“MasterChef,” which had the summer’s highest-rated programming debut last Tuesday (July 27), is a culinary competition show with a difference: its warm, ooey gooey, home-cooked heart.

Not only does the show feature amateur foodies who’ve never gone to culinary school, but the competition’s aim isn’t to launch them professionally into their own restaurants, but to share the passion that drives them with others.

The passion certainly runs high in these kitchens. Get ready for “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition”-style tears and “Biggest Loser”-type breakthroughs.

At the FOX Television Critics Association press tour Monday (Aug. 2), Gordon Ramsay along with his fellow judges Graham Elliot and Joe Bastianich try to drive home exactly how “MasterChef” differs from those other cooking challenge shows.

What’s the point?

  • Elliot: “Hopefully, what we’re doing is inspiring you to not be intimidated by ingredients and by food, by 50-step-long recipes. It’s to get you to change the whole mentality of what America is cooking at home.”
  • Ramsay: “The objective of ‘Masterchef’ was not to turn them into professional-style chefs. It was giving them an opportunity, a platform to, I suppose, release the inner passion. It’s about instilling that confidence and giving them that break, a unique prize, to publish your very own cookbook, which we know is from a home-style, far-more-than-less intimidating than a chef writing a cookbook because it’s cooked from the stove at home with the fridge.
  • Bastianich: “I think that, for the winner, it’s such a journey, and it’s so much more than about the dishes themselves. It’s their story. It’s who they are. It’s regional cooking. It’s where they come from. It’s how they put themselves on the plate.”

Standout contestant

  • In the Tuesday, Aug. 3 audition episode, a man whose birth defect left him with only three fingers per hand tries out and wows the judges and his fellow competitors.
  • Ramsay: “We were blown away on that level of technique when you see how difficult it is to cook and actually chop an onion at fast speeds, to see him with three fingers was incredible, by no means any form of disability, but gave everybody else a vote of confidence to raise their game alongside that. They weren’t just chopping an onion. They were chopping for two-and-a-half hours, for three hours, and this guy was unique.”
  • Elliot: “What was really amazing is the fact that, after a while, you completely forget that he had, you know, the three fingers on each hand. It was simply an amazing — beautiful knife cuts and speed. Everything was very efficient. So it was inspiring.”
  • Bastianich: “I think that became the first of many emotional moments for us as judges to have to judge someone in a real way versus people with five fingers with a severe handicap and to have to, you know, put it to the edge and make the cut and the decision about someone with a severe disability.”

gordon ramsay tca 2010 gi 320 'MasterChef': Cooking with six fingers and other culinary competition differencesWe see a kinder, gentler Chef Ramsay

  • Ramsay: “I think what we have to do is understand the different situations in terms of ‘Kitchen Nightmares’ is something that, in our minds, you know, throwing the last lifeline in a way that we help try to turn these places around. ‘Hell’s Kitchen’ is professional chefs. This is something that is completely different in terms of it’s an amateur king foodie that wants to step into the world of food on a bigger platform, and there’s no service connected.”
  • Bastianich: “In the past, Gordon has dealt with professional cooks and chefs, as he said. And they need to be treated in a certain way, and that’s the way we do in our profession. I think in ‘MasterChef’ with amateur cooks and truly home cooks, you see a side of Gordon — you see probably Gordon as husband, father, home cook. How does he interact with his family? How does he cook at home? And I think that that’s more the nurturing sensibility that he has and is what transmits itself in this show.”

Proud to be an American

  • Ramsay: “‘MasterChef’s’ been running for over 10 years in the U.K. And the contestants there now are cooking brilliant food, sometimes better than Michelin-star chefs, because they’ve become that bloody good, which is a bit of a worry. So [in the American version of the show] … I was amazed with the style of flavor paramount and unfussy style to cooking. It was just an extraordinary thing to witness, in a way that it wasn’t done with a pretentious style of cooking. It was done with flair. And there’s a big difference. They weren’t cooking pictures. They were cooking flavor. And that, for me, was the foundation.”
  • Elliot: “You have people of many different ethnicities, myriad religions, upbringings, backgrounds. And then you look at the country and the fact that you have Pacific Northwest and New England and the Gulf area, and you have the Southwest, and you have people that translate that onto the plate and have a story and passion.”

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Posted by:Hanh Nguyen