MasterChef-Down to 4, then 3….

I did not write about the 21 Aug episode so this will be a combined entry that includes the most recent episode (28 Aug).

1. Sashimi Blues (21 Aug 2012)

The cheftestants are dealt a twist with Mystery Box challenge. First they are told to assemble ingredients for their signature dish. When that is done, they switch their boxes with the person in front of them. Graham gloats in delight at this switch. Monti gets Christine’s Asian themed box and sees the fish sauce, tastes it, and says it tastes like death. Fish sauce is used in a lot of Asian dishes and like vinegar, rarely tasted by itself.

The judges bring up Josh, Monti and Christine. Josh made a sausage bread pudding which they all like. Monti does a version of a Thai dish and also gets praise. Christine’s chicken dish is praised as symphonic. Josh gets the win and he gets to select which Graham Elliot dish (eaten by celebrities and President Obama). Josh selects the white tuna sashimi dish which looks deceptively simple but is not at all. Josh gets a basket containing all the ingredients (a major advantage) for the dish while everyone else has to discern all the components from looking and tasting it. Josh decides he can improve the dish with some mango. A word to the wise: It is not nice to tamper with a MasterChef’‘s dish unless it really, really works. Otherwise be prepared for getting your fingers broken off.

Watching the preparation worries the MasterChefs. They notice problems with Joshua, Becky and Monti. Monti decides to add heavy cream to the avocado, which Graham later notes just washed away its flavor. Christine does the amazing in recreating Graham’s dish almost exactly as the original. The are all amazed. And they all agree it tastes exactly as it should. Joe B.makes an interesting observation to Christine. He says that when he drinks wine he sees things and realizes she does the same with the food she tastes.

Becky’s dish is not that good, Josh’s attempt to add mango backfires, and Monti’s dish is one of the worst she has ever done.  Josh is more strongly criticized for his poor slicing techniques but in the end Monti gets sent home. Christine is the winner.

2. The Three (28 Aug 2012)

Here we are down to the final four: Becky, Christine, Frank and Josh. Tonight they cook not only for the MasterChef judges but three very well known–and esteemed–French chefs with Michelin stars to back them up. They are Guy Savoy( 8 Michelin stars), Daniel Boulud (4 stars), and Alain Ducasse(21 stars!). Oh and Guy Savoy was Gordon’s mentor making it even more interesting. So our home cooks are going to produce a three course meal for the distinguished guests: appetizer, entrée, and desert. Since Christine won last time, she picks Becky. Josh and Frank are paired together, which given what Frank did in another episode makes it an uneasy working relationship.

Christine/Becky have the better appetizer (a broth with seafood) over Frank/Josh’s vegetable dish. Frank/Josh have the better entrée due to Becky screwing up the plating. It comes down to desert. Christine/Becky was well liked and put together well while Frank/Josh looked sloppy and inconsistent in plating (although some liked its flavors). In the end Christine/Becky win getting a place in the final three. Now comes the hideous pressure test for Frank and Josh.

We have seen some doozies in the past but this one is beyond terrifying. It actually is nearly impossible, which Gordon admits to. They have to cook up three souffles in one hour: a savory cheddar, a raspberry, and a chocolate. One is pretty difficult considering how fussy a souffle is. Even Julia Child had problems doing it! Having to do three and in three different preparations is something almost cruel in its inception. In the end it came down to the chocolate souffle as it was tied. Graham looked uncomfortable rendering his verdict for Josh and sending Frank home.

So now the final three are set–Becky, Christine, and Josh–and next week they cook to win.

My Comments:
(1) I was not surprised when Monti went. She finally hit the wall and could go no further. However she proved to be very impressive and creative. I hope she gets some practical training in a kitchen to hone her skills. And if she does open a food truck, I would love to try her food. My guess is that it will be very good.

(2) Josh really botched it in both episodes. He had the advantage in one where he got all the ingredients he needed for the dish. His adding mango did not improve it and his knife skills were bad. In the second challenge with Frank, he just again seemed not to do it right. He was right there with Frank so he cannot blame it all on him. He won the pressure test but it was very close.

(3) I was shocked to see  Frank go. This was a guy I thought would be in the top 2 or 3. Joe B. is right though. He does have the right combination of things that would make him succeed in New York. I suspect down the road this will prove true. In the meantime, Frank likely will be learning from Joe B. or Mario Batali how to cook even better and run a restaurant.

Some out there think there is a conspiracy for a Josh win. The thinking is that the second chances was a cover to get Josh back. And that he has been on the bottom a lot since then and not sent home. The problem is that fixing it that way is not so easy. This is not like game show of old where slipping the answers gives the edge. Josh has to prove he has merit and someone has to do worse for him to survive. And both Monti and Frank slipped up (one major league the other just by a sliver).

My money is now on Becky to win. While she has missteps, I think she has the ability to win it. Christine could but Josh has too much to prove that could trip him up. At any rate, it ought to be a great thing to watch.

MasterChef: Restaurant Challenge and Well Done Steaks

Previously on MasterChef: David won the Mystery Box challenge and selected corn for the team desert challenge. David ran into a serious problem forgetting rice, a key ingredient in his dish. He got rice from Becky but it did not help much as the judges deemed his desert inferior. Felix was the one sent home for trying to make a highly technical dish and failing.

One of the things I like about MasterChef is they put them in actual restaurant conditions to find out if they can hack it. Ask anyone who works in a professional kitchen and they will say it is a lot of hard work to get dishes out to waiting customers on time and always expertly done. It is even more so at Michelin star restaurants where the standard of excellence is well known. Asking home cooks to work in a place like Hatfield’s is not for the timid. This is the real thing and you can really tell who has the chops and who does not.

Team Blue was Frank, David and Josh while Team Red was Becky, Christine and Monty. Monty seemed to have a problem hearing (a cold perhaps?) asking Becky to speak up. Christine laughingly called her team “Helen Keller.” If you do not know the reference, look it up! At any rate both teams get busy prepping for dinner. Frank seems more organized preparing the pasta while Monti is much slower prompting Gordon to chastise her. David though seems to be having problems and forgets that plastic bottles and hot surfaces are not a good thing causing Gordon to blow up in his face ad call him Shrek. Meanwhile the MasterChef judges comment on the teams. Gordon and Graham are pleased that Christine is working on Becky’s team. Graham says he would use her to finish dishes (she has a real talent in making dishes looking good). Joe forgets cameras are rolling and makes a totally foolish comment that he would use Christine as a coat check.

Each team has 22 customers to cook for (and for the head chefs at the restaurant). Becky’s team gets the appetizers out fast but Frank’s has a real problem. Josh keeps messing up frying the bread for the Madam Croq causing a serious backlog. Joe is working the front area trying to placate customers and offering them wine. Gordon is really getting boiled–almost Hell’s Kitchen style–at Frank’s team but eventually get it all worked out. The meal for the VIP table (the restaurant owners who are the top chefs) bogs down because Becky has to wait for Frank to get it ready. The result were mixed results at that table with them liking Frank’s team a litle more than Becky. Then again Becky rushed it so sauce was not enough on one dish and the venison was overcooked.

Dinner service is finally completed and both teams are happy to be done. The next day final six gather to learn the results. We are not told what the vote actually was but reminded that the MasterChef judges had the final say. I suspect it went more towards Becky since they got the dishes out in a timely matter, something Joe specifically mentions later. At any rate, Team Becky wins and Joe compliments Becky for his professional manner in the kitchen. He also tells Christine that at first he was dubious (he does not mention the coat check comment) but saw she really worked well in the kitchen. So safe and off to the gallery are Becky, Christine and Monty.

That leaves Frank, Dave, and Josh as the losing team. And Gordon was upset with how they performed. Joe noted that customers who wait too long for food tend to become angry and less pleased with their meal. Which means even if you serve good food they are not going to cut you a lot of slack when it comes to reviewing you. And that is probably what happened to them. Even if their food was rated good, they lost a lot of points because of the long delay. Now that it was down to these three, who would have the chance to be saved?

Frank, asked hypothetically, said he would pick Josh. Dave’s performance was not that good but Josh was better even though he screwed up a lot of bread by not properly deep frying them in butter. Josh looked pleased.Then Gordon said he really could make the decision. And Frank choose to say himself rather than Josh. Josh was furious and Frank headed upstairs leaving Dave and Josh to battle it out.

Back when the last eight eliminated chefs were duking it out, Dave said (after hearing both Ryan and Josh were surprised he was still there) that he would take them on. Monti said he might have to. Prophetic words! David now has to face Josh in the dreaded pressure test. And that test is steak or more precisely, filet mignon. They must cook one rare, medium rare and well done steak. Dave aggressively seasons his steaks with a garlic sauce while Josh sticks with more conventional seasoning. Joe tests the rare steaks. Dave is more towards medium rare, properly seared, and is aggressively seasoned with garlic. Josh has a perfect rare steak and well seasoned. Point to Josh.

Graham tastes medium rare. He notes Dave’s sear is inconsistent and cooked closer to medium well. He also notes the aggressive garlic seasoning. Josh steak is properly seared but is more medium than Dave’s. Graham notes Dave better seasoned his steak. Point to Dave.

Now for the hardest of all–a perfect well done steak. If you are like me then there is nothing worse than getting a dried out piece of beef. So the trick is to cook it to just done but leaving it moist in the middle. By merely touching each steak Gordon can tell right away neither is well done. Dave’s steak is well seared but more towards medium. Josh’s steak is somewhat similar and neither gets a clear win on this challenge. After debating amongst themselves, the judges decide Josh had the better steaks overall and Dave’s aggressive garlic seasoning was an issue for them. Josh heads up to the gallery and promising to take down Frank.

Dave though gets one heck of a consolation prize. Graham offers him a job at either one of his Chicago restaurants so that he can begin his culinary journey properly. He leaves on a good note.

Next time: The remaining five will handpick their Mystery Boxes and then be told to switch them with the person in front of them. And the elimination challenge appears to be a Graham Elliot sashimi dish and that Josh likely won the Mystery Box. You can see the clips at

Closing Comments

Restaurant Challenge: This was pretty neat and we got to see the cheftestants once again in a kitchen. Last time it was breakfast service and Christine’s team (which had Becky on it), won. All three–Becky, Christine, Monti–appear to work well in the environment but did slip up rushing out the food to the VIP table. Frank’s team had Dave and Josh both having problems and slowing down service enough to cause major problems for them. Dave was the weaker of the two and not surprising that later he is sent home.

Joe B. got an earned thrashing on blogs and elsewhere about his Christine comment. He forgot the rule that you always assume that a microphone is always on as is a camera (politicians who forgot make comments that come back to bite them!). Christine proved him wrong and he did apologize though not mentioning the comment he made (which by now she has heard). Still it was a dumb thing to say and usually reserved for sitting around in a private moment with whiskey in hand.

Frank’s Decision: Frank ought never have mentioned that he would save Josh. Josh would still be mad but it would be less personal if he had done this. Now Josh is fired up to take him down. Whether it will work remains to be seen. Frank was correct to save himself, this is a competition for MasterChef not MasterChefs.

Dave Martinez: Dave has shown some remarkable creativity at times. Looking over the episodes where he was in the top three in the Mystery Box or won, it was with dishes that really wowed the judges. He also had some real failures as well. Some dishes (like the infamous one that Joe tossed in the garbage) showed how badly he could go. As team leader he did poorly with the Marine challenge. On the Food Truck episode he cooked up some raw burgers. And in a more recent episode he forgot the rice he needed for his corn/rice dish. He got rice from Becky but his dish was panned. It is not surprising Graham would offer him a job. He has been generally complimentary on many of his dishes and disappointed when he failed. The judges see he has talent and one, that properly mentored, would really make him shine. Graham has offered him the opportunity and Dave is going to take it. I expect that under Graham’s mentoring, Dave will become more confident in his abilities and even better in his cooking.

On the remaining cheftestants:

*Becky is still a top contender for being one of the top two. She has obvious skills but does have an ego that gets in the way at times (okay a lot but it not as obnoxious as Ryan or Suzi Singh from last year).  The odds are very high she will be one of the top two.

*Frank is also highly competitive and shown his range. Like Becky has obvious skills and perhaps even more competitive than Becky. He is likely to be one of the top two as well providing Josh does not knock him out either in an elimination or pressure challenge. Or he does something utterly foolish that gets him sent packing.

*Josh showed some real chops during the competition and is not to be underestimated. Of all the people that could have come back, he was feared the most and rightly so. However he has more of an attitude than before (some compare him to Ryan that way) and that always can get in the way. His competition is more tougher now than before since it is down to just a few. He very well will likely make the top four but getting into the top two might be more difficult than he thought.

*Christine has really shown that being blind is not an obstacle to being a great cook. Winning the title though is pretty hard even with sight. That being said, I will not be surprised to see her in the top four but loose to Frank, Becky or Josh for the top two spot. If she makes into the top two, it will make for a very interesting finale.

*Monti has really been a surprise. I wondered with Joe earlier on if she was just doing stick. However she has, despite some missteps, shown real talent. I cannot see her in the top two but I will not be surprised if like Dave she ends up working for one of the judges. I think she has real talent for cooking that sort of upsets people like Becky who think of cooks/chefs in a particular way.

Okay that ends up this review. On to the next show!