Having a killer signature dish, I realized, was only half of the game. I had to nail the application as well. Although I had “applied” for many jobs over the years, in actuality the process had never been more than sending a resume and sitting through an interview. The last actual application I completed was the one that got me into MIT.
And, like a college application, the MasterChef process would require some careful editing and positioning. The dinner conversation during the first taste test revolved around how to answer the questions to my best advantage. The “science geek in the kitchen” persona was still the angle to pursue, but now it was time to get to the specifics. So, without further ado, some selected answers to questions from the MasterChef signup form.
Section 1: General Information
This covered all of the basics: contact info, age, gender, birth date, education, web site (this blog, of course). There were some questions about my prior television experience (none), and then the big one:
Would you be available to leave your everyday commitments for up to five weeks starting in February 2010? Yes.
Do you have any obligations that would prevent you from being gone from your home and job for an extended period of time? No. (Answer was the result of a lengthy discussion with She Who Must Be Obeyed, who would shoulder a considerable burden in my absence.)
Section 2: In the Kitchen
If you have not attended a culinary school or cooking program, what is your cooking background? See the attached “How I Learned to Cook,” I’m completely self-taught.
Rate your cooking skills on a scale of 1-10 (10 being the highest): 9.
How would you describe your food philosophy or point of view? Rustic food prepared with modern techniques.
What is your favorite dish or type of food? Pork, in all of its myriad forms and preparations.
What cooking utensil can you not live without? My brain.
What is your favorite cookbook? The French Laundry Cookbook.
What are your 3 signature dishes and give a brief explanation in how you prepare each dish:
- Pasta and tomato sauce made from the family recipes.
- Boeuf bourguignon: a hybrid of Julia Child’s “Mastering” and Thomas Keller’s Bouchon recipes.
- Bombe aux trois chocolats: chocolate mousse in a chocolate cake dome, covered with chocolate ganache.
What are your strengths in the kitchen? Organization, thoroughness, tasting as I cook, working clean.
What are your weaknesses in the kitchen? Dealing with outside distractions, my timing can be improved.
Describe your feelings about Chef Gordon Ramsay: I respect him both as a cook and as one of the chefs who put British cuisine back on the map.
Pretend for a moment you are a contestant on the show. Tell us the dish you would create for each of the two challenges listed below. Describe the ingredients you would use as well as the presentation.
1. Create a summer seafood dish. Pan-seared diver scallops with a sweet corn beurre blanc, sweet corn and roasted mushrooms, garnished with chives, chive oil, and sherry vinegar. Place a scallop on each of three small mounds of chive-garnished sweet corn kernels and chantrelle mushrooms. Lay down a stripe of the beurre blanc on either side of the scallops (rectangular plate), dot the sauce with chive oil and sherry vinegar. Garnish the scallop tops with single chive tops.
2. If you could put a gourmet twist on your favorite comfort food, what would it be and how would you prepare it? Comfort food: smothered pork chops with grits and greens. Gourmet twist: pan-seared, oven-roasted thick-cut pork chops (brined in salt, brown sugar, bay leaves and garlic). White wine pan sauce with shallots, capers, and lemon. Savory polenta with red onions, garlic, and parmesan. Set cooked chop on a bed of polenta, sauce the chop, serve sauteed kale with bacon and mushrooms on the side.
Section 3: Employment History
The usual nonsense here, concluded with this set of questions:
Do you enjoy your current job? Describe why or why not: Yes. I work for and answer only to myself, and I decide which projects I work on.
What is the best job you ever had and why? My current job is the best; I get to do creative work without corporate politics.
What is the worst job you ever had and why? Editor for McGraw-Hill, everything was decided by committee.
What would your dream job be and why? Food and travel writer/blogger, which would utilize all of my creative skills.
Section 4: Your Profile
This is where it got personal.
How would you describe yourself in one word? Perfectionist. (I didn’t think asshole was appropriate, although it might be more accurate.)
What is something we wold not know by looking at you? I’m a MIT-trained biologist.
More questions about hobbies, life-changing events, best and worst qualities, etc.
What was the last unusual, exciting, or spontaneous thing you instigated? Booking a trip to London in April 2009 so we could eat at St. John restaurant. (Not too much of a stretch.)
Section 5: Medical and Background
Here’s where it became clear I was dealing with Fox. Questions about my general health, any criminal record, violent tendencies, drug use, lawsuits: would truthful answers improve of decrease my chances?
If chosen to be a contestant on MasterChef, is there any part of your life that you would prefer not to share on camera? (i.e., social organizations, activities, personal history, friends, family, etc.) No. (I’ve just given Fox permission to poker their cameras everywhere.)
Voluntary Participation Agreement
Summarized by She Who Must Be Obeyed as “You give them everything, and they are responsible for nothing.”
I felt pretty good about the application; I don’t think they’d see another one like it.
Signature dish: done. Application: done. Time for the audition.