Technicality burns student’s chance on ‘MasterChef’

Rim Zivalich competes in 2010 'You're the Chef' cooking competition

Rim Zivalich competes in UIC’s “You’re the Chef” cooking competition. Photo: Roberta Dupuis-Devlin/UIC Photo Services (click on image for larger file size)

Although chef Graham Elliot said her paella was “yummy,” student Rim Zivalich’s appearance on Fox-TV’s “MasterChef” cooking competition was not a recipe for success — this time.

Zivalich, a two-time winner of UIC’s “You’re the Chef” student cooking competition, was eliminated on a technicality in the May 22 season premiere of the show, filmed in Los Angeles.

Unaware that she was using a new skillet to prepare her dish — Shrimp and Chorizo Paella — Zivalich did not season the pan beforehand, leaving the judges with a metallic aftertaste and an unfortunate ending to her debut on reality TV.

“I was shocked — I even cried a few tears,” she said. “It was very disappointing. To make it that far, with all these people having so much faith in me, was tough.”

The judges can be rough on the contestants, but “they were very nice to me,” said Zivalich, an sergeant in the Army National Guard who served two deployments to the Middle East.

Gordon Ramsay asked questions about her life and Joe Bastianich asked about the rice she used, she said.

Although her early exit from the show was a disappointment, being one of 100 contestants selected from 40,000 who auditioned was an achievement in itself, said Zivalich, a senior in biology.

“I’ll keep cooking for my loved ones (husband Christopher Zivalich, also an Army sergeant, and their 9-month-old son Zavier) and chasing my culinary dreams,” she said. “Who knows? Maybe I will be brave and do some more culinary competitions.”

“The competition was great,” she added.

“I made some lifelong friends that I get to watch every week on TV, which is pretty cool. I wish them good luck.”

Although Zivalich doesn’t follow recipes (“I don’t — and never have”), here are instructions for her “MasterChef” dish.

Shrimp and chorizo paella

Shrimp and Chorizo Paella, the dish that took Rim Zivalich to “MasterChef.”

Shrimp and Chorizo Paella
“Paella takes love and patience but the results are so worth it,” she says.

Chopped red and green peppers, onion, garlic, tomato
Spanish chorizo
Chicken stock
Saffron
Shrimp (save some of the shells)
Bomba rice
Sweet peas
Seasonings: salt, pepper, Hungarian hot paprika
Garnish: green onions, lemons

“In a pan I make a sofrito with red peppers, green peppers, onion, tomato, garlic, salt, pepper and Hungarian hot paprika. Once the sofrito is cooked a bit, I add the cut-up Spanish chorizo.

“In a separate pot I boil up some chicken stock with shrimp shells from the shrimp I will be using later in the paella. The shells give off the seafood yummy flavor.

“Once the chorizo has become a little soft, I add bomba rice to the sofrito chorizo mix. Mix well, add saffron and and start adding cups of stock a little at a time and let the rice slowly, on a low heat, absorb the liquid.

“Once the rice is almost done, I add the shrimp and fold it in the rice — they don’t take long, a couple of minutes to finish. Last, I add sweet peas to the paella and finish cooking without stirring. The bottom of the pan will stick and form a slightly burnt crispy layer — it is traditional to eat paella this way, with the crispy layer.

“Plate it, garnish with some green onions and pan-fried red pepper, and serve with lemons.”

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