Never say never…just when I thought Master Chef Season 3 was almost a literal, to-the-tee repeat of Season 2, which I vividly recall because I lived it first-hand and was one of the Top 100 Contestants last year, right at the end of the show, a huge bolt of difference! So different, so moving, at least for me as a viewer, that I have truly changed my mind about one of the judges.
Actually somewhat ho-hum and bored as the show started, I went about my other life in the living room not really watching closely and intently, listening, yes, but not needing to see what was happening because I knew what was happening. There was the cheesy intro to the show—the anxious and excited contestants, jumping up and down, clapping, laughing, cheering, even some with tears, as if they were about to see gods walk through those ‘Wizard of Oz’ doors. When in reality who would walk through those smoked filled doors would be merely mortals, yes, human—three men dressed pretty much the same as in the past two seasons of Master Chef—Chef Ramsay in his tight little jeans, Chef Elliot with his Elton John white framed glasses and restaurateur Joe Bastianiach with his signature jacket and arms crossed as if he’s saying ‘prove it.’ Then there were the even cheesier boxes that each judge had in front of him—an unveiling of sorts, breathing stopped. And, as each box was lifted, gasps from the contestants. Prizes! I’m bored. Actually, it bordered on the slightly pathetic side for an introduction to the show.
Once the contestants sparked into high gear, it was all about cooking and preparing those signature dishes—dishes that would hopefully swoon the judges, wow their taste buds, life stories that would entertain, and antics that would amuse. Yes, I, too, prayed for an apron in the face of the ‘wizard!’ Albeit, I refused to reduce myself to embarrassment! Antics are important because this is where the judges get to insert their trademark digs, shower humiliation on folks, and let these unsuspecting contestants know that they are merely puppets to be toyed with. There was the single mom with a son named Danger, wanna be clowns, a cheerleader, a belly dancer—most all of whom were sent home packing. You know, that’s the sad part of a show like Master Chef. Most of the contestants who make it to that level, the Top 100, and it’s a distinct honor to make it there because tens of thousands audition nationwide—have no idea what they’re facing. Back to the sad part or maybe the naiveté part. Most come to L.A. with sincerity in their hearts. They are putting their very best foot forward, They are sacrificing and giving up things to be there. For some, just getting their means finding a financial means to do it because there is a tidy sum that one must fork out on his/her own—not everything is paid for. But, one must remember that this is show biz, and the name of the game is ratings.
Stereotypes seem to be quite the norm for this year’s show, too. The Oriental young man whose family preferred he make a career in math or science versus cooking, but he’s following his passion. And, oh, by the way, he’s gay, and he just came out to his parents prior to the show—at least that’s what I think I heard. The single mom, struggling, living in 400 square feet, with a child, and only $50 bucks in her checking account—Master Chef is her ticket out of this life—yes, Season 2 had that young fraught mommy, albeit determined contestant —and this year it’s Monte, as in Monte Carlo. The 7 foot tall African American—should be a basketball player. Duh. But, his driving passion is to be a chef. ‘Slam dunk’ Graham cleverly says as he gives him a thumbs up and a big yes on his signature dish. Really, Graham, can’t you be a little more creative? Then there’s Audrey from Texas who made three cakes…all actually obviously tasty and each with a ‘doll’ of each judge on each cake. Too cutesy, but, hey, it worked, Audrey got an apron. And, Chef Ramsay funnily said, well, something like this, as he bit the head of his doll off, ‘That’s the first time anyone’s bit my head off.’ Chuckle chuckle. Oh, you’re just a regular Will Ferrell comedian, Chef!
Then there were the essential predictables of the show. A cliff hanger tie when rating a contestant—one judge says yes, another says no—what will the third judge say? BREAK. Commercial. The eighteen year-old student who goes to a Catholic school, cute as a brown-speckled puppy with an adorable bow in her long brown hair…she made mini-carrot cakes. They actually looked really great from the glamour shot, and because I was starving I could have downed all three of those babies. Joe, a yes. Chef Elliot, a no. Her fate hangs with the last judge, Gordy. Chef Ramsay asks, who’s here with you? Good sign…maybe she’ll get an apron. Girl: My parents. Chef Ramsay: Go get them. And, yes, she strides out as if running the 100 yard dash and Mom, Dad, brother and sister come in—proud beaming parents and siblings. I can sense and feel their exhilaration, their pride, their hope, their dream for their child. Alas, it was a big fat no. Chef Ramsay, as with the fireman last year, just didn’t think she was ‘ready’—she needed another year to cook. Predictable.
So, you ask, what was different. It came at the end of the premiere. This was the first time that a blind contestant, a beautiful Vietnamese young woman, a graduate student, had made it to the Top 100. Dang, maybe it was the first time a blind person had even auditioned. Her smile was infectious. Her eyes twinkled with joy. Watching her prepare her dish before the judges in the five minutes allowed was somewhat spellbinding. Everything went to her mouth to taste. She had to, she couldn’t see. The three judges showed huge compassion, albeit within the expectations of the competition, towards her. Chef Ramsay lovingly asked how she had become blind. Her Vietnamese Catfish dish won over both chefs. Then it was Joe’s turn to taste it. Keep in mind, Joe Bastianiach always looks as if he’s been weaned on a dill pickle. For some reason, I think he believes that aura gives him some sort of distinctness, allows him to appear holier than thow—his cold calculating eyes pierce through you like a knife as he tastes your dish. I know I served him. I’ve looked straight into the eyes of the dill pickle! But, at this moment when he walked up to try her dish, there was a clear difference in this man’s eyes. There was respect. There was love. There was a look of kindness. His heart and soul came shining through his eyes. Those eyes of cement suddenly became real, mortal, and, Joe actually became human. When he went back to his seat, there were tears in his eyes…and, no it wasn’t from the harsh lighting or a flick of lint creating the welling up that I think I saw. Gawd, I wanted to stand up and cheer, clap, do cartwheels, head stands, high fives, but I contained myself. I no longer think Joe’s been weaned on a sour pickle. He’s a pretty cool guy whose heart of stone was softened by the twinkling eyes and beautiful smile of a determined, tenacious and talented home chef. I’ve just given Joe a ‘get out of jail free’ card—good job! And, oh, yes, Joe, you’re much more handsome when you smile!
©2012 Alice D’Antoni Phillips Ally’s Kitchen