Tag Archives: Becky

MasterChef recap: Three’s Company

(Please Note: This blog is not endorsed or approved by MasterChef.  The opinions reflected herein are solely that: opinions.  I have no inside knowledge of how MasterChef is produced or judged and my opinions should not be treated as fact.)

Josh, Becky, and Christine are the top 3.  And beneath the mystery box today is yet another non-edible item: a blank cookbook.  This is apparently to motivate the remaining 3 to give their all in the last stretch before the finals.  Gordon asks each contestant who they’d dedicate their cookbook to.  Christine says her mother, a talented cook who died when Christine was 14 without leaving her any recipes.  Becky would dedicate hers to her parents who have always encouraged her to follow her dreams.  Josh would dedicate his to his mom, an “amazingly strong woman” who is his biggest fan.

I can’t give any different answer, myself.  My mother taught me how to cook when I was too young to have any business anywhere near the kitchen.  My earliest memories in life are of mom in the kitchen, where she spent the majority of her day from sunrise to sunset, cooking and singing at the top of her lungs.  The kitchen was always a place of joy in our house.  And my passion for cooking, above all else, comes from my mother.

Who would YOU dedicate your cookbook to?  Please comment at the bottom of this post…I wanna know.

This mystery box challenge isn’t going to be a mystery.  The contestants get 5 minutes in the pantry to select anything they want, and then have an hour to make a stunning entree worthy of their very own cookbook.  And that’s a dream come true…I wish I’d been able to do that a time or two on MasterChef.  No ingredient restrictions…no themes…just do what you do best.

Our commercial break today is peddling the new MasterChef Ultimate Cookbook.  I had a bit of involvement with the creation of this book, though I’m not sure how many of my recipes will be included in it.  In theory, it’s an assemblage of recipes from all 3 seasons, “new” recipes that contestants have developed since being on the show, and recipes from the judges, as well.  Of course, that was the plan for it 6 months ago…no telling what it will end up being.  It’ll be released on September 18, but you can preorder it on Amazon at a killer price: $17.81 (compared to the list price of $26.99, which is what it will cost at Barnes and Noble in 2 days when it’s released).  Check it out!  I’m kind of excited about it.

All 3 dishes get tasted, because there are only 3 contestants left.  Josh is first, with his curried Cornish Game Hen with basmati rice.  We haven’t seen anything Indian from Josh recently, but back in the food truck challenge, Joe told us that Josh knew Indian food better than any of the other contestants.  (A bit of an affront to Tanya, who has Indian roots and has lived there.)  It sounds delicious, but the plate is a bit sparse, with only protein and rice…no veggies at all.  It’s hard to go wrong when you put Indian spices on dark meat poultry.  The judges love the flavor, but I’m surprised they didn’t mention anything about the complete lack of veg on the plate.

Christine is next, with her Vietnamese stir fried noodles with seared sea scallops.  Her scallops are mouth-wateringly perfect on the sear, and the bowl looks really yummy.  The judges praise it.  But again…very little vegetable on the plate.

Becky is last, with a dish she completely reworked at the end.  She took a whole loup-de-mer, which is French for “wolf of the sea,” but is more widely known as Branzino or European Sea Bass, and filleted it.  But the filleting didn’t work out well, so she only got 2 small pieces that were attractive enough to be plated, so she used the rest of the fillet in her stock.  When Ramsay pointed out that her two small pieces weren’t enough for an entree, she changed directions at the last minute and assembled it as a soup, with a creamy fish broth, roasted fennel in a charred jalapeno and scallion vinaigrette, and sunchoke puree.  Sunchokes, also known as Jerusalem artichokes, are actually the root of a sunflower and have nothing in common with artichokes.    They look a bit like ginger root, and are crisp and delicious…somewhat like a water chestnut.  You either eat them raw, roasted, or steamed.  If you boil them, they get nasty.  I prefer them raw, because I think most of the flavor goes away when you cook them.  (They make most people really gassy, though…go easy on them if you try them!)  Joe claims the fish is overcooked, and Graham says it’s yummy but not well conceived.

Becky has a little meltdown that I completely understand.  She grew up eating humble food (like most of us).  Now she’s a food photographer and exists in a world of fancy cuisine, and she’s on MasterChef cooking for 3 famous food powerhouses.  So instead of following her own instincts and being true to herself and her roots, she’s reaching out to try to conceptualize things that she thinks will impress the judges and appear sophisticated, rather than making something that she’s really truly passionate about and that truly represents her.  Becky…I struggled with the same thing in the first half of the show.  It wasn’t until I was able to make my rustic pumpkin carrot cake, a cake that I invented and make all the time, that I realized I had to stop trying to impress the judges, and just cook the kinds of things that I love to cook at home for friends and family.  Things that resonate with me.  That’s not always possible when you get something like a mystery box, or have to cook a genre of cuisine you’re not comfortable with.  But in a challenge like this…where you have free reign of the pantry and no binding theme…this is the time to make one of your specialties.  Something that’s your trademark.  Something that really speaks to you.  And Becky realizes that she wasn’t cooking from the heart on this challenge.  My heart is breaking for her…a mistake like this, so late in the game, could spell disaster.  And since I’ve been thinking for the past 2 episodes that Christine and Josh will be the final 2, I’m thinking we’re beginning to see the end of Becky.

This time, the judges give us a specific ranking for the mystery box, and the winner is Christine, followed by Josh, and then Becky.  Then all 3 head back into the pantry to discover their various advantages and disadvantages.  The theme for the challenge is “legs” and there are 3 ingredients on the table: leg of lamb, chicken legs, and frog legs.  Christine gets to pick first, then Josh, and Becky gets whatever is leftover.

Christine goes with the chicken legs…the most versatile, the cheapest, and also the most pedestrian.  An interesting choice.  It definitely leaves her wide open to a lot of possibilities.  But up against a premium ingredient like leg of lamb, and a wildcard ingredient like frog, she COULD be exposing herself to a potential loss.

Josh now has an interesting conundrum.  Given his southern roots, I’d imagine he would LOVE to cook with the frogs legs.  But that leaves the true premium ingredient, the leg of lamb, for Becky, who is accustomed to working with high-end ingredients, and it would be a huge boon to her.  So he gives the frog’s legs to Becky, and keeps the leg of lamb for himself.

Becky admits that she’s never eaten or cooked frog legs.  What a shame!  Frog is DELICIOUS.  When I was a kid, we had a huge cattle pond half a mile behind our house, with giant green bullfrogs living in it.  My little brother and I would sneak up over the dam with our pellet guns and peck off a dozen fat bullfrogs every month or so, and bring them back home to clean and cook.

On my last trip to Hawaii with Adrien and Christian, to cook for the homeless kids in Honolulu, we stayed in a condo on a golf course that was being flooded with unseasonably prolific rains.  All the giant cane toads (a harmful invasive species in Hawaii) had come up out of the golf course ponds and were sitting on the grass, and late one night when we were hungry, we went frogging.  After a quick, humane dispatch, we skinned the legs and salted them.  As soon as the salt hit the muscle tissue, the legs started twitching!  It freaked Adrien out, and Christian thought it was the coolest thing he had ever seen.  There was more twitching when the legs hit the pan.  And a few minutes later, the boys ate frog for the first time:

For those of you who are totally grossed out right now…don’t be!  Frog legs are incredibly delicious.  The taste is very similar to old-fashioned chicken (they have almost no fat, and lots of flavor because the muscles get worked a lot), with a texture halfway between chicken and firm whitefish.  Both boys loved them, and they were prepared very simply, with just salt and pepper and olive oil.

Needless to say, the frog legs would definitely have been my pick.  I’d have done 3 different preparations: Cajun-style blacked frog legs (my favorite way to eat them), Southern-style chicken fried frog legs (to represent my heritage), and Thai-frog legs with red curry sauce (to represent my favorite cuisine).  But poor Becky, I think she’s shaking in her boots right now, especially considering what just happened in the mystery box.

After shopping, the contestants return to the kitchen to find the 15 eliminated contestants waiting for them.  I remember last season being hurried into the kitchen while Jennifer, Christian, and Adrien were shopping, and how happy I was to see them come out that door.  You can’t imagine the joy we all experienced, being back together with everyone.  Some of them had been back home in the “real world” for weeks, and were having the usual difficulty re-incorporating themselves into a group of people they couldn’t give any details to because of the confidentiality agreement.  So, for them, to come back and be able to decompress with the rest of us who completely understood the whole situation…it was extraordinary.  Others, like me, hadn’t even left the show…I was simply eliminated and shuffled to a different hotel to await the finale.  So I was still isolated from friends and family, and as the number of contestants dwindled and things got weirder and more competitive, it was such a huge relief to see Alvin and Jennie and Tracy and Esther (Peanut)…even Max brought a giant smile to my face.  Those few glorious days were a time to celebrate with our new family without the stress of competition or threat of elimination.  It was divine.

The hour is up, and Christine is first with her chicken legs.  She’s done a traditional buttermilk-battered Southern fried chicken with creamed kale.  I’m gonna be honest…my grandmother could fry chicken in a cast iron skillet to perfection, and I just can’t do it.  My chicken always ends up raw in the middle, or overcooked on the breading.  I can deep fry chicken with no problem, but the shallow fry method in cast iron still evades me.  I should practice it more, but since I have a deep fryer and I can trust my results in it, I haven’t bothered.  Still, the traditional Southern shallow fry is one of the most challenging skills a home cook can master.  Christine’s chicken is perfect, and Gordon loves the seasoning, which combined paprika, cayenne, thyme, sage, and blood orange…a VERY unusual combination, but Gordon says it’s absolutely perfect.  Joe and Graham both forego the knife and fork Ramsay used to eat the chicken, and just pick it up and dig in.  They love the chicken, but the universal criticism is that her creamed kale has too much cream in it.

Next up is Josh and he’s incredibly proud of his unique plate of lamb carimanolas.  I’ve had carimanolas on the street in Central America, they are deep fried yucca fritters stuffed with veggies or meat.  And they are TO DIE FOR.  Yucca is a thick root that is a staple of the diets in Latin America and Africa, and is also widely used in Asia, Europe, and the Americas.  It is prepared in variety of ways…it can be dried and ground into a powder called manioc or mandioca (which can be used to bake cakes or simply toasted in butter and bacon fat, which the Brazilians call “farofa”).  It can be processed into the substance we are all familiar with called tapioca.  The root can simply be sliced, boiled, and then deep fried to make yucca fries, which are so much tastier and have a superior texture to potato fries.  But the yucca root (also commonly called cassava) is actually quite poisonous, and it must be cooked first to break down the cyanide that can be fatal if consumed in high-enough quantities.  It’s a fascinating ingredient, and one of my personal favorites.  So Josh has made a carimanola by boiling the yucca root, mashing it, and working it into a dough with egg and a little flour.  He stuffed the carimanolas with leg of lamb…not an easy feat in an hour.  Leg of lamb is usually roasted or braised, low and slow, for hours to make it tender.  Josh resorted to the pressure cooker, which works wonders in a short amount of time.  (I adore my pressure cooker and can’t live without it.)  He is presenting the carimanolas with 3 different salsas: tomato, mango, and tomatillo.  The plate is really stunning, and if he’s pulled off his flavoring and seasoning, he probably has the best dish of the day.  Joe decides to attack him for it, taking such risks with braising the lamb in such a short time, working with a poisonous and starchy ingredient…and then he tastes it, and it “astounds” him.  The other judges agree.  Josh reveals for the first time that his father is from Panama and he spent lots of time there as a kid, which helps explain his love of Indian food.  (The Caribbean region off the coast of Panama is referred to as the West Indies and has a huge culinary influence from both India and Africa.  Panama has an incredibly diverse cuisine.)  Josh has truly produced an incredible dish in this time limit, I am supremely impressed.

Becky is last with her garlic butter frog legs, confit potatoes, mushrooms, and a salad of bitter greens.  (Confit is pronounced “con-FEE” and is a term that covers a wide variety of preparations, but generally means that a meat or vegetable has been cooked slowly in flavorful fat, and then often stored beneath an airtight layer of the fat.  Potato confit means potatoes that were fried gently in fat until rich and tender…not necessarily crisp and fluffy like a french fry.)  These are very smart flavors to combine.  Bastianich likes every component but the potatoes, which she roasted in the oven with wine after the confit, resulting in soggy potatoes.  Ramsay is proud of her for perfecting the frog legs having never cooked them before.

To me, Josh is the clear winner of this challenge, and it would probably be a toss-up between Becky and Christine…they both nailed the legs, but had problems with other components.  (However, I’m fairly convinced that Christine and Josh have been pegged as the finalists for awhile now, which probably means Becky is going home.)  Not surprisingly, the judges send Becky home.

I was in LA for 4 hours recently, but didn’t have time to meet up with Becky.  And I regret that.  From the conversations we’ve had, she sounds delightful.  Becky probably wanted to win more than anyone else, maybe even Josh.  And she’s obviously crushed by the decision.  Gordon asks her what’s next, and, dejected, she mutters something to the effect of “Hopefully I can sneak into a restaurant and they’ll let me work there for awhile.”  Gordon says, “I have some restaurants.  Would you like to work in Central Europe?  Paris?”

It’s obvious to all of us how skilled Becky is.  She won like EVERY mystery box the whole season.  That girl knows her food.  And while her character was occasionally edited to be a bit snarky and a bit know-it-all, her fellow contestants tell me that she’s very sweet and extremely likeable.  And the fact that Ramsay has just offered her a job is a testament to exactly how talented he believes she is.

Becky is a food photographer in LA, and I’m sure MasterChef helped boost her position in that highly specialized world.  Jennie Kelley, who is a food stylist, is looking to collaborate with her on several projects.  No word yet if Becky will take Gordon’s offer…that would require a LOT of soul searching.

Understandably, Becky’s personal website is stunning, with enough world-class photos of food to leave you really, really, really hungry.  You can find her on Facebook and Twitter, too.

Becky, I think ultimately you got a raw deal, sorta like David Martinez.  While I think the show’s challenges definitely allowed you to display your strengths (as evidenced by your domination of the Mystery Box), I think you were sort of doomed from the start by the way they decided to edit you.  It’s rare that the person who effortlessly criticizes others ends up winning.  (Though in the ruthless shows like Hell’s Kitchen, apparently, this DOES end up happening, and it certainly seems like MasterChef is headed in the HK direction.  So maybe you were just a few seasons too early.)  To have realized that food is your calling at such an early age, and managed to work your way into the highly specialized and competitive world of food photography is a testament to your persistence and talent.  I think we’re going to see big things from you in the future, and I, for one, wish you all the best.

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MasterChef recap: The Final Four

(Please note: This blog is not endorsed or approved by MasterChef, and they would prefer you not read it.  This blog reflects my own uneducated and uninformed opinions about Season 3 of MasterChef, and I have no inside knowledge about how the show is judged.)

We’ve got 4 contestants left: Christine (age 33), Becky (27), Frank (28), and Josh (24).  And I truly believe they are among the 4 most talented cooks in the top 18, so MasterChef has done a good job selecting their top 4.  Last season, the top 4 were Jennifer (34), Suzy (27), Christian (31), and Adrien (28).  In season 1, the top 4 were Whitney (22), Sheetal (37), David (27), and Lee (29).  But trust me, it is ENTIRELY coincidence that all 3 seasons have been perfectly gender split in the top 4, with no one older than their 30s.  *chuckle*

Traditionally, the top 4 is judged by a panel of celebrity chefs or notable food industry professionals, and this season will be no different.  Arriving in LA on the MasterChef private jet (??????) is chef Guy Savoy, recognized as one of the top French chefs in the world.  (His Paris restaurant, only one of several around the world, has 3 Michelin stars…the highest rating in the food world.  Ramsay’s flagship restaurant in Chelsea, UK also has 3 stars…his only restaurant to achieve that supreme honor.)  Gordon recognizes Savoy as being his culinary mentor…no small honor.  Next off the private MasterChef jet (???????) is chef Daniel Bouloud, also a respected chef with restaurants dotted across the planet, but his NYC restaurant, Daniel, is lauded by many as the best restaurant in the US.  My friend Bruno from Brazil had a $500 dinner there once, and said it was the best experience of his life.  Of course, Daniel has been awarded 3 Michelin stars.  And last off the MasterChef private jet (???????) is chef Alain Ducasse, probably the most famous of the 3…he’s held 21 Michelin stars, and THREE of his restaurants each held 3 stars at one time.  (Ducasse has a LEGION of restaurants and hotels around the world, the most famous of which is his flagship The Dorchester in London.)  So all 3 of these chefs have at least one 3-starred restaurant under their belt.

There are many entities in the world that rate restaurants.  If you think of the word Michelin as being associated with tires, you’re actually thinking of the correct entity.  Somehow Michelin tires got into the business of posting travel publications (the same way AAA does in the US, and doles out diamond ratings for hotels and restaurants, with 5 diamonds being the coveted top award), and this eventually led to the 1- 2- and 3-star tier.  The Michelin system is probably the most respected among the world’s rating entities, but it gets criticized heavily for favoring traditional French menus and being a bit snobbish against other cuisines.  (However, there ARE Michelin-starred sushi, Modernist, Mexican, and Indian restaurants, as well as others.)  The system is also infamous for preferential treatment toward restaurants in France, primarily, and the European continent in general, and being a bit more stingy in the US, but recently, being VERY lenient with its star ratings in Japan.  There has been much scandal over how up-to-date the Michelin ratings are.  While Michelin claims it has an army of restaurant reviewers across the globe and visits each restaurant every 18 months or more frequently, former employees have accused them of having far fewer reviewers than they claim, and that they visit restaurants to update ratings far less often than they claim.  You can be sure that Michelin has not visited nearly every restaurant in your city (if they’ve ever visited your city at all, which in the US isn’t likely).  They tend to gravitate toward restaurants and chefs that have notoriety in the press and in the food world at large.  If you’re curious, there are only 10 restaurants in the US with 3 Michelin stars.  7 of them are in New York (11 Madison Park, Per Se, Le Bernardin, Daniel, Jean Georges, Chef’s Table, and Masa), 1 in Chicago (Alinea), and 2 in California’s wine country (Meadowood, and the legendary French Laundry).

The fact that 3 such culinary powerhouses are together under one roof, alongside Gordon Ramsay, is an event in-and-of itself.  All 4 contestants had better be shaking in their boots.  Had I been standing there, I’d have torn off my apron, surrendered it to Ramsay, and slunk off to hide under a grimy LA freeway somewhere.  The palates of these 3 men are so elevated, so refined, they can smell every single ingredient in your dish when it enters the room.  Blindfolded, they could recite exactly how you prepared each ingredient, what step you added what component.  And then tell you why you did every single thing wrong.

It’s actually ludicrous that these men have been assembled to judge an amateur cooking competition, no matter how skilled these contestants are.  In fact, it would be ludicrous for these men to judge a competition of professional chefs.  I can’t imagine what price tag it took to get them there.  (But if MasterChef REALLY has a branded private jet, apparently production costs aren’t a concern.  How about better food for the contestants, or nightly massages?!?!)  Ha ha ha…

This is definitely the “biggest” thing that has EVER happened in MasterChef.

The contestants are being split into teams of 2, and since Christine had the best replication of Graham’s dish in the last episode, she gets to choose her teammate, which automatically designates the opposing team.  And she chooses Becky, leaving Frank and Josh together, who actually have some tension since Frank, in a previous pressure test, originally selected Josh to be safe, but re-decided and saved himself instead.

So it’s boys-against-girls, and the teams get to conceptualize any menu they like from a sumptuous pantry.  They also have a liberal time limit…90 minutes until they serve their appetizer, 30 minutes after that they serve the main, and 30 minutes after that, the dessert.  So, basically…2 and a half hours.  What a joy that would be!  The only thing that could tarnish that kind of opportunity is having to please 3 of the most legendary and successful chefs on the planet, in addition to Ramsay, Elliott, and Bastianich.

I’m predicting a win for the girls.  Becky is so fabulous at plating (because of her food photographer’s eye), and Christine is so incredible at combining and balancing flavors.  Frank is the strongest on his team, but Josh believes that he, himself, is the strongest, and also has a dominant attitude in team challenges, so there’s definitely going to be some head butting.  But, of course, historically in MasterChef, the team you expect to win never does.  However, I’m betting that either Becky or Frank will be eliminated today, and they’re on opposing teams, so perhaps the best team will, in fact win, because if either team lands in the pressure test, they can eliminate who they need to.

After 90 minutes, the 3 powerhouse chefs stride into the MasterChef kitchen, stopping the action.  And we even see a gawk of disbelief on Ramsay’s face, seeing the 3 of them standing there, dominating the room.  It’s absurd enough seeing these truly world-class master chefs in the “MasterChef” kitchen.  Which makes it even MORE absurd when, less than a second later, we are reminded that MasterChef is sponsored by Walmart.  (If you’ve been keeping up with my blog, you know that I have both affection and disdain for Walmart…I DO shop there, because they do, in fact, have the best produce of any grocery store in my area unless I go to the very expensive upscale markets, which I can’t afford, and Walmart IS paving the way for bringing organic products to an affordable level for those of us who have to pinch every penny.  But still…if there’s ONE THING Walmart screams, it’s CHEAP.  Not “haute cuisine.”)

What would I have cooked?  I already answered that question.  I wouldn’t have.  Honestly.  I don’t cook that kind of cuisine for that kind of audience.  I can admire and appreciate fine cuisine, but I’ll take a street taco over a plate of haute cuisine ANY DAY OF THE WEEK.  Call me common.  Call me course.  I prefer humble food with explosive flavor and universal appeal.

The appetizers are served.  The girls serve a Thai-style broth to be poured over a plate filled with raw seafood.  The hot broth cooks the seafood gently and barely…the way seafood is supposed to be cooked.  Ducasse believes the broth should be reduced, to concentrate the flavors and increase the salinity, but Bouloud loves the delicate preparation of letting the broth just kiss the raw seafood with warmth before eating.  The boys serve a terrine, which to me is the most ridiculous of all fine-cuisine preparations, and I cannot fathom why people enjoy it.  A terrine is basically a savory jelly that holds ingredients inside, and the boys are serving spring veggies inside their terrine: asparagus and baby carrot, with a mousse of spot prawns (giant shrimp blended into a smooth paste…again, not my cup of tea), pea puree, and dressed microgreens (salad greens beyond the sprout stage, but which haven’t grown more than their second set of leaves).  Ducasse says the portion size is too small, Bouloud says that the choice of carrot and asparagus wasn’t dynamic enough but the veggies were properly cooked, and Savoy agrees that the cook on the vegetables is nice, but there’s just too much bland jelly surrounding them, and the greens are too heavily dressed.  So the first course definitely goes to the girls.

Next up is the main, and both teams are scrambling to assemble them with only seconds left.  Becky didn’t get all their rice cakes plated, which is a HUGE blow, since some of the judges will have different components on their plates.  The girls present a pan-seared duck breast with dark Hoisin sauce, Chinese broccoli, pickled daikon, and some of the judges get a crispy bamboo rice cake.  (Bamboo rice isn’t a type of rice, it’s a preparation.  Short grain rice is soaked in the juice pressed from young bamboo stalks, and the chlorophyll turns it bright green and adds a floral aroma to the rice.)  Savoy complains that the duck skin isn’t crispy enough, and the rice cake is too sweet.  Bouloud is justifiably offended that there is no rice cake on his plate and wonders if they dropped it on the floor.  The boys put up a stunning main…lamb saddle (which is both loins from the lamb butchered out and then bound together with string…it is the most decadent and expensive cut of lamb) wrapped in prosciutto and stuffed with dried fruit, served with Israeli couscous (little balls of pasta, considerably larger than the tiny specks of traditional couscous) and roasted baby root vegetables, with a yogurt sauce.  Bouloud say that the loin is perfect.  (That’s HUGE!)  Ducasse also praises the loin for perfect seasoning and unique presentation, and Savoy likes the dried fruit filling.  So the boys have clearly won the main course.

In our commercial break, we learn that the MasterChef Enthusiast Classes taught at Le Cordon Bleu campuses around the country are back again this year.  These are a series of cooking classes specifically designed for the home cook, and I was able to participate in a few of them last year.  They are lots of fun, and sometimes contestants from the show pop by to say hi.  You can learn more on this page, and I was a little surprised to find a video of myself on that page, teaching a class on pumpkin bread!  You find the funniest things on the internet…

Dessert will decide the winner for today, of course…as it always does in MasterChef.  (Funny how it ALWAYS gets split between the first and second course, so you can’t tell who is going to win until the last course is tasted.)  Josh is NOT happy when Frank takes over the plating and is apparently haphazardly adding drops of a green sauce all over the plate.  They run out of time, and Josh says, “It looks like 6 different people plated those plates.”  You’d think 2 and a half hours would be enough time to get a perfect dessert on the plate, but when you’re cooking for judges like these, you’ve gotta churn out something truly stunning, and I certainly wouldn’t wanna do it!

The girls serve a tropical verrine…which is the French word for a trifle…a layered desert with fruit, cake and cream.  Their verrine starts with a guava coulis (the French term for a thick puree of fruit), followed by a coconut cake, then diced tropical fruit which has apparently been macerated (which means to lightly sugar the fruit to draw out its juices and let it marinate in its own juice), then a coconut cream, topped with a coconut tuile (thin crisp cookie) and passion fruit and baby mint.  It’s pretty stunning.  The boys are serving a white chocolate mousse, rhubarb poached in verjus (the juice pressed from sour grapes), roasted strawberries (a preparation I’ve never considered), and a strawberry powder (not sure how they did that, perhaps a modernist technique), with sauces of balsamic and basil.  Poor Bouloud again bemoans the fact that he is missing components that others have, but while he doesn’t think it’s very pretty, he says every bite is pleasant.  Ducasse just doesn’t like it at all.  Bastianich, on the other hands, calls it “explosive”…if you can get a bit of every flavor in the same bite, but later calls it “an argument on a plate.”

I would have LOVED to hear the unedited stream of conversation between all 6 judges…to me, that would have been one of the most fascinating moments of all 3 seasons combined.  But overall, I’m INCREDIBLY impressed by the dishes put out by both teams.  Bouloud delivers the message, and the girls have won.

Which means that Frank must be going home.  Because Josh is the only polarizing character left.  Becky is a LITTLE bit polarizing, but she’s also sweet as a button (like Suzy from last year…a little bit of sweet, and a little bit of sour, together in one adorable package).  And while I think Frank may actually be the most skilled cook of the entire bunch, I can’t imagine them eliminating Josh just yet.  He’s incredibly skilled, but his over-confidence and careless attitude toward his fellow contestants means it’s easy for the audience to dislike him.  He would be a PERFECT addition for the finals.  Whoever wins against him will make it very fulfilling for the audience, even Becky.

The pressure test, which is supposedly unparalleled in MasterChef history, is, in fact, a cheese souffle…just like the pressure test last season when NO one got eliminated.  BUT, as with everything this season, there’s a twist.  Because Bastianich doesn’t want a cheese souffle…he wants a raspberry souffle delivered at the exact same time as Gordon’s cheese souffle.  And, of course, Graham’s not going to sit there and watch Joe and Gordon eat souffles by themselves.  He wants a dark chocolate souffle delivered at the exact same time, also.

Now THAT’S a pressure test.  3 different souffles that have to be served simultaneously.  One of them is a savory souffle, which typically has a bechamel base of flour and milk, while the sweet souffles are usually a creme anglaise base, thickened with cornstarch.  The flavoring ingredients will change the cooking time for each souffle…the cheese will cook more slowly than the chocolate.  But cooking lore tells you that you can’t open the oven door while a souffle is being cooked, or it will fall.  (The truth is that once you close the oven door, it will rise back again.  You can actually bake a souffle, take it out of the oven, let it fall, put it in the fridge, and when you’re ready to serve again, put it back into the oven and it will rise a second time.)

So that would be MY failsafe.  I’d cook each souffle until it was done, remove it to the countertop, and 5 minutes before serving, place them all back into the oven to puff.  However, since this challenge is being spun as “all about the timing,” the producers and judges could easily fall back on cooking lore and say, “You can’t do that, it doesn’t work” and eliminate you anyway.  Or, they could spin you as a freak-genius who has discovered some brand-new method for souffle making (even though restaurants do it all the time), and worship you.  Ah, the pitfalls of reality TV!

And while souffles are actually WAY easier to make than most people think, making 3 different ones in an hour and serving simultaneously is a pretty tough challenge.  At least the contestants have 2 ovens and 2 mixers at their disposal.

The biggest challenge in making the perfect souffle is making sure your egg whites are just a hair below stiff peaks.  Whites move from stiff peaks to curdled in an instant.  And curdled whites will not give you the perfect rise in ANY application, from a cake to a souffle.  If you’ve read my blog about the 20 Essential Kitchen Skills for a home cook, you’ll know that properly beating whites is a crucial technique to master.

Both Frank and Josh are going for “serve the first time outta the oven,” which is going to make their lives much harder.  However, it’s definitely a gamble doing the “second puff” method if the other contestant isn’t doing it.  Souffles are also challenging from a production perspective, because you want the camera to see the souffles big and puffed and beautiful out of the oven, and they only stay that way for a minute or less, unless “Modernist” stabilizers are incorporated into the base.  So there can’t be ANY production breaks from the time the buzzer rings, until judging is finished…and judging has to be short and sweet.

Virtually all the souffles appear to be under-done, a bit more like puddings than souffles, except for Josh’s raspberry souffle.  However, many sophisticated palates like a moist, soft souffle in the center.  Frank is named the winner of the cheese souffle.  Josh gets the win for the raspberry.  So again, the final course is the deciding factor.  (Shock!)  But we all know that Frank is going home, so the winning chocolate souffle must go to Josh.  (Personally, I think Frank’s chocolate souffle looked far better than Josh’s.)

So now we’re saying goodbye to Frank, whether he REALLY made better souffles than Josh or not.  I’m curious to know if Frank believes he was outcooked or agrees with the decision.  (For the record, I TOTALLY agreed with my own elimination and believe it was truly justified.  But I know many contestants believe their eliminations were engineered, and in many cases, I agree with them.)

I’ve said before, I think Frank is one of the best, if not the single best cook, in the competition this year.  I didn’t warm up to him until a few episodes had passed, but eventually I found him incredibly charming, likeable, and there’s no doubting his skills.  He departs the MasterChef kitchen (after predicting Becky for the win) with such grace and dignity and warmth and optimism and a big smile on his face…it’s impossible not to adore him.

Frank was a stockbroker before MasterChef (and reaching that level at such an early age is a clear indication of his intelligence and drive).  While I’ve never chatted with Frank, I know from his fellow contestants that he’s a charcuterie expert, which means he cures meats at home…making sausage and bacon and guanciale and copa and prosciutto, and it’s his dream to open a sausage restaurant in NYC.  With his brilliant entrepreneurial mind, I have absolutely NO DOUBT that we’ll all be able to eat at his place sooner rather than later.

Frank has a stunning website, Foodenomics, with incredible photography and recipes.  You can also follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

If you like my blog, subscribe to it by adding your email address in the box near the upper right corner of your screen.  I’m not gonna give your address to ANYBODY!  You’ll just get an email reminder each time I post a blog or a recipe.  (Which, lately, hasn’t been happening very often!)

MasterChef recap: Michelin Stars and Walmart Steaks

(Please note that my blog is not endorsed or approved by MasterChef or Walmart, and that they would probably both prefer you not read it.  The information below consists solely of uneducated opinions and assumptions and should not be considered factual.  I have no inside information on how MasterChef is judged or produced.)

Please also note that, since we’re down to 6 contestants, each one of them has their own website (except for Josh).  So instead of linking to social media pages, when you see a clickable name, it’s going to their individual websites, which are incredible places for photos, recipes, personal information, etc.  So VISIT THEM!

After a long hiatus due to the Olympics, MasterChef is finally back for one episode per week (Tuesdays) until a MasterChef is crowned.  (Er…trophied.)  And in today’s challenge we’re seeing exactly replicas of challenges from season 2.  The group challenge is 3 against 3 in a Michelin-starred restaurant: Hatfield’s.

Before I recap what happens in this season, I have to mention that in my season when we did our group challenge at the Michelin-starred Patina, it was one of the biggest epiphanies of my life.  I realized that being a restaurant chef is actually my deepest, darkest, most terrifying nightmare, and that if I was ever so unfortunate as to be employed as a restaurant chef, I don’t know how long I’d last before ending it all on the point of a very dull knife.

There are 2 broad types of people who love to cook: those who thrill to the challenge of multiple orders coming together at the same instant and whizzing out the door and that’s the end of it/next order please, and those whose fascination actually begins when the food hits the table and what happens to the people when they get it.  And it was never clear to me in my mind that I don’t love cooking because I love to cook…I love cooking because of what food means to people, and how it brings them together.  I’d rather be a highway construction worker in the middle of a Texas summer than be a restaurant chef.  Because you never get to connect with the people you’re feeding.  It’s only about the mathematical and artistic channels that result in a perfectly-presented plate of food at exactly the right time, and to me, that holds absolutely NO interest whatsoever.

This is why FRANK is such a wonderful outlet for me.  I get to cook alongside someone I really care about, Jennie Kelley.  And then we put those plates of food down in front of the people who have come to dine with us, and we get to talk to them about it.  And we get to see the magical way that food transforms perfect strangers into new best friends.  This is another beef I have with restaurants.  The vast majority use party seating…you arrive at the restaurant with your party, and your party sits at a table, insulated from everyone else dining.  Ever craned your neck toward the next table to see what they were eating?  Ever wanted to ASK them how it was, but felt it was a breach of tact?  I hate that.  I want to sit next to everyone at the restaurant, talk about the food, and talk about life.  Make new friends.  So the conventional restaurant world is most certainly NOT for me.

Nor is Hatfield’s, the restaurant where this group challenge will take place.  Hatfield’s is the kind of restaurant that will allow you to bring your own wine if you wish (as EVERY restaurant should), but will charge you $30 for the 30 second task of opening the bottle for you.  (That’s just highway robbery, folks.)  I realize that restaurants have an overhead, and that the 300% markup on wine is one of the ways they pay their bills…but a $30 corkage fee?  Come on.

So our team leaders are Becky and Frank…who, quite honestly, I feel are the 2 best cooks left in the game.  (But as we all know, reality TV competitions are NOT merit-based competitions…the most appropriate winner wins, not the most skilled.)

Becky surprises the judges by choosing Christine first.  Bastianich definitely has reservations about the pick, and says he would have put Christine working the coat closet.  While that’s harsh, he is a restaurateur and he has a point.  The kitchen line is a place that has to work with perfect efficiency, and Christine’s lack of sight is definitely going to hinder the productivity of her team.  And she knows it.  However, we also know that Christine has the best palate in the group, and can help ensure that everything tastes flawless before it goes out.  (Still, the majority of food prep is already handled in the afternoon by the prep cooks…the sauces are made, the vegetables sliced and diced…everything is already prepped for the final cook and plating.  So there’s not a HUGE amount of flavor tweaking that can be done.)

Frank’s first pick is David Martinez, which is also a surprise for most of us.  However, if you’ve read my previous blogs, you know that David is actually a BRILLIANT cook, and that’s clear to anyone who spends 10 minutes talking food with him…he’s just been struggling under the competitive format of the show.  Frank knows exactly how knowledgeable and skills David is, and it’s proof to the audience that the David you’ve seen thus far in MasterChef is NOT the real David that his fellow competitors know.

Becky’s final choice is Monti, which means Josh goes to Frank, leading to girls-against-boys in the kitchen!  FASCINATING!  I was a bit surprised that Becky picked Monti, since she has been somewhat disparaging about Monti’s skills throughout the competition.  But it’s a fabulous team.  If I were picking teams, I’d have put Monti, David, and Christine on a team, because I think they all have a very tight dynamic that complements each other, and Frank, Becky, and Josh on a team.  You’ve probably got a bit more skill and refinement in the Frank/Becky/Josh team, but you’ve also got some leadership issues since everyone will be eager to lead.  I think that would be an intriguing challenge to watch.

I’ve remarked a few times about how massively tall Josh is, but when we get the lineup of all 6 contestants, it’s truly ASTOUNDING how tall Josh is.  His Facebook profile says he’s 7 feet tall!  I mean, look at this:

So it’s boys-against-girls, and the contestants head back into the kitchen where the chef-owners (the Hatfields) are going to demonstrate how to make 2 appetizers and 2 entrees.  Season 3 got off easy…in season 2 we had to do all that, and in addition we had to conceptualize and prepare from scratch a dessert, as well, all in the same prep time!

The courses are much more interesting this season.  (I didn’t care for the electric green risotto, the weird scallops, etc. from last season.)  This season the appetizers are a croque madam with butter-fried bread, hamachi (the Japanese word for yellowtail) and thick-cut prosciutto, topped with a quail egg; and a handmade agnolotti (a stuffed pasta like ravioli) stuffed with ricotta and peas, sauteed in butter.  The entrees are baked branzino (European sea bass) topped with fried capers and parsley, dried apricots, and roasted almonds, on a bed of green beans with celery root puree.  (If you’ve never had celery root, or celeriac, you gotta try it, it’s incredible!)  And a double venison chop which they don’t describe, but which appears to sit atop Brussels sprouts, turnip puree, and perhaps a beet puree, finished with red wine sauce and radish sprouts.

The teams have 2 hours to prep, and we’re immediately led to believe that Monti has lost her hearing because she has to ask Becky to speak louder.  Keep in mind that you are hearing the direct feed recorded from the contestant’s microphones…a commercial kitchen is DEAFENINGLY loud, with industrial vents roaring like jet engines, convection ovens that sound like vacuum cleaners, dishes clanking, line cooks hollering to coordinate.  The sound team for the show has to work very hard to be able to isolate just the voices of the contestants.  So it’s not weird for Monti to have trouble hearing.  Christine’s hearing is probably a bit more acute than yours and mine, anyway.

While Frank’s team seems to be leading in terms of prep, as the dinner guests start to arrive, things break down and a plastic oil bottle melts onto the flat top, and the beurre blanc (white wine butter sauce) is boiling, unattended.  The narrator is careful to tell us right after this that the judges will make the final decision about which team wins based on who has the most impressive performance.  And while they will take feedback from the diners and chef/owners into account, ultimately they will have the final say.  To me, this immediately indicates that the girls are going to win, but that things will take another turn or two before that happens.  I certainly expect the girls to win, because I don’t think the show is ready to dump any of the 3 girls, whereas they’ve been prepping both Josh and David to leave for the last few episodes.

Service begins and we get a glimpse into the bizarre world of the restaurant kitchen.  The “expediter” (in this case, Gordon), receives orders typed into the computer by the waiters, and he calls out the orders to each team.  The team is supposed to respond by repeating the order to him to ensure that it’s correct, and then repeating the entire evening’s orders to each other so they’re all on the same page.  I would never, ever be able to do this, I’m far too scatterbrained.  In the Patina challenge last season, I basically stood there with my mouth open, staring around like an idiot, for the majority of the challenge, because none of it made any sense to me.  It certainly wasn’t cooking that was going on…it was some bizarre ritual from another universe.

The girls are leading the service with prompt appetizers, while the boys are struggling with the butter-fried bread portion of the croque madame.  It’s really tough to deep-fry bread in butter perfectly…if the butter isn’t hot enough, the bread just gets soggy and butter-drenched.  But butter burns and becomes bitter and acrid very quickly over high heat.  So there’s a perfect balance that must be struck, and Josh is having trouble striking it.

(By the way, I recognized someone in the dining room, commenting on the food.  You know who you are if you’re reading this!)

30 minutes into service, the boys still don’t have any appetizers on the table, so Frank takes over the bread station.  Then, to complicate matters, the VIP table where the chef/owners are sitting has requested both appetizers from both teams to be delivered at the same time, which means Frank and Becky have to coordinate their cooking.  The girls are up to speed, but the boys need extra time, which means the girls’ appetizers will have to sit around getting cold (or over-cooked) while they wait for the boys.  Then the boys’ appetizers are fresh and hot, while the girls’ have been sitting around for 15 minutes, when the dishes are delivered to the table…a stupendously unfair situation.  The girls have a better agnolotti, while the boys have a better croque madame.  When the main courses are tasted by the chef/owners, the boys win on both accounts…the girls didn’t have enough sauce on their Branzino, and their venison was overcooked.

Finally, dinner service ends, and I know exactly how relieved the contestants are.  Last season, I felt like I had given birth.  Every cell in my body ached.  I was drenched in sweat from the sweltering, humid kitchen.  Burnt on both arms from the blasting heat of the flat top.  Frazzled by how many dishes I had mindlessly and frantically churned out.  Luckily, the judges poured us a bottle of Moet, which helped soothe us a bit.

Back in the MasterChef kitchen, the judges make the announcement that, despite the fact that the boys’ dishes were better received by the chef/owners, the girls are actually the winners because their teamwork was smoother and more prompt.  Joe apologizes to Christine for underestimating her.  The girls head upstairs, while we wait for whatever twist the judges are going to throw at the boys.

They ask Frank a theoretical question: who would he save if he was given the chance, including himself?  Theorizing, Frank says he would save Josh, because he did an “excellent job.”  We, of course, were really only shown Josh continually unable to nail the bread frying until Frank had to take over for him, so Josh must have pulled through later in the service and it wasn’t shown to us.  (Either that, or he feels confident he can beat David in a pressure test and doesn’t wanna go up against Josh.)  Ramsay asks him why he wouldn’t choose to save himself, and he replies, “I felt like I was playing catchup the whole, I really don’t deserve to be up on that balcony.”

Now they tell him that Frank DOES, in fact, have the ability to save an individual, including himself.  After an excruciating pause, he says, “I know I said I’d send Josh up there, but I gotta go upstairs, guys.”

This IS a competition, folks.  While I’d have never saved myself in a million years (mostly out of cowardice, not nobility), Frank is a brilliant, shrewd competitor and he made the smart decision to save himself.  I know some people are gonna hate him for that, but Frank is so darn likeable, and I understand his decision…although I could never have made it myself.

The judges reveal the Pressure Test ingredient, and it’s deja vu yet again.  3 filet mignon steaks.  JUST like the pressure test last season between Max and Christine.  Only this time, instead of having to nail, rare, medium, and well done, they will have to nail rare, medium rare, and well done.  (I guess the challenge designers ran out of ideas?!?)

Graham announces that each contestant has GENEROUSLY been provided 3 “stunning, USDA Choice filet steaks” provided by Walmart “which sells the highest quality Choice steak.”  They go on to say that only 1 in 6 steaks is good enough to be a Walmart steak.  This weekend, Alvin Schultz and I headed over to Walmart to check out this supposedly-stunning steak:

Lots of my fans commented on this photo and said that Walmart has the worst beef they’ve found in any grocery store.  To be fair, Walmart has only recently chosen to start selling USDA Choice steaks, rather than USDA Select (the lowest quality you can normally find in the grocery store).  So if you are one of those people, you probably haven’t yet experienced the new, higher-quality steaks, and Walmart has specifically chosen MasterChef as their venue to make this annoucement.  So…there are now BETTER steaks at Walmart.  However, they also still carry their lower-grade Select quality, as well.  And they are really hyping this idea that “Now Walmart sells the best beef in America” when you can get USDA Choice steaks at any grocery store in the country.

I also have to admit, the steak they showed on MasterChef didn’t look like a normal tenderloin to me.  Here it is, next to a NORMAL-looking tenderloin:

Beef quality is graded by the USDA based upon the amount of intramuscular fat found distributed throughout the meat fibers, called “marbling.”  The more fat, the more tender, juicy, and delicious the steak will be, and thus, the higher grade and the most expensive.  In the photo above, you can see liberal veins of fat running through the steak on the right…this is excellent marbling.  The steak on the left doesn’t look very appealing to me, I would not buy it.

(Side note: the vast majority of beef sold in the US comes from cattle that are raised in the pasture on grass, and then sent to a “finishing lot” where they are fed only corn, which their digestive systems are not designed to process, but which causes massive, rapid fat gain.  The side effects of this unnatural diet to the cow are not pleasant…they become incredible gassy because their digestive systems can’t handle the concentrated sugars from the corn [which dumps ridiculous amounts of methane into the atmosphere] and instead of pooping their normal, solid, somewhat wholesome earthy-smelling cow patties, they instead only have diarrhea.  And if you’ve ever driven past a finishing lot, you know exactly how it smells.  This runoff is downright toxic and feed lots have difficulty containing it.  But this is how “premium” beef is produced.  If you have access to grass-fed, pastured beef, and can afford it, spring for it.  It tastes totally different.  The fat is yellow, rather than abnormally white.  The taste is rich, hearty, and meaty.  We are one of the only countries that produce cattle via this concentrated industrial feedlot system.  The best beef in the world is produced in South America and Japan, where the cattle are pastured and grass fed their whole lives.  America has VAST pastureland and certainly has the ability to produce healthy, happy, grass-fed cattle.  But we converted to the industrial system during the great World Wars because our brightest and best were sent to the front lines, leaving fewer hands to work the cattle…so gathering them together in one place meant more cattle could be raised with fewer people.  Now we have an employment crisis in this country, too many people don’t have work.  Anyone wanna become a cowboy and tend to some free-range cattle in a grassy meadow in Montana somewhere?!?)

Seriously, you probably have more choices than you realize when it comes to beef.  Check out your farmer’s markets, and get on Craigslist.  You and your neighbors might be able to go in on half of a local, grass-fed cow, have it processed and delivered right to your door, for LESS than the price of buying the same thing at Walmart’s already-low prices.  Your money stays in the community, you get a vastly superior product for less out-of-pocket expense, and the animal you are eating led a much better life.  You just might need to get a cheap chest freezer for your garage, because you’re getting 100 pounds of beef delivered!

The pressure is on, and I get super excited when I see each contestant has 3 cast iron skillets on the stove in front of them!  Cast iron is the ONLY WAY TO COOK STEAK.  Indoors, at least.  Charcoal grilling is lovely outside when weather permits.  Please don’t ever, ever cook a steak on a propane grill, there’s no point.  It’s comparatively uneven heat with no flavor benefit.  Cook it inside on cast iron where the entire surface of the meat gets in contact with the searing hot cooking surface, or put a cast iron griddle on your propane grill outside.

The trickiest steak to cook for David and Josh is, obviously, the well-done steak.  Here’s how I cook a well-done steak, though I always have to cook it against my will:  liberally season the steak with lots of kosher salt, plus garlic powder and coarsely cracked black pepper, and let it sit in a bowl on the countertop for an hour.  Juices will run out into the bowl.  Keep them.  On a screaming hot cast iron skillet, give the steak a pre-sear in olive oil for 1 minute per side.  Then place the skillet into a 400F oven, tenting the steak loosely with foil to retain moisture.  Flip the steak gently every 5 minutes until it has the right feel to it.  (Take your left hand, unless you’re a leftie in which case use your right, and hold your ring fingertip to the tip of your thumb.  Feel the pad of muscle at the base of your thumb.  That is the FINAL texture for a medium well steak.  But by the time we’re finished with this steak, it will be well done.)  Remove the steak from the oven.  Rub some freshly chopped garlic and fresh thyme on both sides of the steak, and drop it into another screaming hot cast iron skillet with some olive oil and a bit of butter, along with the juices that ran out of the meat when it was resting before cooking.  Sear it for 2 minutes per side.  Then remove it to a cooling rack, place a pat of butter on top, and tent it VERY lightly with foil so that it can breathe and the crust you built doesn’t get soggy, and let it rest for 5 minutes.  Return any juices that drop out to the top of the steak.  Then serve it.  I don’t know why anyone would ever wanna eat a well-done steak, but that’s how you do it.

David makes a scary choice to cook his well-done steak entirely on the stovetop.  This can result in a very dry steak.  But knowing that there’s a good chance that the steaks will not be spot-on temperature for both contestants, the judges are careful to state that appropriate seasoning can make up for incorrect temperature.  And tasting begins.

David’s rare steak is medium rare, but has “aggressive garlic flavor” which Bastianich says might be difficult for someone to eat.  (I don’t understand anything about that statement…in fact, I don’t know what “too much garlic” even means.  I’ve never found that threshold.)  Josh’s rare steak is spot on, and he pats himself on the back for it.

David’s medium rare steak has an uneven sear and is just beyond medium temperature, but has great flavor and moisture, according to Graham.  Josh’s medium rare has a flawless sear, but is medium in temp and lacking in flavor.

Ramsay can tell from a gentle squeeze of both well-done steaks that both are undercooked.  David’s is just over medium, with a perfect sear.  Josh’s under medium, and seasoned nicely.

At this point, you’d imagine that Josh is going home.  Josh won the first steak.  David won the second.  Coming down to the well-done, David was closer to the temp than Josh, so he probably won the well-done by an inch.

But the judges and producers have the final say, and Josh is staying, and David’s heading home.  With grace, optimism, and dignity, and the same likeability that he had when we were first introduced to him months ago.  Graham offers David a job in one of his restaurants, which further attests to the fact that we only rarely glimpsed David’s skill and vision on the show, but the judges saw it through-and-through.

Ramsay asks David who is going to win MasterChef, and David gives a heartfelt and overwhelmingly genuine endorsement to Frank, who’s obviously tearing up.  (Is this the first time we’ve seen Frank cry?)  David leaves the show with eloquent words, “With great risk comes reward, and if you love something, you should fight for it tooth and nail.  Life is a journey and you can’t worry about your mistakes…  I think people will see big things of me in the future.”

David flew home from MasterChef and immediately dove into the commercial kitchen.  All that anxiety, fear, and frustration I experience in the commercial kitchen?  David CRAVES it.  In the few months since the show was filmed, he has interned (or “staged”) with many of Chicago’s top chefs…the kind of chefs that can run circles around Graham.  David has done popup restaurants that have attracted a devout following among Chicago’s foodie culture, which is among the most robust in the world.  He’s been invited to cook for the Bears and the Cubs and at international events hosted in the Windy City.

As I type, David is completing a move to Phoenix, where he will work on his PhD in Education at Arizona State.  His life’s second passion is educating underprivileged minorities, and he hopes to continue to work in both this vein, and in the kitchen, in the future.  He has grand plans for his culinary future in Phoenix, and I was fortunate to be present when several of Phoenix’s movers-and-shakers in the restaurant world welcomed him to their city with open arms.

I feel fortunate to call David Martinez my friend.  We’ve spent barely over 48 hours together, but I feel like he’s an old friend.  He and his wife B are amazing human beings, and I can’t wait to see David’s thumbprint on this country.  Not only will he create culinary magic, many young aspiring minorities who could never hope to afford a higher education will be able to because of David’s efforts.

Please follow David on Twitter, “like” him on Facebook, and visit his incredible blog, From Fire to Table.  And please comment and share below!!!