In the first group challenge, the contestants must please students at an ethnically diverse school
Credit: Matt Hoyle/FOX

Joe Bastianich is a restaurateur, winemaker, author and one of the judges of MasterChef. He’ll be blogging each week about the show’s search for the best home cooks. Follow him on Twitter @Jbastianich or visit his

Faced with their first team challenge of preparing lunch for some very picky elementary school students, both MasterChef teams seemed to emerge relatively unscathed. Initially the red team’s choice of chicken teriyaki had us judges on the fence, but in the end it was a very smart move. The kids might have told Gordon they’d never heard of this dish before, but the flavors proved familiar.

Our host school was in an ethnically diverse neighborhood in Los Angeles. Middle America staples such as meatloaf and mashed potatoes are not the norm here, and the kids loved the sweet and spicy chicken with rice.

This week, our season 4 contestants were forced to depend on one other for the first time, and this is generally where alliances emerge and rivalries are christened, but it didn’t feel to us judges like either team really excelled – or cared much about – working as a unit. With no major mishaps in this challenge, perhaps they were able to skate through without having to truly work together – but I don’t think they’ll be so lucky next time.

Although I’m not sure it was fully realized, this week’s Mystery Box was one of the biggest opportunities our home cooks will be given this year. Being able to watch Gordon Ramsay perform was the best way to illustrate the talent and craftsmanship that goes into being a chef of his caliber. In our foodie-driven and celebrity chef-worshipping culture, it is easy to forget that personalities like Gordon Ramsay and Graham Elliot are first and foremost great chefs.

Gordon may indeed be an excellent showman, but it’s the skill behind the profanity and fireworks that is his true passion, and nothing could be more inspiring for them.

Another inspiration came from Luca during the Mystery Box Challenge. Both in his character and the level at which he executed the cod, no one impressed me more. I think he finally got out of his own head and therefore was able to start making better, more competent choices. By trusting his own ability, he produced an Asian glaze that made his previous pasta dishes look almost silly. Luca won the Mystery Box Challenge and therefore was given an advantage for the next elimination round.

Not only was he granted immunity from cooking, but he also got to remove a mixer from one of the homecooks – and since this was a baking elimination round that was a huge advantage. His choice to take Jordan’s mixer during elimination was the obvious one, as Jordon is currently the one to beat. But kudos to Luca for recognizing that his strongest competitor excelled regardless.

Everyone seemed to shed a tear for nice guy Malcolm – he knew he was out of his league, but still took his loss with grace and class. Perhaps there is a little more solidarity to this group after all.

Tune in to MasterChef next week (8 p.m. ET) on FOX to see how the gang stacks up during their second group challenge.