MasterChef Recap: Season 4, Episodes 7 & 8

Masterchef Recap!

Having watched these two episodes last week, I’m not super in the mood to watch them again to recap them, so let’s start with a “too long, did not read” version: The entire two hours were spent with two apparent goals: getting rid of ONE contestant, and fawning all over Luca.

I’m way too ADD for this crap…

Anyway. the first episode had the contestants cooking for 101 firemen, as their team challenge. Immediately, I’m happy to see that Bethy Rossos is getting more face time. For as interesting as she is, the show has done pretty much NOTHING with her.

I mean, this girl is an archer, hunts her own meat, just MADE a gorgeous wooden bow. She’s Greek, is always posting amazing looking Greek food (The show makes a big deal of the Italian cooks each year, but not a lot is said about other backgrounds!), and she was the host of a show called “Adrenaline Hunter” that just won an Emmy. But hey, let’s just ignore her in favor of a bunch of name calling and forced drama.

Then we have a bunch of fluff about how awesome Walmart is. Yay for product placement? I’m pretty sure that my MasterChef roomie – Alexandra – is still traumatized by being forced to carry a big Walmart logo bag in the opening scenes of the audition rounds!

First person chosen is Lynn. If I recall correctly, this isn’t the first time, and for good reason. Absolutely everything Lynn has posted online looks ridiculously amazing, and what little we’ve been shown of his stuff on the show is much of the same. I have NO idea why they’ve shown so little of him. Does America really prefer watching the judges prance around, and the focus on BS drama… over actual cooking? I’m really disappointed. Lynn is a culinary *Artist*.

“Banqueting is like the medical school of restaurants” – Wow, Joey. I honestly don’t even know where to START with that ridiculousness.


I find it weird MasterChef professes to encourage professional food dreams – and makes comments like Joey’s – but actively discourages contestants from acting as they would in pro kitchen.

In restaurants – and in medical school, for that matter! – people wear gloves. People tie their hair back, and people wear hair nets (or surgical caps, if we’re continuing the med school analogy!). Whether restaurants or med school, people realize that physical or biological contamination is a huge issue, and one that must actively be avoided.

In MasterChef, we see long hair worn loose, sometimes dipped in the food. We see people touching their hair or face, and then going right back to preparing food, without even washing their hands. While this is certainly not unique to this challenge – or this season – it’s an interesting contrast to all of the talk about how these firemen are America’s heroes, should be treated with respect, etc. Prepare them an amazing meal, but don’t tie your hair back! Got it…

This challenge makes me think of Mark Famiano, one of the 100 finalists – Cleveland Fireman. TOTAL sweetheart! Check out his audition video, here

So one plate’s missing sauce, Joe grabs the plate to go yell at the contestants, and one of the most hilariously disgusting MasterChef moments ever happens:

As Joe Bastianich yells “DO I SPEAKING ENGLISH!?”, he spits all over a bunch of steaks to be served to the firemen.

Way to respect your heroes, Joey.

So Bime’s team loses, and he does NOT want to save himself. I respect that, the show does not (obviously), so they make him “safe”. He further displays commendable sportsmanship by “saving” the person who he actually felt performed the best, rather than playing strategy to benefit himself. Good on you for showing some honour, Bime! There is NOT enough of this on this show, in popular media, or in society.

The pressure test is making Eggs Benedict, and it’s just a boiling pot of bizarre at this point. For some reason, Gordon carries on about how the Hollandaise sauce should be made first. Um. No.

Is he deliberately misleading contestants, or is he not a logistics person? I have no idea. Poach the egg first, shock it & hold it in cold water to stop the cooking process, and reheat it in some hot water right before serving. The Hollandaise should be made as close to serving time as possible, or it’s far more likely to break. At BEST, it’ll cool to a much thicker texture – which would be fine AFTER plating, given the logistics of judging… but you don’t want to spoon congealed sauce over your egg.

Bottom line: Always start with the most time-stable element!

One thing that’s really tiresome about this show is the forced “suspense” that’s supposed to enable “shockers”. If a team is being shown as being strong, blah blah.. they’re going to lose. Beth gets some face time talking about how she makes Eggs Benedict all the time? She’s going to fail miserably.

The show does a good job of keeping things inversely proportionate (The bigger the brag, the uglier the fail), but I’m not sure that’s something to be commended. It’s weird that they’re so threatening about spoilers and such, but spoil everything themselves – whether showing the results of last week’s challenge before the audition episode even aired, or by making it patently obvious what’s going to happen with challenges, before people are even finished cooking.

Loads of attention is given to Krissi botching her sauce. LOADS.

As is their pattern, Beth screws up royally, Krissi comes out on top, and Bri – the vegetarian who says she’s never poached an egg – also comes out on top. Yawn. It would be nice if they weren’t so heavy handed with it all, and employed even a little bit of subtlety.

As a preview of the ridiculousness to come in the second episode of the night, Ramsay declares the remaining 4 people to be leaving the kitchen for another elimination challenge.

Second episode starts, and they’re in Vegas for the first of two challenges.

They have them cooking burgers in a “real” restaurant, Gordon Ramsay’s Burgr (I hate that spelling, it pains me to type it and see the little red “you misspelled this!” indicator!)

Once again, reality tv apparently is exempt from common food preparation ordinances, and we’re treated to more bare hands, loose hair, face touching, etc. So freaking gross. I’m disappointed that the judges didn’t put their foot down, even if producers wanted contestants to wear their hair down. Also, seriously – how would wearing gloves take away from anything? So gross. I’m in the process of planning a trip to Vegas this fall, after seeing this… I know where I will NOT be eating. I wonder how the diners feel about this episode of MasterChef, watching the utter lack of food prep hygiene… especially in an expensive restaurant (It’s a burger joint, but apparently the average entree is $25 = expensive).

I have to laugh at Gordo saying “welcome to my world”. I would love to know when he last worked in a kitchen, he has something like 20 shows!

Blah blah, I can’t handle watching this again – I value my few remaining brain cells too much – so I’m going from memory on the rest of this.

This episode was hard to watch, because it was mostly a whole lot of Gordon screaming at the contestants. So much for the “This show is positive and encouraging” and “The softer side of Gordon Ramsay”. Blech!

Interestingly enough, while cooking burgers… there is NO mention of how awesome Walmart’s beef is. 🙂

Luca and Kathy lose the burger challenge… so they have THEM do *another* challenge: butter poached lobster.

One thing that stuck out to me when the challenge was announced was the lead up to it. The judges (probably Ramsay, IIRC) carried on about how this was one of the most expensive, luxurious ingredients in the world. Um.. No.

There are SO many food items that are far more rare, exotic, luxurious, etc. Hell, in one of the past seasons, contestants were each given – EACH – a $500 truffle to work with. I can’t even imagine…

Lobster? Lobster is great, and yeah, a little on the spendier side. You know, when you compare it to Walmart steak, anyway. You can usually find a decent lobster tail for $10-15, even here in landlocked Minnesota.

Also, fun fact: Lobster has a history of being referred to as “poor man’s chicken” on the east coast of Canada. Yes. For those on the coast, lobster was so plentiful and easy, that’s how it was seen. Actually, Googling it just now, this wasn’t just in Canada – in America, lobsters were apparently fed to prisoners, slaves, and servants all the time, because it was so cheap.

Anyway, especially after the “Everyone gets a $500 truffle!” thing, I have to wonder how disappointed Kathy and Luca were when the “most luxurious, expensive ingredient” was… Large ocean bugs. (Don’t get me wrong, I love pretty much every manner of sea crustacean!)

Luca wins, after a long spate of mediocre performances.

As they focus on Kathy’s exit, we’re treated to all sorts of fluff about her journey, about how far she’s come, and what a fighter she is. WTF? They’ve shown pretty much nothing about her “journey” or her, no one sitting at home has any idea who she is, what she’s cooked, what she can do, etc. Wouldn’t it be great if the show focused more on the contestants, so people could actually get more invested in them? So that stuff like this actually makes sense to the viewing audience?

As a fun “behind the scenes” fact… man, the show was awful to Kathy when we all first arrived. Apparently she showed up with bright orange hair, and production marched her over to a salon and made her dye it the colour you see on the show. If THAT wasn’t bad enough (she was NOT happy about it!), they decided to change her entire look. The spunky, flashy little Brooklyn BRONX diva look that we met in the first few days – fitted jeans, spangly earrings, metallic embossed flashy shirt, etc… was replaced by a plain purple t shirt, HUGE baggy jeans, and hiking boots. It was beyond bizarre… and signaled to me that she would be going far in the competition, before we even “auditioned”.

At the time, she seemed kinda pissed that I was allowed to keep my bright turquoise hair! (Had they insisted I change it, I would have walked. I’m sure they knew that.)

I haven’t been in contact with Kathy at all in a long time, after some weird Facebook drama. Regardless of what went down, I wish they’d shown more of her personality, background, and food, and I wish her all the best. The show really did her a disservice, on several levels.

The weird thing is, the show is doing itself a disservice. They whole point – for them – is to end up with a best selling cookbook… so why are they actively turning off their potential buyers with all the forced drama, and preventing people from getting invested in the FOOD aspect of the show at all? SO WEIRD.

That’s it for this Masterchef Recap

MasterChef Recap: Season 4, Episodes 3 & 4.

So, this time I’m almost a week late with the MasterChef recaps. To be quite honest, it was really starting to look like I wouldn’t be doing it, and I’m still not convinced that I’ll bother, going forward.

The longer I’m back from LA, the more I hear about things that happened to my friends… the more disgusted I am with everything. On one hand, I feel like I would be doing a disservice to my friends – and those I didn’t even meet – by NOT giving them some exposure, after we all uprooted our lives for ~6+ months for this.

On the other hand… two of my MasterChef friends have had suicidal thoughts since coming back, as a result of the treatment out there. One friend was sexually harassed by the judges to the point that she had her lawyers get her edited out of the show completely. (As part of it, one of the judges told her that the only way he’d have an appreciation for her is if he was looking at her naked body!). Two of my friends were physically assaulted – one by production, one by a judge.

Of the incidents I mention, there is no crossover – these are all unique individuals. They’re not alone, either – I know of a few other women who were treated in a sexist, degrading manner by the judges… and all of these incidents that I mention are just the ones that I KNOW of. Many have been dealing with depression as a result of the experience.

I knew that MasterChef contestants can be in a bad way when they come home, and I knew that the show has sent many from previous seasons – even those who have “placed” high – into depression, and even ruined a few lives… I guess it’s just harder for me to tolerate in specifics – it’s easier to wave off an abstract idea, without any context. Also: without knowing those involved. These aren’t mentally unbalanced people, or drama queens – these are real, everyday people. Good people. For this reason, I have very little desire to give MasterChef any real coverage, going forward. I’m beyond disgusted…. I’m livid.

Add to it the fact that it sounds like they’re going to full on, super trashy reality TV this season? Blargh. This article actually had me envisioning the show turning into a “Scary Movie”-esque parody of reality TV, it’s all so over the top.

Still, this past set of two episodes gave us the first – and last – brief glimpses of some of these people. So… here we go.

First, we have brief glimpses/introductions of people. Nancy Fillipelli, A swimwear model, Malcolm Green, and Bri, an actress.

They show a quick montage of people, and then Howard. Howard makes a peach cobbler, get an apron. I’ll admit, this one still stings a little – Apparently he used canned peaches and frozen blackberries. Awesome.

Then we have a very brief montage of rejections.

We have Paulina, who manages one of the most gorgeous food blogs I’ve ever seen, Potato Chips are Not Dinner. Fun fact: Joey the Ignorant told Paulina that her traditional Phillipino dish was “bad Chinese food”. WTF.

There’s Mark Famiano, a TOTAL sweetheart firefighter from Cleveland. Liyah with her “babies – stuffed animals – and we see Grace Chen for all of two seconds.

Carl “Pen” Wippert presented the judges with white chocolate spaghetti with strawberry puree and lemon cake “garlic bread” <- complete with finger quotes. LOVE this guy, and you should too - check out his website and Facebook page – he has a cookbook (“Gourmet for Everybody”) coming out VERY soon!

Jonny B uses a beer bottle as a rolling pin to extract lobster meat from the shell, to put on his caramel and coconut “crackerjack”. I’m still not sure how I feel about that dish. Unique, weird, and… I THINK I’d be interested in trying it? I dig salty and sweet, not so sure about seafood and caramel though. Anyway, he gets an apron after some big fake judge dramatics and “suspense”.

At this point, just 10 minutes into the show… they’re done with the audition round. SO many people, stories, and elaborate set ups were not even mentioned, much less shown. So many other people having months of upheaval condensed down to even a second or two. What is the point of having a second 2 hour episode, and only spending 10 minutes on the auditions?

So then we go to the next round of eliminations. The 40 people with aprons are assembled – equally spaced out among the “Fight Club” space – and told they’ll be competing to stay, asked to follow the judges out to another area

Brian Baum tells us that he has adrenaline coursing through his veins. I promptly get Phat Bass stuck in my head.

Nancy Fillipelli isn’t thinking about going home, she “IS” home.

They go to this other area, and they show individual faces. Let me go all “Romper Room” for a minute..

I see Seonkyoung, Mark Oberle – a trapeze artist!, and Gabriella.. I see Steve Smith (who doesn’t seem to have a MasterChef page for some reason?) and Dean Karadimas, who is QUITE the character, btw. There is Seymira Salamy, and Kevin Tindell, who I just adore! I see Monica Renee Watson and Dahlia Abrams (and you can tell on her face, she thinks she’ll be told to kill the poor lamb that Ramsay just presented.. does NOT look happy with it!). I see Duckie and Bime … and then a flood of sheep run into the area, apparently relieving themselves all over the contestants.

Cause, you know, that’s a great thing to do to people about to cook, and in an area they’re about to cook in.

They’re told they won’t be killing any of the lambs, and a HUGE display of every possible cut of lamb is revealed.

I’ll admit, I shed a tear at this point. I am SO glad that I went home when I did – and I manage to feel even happier about that with every new story I hear – but man… challenges would have been so much fun. Forget TV, forget the competition even… I’d love to be able to walk into a pantry / meat department like THAT, have my pick of it all, no worries about budget, and just make whatever I want. What a dream!

Ramsay makes some bizarre comment about how the contestants will be like lambs to the slaughter if they make a mistake. The hyperbole in this show is epic… and not in a good way.

So they start the 60 minutes, the contestants go running, James talks about getting shoved down, and Seymi laughs – she was a rugby player, by the way. 🙂

Some coverage of contestants picking ingredients, with judges yapping.

I want to eat whatever Gabriella Aronja is making. I have no idea what she just said. It was in Spanish, and I bet it’s amazing. There are roasted peppers involved.. yum!

I digress.

Malcolm is making a lamb sampler plate, Joe makes a snotty comment about how it sounds like he’s not confident enough to make one dish. Because, you know, I’m sure none of Joe’s restaurants sell anything with more than one preparation of an ingredient, and because such a dish has NEVER gone over well in past seasons, right?


Beth cooks her lamb on hay. Was kinda surprised to hear they had hay as an ingredient, seems kinda random.

Luca is stuffing a lamb loin with sweetbreads and goat cheese.

Brian is describing what he’s doing, gets insulted. Whatever.

Judges discuss James Ladd, saying he’s “way out of his depth”, mentioning his BBQ sauce. Apparently, that sauce was straight up amazing, btw.

In a moment of fake “spontaneity”, the judges “decide” that some people have been ‘showing their true colors’ (you know, mid-cooking time)… and should just be eliminated right now, before they’re even close to running out of time.

What a ridiculous slap in the face. I can’t imagine having had to stay another week, just to be fodder for craptacular forced drama BS like that. So disrespectful!

So with 15 minutes left – a full quarter of the time still remaining – Joey Coattails walks through and eliminates people. Gabriella – oh, her food looks SO good! – is first to go, being told she has “too many technical mistakes”.

James Ladd is next to go, then Brian Baum.

I’m struck by how much time is being spent on drama, and how little is being dedicated to the actual food. We see a few photos, no titles or descriptions of what’s being cooked.

The contestants are divided into two main groups, with a few stragglers. One group goes through to the competition, the other is just cut. Not a word about what anyone’s cooked. Past years, we’ve seen a LOT more about the food, about what was made, thought behind it. This year, it’s like they’re not even pretending that the show is about food, on some levels.

Duckie tells us that the judges are missing out, with her being eliminated. I had her pegged as top two from the minute I met her, so I totally agree. She KNOWS food – you should check out her site, Duckie’s Dine-asty. Don’t go when you’re hungry, though… just amazing stuff. She’s also hilarious, smart AND witty (not the same thing!), and just an all around great person. She actually did my makeup for me right before I cooked during the auditions, and made me look FABULOUS – thanks again, Duckie!

They show Luca’s dish, which doesn’t look appetizing at all.

Malcolm goes up against Seymira, Seymi goes home 🙁

Seymira’s African culture comes through in her cooking, and her dish looks insane. Girl, I would happily snarf your cooking any day.

The elimination is dragged out for far too long. Also, I hate seeing Seymi cry. This chick was a ray of sunshine the entire time I was in LA, love her to pieces.

Then it’s Jonny with a lamb rangoon, vs Brian “Crazy Eyes” with a lamb liver dish that looks very tasty. Gordon insults him, Brian goes home in another looong drawn out elimination.

I’ve got to say, I wish American MasterChef was more like Australian MasterChef: Way more focus on the food, it’s actually kind of educational for the home audience. Also, the judges are far more positive and encouraging.

Nancy up against Bri, Nancy goes home.

Luca goes up against Beth. Beth’s dish is gorgeous, Luca’s… not so much. While many of the cooks here seem to have some grasp on use of color, everything on Luca’s plate seems to be variations on bile yellow. Just… not appetizing at all.

I’m fast forwarding through the drama surrounding the elimination. I may have a short attention span, but really – do people like seeing this stuff drawn out so long, and so… forced?

Also, why does Gordon. Ramsay. Try to. Talk like. William. Shatner?

There is only one Shat. Gordo is not it.

Now we’re on to the second episode from last Wednesday. I’m just going to include my review for it here, rather than start a new one.

It’s a mystery box challenge. Tomato, Bacon, Chocolate, and Potatoes are the main ingredients.

Krissi excitedly yells “BACOOOON!”, and America falls in love with her 🙂

Graham describes “an INCREDIBLE single potato”. It’s a potato. Don’t get me wrong, I am a VERY stereotypical Irish Canadian, I adore potatoes… but the hyperbole bores me so. I’m assuming that Graham has a better grasp on language than Joe the moron does. (I’m still laughing at “Butter is the antithesis of Greece”!)

Gordon has never seen chocolate and potato together, which reminds me – have you guys tried my peppermint patties recipe?

Then we have a little bit of talk about the food, then a whole bunch of manipulated drama.

Just a comment on this: I’ve seen a lot of comments out there online, usually on forums and comments section of news articles, about how the drama between Krissi and Natasha “came out of nowhere”. Keep in mind that at this point, the contestants have been in LA for almost two weeks. That’s a LOT of time to form some opinions about others. Hell, most of us were only there for a week, and THAT was enough time to form some very tight, lifetime friendships. There are two sides to that sword, and not EVERYONE there was awesome to each other.

Bime is up, Joey Coattails says that his dish “smells like a fake” to him, asks where he’s ever had food like this before. Definitely a recurring theme, after accusing Bime of his mofongo being “a ripoff of shrimp scampi, with a little plantain”

Does Joey not eat anything besides Italian? I have a hard time pinpointing whether his BS is racist, classist, or just general ignorance. Maybe a combination? So much stupid…

He tells Bime that he hopes he can “walk the walk”. I’d love to see Joey “walk the walk” – does he even know how to cook? Any time – over ALL of the past seasons – that any of the judges cook, it was not Joe. There WAS a tortellini forming demonstration once, but I remember noticing at the time that the edits were such that it very easily could have been someone else’s hands doing the close ups.

Anyway, Natasha gets on and yaps about how pretty she is.

I’m torn on this. Instinctively… barf.

On the other hand, I was there… and I KNOW how much footage they have of me talking about my IQ, etc – all prompted. I was DREADING them using all of the various “Great! Now say it like ____. Cool, now can you say _____ also?” incarnations of it all, piecing it together and making me look like a mega douche.
So I know there’s a good chance that it’s all VERY manipulated, etc.

The thing is… for each time I had to talk about my IQ, I was cracking jokes and doing my absolute best to make it impossible for them to edit it in a way that made me look like I take it seriously, or am actually hung up on it. With her… she really seems to be genuine about it. So, again… barf. Well, unless she’s acting. She did claim to be a model (??), and tons of these people are model/actors, so… I dunno. I digress.

I’ve already seen this, the night it aired… so this whole recapping thing is tedious. I remember how much of this was all the interpersonal drama and BS, and I just don’t feel like watching it.

Also, I’m really grossed out by the fact that every one of the women have their long hair flowing everywhere. IN A KITCHEN. Having been there, I know they don’t have a TON of control over their appearance, but I wish the show had them tie their hair back.

I still remember being grossed out, on past seasons, by people actively sweating OVER their food. So gross. This show is supposed to be able encouraging/preparing the contestants to pursue their culinary dreams (with a little suspension of disbelief applied, anyway!)… I don’t get why they don’t encourage some adherence to the basic hygiene rules and regulations that they’ll encounter in the real world.

Luca is making pasta. Go figure.

Krissi Biasiello is making langoustine mac and cheese. Smart – Lobster mac and cheese is very trendy, popular, and well received in general.

Howard starts insulting Krissi’s mac and cheese … while he’s pairing langoustines with STRAWBERRIES? WTF?

LOVE Krissi’s responses to him, grinning and giving the finger. She’s so adorable in her snarking back, rather than being straight up angry/obnoxious. It’s like she’s more amused by it than anything – I like that.

They show Bri apologizing to her meat once again. Kind of weird that she’s the token vegetarian, and very little mention is made of the fact that Adriana Guillen is a vegetarian. She was “Mexican Veggie Girl” during the pre-audition time, and is very passionate about promoting tasty and healthy vegetarian recipes. I am seriously the biggest carnivore out there, and even *I* find Adriana’s stuff to look amazing, btw. She has a blog started, HERE.

Blah Blah… Howard made a small amount of a citrus and spinach salad with a little bit of meat on it. I can’t imagine being given such a specialty ingredient and minimizing it in such a way.

Loads more forced drama…

I love the irony of Joe telling anyone that they’re wasting his time.

Lynn’s dish looked amazing.

Blah Blah Blah… Joey acts like a child, Ramsay makes some comment about there being a “cardinal rule” against stuffing langoustine (BS!), more forced drama… whatever.

Lots of skipping ahead.

Sasha goes home for some reason. I can’t stand her, but I was craving cheese grits the next day – not a crappy little salad that looked like a cheap side dish.


I will continue to watch the show until my last friend is eliminated, but then I’m done – with MasterChef, with Fox, and Reality TV in general. This crap is the bane of society and culture, in SO many ways. In today’s society, we need to be encouraging people to have empathy for each other… not training the masses to lack it.

MasterChef Recap – Season 4, Episode Two

Ok, so now that I’ve gotten through the first half of the MasterChef premiere, time to recap and give commentary on the second half of it!

Ok, here we go.

This episode starts out with Bime Cruz.

(Damian Legion and Bime Cruz, photo by Damian Legion)

Bime was one of the first people I met in LA, and he was HILARIOUS. Really great guy, kept us all laughing.

Man, his Mofongo de Camarones looked ridiculous. I have GOT to get that recipe from him.

“I’m wondering if this is really a Caribbean dish, or just shrimp scampi faked with some plantain put in it” – Joe

I’m going to spare you from my rant on the usage of “Shrimp Scampi”. (Along the lines of “ATM Machine” and “PIN Number”, but with the added fun of genus confusion / misclassification).

I will say that when people use “Scampi” to denote a cooking preparation (rather than species), it generally refers to shrimp cooked in garlic butter and white wine.

… where Joey Coattails gets the idea that Shrimp Mofongo (traditional dish) is a ripoff of this American usage of the term is completely beyond me. I mean… wow. Moron.

Bime gets an apron, moves on.

Next is Jessie, a model and pageant queen.

Her dish looked nice enough, the judges were wishy washy… and in THE MOST CONTRIVED MOMENT IN MASTERCHEF HISTORY, Gordon Ramsay came flying out of the audition area, into the cooking area where the rest of us were waiting, and hauled two whole sea bass out of the fridges.

… because they just happened to have two whole sea bass just laying around.

They challenge her to prove that she’s “the real deal” (that phrase needs to be retired from the show, seriously), by fileting the sea bass right then and there.

She gets an apron, obviously.

Next, they show the “circus reel” – Damian, Rachel Jesse, Jim Blesi, Abby, Dennis Hong, Andrew Keller, Shaun Jay. Tori.

Where to start? They don’t show a ton about the food!

Let’s start with Damian Legion, the pro wrestler and one of my ABSOLUTE FAVOURITE people there. Within minutes of meeting him, he complimented my “Magneto was Right” shirt and showed me his Dalek tattoo. I think that was one of the first moments that I didn’t feel super alone in LA, there was another geek there to hang out with!

Damian is a total teddy bear. Super sweet, caring, all around wonderful guy – I just love him, along with pretty much the rest of the cast. Just an all around great guy! You can check him out on Facebook, his page is Death Metal Domesticated, which is also the name of his Podcast.

Didn’t really get to know Rachel (Fire Performer), Abby Wolf (Farmer), Shaun Jay (Magician)or Andrew Keller (Pogo stick, crazy hat) all that well.

Jim Blesi:

He’s from Minnesota, the biker guy. Tough guy, badass, no nonsense, etc. I had NO IDEA that he made a fouffy baked Alaska for his audition – this kind of made my day.

Dennis: Funny story about Dennis. He had two grad students there to help with the robots, and they sat right behind me in the van on the way to the first day of auditions. We were all introducing ourselves, I turned to say hi to them..

… and DAMNED if one of the two didn’t look almost exactly like one of guys in Bran Van 3000, per the “Drinking in LA” video. Given that it had become my theme song by then, I had a good laugh / wanted to see it as an “omen” of sorts, LOL!

Really nice guys, all three.

Funny story about Tori Cunningham, the ice sculptor (They really only showed her squash carvings, but she’s a competitive ice sculptor).

A few of us were looking for her, and had very little information to go on. We knew her first name, and that she was from somewhere in Ohio.

So one day, one of my Mensa friends – Alan Baltis, from Cleveland – posted some photos from an ice festival he was at to his Facebook profile.

I thought “Hrm. I wonder if Tori did any of the sculptures, maybe there will be a sign or something?”.

Sure enough, the ONLY photo he had with the sculptor actually IN the photo? I was 95% sure it was Tori. Confirmed it with the others, and then we found her almost immediately. What are the odds of THAT?

Another funny thing – this was while we were still in our contractually-imposed silence, so I couldn’t tell Alan HOW I knew her, when I called him up to ask if he was still there, to pass a message for me. This, while he had very recently dropped the news that he would be on an upcoming episode of Jeopardy! (July 19th – be sure to watch him, he’s one of my favourite Mensa friends ever!)

Small world!

Anyway, John and Shaun get aprons.

Next up is James “Jesus James” Nelson. (There were 2 guys named James, someone had come up with ways to differentiate them at some point!

James told of losing both his parents, cooked a pork belly, and won an apron. Check out his sauce company, Bravado Spice.

Next, we have what my MasterChef Roomie Alexandra Jones refers to as “The Slut Reel”. These are the girls who were encouraged to flirt with the judges, etc – including Alexandra.

Julie Ann Gibson…

I’m so disappointed that they didn’t show more of her audition. This chick was HILARIOUS. Before the filming, she was talking about how she wanted to take Gordon Ramsay home in a box, and had the most hilarious way of describing her dish. Words don’t even do it justice, you’ll have to watch Matt Orsini and I discuss it in This Youtube Video we made!

Alexandra Jones, my roomie:

Alexandra actually got one yes (from Joey) during her auditions. Her dish sounded and looked amazing, a Spanakopita Wrapped Chicken with roasted eggplant puree and arugula salad paired with Laurelwood brewing workhorse IPA (click that link for the recipe!).

Sheena Hetzel:

This would be one of the more interesting uses of creative editing. They show Sheena biting one of her green pepper pieces, then later has the judges asking if she had plated the piece she had bitten. They then cut to her confirming “That’s right”.

It was an awkward cut / response, because it was pieced together from other footage – any idiot can look at the plate as shown on the screen, and clearly see that it is NOT the pepper she had bitten.

I don’t even get why they bothered to do that, if they were going to show the photo. So much stupid…

Nancy Nester

She was such a cutie, from the little I got to know her. Wasn’t fond of how they had her bring her whole group in, so excited for her, only to deny her the apron. Kind of a dick move.

With that batch done, we have a feature on Sasha Fox. I’m going to be honest, I have nothing nice to say about Sasha.

One of the first things I heard her say in LA was a loud declaration of how cooking “wasn’t (her) THING”, and that she was “just there to get FAMOUS”.

While that alone is enough to rub me the wrong way, given the nature of the show AND how many good cooks got cut, she then proceeded to berate those who did not get aprons as somehow being beneath her upon her return from the show. It was really insensitive and disgusting.

Also, she’s MUCH older than I am, but saw fit to act like a schoolyard bully and name-call about my appearance. Who DOES that?

That’s all I have to say about her.

Now, we’re told it’s been more difficult to get an apron this year. There’s some interesting math… they gave out 36 aprons (of 100 auditions) last year, and 40 out of 100 this year.

Again… Fox!

Now we have Rudy Reyes…

Rudy is a super sweet guy, and took SUCH good care of my while I was away at MasterChef. His girlfriend (who is a total sweetheart!) is autistic, and he knew exactly what I was going through with the whole thing.

I was so happy to meet her as well – the first words she said to me were double checking to make sure he had been taking good care of me, and asking if she had taught him well. She had! Thank you, Rudy and Cristina!

By the way, you can check out his audition video here

Unfortunately, Rudy’s Buffalo Frybread “Indian Tacos” failed to earn him an apron 🙁 This actually happened while I was away buying groceries for my audition the next day (They make you go at certain times), I came back and he was gone – didn’t even get to say goodbye! 🙁

I heard that those tacos were AMAZING, by the way.

Once more, we’re told it’s harder to win an apron this year… than EVER before. *snerk*!

I don’t remember the name of the first guy, with the scallops.

Elden is “James Dean”, the guy in the olive green shirt. I didn’t get to know him as well as my roomie did, but she tells me that his cooking is INSANE, including his plating. Him not getting an apron was a bit of a shock, especially as he’s a model.

Name up is my good friend, pilot Carrie Landry Peterson:

You may remember Carrie from her guest blog last week… where she shared how to make her audition dish, Whoopie Pies.

You know why her Whoopie Pies looked “like a 9 year old would make”? Because her oven that was supposedly up to temperature was very much NOT. Ugh.

You can follow Carrie on her Facebook page, Carrie’s Confections.

Next up, we have my friend Matt Orsini.

Matt made a spinach and lemon ravioli with sage brown butter sauce. He actually made this for me a month or so ago when he came to visit – no word of a lie, that was the best damn pasta dish I’ve ever had in my life. He’ll be guest blogging the recipe this week!

.. and another case of “auditioned while I was out shopping, failed to win an apron, was gone before I got back, did not get to say goodbye”. I COMPLETELY lost it when I came back from shopping, only to find he was gone. It’s a really crappy experience.

And then we have… me! For like 2 seconds!

(Thank you for the awesome screen grab, Leanne!)

I served up my Mango Mojito Upside Down Cake, which is ridiculous and turned out absolutely perfectly. I’d actually made 3 small cakes and served up two of them to my fellow contestants in my final minute of cooking time – so there are plenty of people who can attest to it 🙂 Hell, even my batter bowl was absconded within seconds of me filling the pans!

So, here’s the deal: I was SO relieved to not get an apron. Seriously, after a week of not seeing my husband, one of the very first things I said to him were “Get me OUT of here!”.

I was similarly relieved at the edit I got, after seeing how awful and CREATIVELY the show had cut some of my friends. Sure, I would have liked it if they’d shown that the first words from Ramsay’s mouth were “Graham is going to LOVE this”, the fact that they all enjoyed the cake, etc.

REALLY would have loved to see what happened when Joe tried to stare me down, and I laughed at him for it… and really, REALLY would have loved for them to air my exit interview – it was cold, articulate, and scathing! – but hey… overall, I think I did pretty well.

I think my “wow” and the look on my face said it all, and was a nicely condescending response to such a ridiculous insult – and to a GROWN MAN blowing a raspberry. “Boarding School Pudding, at best”, eh? I’d love to know what boarding schools serve up such boozy rum cake!

Ok, I’m gonna be honest, I hadn’t seen the rest of this episode before this morning. Once I was eliminated, the crowd at my party was pretty much relieved to not have to watch anymore (Most are NOT “reality” TV fans!), so we all decided to turn the TV off and just chat.

So this next stuff is all fresh to me…

Aww, Dawn Hunt was so cute, asking if she could hug the judges after not getting an apron.

You can check out her business site, Cucina Aurora.

Next up, we have Eddie Jackson, a former NFL player:

Eddie is one of the people that I didn’t really meet in LA, but wish I had. He seems like a genuinely nice guy… and his jerk meatloaf looked SO yummy!

Holy crap, writing these recaps really takes FOREVER.

Ok, then Luca from last year got an apron.

The end.

MasterChef 4 Premiere Recap

It’s almost a week … probably about time I do up a MasterChef Season 4 Premiere Recap.

So we start out with the mass audition footage, and some ridiculousness with helicopters and boats. Boring, let’s get to the actual “Auditions”

Actually, before that… I’d like to say something about the setting money on fire thing.

In today’s day and age, many people are hurting pretty badly for money. While I’m used to Joe Bastianich (“Joey Coattails”) reeking of entitlement on this show, this took it to whole other levels.

Whether it was real money (which would be illegal) or not, the symbolism of it was disgusting. My friend Shawn Bakken recently blogged HIS thoughts on it, which mirror my own pretty closely.


Natasha is the first audition. I didn’t really get to know her, which is kinda funny, given that I get asked about her more than anyone else.

While a lot of the others really don’t like her, I try to give the benefit of the doubt without firsthand knowledge. As far as all the stuff about “I’m so HOT!”, it *could* just be the show telling her to carry on like that. I was dreading seeing my edit, just for the amount of times / ways I was asked to talk about my IQ!

Anyway, she made empanadas, got an apron, and then promptly declared that everyone is intimidated by her looks, LOL.

On to 19 year old Christine Kim, or – as I’ve recently come to know her – my new baby sister. Yep, I have officially adopted Christine into my chosen family, and she is all kinds of awesome.

Christine’s Korean Duck dish looked ridiculously amazing, and I’d heard all kinds of great things from the other contestants. I was behind my station, cooking, as this she was finishing up cooking, so I missed out on trying it 🙁

Christine got frazzled, and plated the wrong duck breast. She’d had one cooked perfectly, one that wasn’t… came out without an apron and broke everyone’s heart. Broke hearts at my viewing party, of people who hadn’t even gotten to know her like we did!

Holy crap, that was hard to watch.

The next group is a bunch of exotic meats – rabbit, ostrich, bear, water bugs.

Joey Coattails refers to the water bugs as “cockroaches” immediately after being told they’re giant waterbugs. Ah, that ritzy boarding school education served you well, eh Joey? Moron. I loved the look on Chan’s face as he reiterated that no, they’re WATERBUGS.

I was really disappointed that they just held up Chan Heu’s dish as fodder for ridicule. He’s an entomologist, and was there to highlight certain bugs as an alternative protein source. I had really been looking forward to seeing his piece on TV – all of the other MasterChef series around the world are educational, not sure why the USA one isn’t. Well, why they seem to work so hard to be the opposite of educational, such as editing out education.

Oh right. Fox!

Steve – seriously the sweetest guy ever – is cooking bear, offered to let the judges smell the rub he was cooking it with. They all start cackling like 10 year old boys who just heard a sex joke, and Gordon says that he has NO interest in smelling the rub.

I don’t get it… ?

Steve had served up his bear to a bunch of the contestants, and I’m still kicking myself to this day that I missed out. Apparently it was AMAZING! “Barely edible”, “barely legal” (HUH?), and “I couldn’t bear it”. (Who had the “Judges try to sound clever” spot on their bingo cards?).

(On a personal note, when another contestant was talking crap about me behind my back in LA, saying I didn’t know how to cook and was only there for my hair color, Steve put him in his place and told him that if I was making the cake I made at our auditions – he was at the MN audition – that I would IN NO UNCERTAIN TERMS be getting an apron. Still SO touched to hear about him defending my cooking honour like that!)

So then we have Brian, the person I’m asked about almost as much as Natasha.

Yes. He was weird. Not quite as animated as he was on camera, but that was a … unique… dude.

Of course, the judges spent the time making ridiculous “beaver” jokes.

They go to commercial, showing a preview of George’s marriage proposal. I tear up!

They show a few eliminations in very quick passing.. Rimmy and Olga among them. Two very awesome people, love them both!

They go to Jordan from Minneapolis. I don’t really know this guy. I met him briefly at our psych evaluation, and I got the feeling he was trying to convince them that he was nuts. Dunno what ended up happening … he seemed VERY different in LA!

Jordan makes a beautifully plated dish – ancho chile tostada – explaining that he loves to paint. Joe pegs him as the winner. It really does look ridiculously tasty! I may just need to screen cap it and figure it out.. hrmmm….

Then they do the “round of bad dishes” montage. UGH.

A few comments here:

1. The breast milk thing.

I’ve seen a ton of ridiculous comments online that need to be addressed: No one poisoned anyone, for one. IF that was even breast milk (I have no inside information either way, I just know that the “Reality” of “reality tv” tends to be anything but!), we were all subjected to a lot of blood/urine testing, and I would have to assume that they would have tested that milk THOROUGHLY. Laloni wasn’t being irresponsible or criminal in bringing breast milk to cook with, she was doing what she was told.

Oh, and by the way, Fox production people… I’m not violating the NDA here. In Googling to find Laloni, I did come across several posts from MasterChef casting people on forums and Facebook, actively LOOKING FOR people who cook with breastmilk.

Suck it.

2. “We’re going to eat raw ramen”.

An interesting comment from “Mr Italian” Joey Coattails. No, you’re not eating raw ramen, moron. Ramen is precooked pasta, I’m kind of shocked that you don’t know this, given how uppity you are about flour and water.

“We’re going to eat dry ramen” would be accurate – and not really all THAT strange, despite the shocked and disgusted airs you put on. Plenty of people use ramen dry, in a variety of ways. I guess you have to maintain your pretentiousness, though. Moron.

3. Nick Garcia

Nick Garcia is a really great guy who runs the kitchen at a local pasta bar here in Minneapolis. He KNOWS how to cook, and his Caribbean pasta with habanero and bananas looked fascinating – I’d try it it a heartbeat.

4. Wanda Allende-Ortiz

Wanda Allende-Ortiz was a total sweetheart, loves to cook, and KNOWS how to cook. Her dish was one that (as far as I heard!) EVERYONE who tried, loved. I don’t even know what to say about the judges telling her it was the worst dish in MasterChef history.

Andy Peters‘s “Oh Dear Lord Jesus” is going to turn into a catch phrase for him, I’m sure of it.

Now, the judges treatment of Ayla Skye.

I knew that the judges had treated a lot of the contestants in a very sexist manner, but I was shocked at the running theme of sexism that made it to air. I don’t remember any of it in past seasons, so I guess I kind of figured they were using such behaviour as a tool to get a reaction from contestants. (Not that I find that justified, I was just shocked to see it on TV).

Next up, we have Adriana Guillen.

Adriana was a COMPLETE AND TOTAL SWEETHEART, and I’m so glad that it came across on camera. On a personal note, she really helped me out when I was having a meltdown. Will always remember that.

Here we go back to the sexist stuff. “This is a great dish, but you’re too sweet and nice, so you can’t possibly hack this competition”? What kind of nonsense IS that? Aren’t they supposed to be at least pretending that it’s a food competition? Also, why don’t they talk to dudes like that?

Then we have a run of very quick aprons being given out. Bethy Rossos, Kevin Tindell, Monica Renee Watson, and Lynn Chyi.

Now we have George Mastrosavas.

We were all SO excited for George – he was a total sweetheart (and someone else who talked me down from the big meltdown!), everyone adored him, and he was GOING TO PROPOSE. SO excited.

George made a Greek wedding soup. It sounded and looked SO good.

Let me take this opportunity to once again point out what a douche Joey Coattails is.

George was born in Greece. BORN THERE. He is a bona fide Greek.

Joe is AMERICAN. He was born in America, to Italian immigrants. Not only is he NOT Greek in any way, he is Italian by heritage only, not by birth.

Gotta love it when Joe the American is telling George the Greek ABOUT GREEK COOKING. What the hell…?

I know a ton of Greeks, both by birth and by heritage. I’ve spent a lot of time in the Danforth area of Toronto – Greektown – which turns BLUE AND WHITE at certain times of the year (sporting events!), from all the Greek flags everywhere.

Butter is “The antithesis of Greece”, eh? Joey, I’m not so sure that you know the meaning of that word…

All I have to say is this. You show me a Greek that doesn’t cook with butter, and I’ll show you a Greek with Lactose Intolerance.

Wasn’t fond of them telling George to “Man up” in proposing … Oh hang on, I can’t recap this, I’m crying again. I don’t usually bawl over proposals, but this one got me. Nice touch with the judges throwing plates and yelling “Opa!”.

George and Maria, you’re awesome. SO MUCH AWESOME. Congrats again, and all the best for your upcoming nuptuals!

Since filming the show, George has opened a pizza restaurant in Ohio. If you’re in the area, you should totally stop by and order something – dude KNOWS food. 3 Brothers Pizza in Middleburg Heights, Ohio. They also have a Facebook page here. Check it out!

Next up is Krissi Biasiello, the single mom from Philly.

I didn’t really get to know Krissi while out in LA, but have enjoyed getting to know her since. Someone who is into direct communication, that I never EVER have to “read between the lines” with. No passive aggression anywhere! She’s a dream!

Though the show only just started, Krissi has already been subjected to one of the ugly side effects of reality TV – people are attacking not only her, but her 13 year old kid.

I can’t even … If you are going to get so invested in a “reality” TV show about people you don’t even know, as to go only and spew your hatred about them, I feel sorry for you. If you are going to take it a step further and call 13 year old kids awful stuff like “retard” – you are a loser of the highest (lowest?) order. Get a life.

Seriously, what the hell is wrong with people?

Krissi makes a stuffed meatloaf florentine with a fontina sauce and “dreamy potatoes”. Looks tasty – Gets an apron.

Krissi, your son seems very well spoken – especially for a 13 year old. From everything I’ve seen and heard, you did a great job raising a good kid, and you should be very proud.

And that’s it for episode one… now going to work on episode two!

Guest Post – Ben Starr – How to Watch a MasterChef Premiere…from a MasterChef Survivor

Three weeks ago, I gave you all some insight into how I trained and prepared for MasterChef… but I left out a BIG part of my preparation.

As I watched all threee seasons, I was on the lookout for more than just information about the show, what the judges were looking for, etc. I was keeping an eye on the contestants, looking for SOMETHING. I am big on gathering information before jumping into anything, and this was going to be the biggest, most insane “thing” I ever attempted. What I really needed was information from someone who had been there.

Due to the contracts we had to sign, this would be a sticky situation. We weren’t allowed to tell anyone that we were on the show, which would make it difficult to obtain that information. I had to figure out how to do it in a way that wouldn’t violate the contract, and I needed to figure out who the perfect person to approach would be. Pick the wrong one, and for all I knew, I’d be messaging the best friend of one of the producers!

After watching all three seasons, the choice was obvious to me. I would anonymously contact Ben Starr, from MasterChef season two.

You see, something about him really grabbed me. He reminded me a lot of myself, and something told me that he would not only be an amazing source of information, but that he would be trustworthy – an important combination, for what I was about to do.

Against the recommendation of my husband and VERY small group of people who knew what I was doing, I set up an anonymous email address that wasn’t connected to ANYTHING – only ever to be used to contact Ben. I called myself “X” (LOL!), and carefully crafted my initial email to not ACTUALLY say that I was one of the 100. I knew he was smart, and I knew that he would know what I was getting at.

Over the few months before I left, we would email back and forth. I would pepper him with questions – mostly about logistical concerns – and he would provide just the information I was looking for.

I’ll never forget how generous he was with his time, answering all these questions from a complete stranger… especially given that he knew nothing about me! I was extremely careful to not reveal my gender, location, or anything that ANYONE could identify me by. I was even careful to make sure that I used region-neutral language and syntax!

Aside from answering questions I had about logistics concerns (“What is the laundry situation?”), Ben was like a personal, private cheerleader. He gave me the pep talks and confidence that could only come from someone who had been there.

He told me to cook my butt off and cook from the heart. To not try to play someone else’s game, just cook the food I know and love. He told me to be the biggest, boldest, but still most genuine version of myself that I could be. He told me to not to censor myself or try to “act,”but to be the person I am after a few drinks with friends – great advice!

He told me listen to the judges’ feedback, but always trust my heart over all. He reminded me that I’d know if I really cooked a bad dish, and sometimes harsh criticism is exaggerated to heighten drama. He told me not to take that personally and not to let it ruin my love of cooking or cause me to doubt myself. Above all else, he told me to embrace my fellow contestants, learn from them, and love them, because years from now, they will still be like family long after the world has forgotten about MasterChef.

Some of that, I didn’t really take to heart (Sorry Ben!). I read it and I processed it, but I wasn’t exactly able to tell him that the likelihood of me embracing anyone, making friends, or coming to see anyone as “family” was very slim, on account of me not being a people person in the SLIGHTEST – no identifying information about me!

Whoops. I guess he actually was right about it. I promise I’ll listen next time, Ben!

Funny thing – I had no idea just how good a job I’d done at concealing my identity, til I finally “introduced” myself to him. It was a confusing exchange, he didn’t immediately pick up on what I was saying… because he thought that “X” was a DUDE! Hahahahaa!! I don’t think he fully believed that I was female until got on Skype together!

Anyway, enough back story from me. Ben is an amazing guy, and I’m so glad that I met him – I chose WISELY. I thought it would be fun to get him to do a blog entry, leading up to my debut on MasterChef. When asked what I specifically wanted him to write about, I left it wide open. He has such a diverse range of interests, and is just a really interesting, entertaining writer, I didn’t want to give him any guidelines. I knew that whatever he would write about – food, travel, home brewing, gardening… or whatever else – would be great.

What he emailed me as a guest blog blew me away. This is amazing, and I really hope that people keep this essay in mind when watching MasterChef both this evening, and going forward.

Thank you, Ben, for everything. You’re amazing.

If you’d like to follow Ben’s adventures, you can do so on his website, Twitter, Facebook, and/or Youtube

All photos courtesy of Ben Starr.

It’s been 2 years since I found myself locked in a hotel room in Los Angeles, unable to leave without a babysitter, unable to connect to the outside world (including family, friends, and career.) Awake at 5am every morning and hustled into a cold van, driven to a grimy warehouse where I’d sit outside in a tent for 3 hours.

Every 10 minutes, a production assistant would come by and say, “5 minute warning, everyone. On-set in 5 minutes.” That warning would be repeated for many hours to come. Then suddenly a cry, “EVERYONE ON SET NOW!” Hustlebustle. And we’re herded in front of Ramsay, Bastianich, and Elliot to begin the 8-hour process of filming a 1-hour challenge. Then it’s back to being locked in a hotel room for a few hours of desperate sleep before the process repeated. Every day. Without stopping. For 2 months. Making MasterChef. Season 2.

On May 22, MasterChef season 4 will commence. And in a scant 3 hours of broadcasting, the lives of 100 contestants will flash before your eyes.Within 3 hours of programming, more than 80% of them will be gone forever,and only a tiny core of contestants will remain for the bulk of the season.

This blog is not about that core. This blog is about the ones you’ll see for fleeting seconds. Or the ones you’ll never see.

These initial 100 contestants were selected from live auditions that took place last fall. When you attend a MasterChef audition, you bring a signature dish of yours (they want it to convey “you on a plate”), and you stand in line for an hour or two (or six) with hundreds, or sometimes thousands of other hopefuls. Looking around, you see nervous, shy people with what appear to be truly spectacular dishes. You also see folks dressed up like pirate strippers or gangsta rappers, hopeful to make enough of a spectacle to warrant a second glance from the casting agents. When you reach the front of the line, you’re herded into a large room with 19 other people, where you have a couple of minutes to plate your dish…which has been silently curdling, wilting, fermenting, and basically dying while you stood in line all those hours. (Little do you know, this is preparing you for an everyday occurrence on the show…food on MasterChef is NEVER judged when it is fresh, only after sitting at room temperature for hours after it came out of the oven.)

The 100 contestants, who barely know each other, waiting in a cold dark alley to first enter the warehouse where the signature dish challenge is filmed.

Once your dish is plated, a series of people begin walking around the room. Some are casting agents. (That could range from the supreme executive producer of the show, to an unpaid intern at a local casting firm.) Some are “culinary experts.” (That could range from an instructor at the local culinary school, to a TRUE world-class Master Chef like Ferdinand Metz…the kind that FAR outrank formidable judges like Ramsay and Elliot, neither of whom are actually real Master Chefs.) The trick is that you don’t know who is who. You don’t know who to explain how you crafted the dish to, and who to explain that your family died when you were 2, you were raised by a pack of wolves, and you learned to cook by watching Mongolian television which was the only channel you could intercept through the airwaves in the remote mountain valley where your wolf-pack family lived. 2 or 3 people will ask you some basic questions, and after you’ve talked for about 30 seconds, they say, “THANK YOU,” write a few notes on their clipboard, and move on.

After all the casting folk have made their rounds, a few names are called for people who are to remain for further questioning. Among them are probably the pirate stripper and the gangsta rapper. Also, that outgoing, food-geek dude who rigged his homemade immersion circulator to run on battery power so he could keep his curried hollandaise at perfect serving temperature until plating time. Staying along with him is the adorable old grandmother who made her famous church-potluck deviled eggs with Hellmans mayonaise and a package of dry French Onion soup mix, and who does stand-up comedy at the Senior Center on Tuesdays.

Amongst the “rejects” who are cast back out into the real world are probably the most skilled and talented among all those present that day. But they don’t fit the list of characters the casting folks are looking for. Because reality television is most certainly NOT about skill. That is incidental. They are looking for *characters*.

Contestants enjoying a rare moment in the sun outside the warehouse.

After an invasive and arduous several months of interviews, psychological evaluations, background investigations, and blood tests for everything from STDs to drugs to full DNA sequencing (I’m not joking), 100 contestants are informed that they are cast on MasterChef.

When they arrive in Los Angeles to film the show, they immediately become perplexed. Because, as they get to know each other and chat about food, they discover that there’s a surprisingly wide range of skill and knowledge levels present. There are plenty of contestants who have never heard of “sous vide” cooking, have never tasted arugula, and don’t know what “mise en place” means. Then there are other contestants who may have been to culinary school, or may have worked on the line in a restaurant…who have dined VERY well…who have even more knowledge of sophisticated cooking techniques than many chefs. Most candidates fall somewhere in between. And the core group of finalists, after the majority are sent home without aprons, will be pulled from both extremes and the middle group. But in that first week as the contestants get to know each other, it can be very puzzling for some, and very intimidating for others. Puzzling to the advanced candidates because they are wondering, if this is really a skill-based competition, why are there people here who only know how to make casseroles from cans. Intimidating for those casserole candidates, because there are people here speaking in an advanced culinary language that they can’t understand, and they wonder how they fit in.

Through the magic of television, a crumbling old furniture warehouse is transformed into the signature dish studio.

Eventually, they all spend a week inside a dusty warehouse filming the “signature dish” challenge. This is where each of the 100 contestants has an hour to prepare their “signature dish” for the judges, and find out whether or not they get the coveted apron. Some contestants are truly lucky enough to actually cook their own recipe. Contractually unable to reveal any more, I’ll just say that other contestants don’t have that luxury and have to cook something else…sometimes it’s something they’ve never even cooked before. This week of signature dish filming is incredibly tense. Up to 10 contestants are cooking at any given time. Once their hour is complete, they put their food on a cart and wait for their turn before the judges. That wait can be up to several hours long, depending on how smoothly the production is running.

And this solid week of 12 hour days gets condensed into 2 or 3 episodes of MasterChef. The premiers. Out of 100 contestants, you’ll be lucky to see half them on the final edit. Those that are displayed will be a carefully selected sampling of some (but not all) of the top core of finalists, along with candidates who have inspiring stories, candidates with crazy mad skills but who are deliberately eliminated without an apron to prove to the rest of the contestants and the audience that this is a “tough and very serious” competition, candidates with bizarre aspects (ie a guy who plates his sushi on a naked woman, a guy who rides in on a horse, a guy with a pet monkey who sits on his shoulder as he cooks, a girl who cooks with her own breast milk, etc.) and contestants who were deliberately cast to be ridiculed by the judges for having amateur skills. Yes…that happens too.

In a casting van headed to the studio, contestants take every instant they can to study.

Do I know this because I have “inside knowledge?” Of course not. You know it, too. MasterChef auditions gather thousands of VERY serious, knowledgeable cooks. If the casting agents had truly sought out the 100 best home cooks in America, there wouldn’t be a single amateur in the house. No one would be sent home for having offended the judges with sub-par cuisine. But this is entertainment, folks. You wouldn’t watch MasterChef if they had TRULY recruited the 100 best home cooks in the country. Because it would be pretty darn boring.

One contestant creatively expressing their extreme boredom from being locked in their hotel room all day.

So as you watch the first 3 hours of MasterChef, let yourself be entertained. This isn’t reality. It’s television. But the lives *behind*the show are reality. And if you connect with a contestant who really strikes something inside you, reach out and find them on the internet. Because MasterChef changes lives for the worse, perhaps more often than it changes lives for the better. People discover that they were just cast to be made fun of. Others who truly believed they had a chance at winning, and who produced a truly fabulous signature dish, will be eliminated because they just didn’t have the right chemistry to be in the core group…and are judged based not on their cooking, but on their “package” as a character. And that is really traumatic for a lot of folks. Contestants will make it to the top group who know *very* little about cooking. Contestants will be eliminated who are breathtakingly talented. That’s just the way reality TV goes.

What can help heal them, and inspire them to continue following their food dreams, is to be contacted by fans who felt a connection to them. Because one of the truly remarkable things that MasterChef does is cause people to take a long, hard, objective look at their lives. They made the choice to potentially lose their job, their house, their spouse, because they have a dream of making a difference in the culinary world. And that’s powerful stuff. And those that get tossed out like yesterday’s salad can find themselves in a very trying place. But you can help push them to continue their dreams by showing that you were moved by their performance and you want to see more…*that their sacrifice and performance made a difference to someone*.

After the first 3 episodes are over and the core group of finalists is chosen, reflect on the fact that you only saw a handful of the total number of people who risked almost everything in their lives to be on the show. There are people who will never even make it to the final edit. You’ll never even know they were on the show in the first place. But their entire life was turned upside down for half a year. They had to leave their job with no more information than, “I’m going away for at least a week, maybe up to 2 months, and I can’t contact you until I get back.” They left their families the same way, too.

So while you laugh and cry as you meet the lucky (and sometimes very unlucky) folks who are featured during the first few episodes, think of the ones you *didn’t* meet. And realize that, even for the people the judges laugh out of the studio who seem to have no cooking skill at all, they took a very frightening risk to be there. Deep inside, they truly dream of being the next MasterChef, of leaving their mark on the culinary world. And, as every true Master Chef knows, *all* skills can be taught…but passion can’t be.

My Training & Preparation for MasterChef

Training & Preparation for MasterChef

Deciding to compete on a “reality” TV show was a major decision for me. Like I’ve mentioned, it was an act of desperation, a last ditch effort to make a go of my current career path, potentially get ourselves out of tornado debt, etc. If I was going to do this, I would be doing it RIGHT.

So, from early on in the audition process, preparing myself for the show became more and more of a full time job for me – 4 months worth, leading up to the filming. By the end of the first month in … I lived, slept, ate, and breathed Master Chef.

Marathon Viewing

As I’d never seen the show before, the casting producer strongly encouraged me to watch the entirety of season 3. So I did… and then I watched seasons 1 and 2, taking notes on EVERYTHING. Finally, I watched season 3 again, to gain a better understanding of the overall arc of the series, to help assess what direction(s) they could potentially be going with the season I would be competing on.

It was an interesting progression, and one that disturbed me a little. By watching the judges’ faces throughout the series, I could tell that they were lying more to/about the contestant entries as the series progressed over the 3 previous years. (I studied faces to help get by with my Aspergers years ago, and am excellent at identifying micro expressions – when I WANT to -yay me!), Also, there was definitely an increase in the forced drama – this worried me, so I braced myself for it. Always better to have an idea of what to prepare for, right?

Mentally, I prepared myself for everything right up to the possibility that they would end up housing the contestants together and air footage of the “behind the scenes” crap, “Big Brother” / “The Glass House” style, this year. I looked at it as an absolute worst case scenario, but really… I can survive anything for a finite amount of time, especially if I have time to consider/prepare for the possibility ahead of time.

Gathering Intel

After watching the previous three seasons of the show, I had a good idea of which contestants I could identify with in some way, and which would be most likely to write about their experiences. Starting with them, I poured over their blog entries, tweets, etc – from around my estimation of when they started the casting process, right through to current day.

I learned a lot about what to expect from the whole thing, from arriving at the airport, to the recurring theme that food would be scarce while filming (and I should have paid WAY more attention to that one!). From random bits of information across several seasons – and many contestants – I pieced together a bit of an image of what life would be like. I knew that – barring any major changes – I’d be set up in a hotel with a single roommate. I knew that the show liked to screw with the contestants, pulling crap like middle of the night “pack your bags NOW, we’re moving to another hotel!” drills. I knew that those who received aprons would spend a lot of time in cooking classes, though that was never really shown on the air. I learned more about what the judges (stated that they) were looking for, about strengths and weaknesses, and more.

I looked up the grocery stores that we would be going to for our daily supplies and food to cook at the auditions: Ralph’s and Whole Foods. I learned that Ralph’s had a rewards card, so I registered for it … receiving it JUST in time to leave for LA! Boy, am I ever glad I did – saved me a ton of money, and the extra cards that came with it were handy to pass out to my new friends, aiding them as well. The truck I was in saved almost $100 on the first day!


Now, I like to think I’m a pretty good cook, but I know that there is always room for improvement. Also, I realized that there were certain basics that I just never really got into for whatever reason. For example, I’m not big on eggs, so I’ve never bothered to learn how to poach them. I’m horrible at making pancakes. I’d never made risotto, or fresh pasta, and those were really common things in the show.

So, we bought a pasta maker, and I quickly taught myself not only the basics, but all sorts of different flavors and techniques. We LIVED on risotto. OMG, if I never see risotto again…

It was a lot of work – and CARBS! – but I knew there was no way I would (legitimately) get eliminated on either pasta or risotto! Beyond that, I trained to the point where I could do pretty much any type of egg from memory, possibly with my eyes closed. I became a finely tuned MACHINE in the kitchen! Muahaha!


When the show told me that I would be making my Mango Mojito Upside Down Cake as my “audition” dish, I had a little work to do there, as well. I had to tweak the sizing – 1 hour is not enough time to prepare and bake it, start to finish. So, I time trialled a few sizes, and finally settled on making 6″ cakes. Then, on the advice of a friend, I took my ingredients to a friend’s house (I’d never cooked in his kitchen, was good to get ‘in a foreign space’ experience!) and baked a batch, start to finish… wearing the outfit I had planned for my audition (more on that later!), hair done, makeup done, and with my husband harassing me with questions as I worked. I managed to get it all done and plated within the hour, and it turned out perfectly – I was ready!


Beyond actual in-kitchen training, I studied my ass off:

– I researched different cuisines, memorizing flavor profiles and base recipes for many popular ethnic dishes.

– I researched the availability of various animal proteins, how to prepare and cook them, etc. I learned stuff like “you have to cook bear well done, because of possible trichinosis”. I learned which meats should never be cooked well done, what seasonings work best with what, etc. I now know how to prepare every variety of domestic, game, and exotic animal available in the USA – including snake. If they were legally able to obtain it (by purchase or by hunting), I had a plan for how I would prepare it. I know how many regular eggs that emu and ostrich eggs are equivalent to (10-12 and 24 eggs, respectively!), and what I’d do if given one.

– All of that previous paragraph? Did it for fish and seafood, as well. I am completely blown away by the variety of fish available for sale in this country, btw. I’d never heard of HALF of what I came across!

– Watched many videos to learn about fileting different types of fish and butchering different types of meat. Thanked my lucky stars that I have the ability to watch something done once, and be able to do it. (One of my “Aspie Superpowers”!)

– Memorized cook time/temperature charts for all of the basic poultry / roast/ etc options.

– Researched and memorized all of the “Mother” sauces AND major variants of each.

– I gathered and memorized all of my base recipes for things like biscuits, fish and chip batter, doughboys, pastry cream, panna cotta, choux dough, sushi rice, pakora batter, etc.

– I spent a lot of time thinking of individual ingredients, and what I would be doing if they came up as mystery box challenges, etc. I have a LONG list of cool ideas I came up with – you can expect to see them on this blog, eventually 🙂

Business as Usual?

In addition to all of the cooking and studying, I had to prepare for my husband to take over my business while I would be away. Starting out, I thought this would be no big deal… but wow, it really ended up involved!

– I wrote and set up 3 months worth of blog entries to auto post to my site, and then set up for auto posts to Facebook and Twitter. Seriously. THREE MONTHS! Wonder why I went from sporadic blogging to being super diligent about following a schedule? Now you know!

– I had to gather the login information for EVERYTHING. My merchant account, my publisher (and how to order more stock!), bank accounts, the company I order mailing envelopes from (and write down which products I buy!). Each of my email addresses, all of my social media, the blog, the web host… every time I thought I was done, I’d think of two other things to document for him!

– Had to create a daily to do list, with references to details on some of the items. I’d never actually thought about what all I do, it seems basic habit now… but man, it’s a whole ordeal to get it together for someone else. ESPECIALLY knowing that person will not have the ability to ask questions – there would be no contact once I arrived in LA, from everything I read!

– As I was under contract with Minnesota Historical Society Press for “Sweet Corn Spectacular“, I had to step up my work on that, with now-shortened deadlines. In addition to that, I had a couple of other books slated to come out in and around the time I’d be gone.. again, lots of work to do on a much shorter schedule!

– Being in Mensa, – and a part of some really tightly knit social groups with the organization – I knew that “disappearing” would be very difficult to do. Stephanie had recently “gone on sabbatical” and shut down her social media in order to be on the Glass House, so I knew that anything I did would make everyone suspicious. How do you fool a ton of really (excessively?) smart close friends?

I weighed the options and eventually decided that a “no social media” new years resolution would be the way to go. Everyone knew I was frustrated and stressed out by all of the hatred and violence in the media, so I knew it wouldn’t be hard to believe. Hell, by the time New Year’s rolled around, I think I was ready to take a social media break even if NOT for MasterChef!

Making Myself Presentable

I knew going in to this that it was not necessarily merit based, and not all about the cooking. From everything I’d read (and really, simple logic)… this was about being marketable as a winner. As a fat, homely, blue haired curmudgeon? No small obstacle!

– I hit the gym.

– I bought Spanx for the first time in my life. OMG, torture! (Oh, and they really weren’t fun when we had only the teeniest hit-your-knees-on-the-door porta potties during filming!)

– I made a very flattering “audition” shirt. It fit well, made me feel good… and was based on the “Hunger Games” training shirt. YES. If I was going to do something this crazy, I was going to have some fun and be able to laugh at the irony / make a bit of a statement, right? 🙂

– Per their request, I made a special apron for my “audition”. I don’t wear aprons, ever… but they wanted something that showed some personality, whatever… so I made a bright turquoise PVC snakeskin print/texture apron. Awesome!

– I practiced talking and cooking on camera, with and without being asked questions. Very awkward, as someone who’s not big on having a camera aimed her way!

– I went to my friend Holly – a talented makeup artist – to get a crash course on makeup. I don’t know anything about it, I don’t usually wear the stuff. She was great, teaching me about contouring, products I’d never heard of, etc. She sent me off with a better idea of what I was doing, some samples, a diagram AND an order of operations list!

– As an “all ponytail/bun, all the time” kinda person (yes, scrunchie too!)… I decided that I should probably actually learn how to do my own hair. I cruised some braiding websites, and quickly learned how to do a few styles. I also scoured the ‘net for some inspiration hairstyle photos and compiled them into a printed book to bring with me, figuring I’d figure them out as needed.

Left: Getting weird with it …. Right: “Help me Gordon Ramsay, you are my only hope!”

– I had my teeth bleached. Saw a Groupon for a crazy deal on Zoom whitening… OMG sensory torture. The whole time I sat there with my face all jacked up, waves of pain shooting into my face… all I could think about was competing on the show. Eyes on the prize!

– On the subject of sensory torture, I knew that going on this “adventure” would rank right up there as one of the dumbest things I could possibly do, with regards to my sensory issues. Not wanting to have any meltdowns on TV (And not knowing at the time that the show would actively try to induce them… assholes!), I decided to “train” in a new, completely masochistic way:

… I went to the Mall of America, on Christmas eve. I can’t stand that place on the best of days, and absolutely refuse to enter it between October 1 – January 1. Going on Christmas Eve? Insane. I did it with a purpose though – I went in there knowing that it would be absolute sensory overload, to practice blocking it out, managing the stress, etc. Proud to say that I made it a few hours without losing it! Could have gone longer, too… but it all got to my husband first!


Man, the amount of shopping we had to do to get ready for this whole thing was insane – we hemorrhaged money over this, crossing our fingers the whole time that this would be a good investment, and a smart risk to take.

You see, I don’t have much of a wardrobe. I’m an author! I really do fit the stereotype of just working in my PJs every day. I don’t like wearing jeans, as they never seem to fit, so I have yoga pants. The rest of my wardrobe is made up of well loved ThinkGeek / Misc geek shirts. I had one pair of runners, and they’re pretty ratty.

New jeans. All new shirts, which had to fit the “reality show standards” – no words, no logos, no artwork, no white shirts, no black shirts (WHAAAAT!?), etc. We scoured thrift shops to come up with an affordable, attractive (read: blues, teals, turquoise) wardrobe of TV suitable shirts. New runners, as we knew I’d be on my feet a lot. Those damn dreaded Spanx. Toiletries for 3 months (That was NOT fun to figure out, btw)…

Accessories! I picked up a few sets of simple earrings and a couple of necklaces. New for me, I am not usually a jewelry person. (See “spending all day in my PJs” comment above!)

It was very important to me to ‘Wear my Canadianism on my sleeve”… or around my neck!

My friend Lauren, of Style in Abundance sent me some GORGEOUS custom necklaces to wear (Go check out her stuff!)

Photos don’t do justice to Lauren’s work… these are GORGEOUS!

I picked up a burner phone, as I had to leave my smart phone at home so my husband could run the business.

Thinking ahead to the logistics at the hotel, I bought this laundry hamper at IKEA. DEFINITELY recommend it to anyone entering into a similar situation, for what it’s worth. Fit easily in my suitcase (the coil structure collapses down flat, and is held flat with Velcro straps!), and allowed me to keep my dirty clothes separate and relatively organized!


Ok, so waiting didn’t seem like training at the time, but after the rush of making sure I had EVERYTHING planned for… there was a lot of waiting. In hindsight, I guess it was good practice for being in LA and having to deal with people who had a tenuous grasp on logistics – at best. There was a LOT of “hurry up and wait”.. “Be in the hotel lobby by 7am!”… only to not actually be leaving till 10 am or later. That kind of mind blowingly frustrating thing.

It only got worse after getting home, when it became obvious that the logistics issue wasn’t just isolated to the people dealing with us on the ground there!

So, I did things like … watch “The Hunger Games”. I figured – death and such aside – it was probably a fairly accurate representation of what I was about to walk into…. and I was right!

Oh, and finally… I made a super cute travel/toiletry bag set for the trip. I had so much STUFF to organize, this came in handy. One bag for hair dye, bleach, gloves, etc… another for accessories, another for hair accessories, another for ALL my makeup, a smaller one for “day of” makeup in my purse, etc.

The bright print on these make me so happy!

So… more on the MasterChef adventure another day!