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Masterchef: Restaurant Takeover And Croquembouche

Photo: Fox
Photo: Fox

Six contestants remain. They broke into two teams to cook food in a high end restaurant. And it was not easy at all. The team that seemed poised to win lost while the team most likely to fail won. And the pressure test, making a croquembouche, sent home another favorite.

They were at Sunset Marquis, known as the place many rock bands and singers have hung out at, in West Hollywood. They took over Cavatina for the night where Michael Schlow was waiting to instruct them on the dishes they will cook tonight. Team Blue (Jaimee) had Christian and Courtney. Team Red (Leslie) had The Cutter Zone and Elizabeth. Smart money was on Team Blue to win because everyone knows Leslie and Cutter do not get along. And it would send their ratings right to the floor. And Gordon Ramsay is expediting, so you know it will not go well if the dishes are in bad shape.

Jaimee, however, may be a good cook but not a chef (meaning running a brigade). We saw once before how she failed to lead her team and let other team members run things. This time it is down to two other people. And she had a hard time leading. Dishes were going out slow and she knew it was not going well. So she voluntarily gave up her title to Courtney. Except Courtney had real problems with the gnocchi dish. The gnocchi dish was different in that it was a pot a choux which required more finesse to make sure it did not fall apart on the plate. Her dishes looked bad and she admitted it when Gordon pointed out the problem. So she handed the reigns over to Christian and things improved. Dishes went out and fewer problems occurred.

Leslie is determined to be a good leader this time. His last time up as a team leader was abysmal and resulted in a mutiny. This time he means business! And he is demanding they toe the line. Elizabeth is not a problem and does just fine but Leslie and The Cutter Zone get into it early. And loudly. This forces an intervention by Gordon who makes them shake hands and make up. Things are going well after that until they get to the entrees. Once again tension erupts between the two and it looks bad. Gordon has to intervene again and remind them about the customers. And their loud voices. Peace is restored and food goes out.

Joe is not with the judges tonight due to some issue with his restaurant. So Graham is doing front of the house. Both teams get good and bad reviews. So when it is all over, Gordon announces they will determine the winner tomorrow in the Masterchef kitchen. I wondered if it is was so close that it was a tie and that they would have to do some extra cooking to win it all. But I was wrong. I suspect both teams were close but not a tie. One diner said they thought Christians steak lacked flavor. At any rate, the winner is Team Red. Leslie is happy to not face the dreaded pressure test. Elizabeth realizes she does not want to work in a professional kitchen. And Cutter is happy it all worked out in the end.

Croquembouch wedding cake Photo:Eric Baker(Wikipedia)
Croquembouche wedding cake
Photo:Eric Baker(Wikipedia)

The Croquembouche of doom
Christian, Courtney and Jaimee have to make this elegant French wedding dessert. It looks fantastic! It is a cone of choux pastry balls (profiteroles) piled in a cone with caramel threads. Now these three have to make it. Leslie is glad he gets to sit out this pressure test. Jaimee and Courtney get to work right away but Christian is not so thrilled with the task. So his lacks passion and other things that put him into the bottom. Courtney, who has never made one, goes all in and thinks of family. It came out very well and both Gordon and Graham are quite happy with it. Jaimee though, has used too much sugar. So while her cone is the best of the bunch, the sugar has become like glue holding the pastry balls in place. She cannot free one for Gordon. A very sad outcome that sent her home at the end. Christian got by but just barely. The good news is that they think highly of her and let her know she has doors open to her in New York. I hope she takes Gordon up on his offer. She is a good cook and with mentoring will become great at whatever she does.

Now we are down to the final five: Christian, Courtney, Elizabeth, Leslie, and The Cutter Zone. My rankings are:
1. Elizabeth
2. Courtney & Christian (tie)
3. Leslie
4. The Cutter Zone

Masterchef:Apples and Dim Sum

Dim sum breakfast in Hong Kong. Photo: Public Domain
Dim sum breakfast in Hong Kong.
Photo: Public Domain

We are down to the final seven after Daniel was sent home last week. It does not seem so long ago when there were thirty finalists standing in the Masterchef kitchen. It is no surprise that Courtney, Elizabeth, Christian or Big Willie are still there. Leslie and Jaimee are not a surprise either, but The Cutter Zone is. Never thought he would make it this far. He has had some bad outcomes but shockingly others did worse paving his way into the final seven. But this episode not only saw apples being used for savory dishes but a tag teamed competition to cook dim sum that sent another popular cheftestant home.

The mystery box awaits but first they get notes from home. Real notes they can read that hopefully inspire them to go on. And the mystery box has lots of apples, so many that they fall to the floor for dramatic effect (I pity the poor staff people that have to clean them up). But they are not for dessert but for a savory dish. That keeps the show from being predictable and forces them all to be creative. The three top dishes all used pork. Christian had an apple stuffed pork chop with bacon, brussels sprouts, zucchini and red apples. Leslie had an apple stuffed pork loin with bacon and gruyere cheese with apple mashed potatoes. And Courtney had a pork loin stuffed with apple, pancetta, swiss chard with pink lady apple juice sauce and an apple and celeriac salad. A lot going on there. All three dishes were terrific and, to be honest, I would want to eat all three! But since only one can win, Courtney gets the win. Just keep a kitten away from Elizabeth who made a dumb comment about stabbing one if Courtney won.

And for I think the first time in Masterchef history, the judges decide the elimination contest will be to cook five perfectly done dim sum dishes. I love dim sum but I know it is a lot of work to pull off. It is not prepared food unless you buy it so and most good restaurants make it from scratch (frozen dim sum is about as appealing as warm milk on a hot day). Courtney gets the choice of selecting the teams. And her chief targets are Big Willie, Christian, and Elizabeth. Jamiee is good but in her mind beatable as is Leslie. The Cutter Zone is in a world of his own but easy to set up for a fall. Courtney pairs up Christian and Big Willie, Elizabeth and The Cutter Zone, and by default Jaimee and Leslie. And the twist is that this is a tag-team challenge so only one will be cooking/prepping while the other sits out watching the other working.

By putting Christian and Big Willie together, she probably knew they would clash and burn. Meaning while Christian is a decent cook, Willie does not do upscale well. He also works deliberately rather than rushing. Christian yells at him a lot rattling Willie. Jaimee and Leslie are also having problems as well. It looks like they are just not working well either. Elizabeth and The Cutter Zone seem to be humming along and working okay. Ah but looks can be deceiving and in this episode what you think you saw was not exactly as it turned out at all. You would think the worst dish would come from Jaimee and Leslie.

Au contraire! Though they seemed to be out of sync they produced the best dim sum of the challenge. Gordon thought it would be a disaster as did the others. Instead it looked beautiful and tasted great by what the judges said. It was obvious these two were not in any danger of being sent home tonight. Which brings us to Willie and Christian. Burnt pot stickers, rubber balls for dumplings, no sauce for the pork buns, and under seasoned cabbage. Really quite shocking to see it come out this way from two normally strong chefs. Gordon sums it up best and say both do not deserve to continue in this competition. Wow. What a punch in the gut that was to these guys. Elizabeth and Cutter’s was just as bad. Nothing tasted or looked good. Nothing was seasoned. Courtney hit bullseye here. In fact I really thought it would send Cutter home.


But those culinary gods are tricky and mysterious in their ways. If it had been me, I would have dropped one (the worst) from each team. My choices would have been The Cutter Zone and Willie. Not to be though. After sending up Jaimee and Leslie (and the most forced hug ever on the show), they sent up Cutter and Elizabeth. Really? They said by just the smallest margin (like .008) they eke out a save. Christian and Willie now face the angel of death and the scythe of his. I was thinking of the old nursery rhyme:

Eeny, meeny, miny, moe,
Catch a tiger by the toe.
If he hollers, let him go,
Eeny, meeny, miny, moe.

Or something more ominous like when that demon praying mantis on Buffy:The Vampire Slayer was deciding to mate and then kill either Zander or the other guy before they were rescued.

Sadly Willie is sent home in the end. A really nice guy with a positive attitude. He was liked by just about everyone because, well, he was a nice guy who rarely said anything nasty about anyone. Even Courtney. They sent him home because his time was simply up. Christian is the better upscale cook of the two (and the ego that goes with it). I wish Cutter had been in that spot and sent home. Willie has ten times more ability than Cutter in this competition. Cutter has gotten lucky but that will run out eventually. And next week it looks like Leslie and Cutter are getting into it in another restaurant episode.

So here are my power rankings:
1. Courtney
2. Jaimee (moves up since Elizabeth tumbled this episode)
3. Elizabeth
4. Leslie
5. Christian(moves down due to being in last place)
6. The Cutter Zone

So who do you think will make top four and top two?

Masterchef Cookbooks

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Masterchef: Pick Your Partner and the Three Egg Challenge

It is week 12 of Masterchef US. Eight are left after Ahran was sent home last week.

A cock and a hen roosting together Photo:Andrei Niemimäki
A cock and a hen roosting together.
Photo:Andrei Niemimäki

Ah the humble chicken. So versatile and popular around the world. Before the pig was brought to Mexico by the Spanish, chicken was the meat most ate. Now our brave cheftestants will deal with chicken cut up and randomly assigned to them. In teams. Yes once again the Culinary Trio has decided that this challenge will be done in teams. But instead of making a winner of a challenge decide it (or do it themselves), they have to decide amongst themselves. So that means if you want to pair up with someone who is really good, you had better use your best talking points. The most surprising match up was Elizabeth and Leslie. Elizabeth and Leslie got into it early in the competition. But Leslie made the simple play that he would defer to her in what ever she did. And it worked resulting in one of the best dishes of the night saving them from the dreaded pressure test. Another surprising combination was Courtney and Christian. Both have sparred in the past but worked well as a team producing also a delicious dish that saved them.

But the teams that failed were Jaimee and Daniel & Willie and Cutter. Jaimee and Daniel did chicken wings. They were okay but nothing that screamed Masterchef. Joe said they looked like something he would get at an airport. Ouch. Cutter and Willie were all over the place during the cooking with confusing styles that resulted in a poor dish. So the they all get to face the dreaded pressure test. Except it was actually three challenges and each challenge would have a winner saved. The final two would battle it out as to who would stay.

Now remember in the past they have made people cook the perfect fried egg. Sounds simple until you have to cook a lot of them and they have to meet the exacting standards of Gordon, Graham, and Joe. This first round had them do a poached egg. Tricky but not so hard to do providing you follow some basic techniques. Some hot water, a little vinegar, and some seasoning usually will do the trick. As Daniel found out, stirring the water with the egg can result in a disaster, like the yolk separating from the egg white. I have never seen that before, a poached egg with no yolk in it. Joe could not believe it either. The Cutter Zone pierced the egg during plating so it splattered. Thankfully it was cooked and Gordon liked it. Jaimee did okay as did Willie. And Willie was deemed the best and headed up to the balcony.

The next challenge was egg ravioli. Now I have never seen this type of dish before where you put egg yolk inside a ravioli. It is a take on the poached egg but the twist it is inside the pasta. So both the pasta and the egg have to be done right. Yikes! Turns out it is not that unusual. I found many recipes during a web search. Here is one at Food Network by Mario Batali, and another by Martha Stewart. This is something I might want to try as it sounds like a great combination. Of course you have to get the pasta right, seal the egg yolk inside it so no water can get inside, and have the courage to place it in hot water for a period of time. If it comes out right, bravo! Done poorly and you get the Bronx jeer (look that one up if you are not familiar with that term).

The Cutter Zone did something odd to his ravioli. He used a fork to press down the sides making indentations. It got jeers from Gordon. Yet that was not a problem in the end since his egg ravioli was deemed the best of the lot. Amazing. I thought Jaimee would have nailed it. Daniel’s was not closed properly so water got in turning the yolk not so runny. More like a set fried egg. So The Cutter Zone scores big and heads to safety leaving Jaimee and Daniel at the bottom. Jaimee was a surprise because she is usually a consistently good cook. Not surprised by Daniel being there. Both wish they could do a Harry Potter and wave a wand to disappear. Alas they now face….

The Dreaded Egg Souffle

Photo: Fox
Photo: Fox

Souffle. Many a chef will perspire making it. And now Jaimee and Daniel now must cook a stunning cheese souffle. Both struggle to get it done and have to watch carefully as it forms in the oven. Will it rise or not? Fortunately both are successful in that regard but, of course, looks are not as important as its taste. Both have their plusses and minuses. Daniel though over salts his souffle. And usually in most food competitions using too much salt not only puts you in the bottom but can often end your chances. For Daniel, it was the end of the road. He gave up his job to enter the Masterchef competition. He has shown considerable talent over many challenges but it is not to be. And so we bid farewell to Daniel. Up on the balcony you know Leslie, who despised Daniel, was gleeful about finally seeing him going. Seven aspiring masterchefs left.

My money is still on Courtney vs Elizabeth.


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Masterchef: Prawns Three Ways Sends Two Home

It is week 11 of Masterchef (US). Ten are left after Scottish Francis went home last week.

Photo: Fox
Photo: Fox

Well it comes down to three–Ahran, Leslie, Victoria–to face the dreaded pressure test this week. And no ordinary pressure test as it was a double elimination. For Ahran, it was more stressful than taking her college admission tests. Victoria had never been in a pressure test before. And Leslie. Well this is his fifth. He really hoped to be on a winning team. And ought to have been that way considering how the two teams were led.

Courtney and Jaimee were team captains and of the two, I expected Courtney’s team to win. Jaimee is a good cook but I was unsure she could lead a brigade of chefs. And she had problems right from the start. They did not like her idea of cole slaw on the burger and went a different direction. Communication was a problem and led to confusion in preparation and serving. Some people gave up waiting for her team’s food. Courtney, on the other hand, was well organized. There were problems with Christian putting to many eggs in the ground turkey making it too moist. And Leslie underseasoned the fish. Both were overcome but, in the end, the disorganized team won.

Not surprisingly Courtney took the lifeboat offered and headed up to the balcony. I suppose for her it was the sensible move but she did not stand with her team. And she wonders why people do not completely trust her?

Christian got a pass because his burgers were good. Or is it because they did not want him in the bottom three when two are going to be eliminated?  Never think for a second they do not take it into consideration at this stage. These are three they wanted because none of them are in the top tier or bottom. They are right in the middle. Ahran is young, inexperienced, but shows tremendous talent. Leslie has shown surprising techniques that has keept him around. Victoria has shown she has good and consistent skills as well.

Using spot prawns made three ways made the pressure test even more stressful. Three complete different preparations in which the prawns are the star. My money was on Ahran or Leslie because of the three, they have the most tenacity in my view. If it came down between the two, it would be finesse that would be the difference between staying or going home. And Leslie pulled it off. All three of his preparations were fine, with some quibbles here and there. Ahran and Victoria each had problems with one of their dishes. Victoria served up raw prawns for the butterfly prawn dish. That is a major technical foul. Ahran under seasoned her butterfly prawns.

It was sad to see Ahran go. This young lady has real talent and I expect to be reading of her success down the road. I hope she goes to work for Gordon to get some real world kitchen experience and further her culinary training. And now we have the top eight: Big Willie, Christian, Courtney, Cutter, Daniel, Elizabeth, Jaimee, and Leslie. Wow! It went by pretty fast and will get faster now as we head towards the finale. Right now I see Courtney, Christian, Elizabeth and Jaimee as the top four. Big Willie and Daniel are the second tier followed by Cutter and Leslie. Any little mistake at this point could send you home. My money is on Courtney and Elizabeth to be the top two but anything can happen at this point.

Masterchef: Choices and Bad Pasta


*It is week 10 of Masterchef (U.S.). 11 remain after Christine went home last week.

This week was about choices and pasta, specifically bad pasta. They were given two mystery boxes for the first time in Masterchef history. Under one box were ingredients found in many kitchens and pantries, while the other had upscale proteins, cheeses, and other things you only get at high end grocery or specialty stores. The choice was to select one box to cook from and produce, of course, a stellar dish. Courtney and Leslie, who both cooked from the upscale box, get called up. Victoria cooked from the ordinary box. All three had stellar dishes but Leslie used three proteins to great effect and won the round. Victoria though really showed how cleaver she was in taking tilapia and making it a cut above the ordinary. Courtney loved being able to cook with those expensive ingredients but like Victoria has to wait outside while Leslie goes into the pantry. And you know they were worried because Leslie has some bones to pick with a few of them.

All three judges presented their favorite stuffed pastas. And those can be hard to get just right. He ends up choosing caramelle, a stuffed pasta I never heard of before. According to the website Classic Pasta:

These small, filled pastas, are shaped into tubes or cylinders, almost like mini-cannelloni, and then the ends are twisted. The resulting shape can be compared to (pardon our French): bon-bons., Sometimes they are called (pardon our English): sweeties. These are generally a holiday, or festive, or Sunday brunch preparation, mainly in Parma and Piacenza.

The ingredients are actually very simple. The pasta filling is usually fresh mozzarella, basil, garlic and pepper although you can add prosciutto and ricotto cheese as well. The sauce is also simple ripe tomatos, onions, butter, salt and pepper. The devil, if you will pardon the expression, is how you put it all together. Simple but requires technique and attention to detail. As they prepare to make their pasta, one more twist is thrown in. Leslie gets to decide who will use a wood roller to roll out pasta rather than a pasta machine. Talk about sending someone to old school tech! Leslie walks around and teases them with the roller. He hugs Ahran. Then he hands it to Daniel and takes the pasta maker away. He does not like Daniel much and the feeling is mutual. Daniel promises to be like Babe Ruth and targets Leslie calling him a !@#$%@. Thanks Daniel for showing how mature you are. The word JERK is now firmly applied like a scarlet letter on your forehead.

One person I knew would have a problem was Big Willie. He has never seen pasta like that before and probably not eaten at many Italian restaurants. I had a sinking feeling this could be it for him but never fear, the Scot is here. Scottish Francis that is who decided to use raw beet juice to color his pasta. Meanwhile Daniel is concocting some fantastic caramelle dish that will blow your socks off. Literally. Meanwhile The Cutter Zone looks like he is moving along just fine. Courtney reminds us she is a 3rd generation Italian so she knows how to make pasta. Jaimee is also of Italian heritage but puts her head down to make her interpretation of her father’s recipe.

Now what I think distinguishes the good from the bad in this competition is how they designed the dish. Those that stayed with the essential format did well while those who walked off the beaten path ended up in a bad place. Scottish Francis, never known for being conventional, decided on a weird concoction. He used raw beet juice to color his pasta to make them look like candy. But it was all over the place and turned out poorly for him. The time was not yet right for this recipe. Something popped into my head when that was said by Gordon. It reminded me of something Dumbledore said in one of the later Harry Potter stories. Something about a guy who thought the world was ready for a pot made of cheese. And this was not the time for Scottish Francis wonderland adventure in pasta making.

Big Willie did a dessert. A dessert! Gordon was not amused and upset that with all the ingredients available this is what he did. That is way off the beaten track heading towards the rabbit hole that Scottish Francis fell into. He can make the most wonderful home dishes but clearly when out of his comfort zone he does goofy things like this. Did he not learn from his previous mistakes? It appears not. He joins Francis in the bottom.

And then there is Daniel. This is the guy who promised to knock it out of the park. He is proud of his dish. And it is a smashing failure. It was all over the place with its salinity, acidity, and heat (habanero!). Joe recoils at the heat in his mouth. There is not much more to say here except that Leslie knew Daniel would over think his dish. And now Daniel is on the bottom with Big Willie and Francis-in-Wonderland. Hey if The Cutter Zone could produce a decent dish that got praised, you know something has turned for the worse with these guys.

The two winners though really showed how you make a simple dish exceptional. Jaimee did an interpretation of her father’s recipe. Joe thought it not only visually appealing, but a tribute to her father as well. It was quite touching and I bet her father was pleased at the compliment she got over the dish. Courtney was very good as well using fresh tomatos rather than canned. Joe loved the proportion in the filling and overall how good the dish was. Jaimee was the winner of the two but both are team captains next week.

Leslie was really hoping Daniel would be sent home. Alas it was not to be. Both he and Willie got a pass because Francis-in-Wonderland simply went too far. So he was sent home and the final ten are now confirmed. Ten left and the competition really kicks up now. No room for mistakes, intentional or otherwise. The merciless gaze of Sauron Joe Bastianich is on them now.

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Masterchef:Of Romance & Truffles

Truffles with nuts and chocolate dusting in detail. Photo: David Leggett (Flickr via Wikipedia)
Truffles with nuts and chocolate dusting in detail.
Photo: David Leggett (Flickr via Wikipedia)

*It is week 9  of Masterchef (US). 12 remain after Elise was sent home last week.

This weeks challenge was to cook a romantic meal for couples in the MasterChef dining room. Each couple was celebrating an anniversary. One couple had been married 65 years! Another got engaged.

Yet this episode seemed off to me. Perhaps it is one of those feelings you get after watching a reality show over many seasons. Perhaps it was a little déjà vu. I could not put my finger on it right away. Both Elizabeth and Ahran are team captains. Elizabeth (Blue Team) picks Francis, Jaimee, Victoria, Courtney, and Daniel. And Ahran (Red Team) picked Big Willie, Christine, Christian, Leslie, and The Cutter Zone. There task was to prepare a romantic dinner for the couples in the dining room. But wait, there is more! Gordon Ramsay’s wife Tana has arrived so he and his very lovely wife will also be dining. Elizabeth says she was recently married and misses her husband. Ahran says she really cannot get into the event since she has never been on a date. Oh boy. You can just see lots of creepy proposals coming her way over the Internet.

Team Elizabeth decided to do a filet mignon for the entrée and and Team Ahran lobster risotto. Unfortunately the filet mignon’s came out rare. They tried heating them up in the oven but it did not work. Gordon and Tana’s filet was rare. Somewhere a cow was mooing. Ahran’s lobster risotto had problems as well. The lobster itself was fine but the risotto lacked a deep lobster flavor. The deserts were mixed as well. Ahran’s tiramisu did not come out as planned so they had to improvise by stacking it like lasagna. It looked rushed and was missing raspberry flavor. Elizabeth’s cake had too many strawberries and Tana said they were eating around the center which was not a good sign.

Each table had to decide on one winner, no split votes. Do you go for the rare filet mignon with an overdone strawberry cake or a lobster risotto (with no lobster flavor in it except the lobster on top) with a clumsy looking tiramisu whose raspberry flavor is elusive? Well the diners went for Team Elizabeth leaving Team Ahran to face the dreaded pressure test. Something rings wrong about this. I cannot place my finger on it exactly but it is too pat. They showed other tables facing the problem of which was really better. And it was not even close with 75% of the vote going to Team Elizabeth. Whatever happened it sent Team Ahran to the pressure test. All of them, no exceptions.



Pressure Test From Hell
There are pressure tests and then there are the Pressure Tests From Hell. Most pressure tests are something you would cook at home or something you might find in restaurants. Then there are pressure tests that are designed to make people fail. There is no other explanation for them because what you have to cook would not be done by home cooks. You would never see it on America’s Test Kitchen or even an old episode of Julia Child. If you go to any major city in the US and ask 1,000 people if they make chocolate truffles at home, you would be lucky to find one. And they have to make nine delicious and visually appealing specimens all done to the judges satisfaction.

In nearly all the pressure tests, you could see the judges able to do this themselves. Not this one. I doubt Gordon, Graham, or Joe have ever made chocolate truffles before and could do it to the exacting standards of of Jacque Torres or La Maison du Chocolat. That is why this pressure test told me they wanted them to fail. Not all of them but enough of them so they could make a double elimination. After all we are down to final twelve. And around this time they usually knock off a pair. But in the end a strange thing did happen. The Cutter Zone actually produced good truffles. Whether it was a fluke or simply getting it done right we will never know. The judges were happy and amazed. Less so with Ahran’s and Christian’s but they passed muster. Big Willie made some weird looking ones that prompted Gordon to borrow his glasses to make sure they were not funny ones that changed how one sees the world. Christine’s looked okay but tasted bitter. Which brings us to…

Leslie. His truffles looked like some small mythological creature had stomped on them or as Gordon speculated put under his armpits. They looked horrible. They tasted better than they looked but you get one guess as to which two were on the bottom. I thought they would send both home. But if you are going to save someone, which do you choose? Do you save a gal who has shown considerable strengths and leadership in the kitchen? Or do you choose a guy who does cook well but does not get along with anyone else and is infuriating at the same time? Who do you see in the top four? I wish they would think that way because they sent Christine home.

I think they wanted to do a double elimination but the wrong two ended up in the bottom.

So the rankings at this point are:
The Top
Elizabeth-She has shown considerable skill and tenacity.
Courtney-Those glossy shoes belie a person who can cook real well but will mow down anyone in her way to the top.
Christian-Talented and arrogant.

The Middle
Big Willie-He ought to be in the top section but while he is a good cook, right now he is more comfortable with home and rustic cooking than fine dining. He could break out but for now he is in the middle.
Jaimee-Very good and could move into a top position if one of those guys screws up.
Victoria-A consistent good cook who works well with others.
Daniel-Determined and earnest in his cooking.
Ahran-Her youth and inexperience are made up for with determination and taking risks.

The Bottom
Leslie-He can produce good dishes, no doubt of that. But head to head against Courtney, Elizabeth or Christian he will likely loose. He was a poor team leader and on the kitchen challenge had to be pulled off his station because he got rattled and started producing poor egg dishes.
The Cutter Zone-Though he did good in the pressure test, overall he has yet to either be in top three for a mystery box challenge or win an elimination. At this stage of the game, the field is narrow and he has to prove himself.

Down to eleven now so the competition is going to get even tougher. And it looks like a double mystery box next week.

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*It is week 8 of Masterchef (US). 13 constestants remain after Dan was sent home last week.

One of the interesting things about Masterchef is that we see varying levels of confidence and abilities. All of the contestants are amateurs. A few work as servers in restaurants but not as cooks. Each competition could be their last so they must focus on cooking best at all times. Pressure and other things can cause a promising candidate to go home. And if you loose confidence in your abilities as a cook, likely you will be sent home.

If confidence is a factor, a degree of arrogance usually follows. Of course it cannot be overwhelming arrogance that ends up being hubris. All three of the judges are extremely confident in their abilities and have arrogance about them. But not so much as to offend. The arrogance comes from years of practice and experience. What they look for in the cheftestants are both confidence and the ability to negotiate difficult tasks well. What separates a chef from a cook is how well they can create and execute a dish. And on this episodeof Masterchef, confidence is what you need when faced with a whole king salmon to filet and make a meal out of worthy the judges to consider.

Sad to say that a wonderful lesson in filleting a fish was squandered by the cheftestants. Gordon is an expert at this and his knife skills are extraordinary. Yet not one cheftestant bothered to watch. Of course some will say they never invited anyone down to watch. That misses the point. Nothing stopped them from going to down to see how he filleted a fish. If I had never done it before (like Ahran), I would have watched his technique. Gordon was done while everyone else was either still scaling their salmon or just starting to cut it up. Graham came down to cook Gordon’s salmon fillets, and Joe got to eat it. Joe got the best of the deal there.

Christine totally botched her filleting. The fillets looked like, as Joe put it, a shark had nibbled on them. Apparently she washed them in water and that resulted in them looking ragged. Elise had a health scare. She started feeling woozy. Gordon had water and a medic come over, and then a chair. It either was stress or fatigue and she ends up going outside to be more closely checked by the medics. She came back with thirty minutes to spare and did not have to cook. But she did and Christian thought well of that. Christian went a route most would dare not brave: Cajun blackened salmon. And it was worth the risk since his dish was the best of the round. Off he went to the pantry to make an important decision on whose food basket (Gordon, Graham’s, or Joe’s) would be cooked by everyone. He choose Joe because it looked more complex (and heavier as well!).

But of course there is a twist just before cooking and Christian gets to decide which person will only have thirty minutes to cook instead of sixty. He choose Courtney. That would not be my choice. I know she is a good cook and probably could ace it. Instead I would think in my head who are the other top ones and of that group, which are the weakest right now. I would have chosen between Willie and Ahran. Ahran because of her youth and lack of experience would have problems. And Willie is not so comfortable with upscale cooking. I would go for Willie. He choose Courtney because he does not like her much. Except, as I thought she would, she handled the challenge very well. So did Ahran and Elizabeth.

Ahran decided to make a savory tiramisu. That is nearly unheard of. The judges could not believe it and had doubts it would work out. Cutter opts to make pizza. Except there was no flour in the basket to make pizza. No problem in The Cutter Zone! Willie goes simple with tomato soup with egg and flatbread. Talk about uninspiring. This does not scream of Masterchef but a simple weeknight supper. Poor Elise though is having the most problems. Her first attempt at making pasta was a complete failure and she is demoralized. Gordon helps out and tries to get her not to give up.

Courtney had the disadvantage of only thirty minutes to cook. She manages to put up a decent dish that all the judges liked. Christian said she took the easy route, the judges do not agree. She is safe and not going home tonight. Courtney displays a level of confidence that borders on arrogance. The thing is, she can usually back it up. At one point early on she mentions she does not want to go back to working in a “gentleman’s club.” So she is hoping this will be a ticket out and be able to help her family. So she is clearly motivated to go as far as she can. Her mercenary aspects though tend to irritate the others. Christian hoped to trip her up and failed. He whined her dish was too simple and Joe retorted he misused his advantage. He aimed his arrow at someone with strong armor and it bounced off.

Christine redeemed herself with mushroom caramelle with brown butter and sage sauce. Leslie did fine with his artichoke ravioli but he needs to work on his presentation. Big Willie was a big disappointment. His dish was a tomato soup with egg and flatbread. He is given some really great Italian ingredients and this is all he came up with? Wow. Totally disappointing and it shows he did not have the confidence to make something more impressive. When it came to impressive,two dishes really shone out: Ahran and Elizabeth.

Ahran made a savory tiramisu. Gordon was very wary of this dish and asked if she had been drinking. No and she does not even know how to open the bottle! Gordon took a bite and from watching him on Kitchen Nightmares I guessed he was saying a prayer. Well it worked because the tiramisu was delicious. Never in a million years would he have thought of making such a dish but she had the confidence, despite her lack of experience in Italian cuisine, to pull it off. He was genuinely amazed by the skill she displayed for a person so young. Even if she does not win the competition, my guess is Gordon will get her into the business (as he has done with other young cooks). She clearly has talent.

And so does Elizabeth. She made a breakfast lasagna with egg on top with artichoke heart salad with bechamel sauce. Joe loved this dish and said it represented exactly the ingredients in the basket. He could not be more pleased and she went back to her station glowing in his admiration. Sadly neither Elise or Cutter can say the same. And now for trip down that lane to….The Cutter Zone.

The Cutter Zone
Cutter spent a entire hour to present the judges with a small artisanal pizza sitting on a sauce. Gordon cannot believe this is all he is presenting. He sarcastically asks Christian if gave Cutter less time than Courtney. It is not Masterchef material says Gordon. Joe was even more unimpressed than Gordon asking why he put the bread on sauce since it does not make the pizza crispy. Cutter wanted to add color to the plate. Joe spits it out and discards the plate. But at least Cutter thinks it was good. Time to leave this strange dimension and back to our normal reality.

Elise falls
Elise has had her moments but the stress got to her. And she has a problem picking herself up when making a mistake. Instead she gets despondent and looses confidence in her abilities. So her plate of ravioli, is as she puts it, sad. The sauce is not seasoned and Gordon asks if she has given up. She tries saying no but as Gordon points out, the dish says she has. So she is on the bottom with Cutter. Willie would have been there had there not been two dishes so poorly done as there was no other competition. They were faced with one cook who had given up and another who resides in different dimension where his food is never bad. While they would like to send Cutter home, Elise has totally given up. So they send her home and Gordon advises her not to give up and learn from mistakes. He has made plenty and did not give up.

This episode, perhaps more than others, highlights the differences in confidence and learning from mistakes. Christine botched the filleting in the Mystery Box and came back strong in the elimination round. Christian thought he would unnerve Courtney by giving her less time but her confidence in her abilities gave her a win. Willie, perhaps unfamiliar with the ingredients, decided to play it safe not having the confidence to try a pasta dish and ended up on the bottom. Ahran took a bold step in doing a savory tiramisu. We have seen some spectacular failures with tiramisu in the past. Yet her boldness and confidence bore out in a surprisingly delicious dish that made her a team captain in the next round. And Elizabeth showed her talents as well. She is most definitely a front runner now and perhaps the greatest challenge to Courtney and Christian.

As for Cutter and Elise, well one is in a delusion and the other collapses when they fail. Elise needs to build confidence in her abilities and when mistakes happen learn from them and not give up. Cutter is a whole different issue. This is a guy so into his own self that he is The Cutter Zone, a self imposed bubble that he developed so that criticism bounces off his chest like bullets off Superman. Remains to be seen how long he will last on the show. He has to count on someone else being far worse than him. And one day that person will be him.

Masterchef: In Cutter’s Way

Photo: Remko Tanis (Flickr)
Photo: Remko Tanis (Flickr)

*It is week 7 of Masterchef (US). 14 are left after Francis B was sent home last week.

*It is another beautiful day in sunny southern California and our cheftestants are on a city bus. Just them, of course. Courtney opines about the challenge and Elizabeth ranks the top field (including herself) as Courtney, Christine, Jaimee and Willie. They arrive at Dinah’s, an iconic classic American diner in Los Angeles. Gordon and Joe are finishing up their breakfast as the cheftestants arrive.

*But hold on, no team selection this time and the judges pick the team captains: Willie and Christine. I think it is a great choice as both have shown great skills but have yet to lead. Teams are boys vs girls EXCEPT Gordon does not like that so much. Each team picks one person they can poach from the other. The girls pick Christian and the guys Victoria. Off to the kitchen to prep and cook for the crowd that is sure to come in. And since a lot of people eat here frequently, they know exactly what they want and how it is supposed to taste. Both teams (Willie is blue, Christine is red) will be cooking during the busiest shift of the day, which is generally breakfast and lunch. As it turns out they work most of the day since when it is over the sun is going down.

*According to their website, Dinah’s is open 6:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m. daily. Christine comes across as a good leader, Willie a little less so because he seems disorganized later on when more orders start coming in. Both teams are looking good as they start cooking away. Nothing like being in good diner and hearing that bacon sizzling away!

*Each diner is given a red or blue Masterchef dollar. If they like their meal, they will deposit it in the appropriate jar. If not, no tip!

*Problems start emerging on Team Blue with Willie losing track of orders. Also Leslie looses focus. Unsure whether it was just stress or something else. Ultimately Willie removes him and puts Victoria in charge. Orders are backing up and customers waiting for Team Blue are getting impatient. Elise is having problems with making the Club sandwich. I love the sandwich but if you have never made it before, it could be a little daunting. Christine sends Elizabeth to help.

*One of the customers alerts Gordon her chicken is raw. Gordon is apologetic and heads back to the kitchen. I am surprised it got by Christine and shows both teams are in serious trouble. Meanwhile customers are starting to say adios and head out the door after waiting a very long time for nothing. And since they were Team Blue customers, that means potential tips are heading out the door for the team. When the shift is over, they can all take a breath but the tips will have to be counted up and revealed the next day. Hope they got some good sleep because the dreaded pressure test lies ahead.

Lifeboat Offered, Willie Declines
Integrity and character are words often chided by many today as outmoded values. Team Red wins and gets the safety of the balcony. Team Blue must now face the dreaded pressure test. Willie is offered two options. Option 1: He can select three from the group to be saved. Option 2: Select only himself and everyone else faces the challenge. Not surprisingly Courtney opines she would take the lifeboat when Willie decides to select three and stay in the pressure test. He says since he was team captain, he has to take responsibility. That in a nutshell is integrity over selfishness and why people with integrity and character count while mercenaries like Courtney people are cautious and wary of. Willie selects Francis L., Daniel, and Victoria.

Photo: FOX
Photo: FOX

The Cake of Doom: Red Velvet
Red velvet cake is delicious but unfortunately Willie, Leslie, Dan and Cutter must cook it. Both Willie and Leslie are confident they can pull it off. Cutter has eaten the cake and never made it. And Dan is just Dan moving along with due speed but his batter is thick. And Gordon reminds us early on that density is important to the cake.

Appearances though can be deceiving. Willie looks slow but that masks the fact he is getting things properly prepped. His calm manner is probably the reason he looks slow. Leslie by contrast abounds with energy and confidence. Both are not worried about producing a good cake. Leslie has been in pressure tests before and this is the second one for Willie. However Cutter and Dan by contrast look more stressed in getting their cakes ready.

In Cutter’s Way
They begin with Willie. Gordon says it looks a little askew but when he cuts into it, the layers are perfect. It is also delicious, a view shared by all the judges. Willie has done good. No need to worry about him going home. Leslie is up next and he has put ground up pistachios on top. Joe did not think he would like it that way but ended up enjoying the cake as do the other judges. And now cue the dramatic music….

Joe asks Leslie why people do not like him. Of course we know the answer: it is the way he comes off when he talks to most people. He says he does not know, which is probably true. Then Cutter interjected with a comment that ended with saying Leslie was a “one trick pony.” Joe looked askance at that and reminded Cutter it is the judges who determine who wins. And then he added Leslie had a delicious cake. Up next is Dan and right away there is a problem. Joe finds it hard to cut through and appears over baked. Joe says it is a boiled wool cake. Yikes! Cutter is smiling but the smile is wiped off when Joe remarks that while Dan’s tasted homemade, that Cutters looks like it was made by a child.

Gordon looks at Cutter’s cake and says it decoration on top (a uncompleted version of American flag) looks different. And then he notes the stuff on the cake side looks like a hairy back! This prompt laughter from Ahran and the others above. The cake is moist but has a lot of frosting. And it is too sweet. Leslie smiles and Graham comes over to taste it. Cutter then starts disagreeing with Gordon’s criticism implying Gordon’s palate is different. Graham tries to get him to distinguish between professional criticism and the personal. Cutter kept trying to interrupt and Graham had to tell him to let him speak. Graham concludes by saying (to Cutter asking about the sweetness) “now you what over sweet is.”

Joe walks over and asks why he is so defensive. Cutter says he does not understand why they consider his cake too sweet. Joe asks if he lives in a delusion and if he will get defensive every time they criticize him. Cutter gets more upset and says he is not a baker and might go home tonight. The tension is palpable to everyone. Joe says he implied Gordon had a poor palate. Cutter retorts back not to put words in his mouth! Gordon cannot believe it, and Graham is shaking his head in disbelief. The verbal sparring continues. Joe says Cutter has to respect the judges which prompts this rant from Cutter:

“I do. I’m doing my best and all I do gets hammered.” More worrisome looks and then Joe says that all he does is interrupt and says “you sound ignorant.” I hear the sound of distant cannon now and getting closer unless Cutter shuts up. Finally Joe asks who he would send home. He says Leslie, which prompts Leslie to laugh. Cutter responds to that by saying it is all a big circle to him. Leslie continues to laugh saying back “you’re still here?”

No surprise that both Willie and Leslie are safe. But should one or both go from the bottom two? The angel of death prepares the scythe. Dan is sent home since his cake was more like a biscuit said Gordon. Cutter is spared again but I fear now has been marked in a way no other has before on Masterchef.

My 2¢
The restaurant challenge is a great pressure test on its own. We see how these home cooks work in a professional working kitchen. Christine was the better leader of the two but both teams were close in score at the end. Both teams had problems with a particular station. Team Willie had problems with the egg station and Team Christine with club sandwich. Leslie had a point later that Daniel was not doing much but that appears later. Like everyone else he is working at his station but at some point ends up working as a vice-expeditor next to Willie. Daniel was barking out stuff and not Willie, which was Leslie’s point. He was not doing cooking at that point but acting like he was in charge. I think that tells us a lot about Daniel. He seems to like pushing himself as someone who can be in charge but always does it from a secondary position. He organized the mutiny against Leslie but put Francis B. and not himself in charge. In this episode, he tries to assert authority by standing next to Willie and barking out orders. I think Leslie caught onto his act early on and that may be the reason for deep mistrust between the two.

However this episode will be remembered for Cutter’s meltdown. And it was epic because he reminds you of those stubborn and arrogant chefs Ramsay would encounter on Kitchen Nightmares. You know the ones I am talking about. They would say their food was good and Ramsay would find it wanting in a serious way. That is what Joe openly wondered about when he said Cutter must live in a delusion. And he clearly believes that no matter what he does, no matter how much he puts into it, he gets hammered by them. He clearly has had enough. Joe realized you cannot talk sensibly to a person in such a state. So he asks the trick question of who he would send home. He says Leslie, who no one believes is on the chopping block. Leslie naturally laughs at this and I do not blame him. When someone is this far gone either you ignore or laugh about it. And what Cutter said about Leslie living in a big circle comes from someone in a very different place than our own. Paging Rod Serling–The Twilight Zone has arrived on Masterchef.

Well Cutter has certainly got a big target painted on his back now. I wonder if the judges will try to find a convenient manner in which to dispatch Cutter from the show as quickly as possible. Cutter, Dr Phil is calling!

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Masterchef:Surf &Turf and Bad Spring Rolls Sends Hopeful Home

Photo: FOX
Photo: FOX

*It is week 7 of Masterchef (US). 15 contestants remain after Tyler was sent home last week.

*There is an old wisdom to be cautious about volunteering information that will be turned against you. So when a Masterchef judge asks who you do not want to be paired up with, you ought to have the good sense to realize that is a trap. Leslie, who is old enough to know this maxim, of course offers up Ahran. Which he pronounces as Ihran. He seems to have a problem with pronouncing her name. It is a variant of Aaron so think of that name when saying Ahran. It is an uncommon name I grant you (not many boys or girls get this name) but not unpronounceable.

*Courtney really wears those high heels so much that Gordon warned her not to trip on the stairs up the balcony. She says it is like a second home to her. Really? Well do not get that comfortable. Some below want to knock you off that balcony and into a steaming pile of dog poo.

*The teams are paired up by Courtney who loves pulling the strings. Christian and Francis B are both arrogant about their abilities and Courtney hopes they will clash. Christian said some unpleasant things about why he did not want to pair with her. So Courtney would love to see him take the walk out of the kitchen. Victoria and Christine are paired up. Since neither have been in the top three, she probably hopes they will produce a mediocre dish. Jaimee and Elizabeth are contrasts but both will put their heads down and do a good job. Courtney sees neither as a threat right now. Then again pairing up Cutter with Dan was a good move. While both have shown strengths at times, she thinks they will clash and fail. She was right on the money there. Willie and Daniel are paired up. Neither are a threat to her at this point so it will be theirs to loose.

*Surf and Turf is on the menu tonight. The teams, unlike in the past, will not be doing a tag team relay cooking challenge. Instead both are working at the same time to create a harmonious dish to be served to the Culinary Trio. Note that word harmonious, for that really is the key. Merely throwing some fish and beef on the plate with salad is not going to cut it here. You have to give them an impressive dish that gets their attention.

*Watch that clock! You get five minutes in the pantry to select the proteins and other things you want. Most teams come to a consensus quickly (even Ahran/Leslie) but not Cutter and Dan. They each disagree on what to do and waste their time. So in the end they have a fish and meat protein and not much else to go on that plate. It would come back to haunt them later.

Surfs Up!
1. Victoria and Christine-Pork Belly & Monkfish. The best dish of the night according to the judges. It looked fantastic and restaurant quality.
2. Willie and Daniel-Seared ahi tuna with fried chicken with Asian influences. The judges liked it though Gordon did not like the crunch on the tuna. All in all, a good meal.
3. Ahran and Leslie-A pork belly and crab guacamole tostada. Despite Courtney hoping for a clash, they both worked well together and learned to respect one another. The dish looked delicious and got high marks from the judges. And they both hugged in the end. So the hatchet each had in the other’s back is gone. Leslie also knows how to properly say her name!

Low Tide
1. Christian and Francis B-Moroccan spiced rib eye with king crab topping. It looked like something served in a college cafeteria or cheap but pretentious diner. Gordon cannot believe they brought this up saying that individually each one could produce a stellar dish. Together they put this uninspired and bland meal together. A direct hit by Courtney. They are now on the short list for going home.
2. Cutter and Dan-Seared venison with seared tuna. What more can you say when you bring up a plate that has one cooked meat on one side, and fish on the other side and virtually nothing else? This might pass for minimalist picture in some art gallery but not here. Gordon could not believe that with that massive pantry at their disposal this is all they could bring up.Cutter says they could not agree but Gordon points out that each one of them could have filled their carts with all kinds of stuff and brought out to sort later. A total failure and Gordon calls it the worst dish so far. Joe is not amused either and I do not think he actually tasted it. After playing with it a bit, he fetches a trash bin and ask Cutter to do the honors. Yikes!
3. Francis L and Elise-rack of lamb with crab risotto, yogurt and caviar. What went wrong was exactly what Courtney hoped would happened. They overcomplicated their dish making it not that good. The lamb’s fat was not properly rendered off so the yogurt was on top of that. And the sauce Francis L made did not work for the dish. Visually unappealing as well (a dog’s dinner I think is what Gordon said).

When all the other teams but the Low Tide ones are sent up to the balcony, Gordon does the head fake and calls Christian and Francis B out and then tells them they are not saved and in the dreaded pressure test. Saved is Elise and Francis L. And boy are they glad not to be in this dreaded pressure test.

Vegetable spring rolls with dipping sauce. Photo: Public Domain (Wikipedia)
Vegetable spring rolls with dipping sauce.
Photo: Public Domain (Wikipedia)

Spring Comes In Roll
I love spring rolls. So does Gordon who points out the light but yet crunchy dough and delicious fillings. Done well it is great treat. Done poorly and you have sticks with weeds in them. And Christian, Francis B, Cutter and Dan all have to make four of them with a dipping sauce (and not from a can!). Dan has the advantage being born in China. And off they go to make the best spring rolls in Masterchef history. Not hard to make but mess up the dough or filling and it is all over. Key is also making sure your oil is hot enough. Too cold and it does not cook right as Francis found out. He did something no one would do: put them in a frying pan to get them some color. If he used just a hot nonstick pan maybe. But he added oil which meant it makes them greasy.

And so the Angel of Death has his scythe ready to go. Christian presents okay spring rolls and that pass muster. They could have been wrapped more evenly and used more herbs. Francis has too much filling in his spring rolls and they are greasy. Dan was just okay but Gordon expected more and was disappointed. Cutter had one spring roll burst in the fryer but managed to get by. His rolls though had an elasticity to them they ought not to have (not crispy enough). The filling needed more flavor and acid. Not a great presentation.

Christian gets the pass, soon to be followed by Dan leaving both Cutter and Francis B to face their fate. Will it be just one or two going home tonight? The scythe falls and Francis B is sent home. This is unfortunate. Francis had shown some real talent and really looked like a strong contender. Something happened though. Perhaps he lost confidence in his abilities or got shaken up by the team challenge. Courtney gets a direct hit here. She wanted Christian out but seeing Francis B go was good as well in her mind.

My 2¢
Over the years of watching food competitions, I often wonder how it is seemingly good cooks end up not making it like Francis B. He has shown considerable talent and wowed the judges early on. Joe thought he was one to watch. So it was sad to see Francis B fall this way. So what happened? Perhaps he had a confidence issue. The wedding challenge saw him flub it up when he became captain when Leslie was replaced. Joe put him the pressure test because of his poor leadership when they (1)did not serve up the original potato side and had to come up with a plan b quickly; (2) they were two plates of fish that did not have whole fish because two fish fillets disappeared. Perhaps this challenge unnerved him as well working with Christian. Both are good cooks but together something went amiss.

There was no obvious sign of discomfort between the two but neither did they want to work together. Perhaps they could not agree on a dish that would have been better. Or they were simply arrogant to believe they could get away with such a boring dish and slide by. I suspect it is something between arrogance and not wanting to upstage. Sort of a balance of power agreement that backfired. Courtney did not get Christian out but she got Francis B, who was a threat. No surprise about Cutter and Dan. Despite having their moments, neither is really that good as to knock your socks off. Dan is an admitted food snob and I suspect thinks little of Cutter. Cutter thought Dan’s ideas were not well thought out. And because they were debating too much, they left the pantry with very little. Gordon was disappointed with Dan not showing some real cooking skills with the spring rolls. He expected Dan to really make them shine as an example of his culinary skills. They fact he made a mediocre batch is a bellwether as to his real skills. The sauce was the only thing that saved him from being in the bottom two. Had he been there, he might very well have gone home.

Next week it looks like a restaurant challenge and breakfast is on the menu. It does not look pretty. And it looks like the pressure test will be a cake.

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Masterchef:The Case of the Purloined Ramekins

Photo: Public Domain
Photo: Public Domain

*It is week 6 of Masterchef (US). 16 contestants remain after Jordan was eliminated last week.

*Graham says the cheftestants have been through a lot already, it is just getting started.

*This was a real Mystery Box challenge for when they lifted up the box, it revealed cans without any labels at all. 52 of them to be precise of various shapes, sizes, and contents. A limited pantry was provided and they could use as many ingredients from the cans but at least one ingredient in the dish presented had to be from a can. So our brave home cooks begin opening cans to decide what they will make. A real test of ingenuity here. Sadly Jaimee has no clue what to cook and decides too late on a soup. Francis L takes the juices from each of the cans and decides to use them in his dish. Bold or reckless?

*Elizabeth gets called up, a first for her. The dish she presents is a Borscht. Now that takes courage to present it. And the judges love the dish. Victoria used potted meat and made fritters. It got compliments as well and a slight complaint the fritters were a little to large. Ahran used only canned fruit salad and used it with a sponge cake. I must say it looked good and judging by the way Joe was eating it up, delicious as well. High marks as well. The winner was Elizabeth.

*Returning Chefs In The House!
Luca Manfe, who won last seasons title of  Masterchef, is back and has his signature dish under a cloche. He has been busy with his catering company, setting up a restaurant in Brooklyn, and soon to be a father! His cookbook is out as well. But he is not the only returning winner in the house today. Alexander, who is the first winner of Junior Masterchef, also has his signature dish under a cloche. Elizabeth is going to choose who cooks what. But unlike last season where they decide in the pantry, she has to make her decision in front of the other contenders. Luca has a pancetta wrapped veal while Alexander has a passion fruit panna cotta.

*Elizabeth gets strategic and makes Cutter (who has bearish hands!), Christian, Jaimee, Ahran, Francis B, Victoria, and Tyler cook Alexander’s dish. Everyone else cooks Luca’s dish. The cheftestants taste the dish they will recreate and off they go!

*Willie goes an odd route. He decides to cook his veal twice. He sears it first, then wraps it in bacon, and then puts it in the oven. Gordon cannot believe it warning the veal will be dry. Luca would not do it that way either but Willie thinks it will work. Luca says (repeating Gordon) you have to walk first before you run. Meaning you need to master the basics before attempting a complicated dish like twice cooked veal with pancetta!

*Panna cotta is tricky and requires time. They have to set and need time in a blast chiller. Jaimee finds two of her ramekins are missing and wonders if someone took them.

Courtney brings up a delicious recreation of Luca’s dish. The judges all rave about it. Elizabeth hoped Courtney would fail but this was a miss. Note that the director constantly focuses on Courtney’s very glittering shoes during the show. Willie’s dish, not unexpectedly, is not well received. As predicted it is dry and Gordon comments unless someone has a worse dish, he is going home. Cutter’s dish turns out better than expected, another miss for Elizabeth. However Christian did a poor job. Jamiee’s dish looks bad as the panna cotta collapsed and more of a pudding. It is still good but she is not looking good.

*The Case of the Purloined Ramekins
Tyler brings up his panna cotta, which did not set up well. Tyler says they ought to wear blindfolds. But Gordon makes a startling announcement that for the first time someone brought up a dish they did not cook. Tyler is shocked and Gordon walks back to the food area and brings out a tray of four ramekins from the blast chiller. They are Tyler’s. He thought he had put them on the top shelf, but that is where Jaimee put hers. Wow! Tyler says it was an accident and apologizes. Gordon believes him. Tyler was in a rush and grabbed the ramekins without looking. But the rule is they can only judge what you actually cook. And the result is a sad one. Tyler has to leave the show. Tyler accepts the decision, apologizes to the judges, and Jaimee. It was a sad departure and the only ones to benefit by it were Willie, Christian, and Jaimee who likely would have been in the bottom three. Tyler and Big Willie hug before he walks out of the kitchen. Courtney is proclaimed the winner and it looks like next week is the infamous team challenge.

My 2¢
Wow, what an episode. It was intense right from the start. You have 52 cans in front of you, none with any labels. Do you open them all or just a few? You have vegetables, fruits, olives, potted meat. Spam (or one of its competitors) was there as well as Willie was cooking with it. So it takes some quick thinking and ingenuity to make an acceptable dish from a can. Ahran said they had no cans at home, that everything was fresh. Possible but I suspect there is a can of something in her parent’s pantry. 90% or more people in America probably at least have a can of fruit, vegetables, potted meat, or evaporated milk in their cupboard. I have diced tomatoes, beans, corn, potted meat, Spam, sardines and evaporated milk in mine.

And some of the dishes presented showed serious cooking skills. A borscht, potted meat fritters, and sponge cake with canned fruit and whipped cream were the top three. Willie did a play on eggs benedict with spam, eggs, and english muffin. In many ways, this episode really showed who has serious cooking chops. Having them recreate the signature dishes of Luca and Alexander was a nice touch as well. It forced them to cook upscale and Willie, I am sad to say, took a real tumble here. He has little experience in upscale cooking and that could prove a problem down the line. Absent from any mention except the occasional screenshot was Leslie. We did not see how his dishes were judged nor any commentary from him.

Tyler mistake though is what many will remember from this show. We have seen many exits over the years. Some were well deserved and some were close calls between two very good dishes. This was a stunner because no one before has made this mistake of accidently taking someone else’s dish and presenting as their own. It is no surprise the judges knew about it. There was a behind the scenes guided tour I watched a season or so ago at the Masterchef site. Gordon showed how just about everyplace in that kitchen is wired for sound and visual recording. So obviously one of Masterchefs production staff noticed Tyler taking the wrong ramekins out of the blast chiller. And they notified Gordon and showed him the recording. Some might argue they ought to have given him a chance to correct his mistake. That would open up a whole can of worms if they start doing that (it could lead to accusations they try to fix outcomes).

It was truly sad to see Tyler go. The only ones that benefited from it were Willie and Christian who had poor dishes. Thankfully for them the angel of death did not lower its scythe on either of them. Tyler accepted what he did wrong and the decision that resulted from it. His apology to both the judges and Jaimee was sincere. Now the show moves on on and it appears next week the infamous tag team cooking competition will be the headline. And with Courtney in the drivers seat as to who those teams will be, no doubt she will dish some delightful revenge. It appears from the promo that Ahran and Leslie might be partnered up. Yikes! A match made in hell.

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