On Tuesday night's finale of MasterChef, a TV food competition that began with 100 home cooks, the adductor muscles were the lesser offense. Jennifer Behm, a 34-year-old former Miss Delaware, won the title of MasterChef and the $250,000 prize. The finale pitted Jennifer, a real estate agent from Wilmington, Del., against Adrien Nieto, a waiter from Ventura, Calif.
Both claimed they weren't going home without the title -- are all reality TV stars required to say that? -- but in the end, host and judge Chef Gordon Ramsay and fellow judges Chef Graham Elliot and restaurateur Joe Bastianich said Jennifer had more skill.
Working back to back and fairly close together on the inside of a circular kitchen, Jennifer and Adrian prepared their three-course meals with their families watching on. Jennifer, who kept a glam profile throughout the season, wore her hair long and layered, leaving us to wonder if she was at all worried about a stray blonde strand making it into one of her dishes on a pretty crucial day.
As she put it on the show: "This is the meal of my lifetime."
For an appetizer, Jennifer prepared pan-seared scallops with a quail egg, creamed corn and English pea puree. Gordon praised her for a perfect sear, but called out the adductor muscle, saying, "Eating that is like a mouthful of rubber."
The main course was braised quail stuffed with chorizo and apricots, with creamy potatoes and spinach. The presentation to the judges was about as dramatic as reality food TV gets. It was Jennifer's first time making the quail dish, and the show's producers made sure we knew it. Alternating camera shots of judge Chef Gordon Ramsay, taking his knife down the center of the whole bird, and of the other judges' concerned faces created tense moments during the tasting.
Finally, Ramsay declared: "It's delicious. You've nailed it."
Jennifer's dessert -- moscato-braised pear and Granny Smith apples poached with pear brandy, with mascarpone and blood orange reduction -- drew a "meh" from the judges."That doesn't deserve to sit anywhere near the other two dishes on your menu," Ramsay said.
As an appetizer, Adrian served spot prawn taquitos with avocado sauce, masago and microgreens. He wowed the judges with his restaurant-quality main course of beer-braised short ribs with cauliflower-parsnip puree and rainbow chard. Dessert was a flop. His dry chocolate torte with passion fruit and blood orange didn't make an impression.
While she isn't exactly an underdog, Jennifer wasn't always a favorite on the show, either. She was the first to serve food to judges at the start of the competition, and they wanted to send her home.
But she got the last bite.
"Doesn't matter what the naysayers say," Jennifer said at the end of the finale. "I'm proof of that."
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