'MasterChef' Judges Dish on 'Idol,' Food World Stars, American Cooking

PHOTO Gordon Ramsay converses with contestants on "MasterChef," the newest additions to the ever-expanding cornucopia of food-centric TV shows.
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They slice, they dice. They sear, they simmer. They plate, they wait. And more often than not, after all that, they cry.

They are the contestants of "MasterChef," one of the newest additions to the ever-expanding cornucopia of food-centric TV shows. More than any of its ilk, "MasterChef" takes the "American Idol" approach to chef competition: contestants are numerous (the series started out with 50), their stories are tear jerkers (one came to set toting her deceased mother's book of recipes) and the criticism is harsh (hell hath no fury like Gordon Ramsay repulsed).

VIDEO: Gordon Ramsay stars in one of the latest additions to food competition TV.
'MasterChef:' The Next 'American Idol?'

Though there's no audience participation because viewers at home can't sample the hopefuls' blow-your-mind barbeque or out-of-this-world cupcakes, the similiarities between Fox's "MasterChef" and that other uber-popular competition series on the network are clear. "MasterChef" and "Idol" share the same sense of drama. At stake for the less than 10 non-professional cooks currently left in the competition: a grand prize of $250,000 and a cookbook contract.

Just as Randy Jackson and company can pluck a future Billboard chart-topper from a pack of wannabe Justin Biebers, "MasterChef's" judges -- Ramsay, TV veteran, restaurateur and recipient of 12 much coveted Michelin Stars, Joe Bastinach, wine maker and owner of a slew of critically acclaimed Italian eateries, and Graham Elliot, winner of the 2004 Best New Chef award from Food & Wine magazine -- are arguably better equipped than any other TV team to launch the nation's next Rachael Ray or Mario Batali.

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Below, they dish about the "Idol" comparison, what they really think of American cooks and who's truly worthy of wearing the MasterChef hat.

ABCNews.com: What do you think of the comparisons between "MasterChef" and :American Idol?"

Bastianich: Comparing the show to Idol is the best way to describe it -- 'MasterChef' gives amateurs a platform to perform and shine the way 'Idol' does. The challenges they undergo [Ed. note: like chopping onions until the tears take over and whipping up a road-side feast for one hundred road-worn truckers] are designed to build their repertoire of culinary skills, enabling them to be the best they can be- for the duration of their time on the show and hopefully afterward if they want to pursue this professionally.

Elliot: I think there are definite similarities between the two, what with both shows providing a level playing field for the average American to showcase his or her talents. Singing and cooking are both artistic and creative outlets, are full of emotion and romance, and touch people on a primal level.

ABCNews.com: How do you define a MasterChef?

Ramsay: A MasterChef is an amateur home cook who has an overwhelming amount of passion and is able to take their skill, knowledge and creativity into the kitchen to make the most magnificent dish.

Bastianich: A MasterChef should have the combination of the right culinary skills, a focus on regional cooking, and also be able to tell their story through what they serve on the plate.

Elliot: MasterChef equals someone who has an innate sense of cooking, appreciates ingredients for what they are, knows when to use restraint, isn't afraid of salt or seasoning, makes everyone around them better and happier by the sheer enthusiasm and passion they have for food.

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