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Friday, September 13, 2013

MasterChef America

I was having a bit of a hard time coming up with a topic for today's blog. Today's Friday, and I really wanted to do a topic that featured some aspect of teaching. As we're in the month of September and schools are now back in session, I struggled to come up with a suitable topic.

That, plus the fact that I'm on a bit of a time crunch today and only have a total of three and a half hours to type out this entire entry. So, I suppose in a way, I'm challenging myself and teaching myself to become a better writer by working under pressure.

Hmmm...working under pressure. That sounds like an interesting idea to go on.

But which show features everyday, ordinary people working under pressure to create extraordinary things?

Oh, wait. I know of just a show. In fact, the season finale of the fourth season of this program aired just a couple of days ago on September 11, 2013.

Come to think of it, this past season of MasterChef was quite entertaining to watch, and very unpredictable. Well, at least it was to me anyway. You know how some people believe that reality television is scripted.

But for some reason, I've always loved watching MasterChef. The concept of the show is absolute genius. The end goal of each season of the series is the same. You have hundreds of amateur chefs coming on the show to compete for a spot on the show by cooking a signature dish for three judges in the food industry in hopes of impressing them.

You wouldn't think that a cooking competition would get people watching, but from the very first season of the American series (the show originated in the United Kingdom as far back as 1990), I was hooked. As someone who appreciates good food (but admittedly have zero skills in the kitchen), I have to say that anybody who even makes it onto the show at all has my absolute respect.

The three judges who taste every single dish are also highly respected people in the culinary world. I would say that Gordon Ramsay, Graham Elliot, and Joe Bastianich have decades of experience between the three of them. Heck, Joe Bastianich is the son of Lidia Bastianich, a real master chef herself! If anyone knows good food, it's the BRE-Team (Bastianich/Ramsay/Elliot).

So, anyway, the finale of the show pitted Natasha Crnjac against Luca Manfe in an epic battle to see who would become the true MasterChef. The competition was fierce with Luca and Natasha having to battle against seventeen other people for the title. They cooked a variety of dishes using langoustine, king crab, pork, turkey, beef, pigeon (yes, pigeon), and a plethora of vegetarian dishes and desserts in hopes of impressing the judges. They made some mistakes along the way, and at some point in the competition, both faced the chopping block at least twice.

But in the end, the victor reigned supreme.

Congratulations, Luca! A well earned victory indeed.

So, to celebrate Luca's win, I thought that I would do a feature on MasterChef. (Well, the American version at least. I have heard from many fans of the show that the British version is much better than the American one, but I've never seen the British version.)

Now, as mentioned before, MasterChef originated in the United Kingdom in 1990, but over the last twenty-three years, it has exploded in popularity and is now broadcast in several different countries including Australia, China, Croatia, Greece, India, Italy, Spain, and Vietnam. And beginning in 2014, Canada will join the list of countries that will have their very own MasterChef competition. Very excited to hear of that news!

Now, most people know of the version of the show that has aired on FOX since July 2010. Many don't realize that MasterChef first aired in the United States on PBS between 2000 and 2001! I know I certainly didn't!

Anyway, with the FOX version of the show, we have now had four people that have been granted the title of MasterChef. They are...

2010 – Whitney Miller
2011 – Jennifer Behm
2012 – Christine Ha
2013 – Luka Manfe

And what do the winners of the competition win? Plenty. They win the title of MasterChef for the year, which comes with a beautiful trophy. They get the opportunity to publish their own cookbook, which for most amateur chefs is a dream come true! Just have a look at last year's winner's book below.

Nice, huh?

Oh, yeah. There's also a quarter of a million dollar cash prize at the end of the journey. Why, that's enough to keep your pantry, fridge and freezers stocked up for several years!

Now, one thing that I find interesting about MasterChef is that the show really puts contestants through every possible challenge in order for the judges to determine who has what it takes to become the next MasterChef. And the way they do this is through team challenges, mystery box challenges, and pressure tests.

Team challenges are always fun to watch. They take the contestants and divide them up into teams where they will be put into some rather unusual situations. Sometimes they will have to be placed in a kitchen of a high-end restaurant in an exercise in quality control. Sometimes they'll have to plan a lunch menu for junior high school students. Sometimes, they'll even have to open up a food truck in the middle of the beach and cook fish tacos and hamburgers for a large group of people. The teams that end up doing the best will win and be safe for the pressure test.

Similarly, the show features mystery box challenges, in which contestants won't know what ingredients they have to work with until they remove the lid of the box. Usually, each of the boxes will have some sort of theme to it. Some boxes will have ingredients that seemingly don't blend well together but they will have to find a way to make it work. Some mystery box challenges will have ingredients that are a delicacy in foreign countries, but are virtually unheard of in America. And, in one memorable mystery box challenge, the children of the judges actually chose the mystery box ingredients! And to add to the pressure, the chefs would only have between 45 and 90 minutes to make their dish stand out. On mystery box challenges, the judges will choose their favourite three dishes, and the winner of the challenge will have a hand in planning the pressure test, which if the player is smart will use the opportunity to take out their biggest competition.

Now, what is this pressure test that I keep talking about?

Well, the pressure test really puts contestants under pressure. If they fail the test, they get eliminated from the competition! And believe me when I say that the pressure tests are nowhere near easy. It's bad enough that the chefs have to prepare such complicated dishes such as souffle, meringue pie, and lobster bisque, but to do it in what seems like an impossible time limit on top of that? No wonder they call it a pressure test!

Some handle the pressure really well. Others buckle under pressure. But the pressure tests definitely do what they were meant to do. They weed out the competition and they leave the strongest chefs standing.

So, now that you know how the game is played, let's take a look at some of the more memorable moments of the whole series, shall we?

On Season 2, there were lots of people on the show who shall we say...had some rather boastful attitudes. Suzy and Max in particular knew that both of them were the best in the competition and they were not afraid to let anyone know it either.

(Too bad neither one won the competition to back up their claims.)

But then there was Christian, a stay-at-home dad. And his ego was something special. So special that he didn't hesitate to go head to head with the very judges who had the power to keep him in the competition! Not the smartest move. Have a look at some of Christian's “greatest hits”.

For what it's worth, I thought that Christian was going to go far in the competition, and for what it's worth, I initially went into MasterChef season two rooting for Christian to win. Unfortunately, his attitude kind of turned me off to him, and when he was eliminated, I was kind of relieved. That said, I do hope Christian is doing well.

If anything, after seeing the way that Krissi acted on the last season of MasterChef with her bullying tactics and immaturity, next to her Christian was quite tame!

On the flipside, on the same season Christian was on, you had Ben Starr, who didn't quite make it to the finals, but who had the depth, the passion, and most of all the humility to become a true MasterChef. Just have a look at the pumpkin carrot cake he prepared for a pressure test challenge.

Okay, I don't even like pumpkin and I want to try that cake! It just looked phenomenal!

Another success story is that of Season 3 winner Christine Ha. She dominated the competition throughout her whole season, very rarely making it in the bottom two. She lead her team to victory on a couple of occasions, and she prepared some of the most brilliant dishes in the history of the competition.

And she did it all with very little sight.

Yes, Christine is legally blind, which at the beginning of the competition had her other competitors believing that because of this she was not a major threat. But boy did Christine prove them wrong. But one of the most beautiful things about Christine's story was the self-growth she did herself. She entered the competition doubting her abilities and thinking that she couldn't compete with the others.

That is, until she made the apple pie that changed her entire outlook. Have a look.

I STILL get goosebumps watching that moment. In that moment, I believe that a true MasterChef was born, and it was in the moment that Christine really began to show everyone that she did have what it took to become a MasterChef. Good show, Christine!

One of my favourite parts of the show is the audition process. The auditions are some of the most entertaining parts of the whole show. Just have a look at this montage of contestants who didn't quite make it onto the show.

But just because a person doesn't make it onto the show the first time around, it doesn't mean that they are out of the running down the road. After all, Luca was turned down for season three, and he won season four!  And, to conclude this entry off, let's watch some of the more successful auditions!

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