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'MasterChef' is back for Season 2 in familiar surroundings

February 18, 2011 |  5:41 pm

Who doesn't love a good celebrity sighting? Even better, when it's on home turf.

Celebri-chefs Gordon Ramsay and Graham Elliot and restaurateur Joe Bastianich are reuniting for Season 2 of the Fox hit, "MasterChef," which plucks average, everyday cooks with no formal training and puts them to the test to see if they have what it takes to become a "MasterChef." (Hence the title.)

And there they were Friday in downtown L.A., as the contestants were put through the paces on their very first field test. I wish I could tell you precisely where they were on Friday, but I have been sworn to secrecy. (You know how these TV things are.) But I can say this much, and you will have to read between the lines: Producers borrowed a certain cafeteria in a certain downtown L.A. building, wink wink, and transformed it for the show. And I can also say that that cafeteria has never looked so good.

As in Season 1, the contestants are divided into two teams: Red and Blue. Friday's challenge? To feed more than 300 working men and women in two hours. The diners vote, and the team with the most votes wins. The challenge is as much about managing food production -- making sure there's enough to feed all -- as it is serving up something that tastes great.

The three judges were reprising their roles from last season: Ramsay and Elliot raced back and forth amid the competitors with a watchful eye on the food. "You don't have more lasagna?? Where's your lasagna?" Ramsay asked one team, sending them scrambling for reserves. (Remember, this is the "kind" and "gentle" Ramsay who reins it in to deal with home cooks, not the salmon-hurling Ramsay of "Hell's Kitchen.") Bastianich, meanwhile, offers a different perspective, viewing it all as a diner and restaurant owner would.

One interesting twist this season: Teams are getting feedback in as close to real time as possible. At one point, Bastianich pulled the leaders from each team aside in the midst of Friday's challenge to give them the most recent vote tally. Gotta get on desserts, he told one team whose offerings were falling short. And you need to get on production, he told the other team, which was struggling to keep up with the hungry hordes.

One diner, Paula DiPietrantonio of Torrance, dutifully tried each and every dish, and ended up voting mostly for the blue team. "I feel like I'm going to throw up," she joked. She said she was surprised at how calm and collected the contestants seemed to be, considering the pressure they are under. She said she also surprised herself: "I was a little star-struck by Gordon Ramsay, I have to admit that." 

Did you watch Season 1 of "MasterChef"? Are you planning on tuning in for Season 2? And perhaps more importantly, do you think you have what it takes to be on "MasterChef"?

A start date for Season 2 is still up in the air, but you can expect it to return sometime in early summer. Like last year, they will start with 100 competitors and winnow it down. Last year, the competition in the MasterChef kitchen started with 15 contestants. This year, there will be 18 contestants who make the cut.

--Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch

Photo: Elliot and Bastianich confer on set. Photo credit: Rene Lynch