too fast, but I finish. I make a second fillet just to taste and make sure everything is fine. It is. Tastes great. I’m golden.

“…and the worst dish today, by far, was the dish belonging to…BEN STARR.”

WHAT??? This has to be some sick joke. Really? You can make that decision without even tasting my dish, Gordon? Are you serious?

It’s not some sick joke. I’m the worst of the bunch. Thank God this isn’t an elimination round.

No time for self-pity, though, because it’s time for the next round. French.

No worries for me on this one. I love France. Last fall I rented a 400-year-old farmhouse with friends in a medieval village in Brittany and spent the entire week buying amazing local meats and veggies and wine and just cooking all day long. The French gave birth to the best cuisine on the planet. Anyone who truly loves food has studied French cooking, if only from the great Julia Child’s textbooks that got America out of the microwave TV dinner box and back into the kitchen.

Quiche it will be, I decide. I make quiche several times a month. I can show them my baking skills. Roasted red pepper and goat cheese quiche. With an olive oil crust…the kind my mom makes. With herbs baked right into the crust. That’ll make up for my offensive salmon.

Gordon tastes it. He’s not so sure he wants to come over to my house for breakfast.  “And you made your pastry with olive oil? That’s a crime.  Pastry is always made with butter.”

Sorry, Gordon.  Not the way my momma makes it!  Olive oil crust is delicious, flaky, tender, and a trillion times healthier for you.  And it tastes GREAT with quiche.

Graham tastes it…he DEFINITELY wants to come over for breakfast.

“You’re invited any time,” I say.

Joe Bastianich…the toughest critic of all…tastes it. Despite my major transgression of making a pastry crust with olive oil rather than butter, he goes for it.  “Of course you like it Joe,” says Gordon.  “You were surrounded by olive oil in the womb.”

I’m not the best in this round. But I’m not the worst. I’m safe. I will live to see another MasterChef day.

Mark gets the boot for adding raw flour to his mashed potatoes to make them thicker. That’s a shame. The French eat their mashed potatoes at practically the consistency of soup. He shouldn’t have worried. Angel gets the boot for a tart-gone-wrong. That’s sad. I really liked Angel. She brought a lot of spice and attitude and sass to the group. I feel like her time ended too early.

But mine, thankfully, hasn’t ended yet. And I’d better get my butt in gear, or I’ll be on the chopping block soon.

….

Check back after Tuesday’s episode for more!  The week is only half done!

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