reality tv test kitchen: my masterchef audition

crabsalad
Have you ever thought about auditioning for a reality TV show? Shelterrific contributor Megan Barone decided to go for it, and lived to tell the tale — and share the recipe.

I spent last Sunday at the local Sur La Table with about 500 eager Pacific Northwestern foodies. We were all there to audition for infamous Chef Gordon Ramsay‘s new reality show, MasterChef. The new show is billed as a Top Chef for home cooks, rather than restaurant chefs, so I thought I’d give it a go.

First step: the 12-page application. This almost thwarted my aspirations right off the bat. “How would people describe your negative traits?” Um, that was a fun jaunt into self-discovery!

Second step: I was told to bring a single serving of a dish that “expresses who you are as a cook” and that can be served at room temperature, plus a photo of that dish. Now, this was more inspiring. After a few days of meticulously testing in my kitchen and forcing my friends and family to taste test, I was happy with my creation: a wintry Dungeness crab salad with shaved brussels sprouts, caramelized leeks, fennel, and blood orange, seasoned with a hint of fennel frond and tarragon. I thought it was delicious — the sweetness of the crab meat augmented by the licorice-y fennel, earthy leeks, and bright citrus. I hoped the judges would think so, too.

Is auditioning for MasterChef anything like American Idol? How delicious is Megan’s crab salad recipe? Tune in — we mean, click the link! — to read more.

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On audition day — thankfully dry for January in Seattle — I showed up as instructed at 11 a.m. sharp…and was stunned to see the line already wrapped around the store. People were clutching their mini-coolers anxiously, some showing off their tattoos, some wearing ballgowns (!), all hoping — just like me — to get a chance to be on a new show. We had a long time to think about it. After six hours of standing in the queue, a lot of us hopefuls had really bonded. We were swapping photos, sharing food stories and recipes, forming rhetorical alliances in the competition, and having a great time in spite of our collective nervousness. I even exchanged a few phone numbers, eager to meet again over future meals.

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When I finally made it near enough to see the judge’s table, any confidence I had was instantly dampened. I saw people constructing intricate towers of beets, caramelizing pork belly on the spot with butane torches — in short, serious, restaurant-quality presentations. Suddenly, my fabulous crab salad served in my great-grandmother’s martini glass seemed a little too simple and quaint.

I brought my dish up to the scowling (no, really) judge, introduced myself, and began describing my dish. Before I got halfway through my description, she took a miniscule bite of crab salad, frowned more deeply, and crushed what remained of my hopes with three words:

“Too much tarragon.”

And with that, it was done. I packed up my stuff and headed home.

I’m glad I tried out, happy for the experience, and, frankly, relieved I won’t be uprooting my life for five weeks. But if you think you’ve got what it takes to be MasterChef, there’s still a chance for you to audition this Sunday, January 31, at Sur La Table at the L.A. Farmer’s Market, or download a PDF for information on mailing in a videotaped audition.

And now onto my crab salad recipe — you be the judge! — Megan B.

Winter crab salad with blood orange and fennel
serves 4
1/2 lb cooked Dungeness crab meat
5 brussels sprouts
2 leeks, sliced
2 blood oranges, segmented
1 bulb fennel, diced, plus 1 tbs chopped fennel fronds
1 tbs chopped tarragon (or, you know, to taste)
1 tbs apple cider vinegar
1 tsp honey
2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

In a large skillet over medium heat, cook leeks in a drizzle of oil until golden, stirring frequently, about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, slice the brussels sprouts thinly (or shave them with a mandoline slicer). Toss the herbs, honey, oil, and vinegar in a large bowl; whisk to combine. Add crab, brussels sprouts, fennel, citrus segments, and cooked leeks; toss. Season to taste and chill for at least 30 minutes before serving in a chilled martini glass or bowl. Garnish with a fennel frond and a blood orange slice.


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