Curiosity — not revenge — brought Emily Hallock back to the “MasterChef” kitchen.
Though a spoonful of redemption would be nice.
If you missed the first episode of season 12, you missed Hallock — a 2008 graduate of Neenah High School and 2012 graduate from Lawrence University — earning her second “MasterChef” apron, the sign that she would advance to the next round.
“Getting this apron is that validation in saying I was eliminated too early,” Hallock said on the show. “So now I’m bringing back what I left on the table and more. I’m so ready.”
Billed as “Back To Win,” this round of the cooking competition features former “MasterChef” and a few “MasterChef Junior” contestants who fell short.
In 2018, Hallock’s run during season nine came to an unexpected end.
“We were mortified when you left, that was a shock,” show judge Gordon Ramsay said to Hallock during the season 12 premiere.
She finished 10th on season nine. That’s not too shabby considering thousands of home cooks don’t even make it past the “MasterChef” auditions, but Hallock had been cutting through the competition like a filet knife through fish. She had won two individual challenges and was a finalist in another challenge, while not being among the bottom cooks in any contests.
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When she had a chance to opt out of a loser-goes-home challenge, she didn’t back down. Instead Hallock chose to go head-to-head against Shanika Patterson. Hallock’s cake topped while in a blast freezer, leading to her untimely departure.
During her first cook back on “MasterChef,” Hallock squared off against three other season nine contestants — including Patterson, who finished eighth that year.
“The last time we saw each other I sent her home. So you know she’s not coming to play,” Patterson said of Hallock during the May 25 episode.
Judge Joe Bastianich talked with Patterson as she prepared her dish, half asking, half theorizing, that there was a lot of love amongst season nine contestants.
“It’s love-hate,” Patterson said. “We love each other.”
“You and her, maybe not so much,” Bastianich said referring to Paterson and Hallock who were cooking next to each other.
Hallock focused more on redemption than rivalry.
“I was crushed when I let it slip through my fingers the first time so having a second opportunity, you can bet I’m not going to be making the same mistakes,” Hallock said during the show. “Last time I was here on season nine, I made a mistake that sent me home. That moment is something that I do think about often. Let’s just say if given the opportunity to save myself or try to send someone else home, I will be saving myself.”
During a Zoom call, Hallock said she wasn’t surprised Patterson was in her group.
“Due to the way our story ended, that was a pretty logical decision,” Hallock said.
She hopes their past rivalry won’t be a main theme this season.
When contacted about being part of season 12, Hallock didn’t know who she would be competing against but she knew they were all past contestants. That piqued her curiosity.
For the first 11 seasons, “MasterChef” selected its contestants from home cooks at auditions across the United States not professional chefs from America’s top restaurants. For season 12 they brought 40 contestants back to the show’s kitchen for the first “MasterChef” all-stars competition. Many of the contestants have gone on to culinary school, opened restaurants or made cooking their fulltime profession since their last show appearance.
Hallock — who still likes to cook for her friends and family and does cooking events if invited — has switched jobs three times since the show but none of them have been as baker, chef or other culinary pro.
“That was my one kind of watch out, when I was thinking, should I do this again because this isn’t the same quality,” she said and wondered, “Am I going to be the small fish in the big pond now? It was a little nerve-racking.”
Of the 40 contestants invited back, 20 earned an apron by impressing judges with one dish prepared in 45 minutes. Hallock made a tortellini stuffed with crab and mascarpone tossed in a lemon beurre blanc sauce and a seasoned crab salad.
She developed the recipe based on one of her favorite dishes in New Orleans, where she lived for a few years before moving back to Chicago.
“There’s a restaurant I love that makes blue crab beignets,” she said.
Knowing she couldn’t re-create the dish in 45 minutes, she decided to replace the beignets with homemade pie.
All the judges were skeptical of pulling off a fresh pastry dish in that amount of time.
“Is it ideal? No,” Hallock said. “Do you always want to be making cake in 45 minutes? Absolutely not.”
Hallock practiced the dish, including plating, at home “like 10 times to make sure I can absolutely do it in 45 minutes … so, yeah, to say I was much better prepared this time around is not an understatement.”
Still, with 3 minutes to go, Hallock said her cake was filled but still needed to be cooked, tossed in sauce and plated.
“It was terrifying,” she said with a laugh. “It can be done, but I don’t recommend it.”
What she didn’t do was adding powdered onion or garlic in the dish. During each season nine cook-off to earn an apron, Bastianich called her out for using those ingredients. Despite their disagreement over the ingredients, Bastianich gave Hallock her apron to start her run to a top 10 finish that season.
“Joe likes me,” said Hallock. “I think in that little Italian heart of his, I think he ultimately does like me. I think maybe he just has a hard time showing it.”
This time around Bastianich said her stuffed tortellini was a dish that “perhaps” could give Hallock a chance to compete with the best of the best.
Ramsay said making pasta in 45 minutes was a big risk and warned her to be careful with mascarpone because it distracted from the crab, but he dished out praise for Hallock’s skill.
“The dish oozes precision and gives us all a stern reminder how early you left this competition,” Ramsay said.
Judge Aarón Sánchez said, “What you have here is truly elegant, the flavors are clear, they are clean and robust.”
Despite the praise, Hallock thought Lindsay Haigh, who made chicken roulade with Parisian-style gnocchi and pan gravy, would be the first cook in their group to earn an apron.
“And then I go, I hope I’m getting that second apron,” Hallock said.
As Sánchez handed the first apron to Hallock she was “blown away” and relieved.
“I hope you can take this and learn from all the mistakes you made before,” he said.
Those mistakes began with the decision to cook rather than saving herself, followed by a series of “stupid little mistakes that ended up compounding themselves. Cooling the cakes upside down and that ended up compressing them so I didn’t trim them appropriately and that’s why my cake fell over.”
Patterson got the second apron and said, “Emily and I have an apron. That means this fight is not over.”
Though for Hallock — who promised Sánchez that she will use this opportunity as a chance to learn from her mistakes — the “MasterChef” experience itself was the biggest draw.
“There are not a lot of people out there who have had this experience,” she said. “I think this time around what was new was to do it with other people who have also done it. It was going to be a different experience, to be honest, it was completely different.”
“MasterChef” airs at 7 pm Wednesdays on Fox. The first three episodes, including Hallock’s debut, are available on Hulu.
Contact Daniel Higgins firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @HigginsEats on twitter and Instagram and like on Facebook.