By Julie Miltenberger
Photo courtesy of MasterChef

I’m a mom, and I can tell you: The July 25 episode of MasterChef was totally relatable. In a skills-based challenge, the contestants not only had their usual 45-minute time constraint, but each team of two had 5 ingredients to feature: chicken, carrots, onion, bacon and cornmeal. I feel like 5 ingredients is my limit when I cook dinner each night for my son—and I’m a food editor! One contestant (Ralph) was left without a partner, so he got to cook with his mentor, Joe Bastianich. Lucky for him, that perk also came with immunity from elimination.

The winning team—made up of Julia and SJ—created an awesome-looking pan-seared chicken with carrot pickle salad and a polenta cake, which included a Family Circle test kitchen favorite, crispy chicken skin.

Photo courtesy of MasterChef

The pair’s calm demeanor, spot-on pacing and camaraderie showed that both are here to stay. A little about each of them:

Julia (Sales Manager)

Photo courtesy of MasterChef

This Chicago native (and Cubs fan) has been cooking since she was 10 years old. She excels at Italian food and pastries and got her apron from chef Aarón Sánchez. The other contestants consider her a threat, as witnessed on last week’s Frozen Dinner Challenge, when 6 of her competitors shortened her cook time to 30 minutes to create a Salisbury Steak-inspired dish.

SJ (Student)

Photo courtesy of MasterChef

He’s a UNLV student in his 4th year of Hospitality Management. Growing up with all the flavors in LA’s Koreatown, SJ wanted to find new ways to modernize Korean food while still offering traditional dishes. His creativity in the apron challenge (Panko Crusted Cod with Honey Butter Chips and Cucumber Kimchi) earned him an apron from chef Gordon Ramsay.

The reason many of us come to watch the show—blistering criticism from the judges (those facial expressions alone are priceless!) and in-fighting among contestants—are definitely front-and-center here. The 3 losing teams went on to have to make an intimidating dish: cheese soufflé. Who was eliminated? You can watch the whole episode on to find out.

Tune in next week for the MasterChef/Family Circle joint episode (airing August 1st at 8pm EST/7pm CST), and then look for the winning recipe in the October issue of Family Circle. While you’re at home re-creating the winning dish, why not opt for a little liquid courage in the form of the recently released MasterChef wine collection? Head to to check out (and order) the available varietals. Happy cooking!