reality tv test kitchen: my masterchef audition

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.


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.


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.

From our partners

Masterchef is HUGE in the UK! It’s a great programme and I always wanted to be on it. However you’ve completely put me off auditioning here :)

Such a shame you didn’t make it further, your salad sounds wonderful and if it’s anything like the crab salad you made last year – which ranks as one of my best 2009 eating experiences – then that judge was a FOOL.

Wow — pretty intimidating! It sounds like you handled it well, though. I’m looking forward to trying your crab salad (the photo is beautiful). One tbs of chopped tarragon doesn’t seem like too much for four servings to me. But, of course, I am not an expert.

Megan b.

Paola- youre too sweet! You saying that means more than approval from a scowling judge.
I’m figuring she may have just not liked that anise flavor. I admit it may have been a risky choice.
Thanks for the love and support!

Sarah L.

That looks amazing! What can be subbed for the Dungeness crab? Is Maryland blue too mild?

Megan B.

Sarah: Sub whatever crab you like- I’m just particular to the Dungeness as a west coaster! Ooh- bay shrimp would be delicious as well, methinks….


I love the recipe, can’t wait to try it. I also as a writer enjoyed your article. I too tried out in Denver. I didn’t have a wait, they brought me right in, I had the same judge, kind of a quick talker, she liked my dish except the garnish. i got a call back the next day and had a filmed interview. I had two really sweet producers and now I wait…

shelterrific » Blog Archive » five things we learned last week

[…] 2) Reality TV auditions sound bad, but the food sounds good. Michelle V.K. says: “Wow — pretty intimidating! It sounds like you handled it well, though. I’m looking forward to trying your crab salad (the photo is beautiful). One tbs of chopped tarragon doesn’t seem like too much for four servings to me. But, of course, I am not an expert.” Read Megan’s MasterChef audition tale and recipe here. […]

Megan B.

Good luck, Babe, hope to see you on the show!

Mary T

And let us know, Babe, if you do make it on! We’d love to hear about it.



I auditioned in Denver as well and did the interview. And just like you, am playing the waiting game! :P Sounds like you did awesome!! Good luck and keep us posted :)


I sent in a video tape but to my disappointment I did not hear back, yes the 12 pg questionare was enough in its self, I am now afraid that my tape might wind up on u tube or be sold to another show,,,eeeeks


o by the way I am in New Orleans, and I made a beautiful seafood stuffed red fish yummm,,,,, please let me know if anyone finds out about the show

shelterrific » Blog Archive » cook your heart out with good housekeeping

[…] Shelterrific, we’re no strangers to cooking competitions and we know you’ve got talent, too. Are you going to Cook Your Heart Out? Share your entry […]

We Heart This - we heart weekly – 1.30.10

[…] • Ever have dreams of trying out for a reality tv show? Read about it and see the recipe that brought this budding chef’s dream crashing down (winter crab salad with blood orange and fennel; I think it’s sounds delish!) – shelterrific […]

Masterchef is on here in Ausrtalia at the moment and it is absolutely massive. Ordinary people are becoming foodies by the hundreds – I LOVE IT!

This was much more fun to read about than to experience, I’m sure! Good for you for trying. That took guts. I’m based in Canada but have been following MasterChef UK and the Australian version. I think the Australian is even bigger than the UK one. That country has gone MC crazy! They even have a junior version going now and well… talk about ‘intimidating’ those little kids are ridiculously knowledgeable AND experienced! Good news is that the MasterChef Australia series is LARGELY responsible for spreading the popularity of Thermomix in Australia. Seeing Thermomix on TV, being used by pro chefs, has made everyone in that country want one. Yay! (makes me happy because maybe one day it will also be available in the USA ;-)

Recipe round-up: soups and salads | The Baroness

[…] perhaps this kale, chard, and farro salad could be the perfect make-ahead for lunches. And this shaved brussels sprouts, blood orange and dungeness crab salad wasn’t quite good enough to land me a spot on MasterChef, but it’s been a well received […]