It’s the biggest culinary event of the year, just narrowly edging out the Sutter Creek Chili Cook-off and Car Show. It’s the Season 4 MasterChef Finale. The producers of MasterChef went to every corner of the country looking for America’s greatest home cooks, like New York and Los Angeles and Chicago, which isn’t really a corner but you get the picture. Only big corners were searched apparently, meanwhile Sutter Creek was completely ignored.
Two Home Cooks remain. First is Natasha. She’s a 26-yr-old stay-at-home mom from San Diego or South Africa and maybe Croatia. She’s been overshadowed the whole competition, first in villainy by Krissi, then in beauty by Jessie, and now probably in cooking by Luca. Though, I do think she’s the best cook, I’m sticking to my early prediction that a guy is winning this thing.
And that guy is Luca. Last year, he was cannon fodder, losing his audition in emotional fashion. Now he’s back, with a character arc that’s destroying the competition. James’s parents are dead, but that’s nothing compared to the story of an Italian immigrant rising like a Phoenix from the MasterChef ashes to claim the prestigious title of America’s Best Home Cook. He’s lovable and wears his emotions on his apron. The only knock against him is that he refuses to interact with me on Twitter. #TeamNatasha
Soft piano plays as Natasha’s family is released from the MasterChef Dungeon. Everyone has beautiful hair.
“My wife is the most amazing person that I ever met in my life,” says Luca, beginning to choke up, as Natasha with her beautiful hair looks over at him with admiration. Luca’s wife Kate and his extended family emerge from the back clapping and singing that grating song that Europeans always sing during soccer games. One of his family members shares a striking resemblance to John Locke, so I’ll be on the lookout for some nefarious activity. But wait, there’s more family! From Italy, Luca’s sister and father are here. After Luca’s audition, he spoke with someone he called his father on the phone, and the man mysteriously had no accent. Will this be cleared up? Is John Locke involved somehow? Luca hugs his sister while his father repeatedly kisses his sideburns.
The families join the eliminated Home Cooks in the MasterChef Balcony, which hopefully wasn’t built by the MasterChef Lowest Bidders.
“We demand perfection,” demands Graham. “A perfectly composed three-course dinner. One amazing appetizer. One fabulous entrée. And the most incredible dessert.” Each dish will be judged on appearance, taste, and adjective.
Natasha and Luca race to the MasterChef Pantry to get everything they need for all three courses. Meanwhile, the eliminated Home Cooks give us their predictions. Jordan, dressed as Boo Berry this evening, likes Natasha because she has some bitch in her. Bri thinks Luca will win because of his journey and because she understands reality television story theory. Jessie likes Natasha because she’s so well rounded (re: bouncy). Krissi thinks Luca will win because he’s a better person, and if there’s anything thing Krissi knows, it’s good people. It’s just that most of them are in prison for stabbing others.
For an amazing appetizer, Natasha will be preparing pan-seared scallops with seaweed salad, couscous, and an heirloom cauliflower puree. Luca will also be going the pan-seared route, only with duck liver and toasted French brioche. “You have one hour to make up the most stunning appetizer you’ve ever made,” Gordon says. Oh shit! Now it has to be stunning instead of amazing, and they’re not allowed to go back into the pantry! MasterChef is chock full of exciting twists and turns.
Luca makes a baseball reference because he loves this country. He really does. Natasha chops purple cauliflower, which is used in every episode. Regular, boring white cauliflower doesn’t pop on the screen like the purple stuff.
The judges confer. They agree that Luca is courageous for attempting to sear duck liver. Joe is concerned that Natasha’s cauliflower may not work with seaweed. Meanwhile, Natasha is now chopping a new color of cauliflower. What is that? Goldenrod? I better see a rainbow of different cauliflowers during my next trip to Walmart.
Joe looks at Luca’s ingredients. “Sweet, sweet, sweet, sweet,” he says. “No, the chutney’s acidic,” says Luca. “I’m worried that this dish might be too…,” Joe looks Luca in the eyes. “…sweet.”
Standing next to an unfortunately wigged Sasha Fox, Krissi knocks Natasha’s dish from the balcony. Natasha snipes back, “I’m in the Thunderdome, and you’re not.” And suddenly Sasha’s hair makes more sense.
As time runs down, the crowd goes wild. James cheers like a madman, John Locke wipes seat from his brow, Jonny B renders his horrible argyle sweater…
They bring their dishes to the MasterChef Restaurant where the judges can stuff their faces in private. Natasha’s scallops are tasted first. Joe loves it. Gordon raves about the cook on the scallops. Graham’s favorite part is the fluffy couscous. She’s off to a great start.
Luca’s duck liver with brioche, peaches, and pear chutney is next. Gordon thinks it needed another 90 seconds in the oven. Graham likes it but is worried that the richness may be an issue if Luca’s entrée is heavy. Joe says the dish rides the line between savory and sweet and is a triumph. “This is a masterpiece. Bravo.”
It appears that Natasha has the edge as they begin to prepare their entrées. She is making a five-spice monkfish with infused jasmine rice and a coconut curry sauce. Luca is working on beef short ribs with sun chokes and truffle puree. He’s using the pressure cooker, which means he won’t be able to monitor his dish as it’s cooking. It’s the Mystery Box of cooking appliances.
Natasha is slicing a mango using the mandolin without a guard as Jessie faints in the balcony. She wraps the monkfish in some crazy cow stomach lining. Graham asks if she’ll remove it after it cooks. “Nope,” she replies. “I’m leaving it on.” Jonny B looks down at the shreds of his argyle sweater laying in tatters at his feet with regret.
With ten minutes to go, Luca opens his pressure cooker and looks inside to find Gwyneth Paltrow’s head. Fortunately, it's perfectly cooked. Natasha’s plating is incredible. Lynn looks down from the balcony with envy, and a torrent of sweat pours onto the wood floor below.
Natasha’s monkfish is tasted first. Graham says it’s the best looking dish in the history of MasterChef, and the cook on the monkfish is perfect. However, there’s too much heat for him, and Gordon nods in agreement. Meanwhile, Joe thinks the balance is amazing. He’s been quite the contrarian so far tonight.
Luca presents his short ribs. The judges cut into the meat to find it’s tender and glistening. Luca sums it up in an interview, “Boom. On the money.” Gordon loves the short ribs, thinks the puree is a little clumsy, and though the dish is heavy and may give him a heart attack, he will die a happy man. “If I’m finishing my entrée at Luca’s restaurant and haven’t had dessert yet,” says Joe. “I’m already thinking about when I’m going to make my next reservation.” Graham has a heart attack.
Natasha’s lead has been wrestled away from her by Luca, and they prepare for dessert. Luca will be making a basil panna cotta with tomato jam, mascarpone honey cream, and granulated sugar. Natasha says she will be making a lime panna cotta and a coconut panna cotta, and her strange cadence while explaining this really did remind me of a robot. I knew it! #TeamSexyFormelyEvilRobotNatasha
Time begins, and they quickly start panning their cottas. The judges are worried that Natasha is taking too big of a risk by trying to make two panna cottas in one hour. #gobig(andbouncy)orgohome
“I’m putting ingredients that are usually for a salad into a dessert,” says Luca. But it can work if he can make the tomatoes sweet, and if he remembers to strain his panna cotta – which he forgets to do. He starts over in a rush. Now they’re both essentially making two panna cottas.
Or are they? Natasha is considering combining her two panna cottas into one coconut lime dessert. Hold the phone. Now she’s tossing out the lime. I don’t know what’s going on.
Regardless, Natasha presents only the coconut panna cotta, which would be fine if she hadn’t said she was making lime as well. Graham picks his up with his spoon and tests the bounciness. He approves. Gordon loves his dessert and eats the tiny remains off of Graham’s plate. “You’re bouncing my taste buds around like they’re inside a pinball machine,” he says. I'm not the only one with bouncing on the brain. #BouncyRobotNatasha. Graham loves it. Joe also loves it but wonders if it was too simple. “Was there something missing from the dish?” Like, I don’t know, a lime panna cotta?
Luca presents his salad panna cotta. “Theoretically, it shouldn’t work,” says Gordon. “But it does. It’s wacky. It’s delicious.” Graham thinks it’s Luca on a plate, the highest compliment one can receive on MasterChef, second only to “good effort.” Joe likes the dessert, but since his role on this episode is as contrarian, he has issues with the structure of the dish.
Natasha and Luca leave the judges to confer. How will they decide? “You gotta look at each dish, you gotta look at the progression of the three-course dinner,” Joe says. “And you gotta look at the journey.” There it is. The journey. Best story wins as long as no one flat out blew a dish. It makes sense, though. I can’t tell you how often I’m at a restaurant asking my server for the chef’s personal story. How else can I decide if something tastes good?
“For the first time, shall we make it a draw?” asks Gordon. They shan’t. They’ve made their decision, and come out to the MasterChef Kitchen to deliver the news.
“This is my dream,” says Luca, confirming another of my theories. “I just hope when I wake up, I’ll have the title in my hand.” When you wake up, Luca, you’ll be surrounded by potatoes and cheese with a broomstick in your hand, and we will all no longer exist.
“My heart deep inside is telling me, yes, I’m going to win this,” says Natasha who isn’t going to win this.
The judges switch places with them, because standing on the MasterChef Stage is an honor just barely below having your very own cookbook.
Gordon gives the final decision of the season. “This has truly been the toughest, the most difficult decision we have ever had to make in the history of this competition.” Graham leaves his glasses on. “But as you know, there can only be one winner. One of you is about to receive a quarter of a million dollars, the opportunity to publish your very own cookbook, and get their hands on this stunning trophy.” Graham holds the glittering crystal phallus in his hands. “And one of you will have the right to call yourself a true MasterChef. The winner of MasterChef…” Natasha stands proudly with her arms behind her. Luca shares a glance with his wife. “…Congratulations…” With pressed lips, Graham and Joe look at Gordon who looks up at the ceiling. “…Luca!”
Confetti flies as Luca rejoices. He hugs Natasha, her consolation prize.
“I came here from another country because America is the best place in the world. This is where dreams come true. And now, I am America’s MasterChef.” Luca cries with joy. His father, whom we still unfortunately haven’t heard speak #damnyouJohnLocke, wipes tears out from under his glasses. Kate, Luca’s super adorable wife, is also a blubbering mess. This is a real feel good moment, a predictable yet satisfying ending.
For her part, Natasha takes it like a champ. She reads the second place script with a stiff upper lip. “It’s not the end. This is just going to catapult me to the direction I want to be.”
Gordon sprays champagne onto Luca and his family, and they begin singing that soccer song again. But let’s not think about that. Let’s remember the good times we had along the way. Chest tattoos. Beth’s emotional breakdowns. James’s beard and jokes. The stem of Graham’s glasses. The walks through the forest. Bri making Krissi shut up. Lynn’s sweat. Paula Deen’s nightmare of a smile. Bime’s meringue pie. Jessie’s ethereal beauty. Cutie Patootie. Jonny smash. Jordan’s hoodies minus that one hoodie. Gordon Junior, Joes Junior and Junior, and Graham Junior Junior. Natasha’s transformation from evil robot to a lovely, real person #whomayactuallybearobot. Walmart steaks. Joe’s spit. Kindred spirits Bethy and Savannah (who?). The meat man. The sausage machine. Luca’s fish sauce risotto. And of course, nice guy Gordon Ramsay, who can work a commercial break like no one in the business.
Thanks for reading, everyone. I’m not sure what show I’ll be recapping next, but follow my twitter (@joellugar) to hear what I decide.
Cue the confetti. I’m off to Walmart.