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Former Miss Delaware nabs a new title: 'MasterChef'

August 17, 2011 |  8:59 am

Jennifer_behm This post has been corrected. See the note at the bottom for details.

"MasterChef" Season 2's winner is no stranger to crowns and coronations: One-time beauty queen Jennifer Behm represented the good state of Delaware. Now she represents the USA, but instead of  wearing a sash she'll be wielding a spoon and spatula.

It was a hard-won battle for Jennifer, who was most recently working as a real estate agent. It wasn't all that long ago that judge Joe "Death Stare" Bastianich relegated her food to the rubbish bin because it wasn't fit for human consumption. This week, she was unstoppable, mowing down the final three who stood in her way, including Adrien, Suzy and her nemesis, Christian.

But before we break it down more, I think this final four underscores a subtle flaw in "MasterChef," which is otherwise a refreshing entry into the cooking competition genre because it showcases the home cook, while so many of the other shows are beauty pageants on a plate for the chef-y set.

"MasterChef" presumably also makes it all about the plate. But Christian's ascension to the final four was no doubt troubling, even as it made for great TV. There is no doubt he can cook. But he was so personally unappealing, and his behavior crossed so many boundaries -- taunting the schoolchildren who voted against him in one challenge, mock "shooting" his competitors in another -- that a win for Christian would have undermined the "MasterChef" brand.

How to deal with such a character is the question. Either it's all about the plate, or it's not. And if it's not, then what ruler or benchmark is being used? (In Christian's case, it might be easy. He exhibited poor sportsmanship at every turn, and that seems like it should be a required quality for someone presumably trying to inspire a nation to ditch the drive-through and get back in the kitchen. Even chef Gordon Ramsay, who normally admires a talented upstart, was fed up with Christian's antics at times.) What I would like to know: What was going on behind the scenes? Were the producers worried about a Christian win? Were there any convenient machinations to make sure that didn't happen? Would it have bothered you if Christian won? Am I making too much out of reality TV show when the world seems to be on the verge of economic crisis? Or was Christian simply a delicious villain who made for ratings catnip?

Lucky for all, Christian did himself in, delivering a veal dish that was poorly plated and poorly executed. (Another example of his poor behavior: His response to Bastianich's criticism was '[Bleep] you, Joe.' Of course, Christian wasn't man enough to say it to his face.)

But enough about Christian!

Jennifer might owe woozy Suzy a bouquet of flowers. When it came down to the final four, Suzy had the power to choose teams and in her desperation to win chose to pair up with Christian. The oil-and-water combo led to a poorly executed dish that was supposed to be Thanksgiving on a plate for the assembled high-falutin' panel of international "MasterChef" judges. (Is this show a global phenomenon, or what?) In concept, it was a good idea. But no one was thankful for the bland dish that looked nothing like the bounty of a Thanksgiving holiday, and looked more like something a cafeteria would turn out as a Tuesday special in 1977.

Said Mr. Death Stare: "For you to bring this to these people that we brought from all over the world to be here is a little bit disrespectful."

Jennifer and Adrien made a super team, working like they'd been teammates forever, and spinning out a dish that was a marriage of two coasts, featuring lobster and spot prawns. It tells you how bad the red team's dish was that Jennifer and Adrien won...even though their prawns had not been properly deveined. GROSS!

That throws Suzy and Christian in a head-to-head lemon meringue battle. We have to give credit to Christian for his sing-song prediction: "Suzy, you're gonna lose-y!" And so she does. In the next round, Adrien gets to choose his ingredients first and goes with the octopus, followed by Christian's pick of veal. His move leaves Jennifer with what is arguably the least sexy of all the ingredients -- mushrooms. Only... Jennifer is practically a certified mushroom expert! She pounces on an opportunity to make what is arguably the most fearless move of the competition: She makes a yolk-filled ravioli with a mushroom sauce. There is no room for error. Even the judges think she's insane, and then they all gather round to watch the first cut. If the yolk is overcooked, or already broken, it's disaster. But instead it oozes out to mix with the mushrooms to make a rich, decadent sauce -- it's cooked to perfection.

Christian goes bye-bye and it's Adrien and Jennifer, cooking a three-course meal of a lifetime.

Adrien's plating is beyond reproach, and creative. His take on a taquito appetizer looks like a handbag full of jewels, Ramsay says, and using jicama in place of a tortilla blows the judges' minds. His short ribs appetizer has the judges seeing dollar signs. But his dessert -- a flourless chocolate cake -- is downright dry and unappetizing instead of fudgey.

Jennifer, meanwhile, takes on two technically challenging dishes: a perfectly seared scallop appetizer and a stuffed quail entree, and scores for her finesse and confidence. They are underwhelmed by her dessert: poached fruit, but at least it's not sticking to the roof of Ramsay's mouth like Adrien's cake.

In the end, the judges said, "We didn't see a cook-off between a waiter and a real estate agent. We watched two very professional chefs engage in a genuine culinary battle. You are both so incredibly talented. You have got every right to call yourselves chefs."

But also in the end, Jennifer's technical proficiency and fearless attitude trumped Adrien's cook-from-the-heart style, tasty as it might be. She walked off with $250,000 and another title to call her own. In this competition, it's all about the last person standing, she said. "Doesn't matter what the naysayers say. I'm proof of that."

What did you think about Jennifer's win?

For the record, 1:53 p.m. Aug. 17: A previous version of this post misstated how Jennifer ended up with the mushrooms.


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--Rene Lynch
Twitter / renelynch

Photo: Fox