Mr. D and I are so disappointed now that our favourite culinary competition -Masterchef USA – is over but what a fantastic finale it was. We knew it was going to be close as the two culinary hopefuls Luca Manfe and Natasha Crnjac battled it out for the top prize.
But we are thrilled, thrilled, THRILLED that Luca has been crowned Masterchef 2013. Out of all the contestants he was the one who had come the furthest. He’d really struggled in the beginning and we weren’t expecting him to go further than a few episodes. But he improved beyond belief and despite his on-going success he never once came across as big-headed, arrogant or cocky – unlike some of his fellow competitors. And who could forget the infamous ‘butter incident’ where Luca very magnanimously gave Jessie a stick of butter. He may not have been taken seriously initially but he did seem like a genuinely nice guy who was passionate about food; keeping his Italian heritage alive through his cooking, and his dream to start up his own restaurant. This was Luca’s second attempt at trying to compete in Masterchef and as the weeks went by and he started to progress at an astounding speed and level, it was quite clear that this guy didn’t just have passion – he had culinary talent too. We hoped Luca would win, but with so many big, forceful characters who were equally skilled and fighting to be noticed, we weren’t sure if the mild-mannered New York-based Italian stood a chance.
The finale kicked off with an emotional start as the two contestants were reunited with their family and friends, including Luca’s sister and father who flew in from Italy – and yes, I did get a little weepy! But then sentimentality was put aside as Natasha and Luca had to prepare a three course meal for the Masterchef judges, Gordon Ramsay, Graham Elliott and Joe Bastianich. This is where the excitement began and there were more twists and turns than at a breakdancing competition: The judges loved Natasha’s food… no the judges loved Luca’s food… Luca has a near melt-down as he realises he has forgotten to strain the panna cotta… Natasha ditches half of her dessert when she sees it hasn’t set right… Krissy and Natasha have a last war of words… the judges very nearly declare a draw – it was all happening!
It was clear pretty much from the start of the show that Natasha was the favourite to win and it did look as though she had it in the bag. Each of Natasha’s courses were exactly the kind of thing I’d choose for myself if I were dining out and her presentation was faultless. Also no one could doubt her passion, commitment and talent throughout this season where she hardly ever put a foot wrong. She was a well-rounded home cook who could cook almost anything. She had an incredible knowledge of food and a high level of technical ability. Her flavour combinations always hit the spot according to the judges and even when the other contestants made the mistake of underestimating her, she always rose to the challenge and won. Due to her competence and skill, she hardly ever had to face the dreaded pressure test. All this plus her winning menu seemed to indicate that Natasha would be walking out of the Thunderdome kitchen with the Masterchef title. Luca’s menu was as adventurous as Natasha’s was safe and I wondered if it was perhaps a little too much for the judges who expressed concern over Luca’s choices.
Awful as this may sound, we really hoped that Natasha wouldn’t walk away with the grand prize. Why? Because despite all her culinary genius, Natasha came across as the most unlikeable know-it-all with an extremely bad attitude. She hardly ever had a genuine smile on her face and just sulked and pouted when she didn’t get her own way – and she positively hated it when her fellow contestants did better than her. The first time the viewers saw her, she talked about how her cooking ability was always underestimated because she was so pretty. Boastful? Natasha? Never! And she definitely didn’t score any brownie points by reducing contestant Beth Kirby to tears.
Thankfully Luca’s gamble paid off and as doubtful as the judges were initially, they LOVED his dishes including the ambitious basil panna cotta with tomato jam. Not something I would have chosen for dessert but according to the judges, it worked spectacularly. A lot of Luca-haters have stated that Natasha was robbed of the title as she was the far superior and consistent cook and that Luca only won because he was a man, and for the first time in the show’s history it was important for a male contestant to win the title. Even when Natasha’s unpopularity was pointed out, her supporters have stated that this is a cooking competition and not a contest based on personality. This is fair enough but it’s important to remember that the winner will go on to great success including their own cookbook and potentially starting up their own restaurant. Would I want to eat at the restaurant of or buy a cookbook from some who does not come across well as a likeable person? No, I wouldn’t – and I don’t think many others would either.
So Mastechef is over for another season and we’ll have to wait another year to see more culinary magic. Congrats to Luca. A very worthy winner who I hope goes on to great things. Proof that sometimes the nice guy does indeed win.
Roll on 2014. We can’t wait for season 5!