Tonight was the finale of MasterChef America season two. For those who don’t watch MasterChef it bills itself as American Idol for cooks. It’s Top Chef meets Karaoke.
To contrast MasterChef with Fox’s other “reality” cooking show Hell’s Kitchen, Fox packages MC as ametuers vying to be pros where HK is pros trying to reach the top of their field. In actuality MC has a lot of professional chefs pretending to be ametuers while HK features a lot of minimum wage Whopper Floppers pretending to be chefs. Though last year’s MasterChef winner, Whitney Miller, was a very talented home cook who is actually taking the next step, her opponent in last year’s finale, Sheetal Bhagat, was a professional chef/instructor at a Chicago cooking school. Conversely, very few Hell’s Kitchen winners are ever heard from again.
The three finalists this year were Achiote Buffalo (stereotypical nice guy), Christian Collins (stereotypical d-bag) and Jennifer Behm (stereotypical angry chick). The winner was the stereotypical angry chick, Jennifer Behm.
The other day I caught an episode of Two Fat Ladies the quaint BBC cooking show hosted by corpulent culinarians Clarissa Dickson Wright and Jennifer Paterson. The particular episode I watched the ladies were waxing about how much they love the food of the American South. I couldn’t help but think Who wouldn’t?
The ladies decided to demonstrate some traditional Southern recipes for their British audience. They then went on to cook a menu that was anything but Southern. The Two Fat Ladies are adorable. . . except when they are butchering your native cuisine. That got me thinking Why is it UK’ers cannot get Southern food right?
I remember another Brit, Danny Boome, on his old show Rescue Chef for the Food Network showing up in Atlanta to help a young bride make a traditional Southern chicken dinner. Instead the menu consisted of chipotle-marinated chicken in a cornmeal batter, mango salsa, lemon-sour cream corn muffins, black beans and a raspberry tea cocktail with Prosecco. Innovative? Yes. Traditional? Hardly.
That’s why I was so happy when my review copy of Modern Hospitality – Simple Recipes with Southern Charm by MasterChef winner Whitney Miller arrived. Miller is from Poplarville, Mississippi which is not too far from my home in South Alabama. I went to college just 25 miles from Poplarville. I knew Whitney would get it right and I was not disappointed.
Modern Hospitality weaves recipes, tips on entertaining and wholesome narrative with effortless grace. There are plenty of color photos of both the food and Whitney’s famous smile. Where the MasterChef cookbook was a chrome-plated amalgamation of recipes from contestants and every judge not named Gordon this book is all Whitney. And, because I know you’re wondering, there is a foreword by Gordon Ramsay.
Whitney’s recipes strike a perfect balance between tradition and innovation. She takes indigenous ingredients and gives them a make over like in her Field Peas with Okra and Andouille Sausage – three great ingredients that are seldom put together. When Miller does her version of a tried and true recipe her twists are whimsical yet logical. Like her Jalapeño Cornbread. It is cornbread kicked up with corn kernals, cheddar cheese and fresh jalapeño.
When I say it is cornbread I mean it is real cornbread – there’s no flour and more importantly no sugar. You can play games with the fat in order to make it healthier or more luxurious but flour and sugar are two of my pet peeves. Well, the flour thing isn’t a peeve as much as it is a philosophical difference. It’s CORNbread not a baguette. The sugar, however, is non-negotiable. Cornbread should never, ever, under any circumstances be sweet. If you add sugar you don’t have cornbread; you have corn cake.
Here, let me show you what a real cornbread recipe looks like courtesy of Miss Whitney Miller.
- 2 cups fine ground cornmeal
- 1 TBL baking powder
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 large egg
- 1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk
- 1/2 cup fat-free milk
- 1/4 cup plus 1 1/2 TBL canola oil
- 1/2 cup corn kernals
- 3 TBL shredded cheddar cheese
- 2 TBL diced fresh jalapeño
- Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
- Mix the cornmeal, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Add the egg, buttermilk, fat-free milk, and 1/4 cup of the oil and stir until well combined. Mix in the corn, cheese, and jalapeños.
- Add the remaining 1 1/2 TBL oil to 9-inch cast-iron skillet. Rub the oil around to thoroughly coat the bottom and sides of the skillet. Heat in the oven for 6 minutes. Remove from the oven and pour in the batter.
- Bake until the crust is golden, 25 to 30 minutes. Cut into wedges and serve hot.
Graham Elliot hipped me to this little video they shot to publicize the upcoming season of Fox’s MasterChef. It’s pretty cool:
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FOX has ordered a second season of Gordon Ramsay’s newest culinary competition series, MASTERCHEF, it was announced today by Mike Darnell, President of Alternative Entertainment, Fox Broadcasting Company.
“Gordon Ramsay is an incredible talent and the biggest culinary star on television today, so we’re very happy to have Gordon and MASTERCHEF back for another season on FOX,” said Darnell. “MASTERCHEF has resonated with viewers this summer, and we look forward to seeing where Gordon takes the show in Season Two.”
“It’s amazing and refreshing to see how much passion and raw talent there is from amateur home cooks across America,” said Ramsay. “It’s extraordinary the amount of energy and excitement the show brought in Season One, and I’m thrilled to be back at FOX for a second season.”
“The amazing reception for MASTERCHEF on FOX has been hugely rewarding for all of us at Shine Group,” said MASTERCHEF executive producer and Shine Group Chairman and CEO, Elisabeth Murdoch. “As the creators of this unique global franchise, we’re thrilled to see the U.S. audience love this show as much as we do. We are looking forward to building on this early success with an even broader, bigger search in Season Two, and to seeing the brand grow as it continues to do so in Australia, the U.K., France and around the world, breaking viewing and ancillary records as it goes.”
MASTERCHEF is the No. 1 new program of the summer among Adults 18-49, outperforming the next highest-rated show by +14%.
For those that believe they are the next MASTERCHEF please visit fox.com/masterchef.