Last season on FOX’s cooking-competition show “MasterChef,” legally blind Christine Ha won top honors among the home chefs trying to impress pro-chef judges Gordon Ramsay, Graham Elliot and Joe Bastianich.
Proving that 20/20 vision isn’t necessary to produce food that both looks and tastes great, Ha has set a high bar for the Season 4 contestants, who begin their quest for victory in a two-hour premiere episode — reportedly featuring a big challenge involving cooking lamb — on Wednesday, May 22.
On the menu for this season is a seafood feast, a visit to the set of FOX’s “Glee,” a wedding, a guest appearance from “Desperate Housewives” star Eva Longoria and some surfers.
Also on tap is the episode filming on this bright, warm February day in Pasadena, Calif., in which the contestants have to face long tables lined with some of the best nonprofessional cooks in the world — firefighters.
Drawn from all over the Los Angeles area — so that no single jurisdiction would be left without fire protection — the firefighters bring big appetites and proven skills for feeding large groups of discriminating diners.
The open-air kitchen is set up in front of Pasadena City Hall, and smoke from the grills drifts all over the area, carrying the aroma of the meal being prepared.
“We have the most amazing steak,” Ramsay tells Zap2it, “a 10-ounce New York strip. I love a New York strip — it’s always the heart, the one we grew up on. We have two amazing sides and one stunning sauce.
“So, they have 19 minutes to prep, and then the girls and guys are arriving, and they’ve got literally 60 minutes to serve 101 guests.”
But, there’ll be no sweet treat at the end of the meal.
“No dessert,” says Ramsay. “Honestly, when you see the portion size — I need these guys to get back up that ladder or up that tree to save a cat. I don’t want them slowed down because they had appetizer through dessert.”
“I don’t want to be accused of killing some cats,” quips Bastianich.
Ramsay has some experience with feeding firefighters. For example, a few years ago on one of his other Fox shows, “Kitchen Nightmares,” he sent a local fire crew in to eat at struggling pub Finn McCool’s in Westhampton, N.Y.
He also recognizes the quality of firefighters’ palates.
“On ‘Kitchen Nightmares,’ ” says Ramsay, “we were traveling around, and we were going to these firehouses, because we find out who’s the best in the town, who’s the up-and-coming young chef, who’s the best restaurant.”
“There’s such teamwork and camaraderie that you see in the firehouses,” says Elliot, “just like in the kitchens.”
“I think they’re going to be a picky bunch today,” says Bastianich, “for our contestants.”