I wonder if part of MasterChef is like learning algebra in high school.
Full disclosure, I know very little about high-end cooking. So the reality-competition series MasterChef - which wraps up its fourth season Wednesday on Fox and CTV - gives me a peek into an unknown world.
But as I watched last week's episode, this thought struck me: How often in real life is a chef charged with creating a unique dish in, say, 60 minutes or 75 minutes or 90 minutes? Not just cooking a dish. That I could see. But creating a dish on deadline?
Don't big-time chefs in major establishments work tirelessly and meticulously on their menus? Yes, they might have to cook something in a hurry. But how often would they hear, "OK, the Queen of England arrives in an hour, she wants something unique, and we only can use the ingredients we already have on hand. Go!"
I'd love to hear from real-life chefs on this issue. I'm just curious. And don't get me wrong, I have nothing against MasterChef, which does a great job creating tension under the watchful eyes of judges Gordon Ramsay, Joe Bastianich and Graham Elliot.
Of Ramsay's many TV shows, MasterChef is the one that's open to amateur and home chefs. First prize this year is $250,000 US.
Heading into the finale, there are two competitors left: Natasha Crnjac, a 26-year-old, stay-at-home mom from San Diego; and Luca Manfe, a 31-year-old restaurant manager from Astoria, N.Y.
As with most cooking competition shows, MasterChef is completely subjective. Ramsay, Bastianich and Elliot are judge, jury and executioner, not necessarily in that order. And sometimes that can be frustrating for viewers, because you can sense biases - unintentional as they may be - impacting the decisions.
Example: In last week's episode, when it was down to three competitors, 27-year-old yacht stewardess Jessie Lysiak from Social Circle, Ga., had earned the right to pick which main ingredient she wanted to cook with, out of three pre-selected ones. For strategic reasons having to do with the perceived weaknesses of her rivals, Jessie chose Kobe beef. But she made what turned out to be a critical error when she mentioned in front of the judges that she never had cooked Kobe beef before.
Ramsay, Bastianich and Elliot brought up Jessie's comment repeatedly as the competition continued. And I think it's very possible that Jessie's dish was judged more harshly because of it. The judges thought she had made a dumb choice, and they seemed to be anticipating failure on her part. Hey, maybe Jessie would have gone home anyway. But it bugged me.
And another thing, do chefs always make the best tasters, anyway? Aren't they separate skills? A winemaker isn't necessarily the best wine-taster, right?
Regardless, I hope whoever wins MasterChef can apply what they've learned more usefully than the bulk of high school algebra students.