The season's first mystery box challenge contained a beautiful duck breast, kale, sweet potatoes and rhubarb. I personally feel these items were quite fair, and perhaps a bit on the easy side. If you consider yourself an amateur chef, and have found yourself amongst the top 18 contestants on this show, then you should be familiar with duck breast – no excuses. As soon as the chefs saw what was in the mystery boxes, they should have been filled with reassurance ... unless you can't see.
Here is where I start to worry about Christine – simply because she faces an additional hurdle that the others don't. This is a fierce competition where every second counts. She has to allow someone else to be her eyes and she must trust her aide is moving as fast as possible, selecting the best ingredients. Perhaps Christine is used to this, but my hat's off to her because I wouldn't have the patience.
Best DishesAlmost immediately, several contestants emerged as frontrunners. Watching Becky was like watching a professional chef in one of my kitchens. Efficient and confident, she wasn't worried about what anyone else was doing, nor was she worried about herself. She looked like she'd done this a million times.
But it was quirky little Felix who came up with the top dish of the night. Executed to perfection, inventive and a great use of the sweet potato made her plate stand out. She also showed signs of being a savvy competitor, taking advantage of her bird's eye view of the competition during the risotto challenge.
David's dish was also stellar, and I am really excited to see how far he'll take this. He lets his work speak for itself. He genuinely appreciates any praise received, and doesn't seem to absorb it as validation. Kitchens can be rough places – you either need to be of solid stock to hold your own, or just completely out of your mind. Keep your eyes on him.
Worst DishesI was disappointed that anyone out of our top 18 would put forth something as poorly executed as those of Helene, Tali and David.
Greg Gayne / FOX
One could argue that Monti deserved to be among the worst, but her biggest problem was lack of familiarity with the dish, and not necessarily indicative of lack of skill. It is very odd that someone who loves to cook has no experience with risotto, but at least she was truthful, and did not try to cover a botched execution. She has Tali and David to thank for the incredibly stupid mistakes they both made. That cranberry-filled lump of Play-Doh on Tali's plate was downright insulting. And what can I say about David not washing his mushrooms? What else didn't he wash?
As the night comes to a close, the first signs of strife emerge among our remaining home cooks as David and Ryan seem to have rubbed each other the wrong way. Monday brings our first team challenge and it's at Camp Pendleton, so let's hope everyone can keep their cool! Tune in next week and follow me on Twitter at @JBastianich for more of my thoughts on MasterChef and much more.