Tag Archives: Christian

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: And Then There Were 4

Well…that was weird.

Up to this point, watching MasterChef was unusual because I had LIVED every moment they showed on camera.  Now I’m just watching my friends on TV, and have no idea what to expect.  It’s kinda weird.

My first impression is…Christian seems different in this episode.  And I am wondering if it’s just because they have more time to show other aspects of his character, or if he is actually appearing the same to the audience, and my own perception is different because I was no longer competing against him in this episode.  Regardless, I am happy that they are showing a bit more dimension in Christian’s character.  I realize that largely the audience dislikes Christian, but as I’ve said before, I really like and respect him.  He has had to fight for EVERYTHING in his life, his job, his home, his son…even his own life and freedom.  That has produced a very strong, authoritative personality, and while that does rub some people the wrong way, I have a soft spot in my heart for Christian.

Suzy was the winner last week, so she gets to choose her team mate, as well as automatically default the two people she doesn’t pick to be the opposing team.  Had I been in her shoes, I’d have picked Adrien without hesitation.  And I’ve have given him complete creative control of the menu, and cooked whatever he wanted me to cook.  I don’t blame Suzy for picking Christian.  He IS the strongest cook in the bunch.  But Suzy and Christian also both have the strongest personalities in the bunch, and teamwork is critical across such a short time limit.

So the challenge is to represent America before MasterChef judges from other countries.  While the MasterChef phenomenon is new to the US (this is only its second season here), it is wildly popular across the world.  It’s the single most popular show in Australia and India, like American Idol is here, and the finale episode in those countries is like the Super Bowl is here.  So it’s really an honor for the contestants to cook for these judges.

And, like Suzy, my first instinct would have been Thanksgiving.  Of all our holidays, none really scream “America” like Thanksgiving.  We invented it.  And it is deeply tied to food.  So many people are asking me what I’d have cooked, and I’ll confess that I’d have struggled with this challenge…as I’d probably struggle with every challenge from here to the finals.  I am NOT a gourmet person.

Regardless, I’d have gravitated toward the duck, just like Suzy and Christian did.  I love duck.  I’d do a rosemary roasted duck breast with a pan gravy.  Then a mash of roasted autumn root veggies: parsnips, sweet potatoes, and rutabagas.  In my family we always use my grandmother’s cornbread dressing recipe, and while it’s not gourmet, it’s delicious, so I’d have served that up, too…fragrant with sage.  And I’d probably serve a delicate salad on top of the duck breast, maybe arugula, chestnuts, and cranberries, with pumpkin vinaigrette.

90 minutes it not a lot of time to cook gourmet for 6 people, so I was impressed with what the contestants did across that time limit.  From the concepts, I’d have picked Suzy and Christian to win.  From the visual impact, I’d have picked Adrien and Jennifer.  But ultimately it comes down to taste, and I didn’t taste either dish.  So I can’t make a judgment of their ultimate decision, which is that Adrien and Jennifer won the challenge, and Suzy and Christian are headed to the pressure test.

It was uncomfortable watching Christian and Suzy argue about the outcome of their dinner.  Harsh words make me uncomfortable, but that’s the result of two conflicting personalities in the kitchen.  Other team leaders in the past have endeavored to avoid this situation, like Tracy when she picked Adrien and Jennifer for the challenge at Patina, despite knowing Christian had more skill and experience in a restaurant kitchen.  I think, ultimately, it may always be the best decision to go with compatibility and team players over talent and skill.

Christian and Suzy are thrown into a pressure test, and it’s lemon meringue pie!  Immediately I feel a twinge of jealousy…I would do SO WELL in this challenge.  And then I worry for Christian.  He’s just not a dessert guy, and I doubt he’s ever made a lemon meringue pie before.  On the other end, Suzy is the dessert queen and has probably made dozens of them.  Christian has his work cut out for him.

90 minutes is NOT enough time to make a lemon meringue pie.  The time limits on MasterChef have ALWAYS been challenging.  2 hours to make a 6 layer cake?!?  But it’s just impossible to make lemon meringue pie in 90 minutes.  It takes 90 minutes just to properly prepare a butter pie pastry for baking, and then you have to bake it for 15 minutes while you make your lemon curd, then cool it down while your lemon curd is cooling, fill it, THEN make your meringue and bake the whole thing for another 15 minutes, then let it cool completely to room temp before cutting and serving it.  It’s about a 3 hour process to do correctly.

My impressions of the finished dishes?  I’d have dived into Christian’s first, surprisingly.  The meringue had that mountainous look, tall and beautiful, and perfectly browned.  Suzy attempted meringue peaks, which are very impressive if pulled off correctly, but there just wasn’t enough meringue there, and the peaks barely stood up above the edge of the crust.  And while the tops of the peaks were browned, the rest of the meringue seemed very underdone…that’s what happens when you bake a meringue at temps that are too high.  Meringue needs to be baked at lower temps, more slowly, so it cooks all the way through before browning on top.  But with a time limit looming over you, that might be impossible.

Of course I didn’t taste either pie, so I can’t say whether the judges were justified in eliminating Suzy.  But that’s the call they made.

It struck me that Suzy suddenly appeared so meek and cowering upon her elimination.  She had been so confident and joyful throughout the competition.  She asked permission to shake their hands.

Suzy…last week Ramsay KISSED ME ON THE FACE.  You don’t need permission to go up and HUG them, much less shake their hand!

Like he had with me last week, Ramsay’s face was glowing when he put his arm around Suzy.  You can tell he really likes Suzy.  So do I.  I believe I earned Suzy’s trust enough to see a side of her that her fellow contestants didn’t see.  The side of the girl who really wants to impress her family who have incredibly high expectations of her.  The side of the girl that knows she knows a lot about cooking, but worries if she knows enough.  The side of the girl that wants to take the title, but also wants to be loved and admired by her fellow contestants.  The side of the girl whose face reacts before her brain does…and those facial expressions brought so much laughter and joy to all of us, including the viewers, for the last two months.

I’m sad for Suzy.  She really wanted the title of MasterChef.  I’m not sure there’s another contestant left in the game as resourceful as Suzy.  Whether she gets the title and the $250k to start her own food truck in Chicago, she’s gonna find a way to start that food truck.  This time next year, if you’re vacationing in Chicago, you’ll smell the fragrant Indian spices a few blocks before you see her in the window of her food truck, handing out paper bowls filled with the most delicious curry you’ll ever eat.  And that smile…that incomparable Suzy smile…as she chats and laughs with her customers.  Suzy is one of a kind.  Not perfect.  None of us are.  But truly one of the most delightful people I’ve ever met.

MasterChef: Shepherds Pie and Venison Backstrap

Today will be the last mystery box of MasterChef. After today, the final 4 will be announced and will go head-to-head in the semi finals. I have not won a single mystery box in this entire competition. And when I analyze my competitors, this is what I think:

Christian – Sure, he may be a little cocky at times, but he has a right to be. He has overcome major obstacles in his life. He is now a proud father of a young son, with another child on the way. He lives a few blocks from the ocean and literally provides for his family by foraging from the sea. He is the most skilled cook among us…whether or not you like me saying that.

Adrien – I have thought from the first day of MasterChef that Adrien would win. He may not have skills to match Christian, but he has spirit and creativity by the truck full. When he talks about food, he gets so emotional and so intense. Adrien LIVES food. And even though he’s had a few disasters in the MasterChef kitchen, he has produced some of the most stunning food in this contest. He has that magic combination of soul AND skill that wins over people, and wins competitions.

Jennifer – I have cooked next to Jenn almost this entire competition. She is calm, collected, focused, and she knows her food. On the outside she may look like a beauty queen…she WAS Miss Delaware…but on the inside she has this down-to-earth, tell-it-like-it-ish, almost tomboyish flair that makes being with her a breath of fresh air. She’s won more mystery boxes than any other contestant. She knows her stuff.

Suzy – Oh, Suzy! She is this adorable little package of sugar and salt. You can tell just by listening to Suzy that she has always been a straight-A student. And this bleeds over into her study of cooking. She knows classical cuisine inside and out. And like her or not, she’s good.

When I look around at my 4 fellow competitors, I realize that I am, in fact, the weakest cook here. The competition has come down to skill at gourmet cuisine, and this is something I have very little experience with. My family couldn’t afford to eat out when I was young. As a struggling adult, I also couldn’t afford to dine well…I only had enough money to cook at home. I haven’t been exposed to “cuisine.” Even in my extensive travels, I end up in the kitchen in the homes where I stay with local families, cooking with them. But it’s still all common, down-home cooking that I know, whether that happens to be down-home Mexican, down-home Indian, down-home Italian, or down-home Texan. And this competition isn’t about who in America makes the best down-home food. It’s about who has the makings of a MasterChef inside them.

So I have my work cut out for me if I’m going to stay in this competition.

We lift the mystery box, and there sits ground meat. Beef, veal, and pork, to be exact. With numerous veggies. And Worcestershire Sauce. (Can anyone ACTUALLY correctly pronounce Worcestershire? I’ve BEEN to Worcestershire, in western England, and they seem to pronounce it WUSS-ster-sher.)

And I think back to the very first day I cooked for Gordon Ramsay. He asked me about my travels and about how many different types of cuisine I could cook. Then he asked me, “Can you cook British food?”

I looked him in the eye and said, “I’ll make you a Shepherd’s Pie and let you decide.”

Before me sit all the ingredients to make Shepherd’s Pie. Well, except for the most important ingredient…ground lamb. But I’ve got ground veal, which will substitute nicely. So here we go, Chef Ramsay. I’m keeping my promise.

I’ve never made Shepherd’s Pie before. I know what it is…browned meat and cooked veggies swimming in a dark saucy so rich and decadent it makes your hair stand on end, capped with tender mashed potatoes, and baked until nicely browned.

I reduce a full bottle of red wine and a quart of beef stock until it’s syrupy and thick. I cook carrots, celery, onions, garlic, and peas individually, to make sure each one is perfectly done…still a bit crunchy, but cooked. I brown the ground beef and ground veal until they have a nice crispy crust on the outside, but retain enough moisture to be tender. Then it all comes together. I spread soft, garlicky mashed potatoes on top, brush it lightly with egg wash so it browns nicely, and put it in the oven. When it comes out, it looks perfect. I finish it with a drizzle of reduced red wine, beef stock, and Worcestershire sauce.

And it’s good enough to win me my first mystery box challenge on MasterChef! (Sorry, Suzy…she also made Shepherd’s Pie and announced to the camera that mine couldn’t possibly be as good as hers! Though I think she said it this way: “Ben is making Shepherds Pie, too, which is like showing up to prom and some other girl is wearing the same dress. I don’t think Ben will look as good in that dress as I do.” Well, I guess I looked at least passably good in that dress, because I got my first win!!!)

I follow the judges back into the pantry as they congratulate me on my first mystery box win, and Gordon tells me I’ve become a top contender for the title of MasterChef.

In the pantry, Gordon announces that a celebrity chef with 12 Michelin stars has prepared three dishes, and I will choose one of them to replicate. As he rails on about how successful this celebrity chef is, my mind races… Who could it be? Mario Batali? Thomas Keller? Bobby Flay?

Then Gordon steps off the podium and walks in front of me, extending his hand. “Hi, BenStahh, I’m Gordon Ramsasy.”

This guy is nuts. I have developed such an affection for Gordon Ramsay. I think we’d be great friends in another life.

I taste 3 incredible dishes. Each one is a signature dish at Gordon’s signature restaurant in London. Each one costs more than $50 at his restaurant. And they are each so incredible, I start crying just from the taste. Crispy, tender duck. Flaky halibut. And then…my favorite…venison tenderloin. I had been begging the judges for venison tenderloin this entire competition. I doubt most of my competitors have cooked with venison before. I’m from Texas, I’ve cooked venison a hundred times. Venison it is.

But it’s not a simple dish. There are thinly shaved parsnip chips. A creamy puree of parsnip. Braised red cabbage with roasted beets, and a giant square of Portabella mushroom that’s been cooked delicately in butter. And a fragrant red wine sauce. This will not be easy.

I’m allowed to ask 3 questions about the dish, and I throw my first one in the garbage. I had heard Gordon say “beets” but not cabbage, and while I was tasting the cabbage, thinking it was beets, I just couldn’t figure out how he got beets to taste like cabbage. “It’s not beets,” is his answer. “It’s cabbage.”

Strike 1.

My next question is about his parsnip puree. Parsnips are one of my favorite vegetables. They are white carrots, and each bite of parsnip tastes like all the carrots in the world smacked into your mouth. But the puree was SO creamy…I never imagined you could get parsnips to cook down so smooth and creamy.

“They’re simmered with milk, pureed, and then finished with reduced cream.”

That’s good to know.

My last question is about the venison tenderloin. When I cook backstrap at home, I sear the loin on a flaming hot cast iron skillet to develop a nice crust all over the outside, and then take it off when it’s still very rare and cool inside. To me, that’s the only way to eat venison.

But Ramsay’s venison doesn’t look seared. The outside is barely gray, not black at all, and the inside is a perfect uniform pink (medium rare) all the way through with no gradation in color. I have NO clue how he could pull off that kind of uniform cook.

“The venison is warmed gently in butter, almost like being poached. Then it’s finished off with a very delicate sear in the pan, moving it constantly so the heat doesn’t penetrate farther than the outside.”

And my 3 questions are over. But I have a good head start. The other contestants don’t get to ask any questions. They have to guess.

Time begins and I prep my dish. I’m not worried about ANY of the side dishes…they all seem straightforward to me. The venison is what I’m worried about. I’ve never “warmed” venison in butter before. How long should I warm it? What temperature should the butter be? How do I know when it’s ready? I’m against the use of thermometers, because they leave a hole that allows all your juices to escape.

I warm the butter on the stovetop until it’s melted and is about 200 degrees. Then I slip the venison tenderloin into the butter, cover it with foil, and let it sit.

At 5 minutes to serving, I take out the tenderloin and cut into it. I was totally nervous, having never cooked with this method before. And…the venison is pinkish grey all the way through. Overcooked. Ruined.

In fact, the judges are displeased with EVERYONE’s replication except for Suzy, who has done justice to this challenging dish even though it’s the first time she’s ever cooked with venison. But I was the one who had insider knowledge about how to properly cook this dish. And I still managed to screw it up. If anyone deserves to go home tonight…it’s me.

The judges feel the same way. But Gordon says that I have delighted them and that they feel I have a future in food television. They each embrace me, and Gordon plants a big kiss on my cheek.

Now how many people can say they’ve been KISSED by Gordon Ramsay?!?

I leave filled with joy and optimism. It is my time to go. I am outmatched by my competitors in skill, but not in heart. Heart helps win competitions, but not by itself!

I will readily admit that I hate watching television. Particularly reality television. I think it brings out the worst in people. When I made the decision to go on MasterChef, I did it deliberately because I wanted to send a message to TV producers that reality TV contestants don’t have to be mean, backstabbing, or conceited in order to be interesting to an audience.

Only YOU can say whether I accomplished that goal!

Thanks for watching MasterChef, keep watching until the end! My money’s on Adrien!