Wednesday, 26 November 2014

The Worst People Sometimes Win

MasterChef is interesting to watch - unlike Hell's Kitchen, they are pitting people who are home cooks against each other, instead of people who (purport to) have worked in a kitchen. (I tend to doubt it; and if they did, then either 1. it was the most dysfunctional kitchen extant, or 2. they lied utterly about their title or true position. Some of the Executive Chefs that come to the show are clearly not working at their title, not producing dishes that indicate they know anything about working in a kitchen.) What makes MasterChef unique is that these people have never had to cut their teeth on serving plates to 200 people or had to cook outside of their comfort zone. And some people actually come with some mighty strange ideas - ideas that they swear up and down worked with people they've cooked for... but clearly someone lied to them in telling the creator that it was delicious.

Quite frankly, if someone served me apple pie with onions in it, I might actually have to flip it back to them. How the poor guys on MasterChef managed to swallow the unappetising stodge served by that particular moron is beyond me. I never could have managed it, myself. Yet the contestant swore he's served it to others with astounding results. The only thing "astounding" about it was that no one actually killed him for serving something so inedible and unfathomably bad!

Well, despite finding home cooks to do this and join the show, they still pull off what every reality show manages to pull off: finding too many Type A personalities to fill the roster of contestants. It wouldn't be a reality show if the contestants didn't fight and fuss and not get along. Just once it would
be nice to see some people get along with each other on these shows from the outset. Or maybe they tell them to be loud, obnoxious, obstreperous and mouthy to "juice up" the show. Why not just let things take its natural course?

And why should the 2014 season be any different?

It doesn't take too long to recognise the asshats from the reasonable people. Usually fifteen to twenty minutes into the first episode you have twigged on to the fact that this one is nuts, that one is a megalomaniac, and the other one is the worst cook ever, and so referring to him or her as a "cook" is just wrong. This is not to mean that people don't and won't change throughout the show; they do, and that's as it should be. This is a big event for them, and not just for the $250,000 they win, but also for the verification of their ideals as being a top-notch chef and the lure of producing a cookbook (although it will be a long, long time before anyone can knock The Joy of Cooking from its very long-term position as numbero uno). The heavy, glitzy, glass award is the least on the list of goodies. While it makes a hellacious paperweight and might be an excellent weapon if someone breaks in (assuming you can heft it), it has little other value than to gather dust on it. And yet, the shows producers, the three top chefs, Chefs Gordon Ramsey, Joe Bastianich and Graham Elliot, the guests to the show and the other winners fuss over it. But let's be honest; when the winners were just contestants, it was the money they talked about with the most relish, the book a fairly close runner-up. But both of those bits are money or a great route to making [more] money. The big glass trophy is... well... just a big glass trophy.

This season introduced to us to several interesting people: Leslie Gillimas, a silver-harked man of about fifty(?) who is a stay-at-home father; Courtney Lapresi, a former stripper/aerial dancer who dresses like Donna Reed; Elizabeth, a well-liked cook with a poorest attitude. I didn't like Courtney, but Elizabeth clearly took a piss-poor attitude whenever Courtney won, which was a fair amount of the time. And yes, I did not at all care for Courtney's smarmy remarks, but was Elizabeth any more mature, rolling her eyes, making priss-mouthed comments back? Grow a brain, honey. You'd win far more bees with honey...

The finale was really something. First, all three remaining top chefs (Courtney, Leslie and Elizabeth) had to create a unique dish for fifty chefs, each representing their state. Courtney made pan-seared halibut, Elizabeth made pan-seared red snapper (?), and Leslie made filet mignon with gnocchi. (I was onboard with Leslie with that choice; gnocchi is not the easiest of pasta dishes to make and he made fifty of them! No mean feat.) Elizabeth won it, hands down, and was delighted as she walked through the line of fifty chefs, beaming. I can't blame her.

Keep this in mind when you read the post following this tomorrow: http://traislinge.blogspot.com/2014/11/interesting-aftermath-from-season-five.html Interesting Aftermath form Season Five of MasterChef
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After that, it was time for Leslie and Courtney to go up against each other in the final pressure test. This is standard MasterChef material: the contestants who did not win the first portion of the show had to do this to determine who was next to leave the show. It is an important part of the set-up. Mostly the winner of Part I got an extra advantage in setting up Part II; the losers were at a disadvantage anyway. Part II determined who was finished in the show. Desserts were a favourite for weeding out the losers, as many of the contestants were completely out of their comfort zones as bakers. As it happened, Courtney loved baking, so she was a natural choice for those events.

Interesting fact: when MasterChef first began, desserts were not on the menu at all. Sometime into the third season, they realised that desserts were an excellent way of levelling the playing field. So now they love to throw these lovely baking and/or dessert moments into the competition, knowing that the majority of people have not done this side of food making. For one thing, there is a lot of loose rules in cooking itself. In baking, it is a science, so one must know the ingredients and the exact measurements in the selected item. No exceptions.

So this was a great time to toss in one last baking effort for Courtney, a known baker, and Leslie, who might not be one, but has a knack for faking it well. They each had to make the same three desserts: one key lime pie, one strawberry cheesecake and one Boston Cream pie. Yikes!

They each set out to work, and despite a couple of small hitches, they looked rather good, although Leslie's strawberry cheesecake looked a little sparse on top (the strawberry topping) and Courtney's Boston Cream pie was sloughing out the sides. (We all saw Leslie use the baker's spreading tool to put on the cream nice and evenly. Courtney dumped hers unceremoniously onto the bottom portion of the pie. Big surprise.

Well, Leslie surely had it in the bag, until Gordon Ramey tasted his Boston Cream pie. Then he made an odd face, and quietly said, "Wow..." Now, I will tell you freely, dear readers, that this is not new for Chef Ramsey, nor is it easily translated. Sometimes "wow" means "Oh, my gods, this is bloody awesome" or it can translate into "Ye gods, what the hell did you do to this?!" - it keeps us guessing. And boy, were we guessing. Luis thought at first it was an issue, then changed his mind and said it was a good wow. I continued to feel it was ominous.

It was.

It really looked as though Leslie had this in the bag, and he would walk away to become the second one to enter the finale. But Gordon tasted his pie, uttered his wow, and that was it. Game over, and I knew it. Sure enough, Gordon asked Leslie to taste the pie. The moment, I meant he very second he put the piece of pie in his mouth, he closed his eyes as though in pain. And Chef Ramsey said, "You know what happened, don't you?" Leslie nodded, eyes downcast. As annoying as he was, I felt so poorly for him. So close, now miles away.

He put in salt instead of sugar.

This is a mistake everyone under the sun makes at some point or another. If you are a cook or baker with half a brain, you taste what you're making along the way, all along the way. If you are new to it or in a hurry and not thinking, you forget or don't think of it, and then at the finish, you do taste and yikes! it's awful. Big surprise. Ray's done it, my mother, who could only ever bake one thing: challah bread, made the same staggering error. I'd tasted it and nearly gagged. It is a tiny yet massive error that follows you everywhere.

And Chef Ramsey said the exact same thing. You'd better believe it. Like I said, every one has done this at one point. And it is an easy enough mistake to make. Anyone who says otherwise clearly hasn't baked. (Neither have I, but I know a lot of people who do and I read enormously. I also watch this show. I get my knowledge all over the place, so it needn't necessarily be my own knowledge.

So there it is.

And then we're down to one. It was a two-hour finale and so we got through the first hour. Now we have hour no. two. It starts with Elizabeth and Courtney standing next to each other while the chefs run us through the finale and how it will work. We have seen the four first seasons, so we know how it will work. The two finalists will cook by one another - the "kitchen" is round, and one half is Courtney's and the other is Elizabeth's. They each tell the audience what they are making by way of describing their respective dishes to the chefs: one appetiser, one main course, one dessert. They eau supply one of each dish to the chefs. Then they taste it, give remarks to the chefs, and then rate them amongst themselves. From there, we'll know how it ends - pretty much.

First, we get the Reader's Digest condensed version of their lives; Elizabeth was an advertising executive, and Courtney was an aerial dancer/stripper at a gentleman's club, something she was very clearly embarrassed about. It explained the puritan clothing with the unbelievably high heels she wore. It also explained the money she rather badly needed, to support the shoe/clothing expenses. I'm not judging - I'm totally wasteful with money. I get it. But I have no kids and no plans to have 'em, so it is my money to piss away as I see fit. I don't understand her attitude about the dancing. It is nothing to be embarrassed about or ashamed of. My mother was a go-go dancer when she was age 30 to age 40 - she started the same age the majority of dancers "retire". I am immensely proud of her. So is Ray. She was not a whore, as too many uneducated and uptight people assume. She and Ray were able to support me and well with the income she made.

Know your skills and use them. And in this ridiculous society, don't be so sexually repressed.

Personally, Courtney was not much of a looker - huge tortilla chip nose, long, horsey face, but a good body. But the 1950s wear and her attitude about the whole thing really made it seem so much worse than it really is. Very stupid.

The chefs bring in the two finalists families' to give it the family fun taste and extra meaningful cheering for the contestants. Elizabeth is married and has siblings and parents there. Courtney, in her 50s-garage sale clothing, has her parent(s) and a brother who is around four or five years old. Apparently, they haven't been close, but he's there and was in an earlier episode, as well. The "aaawwww, isn't he cute?" factor. Too bad I am not particularly fond of children (re: I don't like them and they're not stupid - they don't like me, either!), so this would never work with me. Had they brought in someone's cat, then I'd be totally swayed; but no cat I know would want that. Neither would I. At any rate, an annoying kid was the last thing I would care about. One has to wonder how she was 25 and the kid was 5. Quite an age difference. Neither here nor there.

So Elizabeth made grilled octopus with greens and Courtney made pig's ear with greens. Elizabeth slightly overcooked the octopus; Courtney did well with a chancy dish like pig's ear (this had come up in an earlier episode - working with substandard and/or outright weird animal parts, including some animal's testicles...BBBRRRRRR). Technical errors are generally not looked upon well.

And then we're onto the main course. Elizabeth goes with spiced rack of lam; Courtney opts for sumac duck breast. Elizabeth lost out, falling behind and presenting Joe with a quite rare slice. Rare hough that I wouldn't have touched and would have remarked that I'd seen lamb hurt worse and recover. Nothing should be that red! Another losing proposition for Elizabeth.

Did I mention that she was a poor loser? Indeed I did. Elizabeth rolled her eyes, made nasty faces when the judges commented on Courtney's dishes being technically perfect, etc.. Get over it, honey. I don't particularly like Miss-Goody-Two-Shoes, either, but I can't fault her cooking, so Elizabeth is just going to have to grow up. Not that she'll have a chance now.

On the desserts, well, it is a different story. Elizabeth made an olive oil cake and grapefruit with a plum trio, while Courtney goes for cherry meringue - and loves doing it. While she is in fact, smart enough to taste her meringue, she eats one that - as it turns out - is needed. She forgot herself and ate one! While it tastes good, it is a mistake as the dishes look incomplete. Oh, well. Elizabeth clearly won this portion, and Courtney has to eat her shorts on this one, as not only does the dessert look terrible, losing points there, but it is over-salted. Joe remarks that this could be awful or brilliant, and decides in her favour; Graham goes with Joe; Gordon disagrees. I cross my fingers for Elizabeth, but know better. Luis votes for Courtney. I knew he would, though, he spent the entire season commenting on her legs. I love that man! He loves all women, and that makes him the best of men.

Unsurprisingly, she won.

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