Thousands of amateur cooks lined up across the country for the opportunity to become America's first MasterChef. But only 30 finalists were invited to L.A. to face-off in their first head-to-head challenge to prove that they have the basic culinary techniques necessary to advance in the competition.
Their first mission is to slice and dice an onion to perfection. "If you can't cut an onion, you have no place being in the kitchen," judge Joe Bastianich warns. "The more evenly you cut, the more evenly they cook," judge Gordon Ramsay adds. All three judges are looking for perfectly consistent slicing and dicing with minimum waste of onion.
The race is on...and four people have already sliced their fingers. Little by little, heads begin to roll. "Chopping onions is about consistency. I've got half onions... is this what we showed you? You're out of the competition," Gordon says as the first contestant gets the boot. "That is not good enough - please leave the competition," he informs 23-year-old dock worker Ryan. Four more contestants are eliminated.
But 24 hopefuls make it through, including 28-year-old Darryl, who only has three fingers on each hand due to a birth defect. "These are perfectly sliced, beautiful onions; the dice look great," Gordon says. "The fact that you're doing that with three fingers on each hand is mind-blowing to me, it's an inspiration - you're in," judge Graham Elliot informs Darryl.
Now it's time for the final cut. After more than 90 minutes of chopping, only two people are left. Hollie is out; she's going home.
With 24 contestants remaining, the judges hatch the next challenge: How well can the contestants cook one "stunning" egg, which must be the "hero" of the dish?
Anyone can cook a three-minute egg - it's what you do with the other 27 minutes," Joe says. The contestants have everything from local organic vegetables to smoked salmon to choose for sides, but the egg must be the star of the dish.
Sparks literally begin to fly in the kitchen, but the judges aren't seeing any three-star techniques. Whitney prepares a simple poached egg with herb avocado salad. Joe says it's fresh and light, but just a salad. Max makes a tortilla espanola with fried parsley. Gordon says that the egg wasn't good enough; he's out.
Slim, 22, withdrew from her university to join the competition...for good reason. The judges like her pan-fried rice noodle egg roll; she's in. But Whitney is out. And Charmaine prepares scrambled egg with crÃ¨me fraiche and caviar, but the caviar's better than the egg. She's out. Tracy is the only one brave enough to try a dessert: banana pudding Napoleon. The judges are impressed; she's in.
Jake, a 38-year-old construction worker, makes a "perfectly poached" rustic bacon and egg. After a bit of a fake-out, Gordon informs him he's in. Then Darryl tries his luck at a Baked Egg that winds up "clunky"; Adeliz makes a too-spicy huevo diablo and a third contestant whips up a disappointing huevo ranchero. All three are out.Sheetal is facing two challenges: She's Hindu, so she doesn't eat eggs. Also, she realizes too late that the dish she has chosen is not ovenproof. Luckily, her baked egg with wild mushrooms turns out fine.
Lee makes a poached egg over spinach wrapped salmon and potato. Graham calls it "gorgeous" and "very yummy." Tony goes for Egg Purgatory, and Gordon says the seasoning is absolutely exact. Sheetal, Lee, and Tony all get to keep their aprons! But Robin's fluffy egg with goat cheese in orange zest and crÃ¨me fraiche is too "sticky."
Meanwhile, Tamar's fried bara and egg sandwich with mango strawberry smoothie "feels heavy" - Joe says it "went very wrong." Faruq prepares avocado and jalapeno stuffed egg. Gordon says the dish is "somewhat fragmented" but sends him through.
Next row: Sharone is up with scrambled eggs with smoked salmon; Mike prepares soft boiled egg salad, which Graham calls "pretty near perfect; and Jenna makes fried egg with steak ranchero sauce. Despite Jenna's "unnecessarily tough" steak, all three go forward.
David, 29, goes for poached egg and steak over whipped potatoes with red wine mushroom sauce. The seasoning is perfect, but Gordon says the potatoes are "too lumpy." But all is forgiven: David is in. Sheena's egg en cocotte with mushrooms and brioche toast "looks plain Jane but gets better and better"; she's through. But Roberto's frittata di fettucini is a bust - the beaten egg was not the "hero" of the dish.
It's down to the final row... 47-year-old Avis prepares an old school deviled egg. It's seasoned beautifully, but Gordon says it's too old-fashioned. It's good enough, however, and she's on to the next round. Asmeena makes scrambled egg chilaquiles with roasted tomato salsa, but Graham says the egg is overcooked and over-scrambled. She's done. Whitney, 22, (not the same Whitney who went home earlier) goes for an open-faced BLT with fried egg. Joe thinks that she "kicked the judges in the butt" with her bold dish. She's not going back to university, because she's in.
With that, the panel of 30 hopefuls is whittled down to just 14 survivors. Next week, they enter the MasterChef kitchen for the first time...but only one will be America's first MasterChef.