Finally, after what seems like forever, I click on the last episode of MasterChef on Hulu. This may honestly have been one of the most difficult episodes for me to watch. I will try to keep this brief.
The finale starts off, and we notice some things that are different this time compared to last year. There are large, stadium style TV screens mounted high up. And there are two risers filled with audience members. The initial thought was that it was the top 18, but there are way too many of them and the top 18 is later revealed to be in the balcony. Then there was the thought that it was the top 100, but A) there isn’t enough of them, B) there are no familiar faces, and no quotes/lines/comments from all of those colorful personalities, and C) I remember reading a comment on Facebook saying that it wasn’t the top 100, and that they were brought in. Seeing as how it’s HIGHLY unlikely that they brought in legitimate fans from the street (and even if they did, how the heck would they know what to do without watching the previous episodes/following the storylines), I would probably guess that they hired seat fillers (commonplace in other TV shows where they want it to appear like there is a large and engaging audience) to play the role of background cheerleaders. IF that’s the case (and I have no proof), then all I can say is this: LAME.
Then comes the big family reveal. It was a very sweet moment, but marred in my mind for one reason. Take a look at this comment from Adriana Crnjac (Natasha’s Mom):
This message is from your mom.
It has been extremely difficult but I have restrained myself from posting any comments on any social media up to now.
Over the duration of MC4, I have read many kind and encouraging comments from your fans and supporters and would like to take this opportunity to extend my appreciation to all of them.
In total disbelief, I have also read some of the comments from haters who do not know the real you nor the scripting and editing on MC4 that contestants have alluded to through postings on the social media.
I am disclosing below what may come as a surprise to you, it has been bottling up in my chest since the 2-day duration taping of the finale back in April. I can not hold it any longer, I have to let go of it.
I was informed by a casting manager 2 days in advance of the taping of the finale that the producers, for financial reasons, had declined to fly your oldest brother in from France.
It felt like a stab with a dagger deep in my heart when I heard Gordon Ramsay during the taping announce, and to add insult to injury by special introduction, that Masterchef flew in 2 members of Luca’s family in from Italy for the finale. Yet, they deprived you of the same courtesy for just 1 family member.
Your brother Alen was present for the taping of the finale but what you may not know is that he flew into LA on his own accord.
The above described occurrence and evident favoritism led me to immediately suspect that MC4 may be rigged and that your performance in the finale may prove to be futile. I realized the distinct possibility that Luca was pre-determined to win.
Furthermore, I witnessed numerous occurrences during the course of the 2-day duration taping of the finale which strongly reinforces my suspicion. It is not appropriate nor will I disclose the details in this posting but I trust the right time and place will present itself in the near future for a full disclosure of my own personal experience with MC4 and the finale.
It is my understanding that all contestants signed stringent contracts and you probably can not nor do I expect any response on the above from you.
I know first-hand how seriously you took MC4, the preparation effort and the sacrificing choice to tear yourself from Robert and Diego. Robert was and continues to be an incredibly supportive husband making it all possible.
According to the elimination table on Wikipedia it appears you were the most consistent contestant on MC4. I congratulate you for your determination, perseverance and amazing journey. You have every reason to hold your head high and though you were declared the runner-up, you may have been the more deserving winner. Many others share the same sentiment.
Personally I hold no grudge against Luca. To the contrary I sincerely wish him the best of luck and may the Masterchef trophy open avenues to him in the future. I can not fault him for the possible misdeeds of others.
You have demonstrated on MC4 that you are a home cook with an incredible culinary talent and I wish you all the best in your future culinary endeavors. Good luck with a cookbook in the future too.
With lots of love, your mom.
These are powerful, heartfelt words. I would be LIVID after that incident where MC refused to fly out her brother and then flaunted the fact that they flew out TWO of Luca’s family members from Italy. Take a moment and ponder those words before you attack Natasha (or for that matter, ANYBODY). This is just a small but telling glimpse of what goes on behind the scenes.
As they announce the family members that they have flown in, I am surprised that they didn’t fly in Luca’s mother, who played such a touching role in his audition during Season 3.
The format for the finale this year is a little bit different. Apparently they will get one hour each to make a “stunning” appetizer, entree, and dessert. This is FAR simpler than the finale last year, where Josh and Christine had only two hours TOTAL to execute the three course meal. The amount of multitasking and organization required to work on three dishes at once is definitely challenge, and I can’t help but feel that the finalists have it easy this time around. Honestly, one hour for each course is a tremendous amount of time.
For those of you that are thinking that Natasha and Luca are coming up with their dishes on the spot as they spend their 10 minutes in the pantry, come on! You should know better. The contestants plan their menus extensively in the days before the finale, and even meet with Sandee the culinary manager to ensure that the ingredients they would like to use are present in the pantry (including
foie gras, I mean, “duck liver”).
Let’s just go into the actual dishes. Both dishes sound a little bizarre to me. Natasha’s scallop with seaweed, couscous, and cauliflower puree just sounds like a bizarre combination. It’s a huge risk, and it doesn’t sound like there is much of a payoff. In my mind, I’m picturing those flavors and textures together and they go together “okay” at best. But then again I put cheddar cheese and apples together so what do I know???
Luca’s Seared Foie Gras (I’m just going to call it what it is) with toasted brioche and caramelized peaches sounds really simple. I’m really not convinced that the technique on display is all that impressive, considering that he has an HOUR to do…what exactly? Toast some bread? Caramelize some peaches? Sear some foie? Make a chutney? The only somewhat tricky thing is searing the foie, because you want it to be cooked through and melt-in-your-mouth luscious, but overcooking it will render it down to almost nothing since it is predominant fat. Still, it’s a fairly straightforward task that any cook with a moderate attention to detail can do, and certainly not something that I would expect Luca or Natasha to struggle with. I also question his use of Asian pear in the chutney. Asian pear has two distinct characteristics: its crispness and delicate sweetness, almost reminiscent of watermelon. I would NEVER eat Asian pear anyway but raw, or maybe in a sorbet (mmmmmmm, that sounds super refreshing). I’m not saying that it’s a cardinal sin to put it in a chutney, but there are way better fruits, and even other pears that would hold up much better in a chutney. ESPECIALLY if he was trying to make a tart, acidic chutney (like what he told Joe it was). It’s just an odd choice.
The judges love both of the dishes (they kinda have to at this point anyways). Luca’s appetizer is certainly rich, and with the tweak of one or two components it could be a KILLER dessert (dress up the brioche into french toast maybe, and turn the chutney into a fruit compote?). Foie is one of those incredible ingredients that can tie sweet to savory exceptionally well. The judges all love it, even though Gordon said that the foie should have been cooked a little bit more. The judges all love Natasha’s dish as well. Her scallops are cooked beautifully, and they seem to like the combination of components. On paper, it looks like Natasha has the advantage for this round.
We move on to the entrees, and Luca is doing short ribs in the pressure cooker with a tamarind glaze, served with mushrooms, truffle-sunchoke (potato-like starchy root) puree. The judges question his ability to get the meat done in time, but since I work with pressure cookers regularly, I know that the meat will be done in approximately 35 minutes so as long as he gets the meat in early, he should be fine. It sounds delicious. Natasha is doing monkfish (a protein that admittedly I have never tasted before). She rubs it with five spice, and wraps it in caul fat to sear it. Definitely a smart move. Graham tries to gross the audience out by holding up the sheet of caul fat and pointing out the fact that it’s stomach lining, but Natasha is unfazed. He says that this is something that nobody does, but I can already think of two separate instances where I have seen this EXACT same technique used with monkfish on cooking shows. She is serving the monkfish with mango infused rice with a coconut curry sauce. It sounds phenomenal as well.
Everything proceeds along with no major mishaps. They both finish the plates, and they both look beautiful. Natasha’s portion perhaps looks a little small for an entree, and Graham criticized the monkfish for being too hot and spicy. Which is completely weird because five spice isn’t a particular spicy (in a peppery sort of way). It’s more sweet, with the cinnamon and star anise, than anything else. Perhaps he is talking about the curry sauce? Gordon says that the curry sauce needs coconut milk, even though I’m pretty certain that Natasha did in fact put coconut milk in the curry sauce (she did say it was a coconut curry after all). Perhaps he meant to say that there should have been more.
The feedback for Luca’s dish is really weird. Ramsay starts off by lamenting about how rich it is and how it can give somebody a heart attack, but then pulls it back into the positive on how it would be his last meal. My suspicion is that the dish was indeed very rich, and Ramsay started off in that area, before the production voices in his earpiece steered him back more towards the positive spectrum, since otherwise Natasha would have had a clear advantage. I don’t know how much butter or cream he put in the sunchoke truffle puree, but I can see why that could be a problem. It’s still an amazing dish though. I LOVE short ribs (they are favorite cut of meat). Give me those over a filet mignon ANY day of the week.
Dessert round time, and BOTH of the contestants are making panna cottas. Kind of a weird choice, since you don’t have much time to make and chill them in an hour (unless they used that blast chiller). Luca is making an incredibly odd sounding caprese panna cotta dessert, with basil panna cotta, tomato jam (caramelized in brown sugar), mascarpone cream, and….granulated sugar? (He later calls it “granulated basil”. This is definitely the WEIRDEST thing I’ve ever seen Luca make on the show, and I wonder if he chose to make this dish on his own or if the producers encouraged him to do something incredibly outside of the box. There are a few ingredients in this world that I do not think belong in desserts: mushrooms, any meat besides bacon or its equivalent, soy sauce/fish sauce, garlic/onions/alliums in general, basically anything that is intensely savory. Tomato probably falls close to that category, and unless it’s a SUPER sweet tomato, I can’t really picture myself conceptualizing a dessert and thinking to myself “I know just what that dessert needs! Some tomato!!” haha.
Natasha is making a yogurt panna cotta (sounds awfully like Graham’s dessert that one challenge) duo with coconut and lime, along with assorted garnishes including a passion fruit puree. This sounds really similar to Christine’s dessert last year, with many of the same flavors. In fact, the menus of Natasha and Luca have very similar characteristics to the menus of Christine and Josh. Christine had a lighter, more balanced menu, with lots of Asian flavors (same with Natasha). Josh had heavier, more classic dishes and while each dish may have been good on its own, putting the three of them into a menu progression may be excessive (similar to comments about Luca’s dishes so far, minus the dessert). It’s just an interesting thing to notice.
Luca starts to panic because he didn’t strain his panna cotta base. He starts to panic and insists that he needs to start over again. I am dumbfounded. Am I missing something? Why couldn’t he have, I dunno, STRAINED THE PANNA COTTA BASE right then and there instead of starting all over? Granted, I don’t make many panna cottas but I can’t think of a single reason that something as simple as that wouldn’t have solved the problem. Help me out guys? I mean even if he had dissolved the gelatin in it already or whatever, assuming the base wasn’t cold yet I feel like it would have been completely fine to just strain it out then and there. Maybe I’m just a complete fool that doesn’t know anything about panna cotta (which really is not much more than glorified creamy jello), but it seems like starting over from scratch would have been a waste.
Natasha’s lime panna cotta sets WAY too firm, so she decides not to use them (smart) and uses two of the coconut panna cotta portions instead.
The desserts are served, and while Natasha’s plate looks beautiful again (her presentations during the finale have been phenomenal), the panna cotta did look kinda small on the plate as a central component. Gordon points that out, wishing there were more.
Luca’s dessert is served, and it’s another awkward period of judging where I can’t tell if the judges ACTUALLY like it or not. Gordon again starts of with a bizarre statment that the dish is really more savory than sweet. For a dessert? Okay… Joe’s reaction is also peculiar, and honestly his advice to layer the stuff really doesn’t make much if any sense. It really isn’t very difficult to get a little bit of everything in one bite, Joe. You have this thing called a spoon. And if the basil panna cotta were on top, the presentation would be awful. All peculiarities aside, they claim that it works, and that they are impressed.
There really isn’t much else to say. Luca wins, and we are reminded of why he won in the first place. You just can’t dislike the guy. He’s too endearing of a figure. Similar to Christine last season, almost nobody has the heart to root against him, and so having him win was the perfect way to finish the season from a PR standpoint, because while there are certainly some disappointed Natasha fans, nobody is legitimately angry or upset. Contrast that with how crazy people would get is Krissi won. Now you see why she never had a chance to win, especially after being cast as the villain.
Natasha maintains her composure well in the aftermath after discovering that all of her sacrifice and hard work were for nothing, at least on paper. Perhaps she could sense that the victory was firmly in Luca’s grasp before the judging even started. I’ve gained a lot of respect for Natasha. especially after reading her mom’s heartfelt comments. It must be awful for a family member to see their loved ones get mistreated, not only by the producers but by the viewers via social media. She to me is clearly THE most talented cook in the competition, possibly ever. The food that she cooks is exotic, beautiful, creative, and I’m absolutely DYING to taste some of her food someday. Then again, she could fetch such high prices for it (especially if she opens shop out in California someday) that I probably couldn’t even afford it anyways :P.
As for Luca, he is also a phenomenal guy and great chef. A genuinely nice guy, and filled with so much enthusiasm. When I was planning my brunch with him, his texts were filled with enough exclamation marks to caption my reaction to watching a horror movie. He’s a tremendously likable guy, and I wish him all the best as the winner of the MasterChef crown. NOW is when your MasterChef journey truly begins. I LOVE classic Italian food, and can’t wait to try some of his too someday :).
And so ends my MasterChef journey. From this point out in the future, I will no longer keep up with the show on a regular basis. Not only has watching it become unenjoyable (who wastes their time watching a TV show they don’t like??), but it has become downright painful. I pushed through to the end because I wanted to have some closure on this season’s blogs. But honestly, aside from catching glimpses of stuff related to the show on social media and whatnot, I have no intention of following the show at all next season, ESPECIALLY if the rumor that the contestants will be housed in dorms with cameras (a la Hell’s Kitchen) pans out for added backstabbing and drama. I just can’t.
Some of you guys have been upset at me, saying the blog has become a place for show-bashing and that it makes you feel stupid for liking the show, and calling me and Ben hypocrites for benefiting so much from the show and now condemning it. And to respond to that, I simply point you to this comment from a fan. (Small changes in brackets, because stating that nothing is real in this world is perhaps a slight exaggeration haha)
I have to honestly admit when I started out reading these comments and this blog, I was ready to bash Ben and you, Michael, about bashing Masterchef, but yet reaping the benefits of your popularity because of the show. I no longer feel like doing that. After what I read from Natasha’s mom, Masterchef deserves to be bashed, and I am almost in tears in regards to the cruelty of the world in regards to the almighty dollar. Why would they do that to Natasha’s brother? I don’t understand. Why would they take people’s dreams and reduce them to dollars? I don’t understand. Why would they continue to think the public is so stupid? I don’t understand. I don’t understand anything in [the reality tv] world anymore, and I think my days of being an avid reality tv fan are over. Nothing is real in [the reality tv] world
I will probably check out MC Juniors just out of sheer curiosity, but if it ends up being anything like regular MC then that won’t last long either. Future Season Fivers, feel free to contact me if you have any questions
Thank you all for coming along for the ride! It was a wild one, wasn’t it? I will continue to write blogs periodically to try and keep you guys entertained on other, less depressing subjects. I’m going to do my best to publish one a week: keep me accountable and pester me if I forget, please! :).