Our introduction to Juni Cuevas of Raleigh on Wednesday night's "MasterChef" was his description of himself as a "middle-aged suburban housewife trapped in a gay man's body." Juni then whipped up a "magical" chili relleno that proved his cooking skills are just as strong as his quip game.
Juni's day job is as a disability analyst, but he was on "MasterChef" to prove that his home cooking skills are enough to put him on par with the pros.
Before cooking for the chance at an apron, which would put him in the Top 24 to compete further in the show, Juni talked about his mother being an inspiration in the kitchen.
"My mother was deported to Mexico about 6 years ago," he said. "It was tough, everything around me was a mess. So when I’m cooking, that’s my happy place because it always reminds me of her. I think if my mom could see me right now she would be so proud of me."
While cooking, Juni explained to judges Gordon Ramsay, Joe Bastianich and Aaron Sanchez that he's been a vegetarian for about 10 years, but "that doesn’t mean that I don’t know how to handle some meat, because I’ve handled a lot of meat in my day."
That quip game again.
Juni made a chili relleno stuffed with potatoes, sauteed onion, garlic, broccoli, manchego and spices, served over a chipotle tomato sauce.
Aaron Sanchez told him the dish had "way too much sauce, but let me tell you, the flavor of that chili relleno is magical. It really reminds me of a Texas-Mexican household, which I love."
Gordon Ramsay told him the dish was "done beautifully." He praised the dish's heat and the sauce, but said his presentation needed work.
Ramsay and Sanchez were the only judges with aprons left at this point in the competition, and Sanchez gave his last apron to Juni.
Juni said he is going to make his mother proud.
Note that "MasterChef" has changed its format a bit this season, with each judge starting out with eight cooks that they'll mentor through to the finale.
Last week, two other local cooks also tried out for "MasterChef," Jody Rhodes of Four Oaks and Hope McFarland of Clayton, but they didn't get aprons.
Juni vs. the sweet potato
A second hour of "MasterChef" immediately followed the last of the apron presentations, so Juni had to jump right into a Mystery Box Challenge.
Each cook was assigned an ingredient that's native to the state where they're from. Ramsay told them, "It's an ingredient that screams where you're from. We want to see you turn that incredible ingredient in front of you into a dish you, your family and your hometown can be really proud of."
Juni got the sweet potato.
He told Sanchez that he and his friends go out to brunch a lot so he decided to make a sweet potato biscuit with chorizo and jalapeno hollandaise, and also a sweet potato hash.
"Don't let me down, I'm counting on you. You're one of my stars," Sanchez told him.
The winner of the Mystery Box Challenge was safe from the week's elimination. For the Elimination Challenge, each judge picked one cook from their team that "let them down" in the Mystery Box Challenge. Those three cooks had to cook again to save their aprons — only one of them would be safe.
Juni didn't win the Mystery Box Challenge, but he also didn't end up in the Elimination Challenge, so he's safe going forward.
The three bottom cooks had to prepare steak and mashed potatoes the way Ramsay showed them just before they were set loose in the kitchen.
The two cooks eliminated Wednesday, June 6, were Sal Maida and Sid Hoeltzell.
That leaves us with 22 cooks and they'll be back in the kitchen next Wednesday at 8 p.m. on Fox. The previews show Ramsay coaching the cooks on how to prepare fresh (VERY fresh) crabs and there will be lots of shrieks.
NC bonus — a Duke hoops star!
We got an unexpected bonus in Wednesday's competition when former Duke women's basketball star Tye Hall showed up to cook.
Tye played at Duke from 1994-1997, playing in three national championships. According to goDuke.com: Tye "saw action in 109 games and made 87 starts for Duke. She holds career averages of 11.8 points, 5.8 rebounds and 1.2 assists. Hall was a two-time All-ACC selection in 1996 and 1997, while earning MVP honors at the 1995 Duke Classic. She was named ACC Player of the Week a total of five times during her career."
She's now an assistant professor living in Laurel, Maryland.
She cooked a Gordon Ramsay classic — grilled lamb burgers — but none of the judges liked the texture of the patty. She used a panko and milk breading to bind the meat (a trick she learned from her mother) and ... we doubt she does that again ("Mother doesn't always know best," judge Bastianich told her).
Ramsay told her the burgers were cooked beautifully but there was so much milk breading that the burgers were soggy inside.
"It's good, it's not brilliant," he told her.
Sanchez loved everything about her dish except the texture of the patty.
She did not get an apron.