Before Thanksgiving, MasterChef judge Joe Bastianich announced he’s leaving the series after five seasons and three seasons of MasterChef Junior. (The third MasterChef Junior, which has already been filmed, debuts in early January.)
His departure seems very amicable, at least according to everyone’s official statements. Joe said he’d spent “several gratifying years” and that it was “a pleasure working alongside Gordon and Graham,” but said “I have decided to step down from my role on the show.” Fox and the show’s producers said in a joint statement that he “has played an integral role in the success of both MasterChef and MasterChef Junior, and we all appreciate his incredible culinary insight, sense of humor and passion.”
Before MasterChef Junior, on which Joe can be warm and even funny, I might have said that MasterChef didn’t need him at all, because he’s often so flat and grumpy. There often didn’t seem to be much reason for him to be there.
Several reports say producers are now casting for a new third judge. Swapping out judges is a tricky proposition; American Idol has stumbled a lot while The Voice has perfected it. It needs to be someone who brings something new but also fits in.
So who should join Graham and Gordon? I have a few ideas, and I’m sure there are many others who didn’t immediately come to mind:
- Cat Cora. She needs a show worthy of her talent, and this could be it. While she doesn’t strike me as someone who might particularly want or need a full-time reality TV gig, she also keeps popping up on less-worthy shows. She co-hosted Bravo’s Around the World in 80 Plates; mentored a team on Food Network’s weak clone of The Taste, America’s Best Cook; and has made guest appearances such as on NBC’s awful Food Fighters. She also made a guest appearance on season one of MasterChef. If the show wants to cast another no-nonsense, tough but fair, and talented chef, look no further than Cat.
- Giada De Laurentiis. She’s somewhat the opposite of Cat Cora as a television personality, so if the network or producers want to warm up the judging, Giada would be perfect. She’s particularly fantastic on Next Food Network Star, which is thematically similar to this series.
- Alton Brown. He’s super-smart, great on camera, and really deserves better than Cutthroat Kitchen. And I’d like to see him spar with Gordon Ramsay, should they ever disagree on a dish or decision.
- Ching-He Huang. She may not (yet) be a familiar name or face, but on her Cooking Channel show Restaurant Redemption, she’s basically who Gordon Ramsay used to be before he sold out: a talented chef who was tough but genuinely seemed to care about helping other chefs and restaurants improve. On her makeover series, she’s thoughtful and tough, and before it, did several cooking shows in the UK. Since the network went with relative unknowns for two of the three judges and that worked, they should try again.
- Guy Fieri and Curtis Stone. This is a joke; I just wanted to make sure you were paying attention. Also, Fox and producers, please, please, don’t do this to me.
- No one. I think this is a strong option. There isn’t really any need to have three judges, and often, the editors cut out the individual dish critiques of one or more of the judges, meaning there isn’t even enough time for there judges.