What do you expect when the special guest judge in the "MasterChef" kitchen is none other than Paula Deen? Some down-home Southern charm, some ingredients tilted toward her Southern cooking style, and a good time, that's what. And she delivered.
On the Season 3 Top 7 episode of "MasterChef," the judges met the remaining seven contestants in the kitchen and revealed to them a massive Mystery Box up front. It is the biggest mystery box in the history of "MasterChef." Announcing they had a treat for the finalists, they lifted the box and out stepped famed Southern-style cuisine restauranteur and cooking show Emmy winner Paula Deen. Her arrival was met by a hearty round of applause and smiles all around.
For the Mystery Box Challenge, the effervescent Deen said she had chosen raw ingredients that would put some "South in your mouth," which set Judge Gordon Ramsay to laughing. Within the Mystery Box was a whole chicken, collard greens, jalapeno jelly, grits, hot sauce, bacon, and cream cheese that the amateur chefs were to improve upon.
But Deen had a surprise for the home chefs. She said that her family was the key to her work in the kitchen and told the finalists to open the drawers at their stations. Inside was a photo and letter from family members. A lot of teardrops fell in the next several minutes as the contestants read letters of love and encouragement from home. In the confessional, Felix Fang said she would take the money she wins from "MasterChef" and give it to her parents. Monti Carlo sobbed openly and held a picture of her son, Danger, close. Chef Ramsay asked Christine Ha who the handsome guy in the photo was and she told him it was her supportive husband. When asked about his photo, Frank Mirando said his daughter was everything and he was going to win the challenge (or did he mean the Season 3 trophy and title? or both?).
Deen then told them they had 60 minutes to make their dishes. True to her roots, she said she'd like for one of the contestants to cook up some mouth-watering fried chicken.
While the home chefs prepared and cooked, the judges walk around each station, asking questions and tasting the dishes. Judge Joe Bastianich questions David on his prep, tasting a spicy dish, and notes it aloud. But viewers have seen this from David Martinez before and he's been inconsistent. But Bastianich doesn't seem concerned over his grits, so...
Frank has decided to take his ingredients and not go the southern route, hoping to stand out. He's laced the chickens skin with peppers and announced he was going to prepare a roulade.
Paula Deen stopped by Christine's station and tells her she's become an inspiration to her just watching her perform with her disability. Ha was obviously pleased and embarrassed at the same time, thanking Deen and telling her she might start crying.
She also stopped by Becky Reams' station and the amateur chef informed her she was making fried green tomatoes, which Deen said she loves.
But at the end of the 60 minutes, the judges confer and choose three standout dishes. Becky has gone full-on Southern with an oven-roasted chicken, fried green tomatoes, biscuits and gravy. The judges loved it, with Chef Ramsay noting that she had great finesse.
Frank's outside-the-box presentation is chosen next. The New Yorker has plated a professional looking chicken roulade with pepper chutney and spicy potatoes. The triad are laid out in parallel lines and Bastianich called it "fancy" and that he got himself "noticed." Judge Graham Elliot said his cooking showing great technique. Paula Deen said she loved it, then made a face, saying she had bit into a pepper.
Surprising most, David was chosen as the third best plate: pan-roasted chicken with red pepper grits and shoestring onion. Ramsay compliments his spicy grits, saying he'd taken something bland and done a great job with it. Deen took exception to his use of the word "bland" for a Southern staple, causing everyone to laugh at Ramsay's discomfiture. But when Ramsay defended himself by saying grits needed help, she agreed. After tasting his dish, she told David he had taken a humble food and turned into something great.
After tasting all three dishes, the judges again conferred amongst themselves.
Paula Deen then announced the winner of the Mystery Box Challenge -- Frank.
Deen said her good-byes and took leave. For the amateur chefs and the judges, it was back to work.
It was Frank's first win in the challenges and he would get to go into the "MasterChef" pantry with the judges. He would also gain a couple advantages over his colleagues with the win, one of which was exemption from being sent home in the upcoming Elimination Test.
Not too bad for a northerner in what looked like something shaping up to be a southern cook-off...
(photo credit: WorkerBee, Creative Commons)
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