Category Archives: TV reviews

Masterchef US: Season 6, Episode 11: The Beef and The Tart


Ten cheftestants walk across a wide plain and meet the judges coming towards them in a truck driven by Christina. They have to cook for 101 cowboys and steak is for lunch. Hetal and Katrina pick each the others team and face off in a Western showdown. But Hetal’s team underwhelms sending them to the dreaded pressure test where they have to make a fruit tart.

This episode raises the question whether a vegetarian can lead a team to victory when the primary protein is meat. Not just any meat but cow is taboo for Hindus. How can one properly know if the dish is done right if you cannot taste it? You have to rely on what other people are telling you and that puts you at a disadvantage. For instance choosing which cut of beef to cook. Amazingly Hetal’s team (Olivia, Stephen, Shelly and Christopher)goes for the hangar steak leaving the strip for Katrina’s team(Claudia, Derrick, Tommy and Nick).

Both teams made the mistake of trying initially being fancy. These are cowboys (a generic term that also includes women these days). Cowboys are not sitting down to a fancy feast! They want a good meal and not something too upscale or fancy. Hetal’s team falls behind while Katrina’s cranks out the food. In the end the cowboys brand a wall red or blue as to which dish they liked. While Katrina’s team celebrates the win, Hetal’s team has to clean up both kitchens and face the dreaded pressure test.

Bake Me A Fruit Tart
Ah the fruit tart. A wonderful thing to behold unless you are cooking it in a timed competition with no room for error. Olivia gets a pass getting selected by the other team for the save putting Christopher, Hetal, Shelly, and Stephen into thunderdoom.*

The Scream (Edward Munch, 1893) Public Domain
The Scream (Edward Munch, 1893)
Public Domain

The Stephen Zone
I always thought Stephen was wound up kind of tight and this pressure test proved it. Reminded me of the famous scene in Network(1976)where Albert Finney’s character loses it. When he takes out his tart and sees the pastry is not quite right, he screams and ends up crying in the nearby pantry area. And during the test, when Gordon talks to him it is clear the pressure has really gotten to him. Straight jacket standing by!

Tart Imperfection
No one aced this pressure test but no one did so bad as to be tagged as the one being sent home. Hetal and Shelly were deemed the best two and saved. Which brings us to another…

Head Fake
Christopher and Stephen are in the bottom. Both had faults with their tarts: too much cream, a crust that could have been better, saggy presentation etc. Usually the judges are good about deciding who goes home. It looks for a moment that both will go home then Gordon calls a conference with the other judges resulting in a no decision. A no decision? They are both tied and they cannot make up their minds. Pardon me for not believing that for one minute. They have made decisions when there was only a slight technical issue. Obviously they did not want to send either home today so the top ten remains the top ten for another week. But that means next time it will be a double elimination.

  • Bits & Pieces
    Liked Shelly’s comments about Hetal’s team. She gives Nick away to the other team, does not eat meat, and gets Olivia who probably eats salads. So what kind of plan do we have?
  • Hetal’s comments as to who she sent to the other team was illuminating.
  • Derrick had a meltdown of his own while they were serving and Katrina had to give him a time out. Katrina knew how to handle her team while Hetal seemed unfocused.
  • Is it me or did Christina seem not so happy about driving the truck so the guys could stand up there looking quite pleased with themselves?

*Thunderdoom seems more appropriate then Thunderdome, an ampitheater of death in a Mad Max movie.

Masterchef US Season 6, Episode 10: And Then There Were Ten

MasterChef_Logo_&_Wordmark.svg*The Mystery Box Challenge returns full of rice! As soon as our brave chefestants raise the box, a mountain of rice is revealed with a lot spilling on the floor. Getting them properly set up took a bit of stage magic (they are covered, turned over, a covering is pulled out, and you are ready to go) and of course we never see that they had to come in and clean it all up before they started cooking.

*Playing to your strengths is the best option here. Christopher’s pineapple boat looked cool. Derrick was displeased when his name was not called. Instead it was Hetal for her Indian dish and once again proved vegetarians know how to cook. Claudia did a take on a Mexican dish that was quite tasty and well received. Tommy topped them all with his jambalaya that his aunt made in a cast iron pan. It got rave reviews and earned him the win. There was a cheeky moment when Gordon said he wanted to wake up with Tommy, which brought laughter, until he corrected himself that he wanted to wake up in the morning after such a wonderful meal. Good save Gordon!

*Tommy has to decide which of the three food pairings to have his fellow cheftestants suffer through. The choices are peanut butter and jelly (Christina), ham and pineapple (Graham), and basil and tomato (Gordon). Tommy selects peanut butter and jelly, gets an automatic seat in the top ten, and gets to save two people. He can save one at the beginning and one at the end. He chooses Claudia but she declines because she wants to prove herself. Later she would tell Graham that if she failed it would haunt her. Fortunately that was not the case for her.

*So what do you do with peanut butter and jelly? Well you have to be smart about it. Dessert or savory dish? Some choose dessert and others a savory dish. The two winners show how you can do it in different ways. Hetal choose cookies while Katrina made a peanut satay and spring rolls with ponzu. Claudia did an encrusted pork chop that also was a great dish. Christopher made a tart that he thought was going to be panned. Christina though showed how good it was and complimented him. It was a real boost to his morale.


*Shelly Forgets Something Important
Several seasons back Dave Martinez won the Mystery Box Challenge and chose rice as the dish for the elimination. Then he did something amazingly stupid: he forgot the rice. He had to go begging from the other contestants. Though he got rice, the dish was panned especially by Joe. Shelly did not choose the ingredients but she knew the essentials were peanut butter and jelly. Oops. Big oops. So there she stands at her station with none of the core ingredients. Amazingly she manages to get them from others and proceeds to make spring rolls that visually are unappetizing and taste much worse.

*Sara, The Not So Good Baker
Sara, who is considered one of the top bakers on the show, botched it with her Peanut Butter and Jelly Tart with peanut butter pastry cream. The problem was that the peanut butter was folded into the pastry cream muting whatever flavor it might have added to the dish. To say Gordon was disappointed was an understatement. He pointed out it was the first dish he tasted that night in which did not taste peanut butter. She disagreed saying that to her it tasted like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Gordon roles his eyes at this and says there is no peanut butter in there. She says there is and Gordon dissects the dish and shows that hardly any peanut butter can be seen. It is possible she choose a very neutral peanut butter (one that is low in sugar and salt) that resulted in a diminished flavor profile. My guess is that she measured in too tiny an amount. The result was underwhelming. Graham is a bit less pointed but noted the tart shell was thick and undercooked that when you got the entire bite you did not get the peanut butter and jelly explosion in the mouth. Sara still defends by saying it was not bad. I think this is a case of both arrogance and complacency. She could not tell the defects because she believes her dishes are perfect.

*Shelly and Sara face the chop but the judges think Shelly has more to learn. Sara gets the chop and heads home.

The Standings

1. The Top
Katrina-She really excelled in this episode and showed some real cooking chops with her peanut satay and spring rolls dish. So she moves up from the bottom right to the top.
Hetal-Once again she showed her abilities both in the Mystery Box and Elimination challenges. She is really a serious contender for the top four and top two right now.
Tommy-He really brought it with his jambalaya. He may be known for fashion designs, but may have a second career with a restaurant. And his jambalaya recipe gets him national attention in the September issue of Family Circle.
Claudia-Anyone who can pull off a pork chop the way she did deserves being in the top tier.

2. The Middle
Christopher moves up from the wildcard position. He really made an impression with his tart.
Olivia & Stephen-We assume since that since their dishes were not shown in the elimination challenge they were acceptable though not exceptional enough to warrant their inclusion in the broadcast.
Derrick-He did nothing exceptional either in this episode.

3. The Bottom
Shelly took a major tumble this week. She really needs to step it up fast or end up out the door sooner rather than later.

4. Wildcard
This week the wildcard position goes to Nick. He choose the save so we will never know how his elimination dish would have fared. However if Tommy thought it looked bad, he was lucky to get the save.

Next week: Cattle call. Literally. Our brave cheftestants will be feeding a hungry group of cattle herders (otherwise known as cowboys). Lots of field work there and challenges galore. Will Hetal be able to lead a team to victory when the main ingredient on the menu will be meat? Will Stephen finally loose his mind needing a quiet space to relax?

Masterchef US, Season 6 Episode 9:Cooking The Ramsay Way

[Due to work and other things, I could not get to this until today.]

MasterChef_Logo_&_Wordmark.svg*This episode was all about Gordon Ramsay.  A few episodes ago we had a steak challenge in which he was the only judge. This episode was all about his famous Beef Wellington and scallop dish. Both are highly technical dishes and demonstrate who really is a cook or a chef at this point.

*The Mystery Box challenge was replaced by the Beef Wellington challenge. They sat in pairs in the dining room to eat it (except Hetal, who could not eat it and had to rely on Christopher to tell her about it). Then they cooked the Wellingtons and the dining pairs became teams and selected one to be tasted. Hetal was the surprise since her Wellington was judged very good (Christopher wisely did not submit his-too big and not good on the inside Wellington). Also a surprise was Derrick ending up on the bottom with Kerry, Katrina, and Nick who had inferior specimens.

*It became a Dreaded Pressure Test by having them all imitate a Ramsay scallop dish which he demonstrated. Katrina got flustered and was clearly out of her element but survived. So did Derrick. Nick did a great job and Gordon was clearly pleased. Sadly Kerry had timing issues and was missing many major components (he got the scallops done but mostly everything else never got on the plate despite being done). So Kerry got the chop and said adios.

The Top

The Middle

The Bottom


The promos for next episode indicate an early favorite could go but trick editing often can lead you astray. Rice is on the menu (lots of it that spills on the floor from the promos). And Gordon gets cheeky with Tommy.

Masterchef US Season 6, Episode 8: Happy 100th Episode, Now Two Must Go!


Being the 100th episode of Masterchef, a party is called for. Catering is expensive so they wrap it into an episode of where the cheftestants cook the appetizer and entrée. The winners move on but two will be chopped in the end.

*Team Red(Olivia)
Both teams have to produce an appetizer with oysters and caviar, and an entrée with duck breast. Olivia goes for elegant and fussy which means complicated and time consuming. She wants smoked oysters but ignores Tommy’s warning about how to do that. Christopher does not do a test cook and winds up overcooking a lot of oysters which means not so many oysters to plate now. Their appetizer ends up being a salad and not well received by the judges. Derrick is agitating to get things better and Olivia starts losing it until Gordon gets her head straight. She takes command and the entrée is much better than the appetizer.

*Team Blue (Nick)
They come out of the gate strong but falter on the entrée course. Nick does not keep his eyes on what others are doing so Charlie lets the carrots burn in the oven, duck breasts sits around too long and gets cold, and underdone duck shows up. Not a great day for Nick in the end. His team loses to Team Red and must face the dreaded pressure test.

*One Must Be Saved Or All Must Go
Team Blue learns one will be saved but they have to decide who will leave or face them all leaving the show. Masterchef does this to purposefully manufacture tension. Ultimately Stephen is saved but leaves lots of lingering tensions that will no doubt bubble up later in the show.

Photo: Fox
Photo: Fox

*Dreaded Pressure Test
For your consideration: a simple three-tier birthday cake. Sounds easy if you do not have a clock ticking down to your possible doom. Claudia has the most outstanding cake while Nick and Sara have okay cakes but good enough to save them. That leaves Amanda, Charlie, and Shelly on the bottom.

*Charlie’s Fiasco
In perhaps the weirdest way to make a cake, Charlie decides to create a short stack birthday cake. Except of course that makes it look not only weird but darn impossible to properly put the frosting and toppings on. It is a messy stack, so messy that when it was being made Christina had to turn away. In all the cakes ever presented on the show, it was the worst. It even makes Tommy’s famous worst cinnamon rolls in history shine by comparison. No matter how good it tasted, the presentation was so awful that no surprise he was sent home.

*Amanda’s Downfall
Amanda has shown real talent on this show and probably will run her own restaurant one day. She started out great making a cake she knows very well but she took the sponges out of the oven too soon. They literally fell apart on the plate and it was plain it was raw. The judges were aghast and she began losing it. At this point it is pretty obvious she is going home. There is no way the judges can overlook this technical violation. Gordon gets her to dress up the cake and make it presentable. To that I say what the heck? At this point there is no point in dragging this out any further. I would have said I am so sorry and ask for the apron. No need to make this any more painful. That is not what Gordon did though. He made her present the raw cake underneath the frosting. Then when it came down to decide between her and Shelly’s undercooked and muted flavor dish, they did something worse.

*The Head Fake
Often on this show they will mislead a person to think they are safe when they are not or vice versa. So Gordon calls Shelly to take off her apron. She and Amanda hug with Amanda believing she is safe. And then Gordon drops the bomb telling Shelly to head upstairs leaving poor Amanda there to be sent home. This was cruel and unnecessary. It really makes me mad at Gordon and the producers for what they did. They head fake someone who clearly was on the road to go home to believe, just for a moment, that she was safe. Shame on them! And Gordon is the rear end of a donkey as far I am concerned. I have been concerned both on Masterchef Junior and this show that a certain level of meanness has crept into this show. And this demonstrates it. Get stuffed, Gordon.

Retro Saturday: All Creatures Great & Small

The stories of James Herriot thrilled millions with his tales of treating animals, the people he met, and the unforgettable characters of Sigfried, Tristan, and Mrs. Pumphrey. Herriot was the pen name for James Alfred Wight (1916-1995) who used his real life experiences as a Yorkshire veterinarian for his books. The books were made into film and television. All Creatures Great & Small ran on BBC first from 1978-1980 and then from 1988-1990. It was one of the most highly watched shows in its first incarnation in the UK. The books have been translated all over the world. They almost did not get printed in the U.S. An employee of the printing company brought back one of the small Herriot books in his briefcase and did not even open it. But his wife did and told him what a great book it was. By putting together several of the smaller books into the larger All Creatures Great & Small, it took off. And so did the other books that followed. Herriot was a success but it took a while for people to learn his true identity of James Wight in Thirsk, UK.

I highly recommend the books and the first incarnation of the tv series. The books are a delight to read, full of interesting characters and the animals he treated. Back in the early days, there were few drugs so the vet really had to nurse an animal. And it was not without being messy at times. While many people were friendly,some were not. And there are some sad stories in the books as well of people losing their prized pets. Many were inspired by the books to become vets themselves. While some of the mucky work they did back then is not done as often (today all dairy cows are immunized against tuberculosis so little need to check every cow on a regular basis),it is still done today. You still have to put your arm inside a cow or horse to correctly determine what is wrong inside but you have protective wear (robots or drones may do it eventually). Today most animal doctors treat lots of pets and not just cats, dogs, and the occasional bird. Nope today it is a wide assortment of rabbits, ferrets, guinea pigs, mice, and even pet rats (yes,there are such things as pet rats). Of course now people are getting into raising chickens at home so some urban vets are seeing them too (fresh eggs!).

The tv show starred Christopher Timothy as Herriot,Robert Hardy as Sigfried Farnon,Peter Davison as Tristan Farnon, and Carol Drinkwater as Helen (she was replaced by Lynda Bellingham in the second incarnation). The character of Mrs. Hall was given more presence than in the books (which was great because the actress who played her was terrific). Some of the stories were altered for television (especially when Christopher Timothy was injured and thus could not walk around much in the last episodes of season 1 and opening episodes of season 2). Peter Davison, though much taller than the real Tristan, Brian Sinclair, was excellent in the role as the brother. Robert Hardy got to play Sigfried (Donald Sinclair)and gets him exactly as Herriot wrote him. Donald was not exactly happy with the first book depicting him as it did (it was toned down later)but everyone who knew the real Donald Sinclair says it was spot on.

All of the main characters of the show and books have passed away. Tristan (Brian Sinclair) passed away in 1988. Of the three, he was the only one who actually went to war-but as a vet in India!. James Herriot passed away in 1995 and his wife Joan (Helen in the books)in 1999. Sigfried (Donald Sinclair)passed away in 1995 a few months after James. His wife of 45 years had recently passed away and James death was a blow as well. He died from an overdose of barbiturate. Herriot’s books not only inspired many vets, it brought lots of tourists to Yorkshire to see what he so vividly describes in his books. He was made an OBE by Queen Elizabeth II, a fan of his books and tv show. Numerous other memorials exist including a statue at Thirsk Racecourse.

Masterchef US Season 6, Episode 7: Upscale breakfasts and TV dinners


Our gallant cheftestants faced a Mystery Box that required them to make an upscale breakfast but for the elimination round have to cook a posh TV dinner. Poor execution of a dish and clueless on a concept sends not one but two home in the end.

*Breakfast Masterchef style means upscale and fit to have been served on Titanic. Graham Elliot joins the cheftestants in masterfully cooking three breakfast dishes in 30 minutes for the judges. Meanwhile the others have to whip up something pretty good to get the judges to notice. Derrick, Nick, and Katrina have the three best but Derrick beats them all and gets exemption from cooking in the elimination challenge.

*TV dinners. They are still popular despite how far we have come culinary wise. Why? Ease. You get home and do not have time or the energy to cook a full three -course meal. A tv dinner fits the bill. You can either put it in the oven or microwave. And today there are lots of choices that include ones that are low calorie and low fat. So Derrick gets to choose which of the Masterchefs favorite TV dinners they will cook: Christina’s Salisbury Steak, Graham’s Meatloaf, or Gordon’s Turkey. Derrick opts for Christina’s.

*And for the extra point Derrick gets to choose someone to sit out for 15 minutes. He chooses Christopher. Surprising since he put a target on Shelly’s back last time. But if he was hoping Christopher would crash and burn, he was wrong. He instead excelled and wowed the judges. His arrow would have been better spent on someone else. If anything making him sit out made him better.

*The Gong of Doom
Veronica’s problem is never getting the presentation or serving size right. She tells Christina she intends to present it as a TV dinner. Christina reminds her that they want something above that but Veronica seems clueless or oblivious. She cooks like that clichéd Army chef that cooks tons of food and slops it on the plate as the soldiers go by. No surprise the gong of doom is ringing loudly when Christina walks away.

*Hetal’s Challenge
Hetal had to cook with beef, a taboo food in her native India. Gordon did point out she could ask someone else to taste it. Sure, ask one of your fellow competitors to tell you if your food is good or bad. But you got to know that some would opt to deceive rather than help. If she wants to move forward in this competition, you have to handle the curves they throw at you since they do not make exemptions for vegetarians or foods banned by religion.

*Jesse tries to impress Gordon with his venison dish and fails. Gordon, who knows a thing or two about cooking venison, was displeased with it being overcooked. Jesse came off not well trying to say it was not that dry. Later when the three bottom people are called, Gordon says (without saying his name) that he ought to come up. He starts the turns back forcing Gordon to call out his name.

*Hetal and Veronica in the bottom with Jesse. Hetal got so flustered in dealing with beef that her dish suffered horribly. It could not be more disappointing for her. She could have done okay with the beef and spectacular with the sides. Instead it really was a mess but luckily both Jesse and Veronica were worse. Veronica brought up massive portions to the judges sitting in large serving dishes. It did not look good and Gordon was angry. He reminded her that they had repeatedly told her to watch those portions and presentation. When he tilts the dish with vegetables, a whole lot of water comes out. He declines to taste any of her dishes.

*Without fanfare, Veronica was sent him. No kind words and no sympathy from the judges. Just turn in your apron and leave. The top 15 applaud but quickly turns to a hush when another person will be sent home. No surprise it was Jesse leaving Hetal safe for the next round.

*The good news is that Olivia and Nick won. I am impressed with both but Olivia most of all. I was not sure she really had the motivation or cooking skills. She has both and showed it tonight. She and Nick will be team captains next week.

1. Always follow what the judges want in terms of presentation and serving.
2. They know that some people do not like certain foods (they find this out during the intake process) so they will throw challenges that contain proteins or foods you do not like or prohibited.
3. Be brave and take chances but remember to follow those rules about cooking it right. And remember to taste it. Overcooked food is about as welcome as cow chips on a plate.

Next week: Masterchef celebrates its 100th episode with an outdoor party. And catering it will be the cheftestants. The Dreaded Pressure Test will be a birthday cake but when the two candles are blown out, it will be a double elimination.

Masterchef US:Season 6, Episode 6: Vegas or Bust

18 cheftestants remain after Justin went home for using canned corn last week. Tonight they cooked a meal for those work in Vegas with the losers proving who can cook the best steak. It had better be good because Gordon Ramsay is the only one judging them!

*Sadly Dan has left the show likely for personal reasons so there are now 17 competing.

*Roadtrip! Off to Vegas and all that glitz and glam.

*Team challenge: Cooking for 101 entertainers. But Stephen, who had the best dish last week, gets to pick his team or the protein. He opts for making the dream team and deceives Shelly into thinking he is not that much interested in lobster(which he is). Shelly opts for chicken while Stephen selects everyone she wanted. So Stephen gets not only the team he wanted but lobster as well.

Cooked Lobster Photo: Junior Libby (
Cooked Lobster
Photo: Junior Libby (

*Team Red (Stephen)
The team is well organized as Stephen tells them what he needs done. And he is no distant leader either constantly checking on the progress of those around him. Tommy is the one who causes the most problems. First, he plates the smashed potatoes badly. Second, he is overcooking the potatoes in the skillet. He is under the delusion that people want burnt potatoes on their plates. Really Tommy? Sorry, do not buy it when he says that is how he learned it. Perhaps he confused smashed with another type of potato dish sometimes served with breakfast. I doubt it as he is too smart for that. After Gordon threatens to toss Tommy out, Stephen relegates him to pot washing. Team Red gets their plates while the other team is ponderously slow.

Team Blue (Shelly)
As they say, it was all balls up! First off she decides to a chicken roulade. Now that requires you pound the chicken, put a filling in it, wrap it up, and cook it. That is a lot of prep work for a dish that will be served for 101 people in an hour. Derrick tries to point out this is unfeasible but shot down. Others on the team echo that sentiment as well. Things go from bad to worse as was predicted when they cannot get one dish out to the waiting people while Team Red is doing it. There was a mutiny by consent as Derrick took control, got everyone fired up, and getting dishes out. It was remarkable to watch and shows why he is someone that may go far in this show. The result was that the team got dishes out and even better got within three points of the win. Very good considering the long odds against it. Team Blue loses and must face the dreaded pressure test.

Dreaded Pressure Test
*What is worse is not just one pressure test but two!

*Shelly was given immunity from taking the pressure test but could save three. Why? This is totally inexplicable to save her. Her team was a failure and at the least she ought to have been in the trenches or forced to save herself (as they have done in the past). This shows again how they try to manipulate tension for ratings (not uncommon by the way). They (the producers )know that the survivors will really dislike Shelly leading to some interesting confrontations down the road.

*Shelley thinks she was thrown under the bus when her team criticizes her leadership. It is like this gal never had anyone critique her before. She decides to send all the strong ones (the most vocal about her lack of leadership)into the elimination challenge while saving ones who were the weakest (like Hetal). Shelly is hoping that Derrick will be sent home.

Photo: Fox
Photo: Fox

*New York Strip Steak is what they are cooking for just one judge: Gordon. And at his own steak house in Sin City. All four get busy cooking their steaks and they are presented to Gordon without knowing who cooked what. Both Claudia and Derrick cooked the best medium rare steaks and head up to the balcony to Shelly’s dismay. Meanwhile Ailsa and Christopher face cooking filet mignon rare (which does not mean raw!). A beautiful piece of meat that must be treated with the respect it deserves. Ailsa though ends up losing the challenge and heads home.

*A couple of things about this episode. First, we saw the difference between firm and weak leadership styles. Second, choosing the right dish to prepare under the time constraints makes all the difference. Third, when a team member is doing sub-par work you do not keep them there. Fourth, when things are really going bad it is okay for another team member to step up and take charge. Derrick saved them from an even worse defeat for doing this. Fifth, leaders have to accept criticism.

*Tommy was a disappointment here. He whined about how they (Stephen and Gordon)got in his face about his presentation and cooking. He will not last long on this show if he continues in this manner. Hetal will have a problem (perhaps several down the road)not because she is vegetarian but because it may require handling meat from cows. Eating any part of the cow is verboten in India and with faithful Hindus. Amanda has a different problem as that Muslims do not eat pork. And pork usually shows up on the show. It might be an option to choose from (which means she can avoid it). My guess is it will be an option rather than a requirement to avoid being criticized for being insensitive to Muslims.

Masterchef Retro-Christine Ha’s Apple Pie

Season three of Masterchef had perhaps the most unique contestant ever-Christina Ha. Christine is legally blind and during the show needed an assistant to tell her where things were. She ultimately won the title and to this day it is remarkable to go back and see some of the things she pulled off. Like this apple pie. She was flustered and thought she was doomed (in fact it was the guy who decided to put cheddar cheese on top of his pie).

Look for Masterchef cookbooks on Amazon.

Masterchef US, Season 6, Episode 5: Crabs and Corn

*19 cheftestants remain as they enter the Masterchef kitchen. They face live crabs in their mystery box. For the elimination challenge, corn is on the menu but they must cook it either in a savory or sweet dish. Choosing the wrong type of corn sends yet another hopeful home.

Dungeness crab Photo: Public Domain (U.S.Fish & Wildlife Service)
Dungeness crab
Photo: Public Domain (U.S.Fish & Wildlife Service)

*The Mystery Box has lots of crabs–big ones like the Dungeness and small ones such as Blue. The small ones seem more active. You can tell by how most of them react to live seafood they have never worked with them before probably getting crabmeat at the store or having it prepared in a restaurant. Interesting fact: not all crabs live in the water. Some spend their entire lives on land such as the Coconut Crab. And yes it does eat coconuts (one the ground that is, it does not climb up to get them!)

*Olivia does the wise thing rather than flay about and asks Gordon for his advice on how to properly dispatch one. I think she is the first person to actually do that. She is initially fearful of the crabs since they look like giant bugs. Fortunately she conquers her fears and her dish–Crab Benedict–is one of the top three. Joining her are Amanda with her Seattle inspired Dungeness crab cakes and Jesse with his Crab Dumpling in a spicy broth. Olivia’s is the best presentation of them all but Jesse wins the round

*Time once again for the Magic Mystery Tour time on Masterchef. What is inside that box? It glows mysteriously when opened giving it that Steven Spielberg effect from one of the Indiana Jones movies (or perhaps something extra-terrestrial). No trip to the pantry needed today. The cheftestants will not learn what the secret ingredient is until they get to the pantry. And the entry ticket is shopping cart from Jesse. He selects who gets to cook it savory or sweet.

Photo: Fox
Photo: Fox

*The cheftestants learn they are cooking corn. Rows of corn, bags of popcorn, and even sickly sweet corn candy as well. And yes there is also the canned version as well (an evil temptation). Savory is certainly easier than sweet in this Elimination Round. In corn challenges of the past, the sweet ones have a greater chance of going wrong.

*Corn (maize) is from the Americas and the Spanish brought it back to Europe. It is one of the most widely grown crops in the Americas. And used for a lot of things. Although wheat flour is used in northern Mexico and in the U.S border areas, corn is the primary bread in Central and South America. It can also be made into a sugar (corn syrup) and even a biofuel.

*When a judge offers polite advice, it is wise to listen to it. Justin was working on a concoction that involved profiteroles, sweet caramel corn, and even candy corn. Christine said it needed more salt but Justin seemed oblivious to the comment. Graham ominously wonders if he is on his last moments in the kitchen. The gong of  doom is sounding loudly here. It does also for Veronica who is trying a corn crème brulee.

*Most of the dishes tasted passed muster. The two winners, Shelley and Stephen have the top two dishes. Shelley brought up some delicious Shrimp Tacos that wowed the judges. Stephen, who seriously needs to control that inner voice but otherwise a good guy, had Corn Tamales with Chorizo that wowed the judges as well.

*Charlie, being from New Orleans, ought to have nailed the shrimp and corn grits. It was a total fail. The shrimp was done fine but the grits were underdone. Gordon made an unfortunate comment about grits that got bleeped.

*Veronica came up like she was serving the best dish in the course. Her corn crème brulee looked nicely toasted on the outside but when Christine dug into it, it did not look creamy. I think she really had to control herself considering how bad it must have tasted. It had been cooked at too high a heat and too much fat. There was nothing good to say about it except she nailed the crackled look it was supposed to have.

*Justin. Well this was predictable. His profiteroles were underdone, it was sweet on sweet but worse he used canned corn. In a room full of fresh corn he choose the canned.  As the Germans say, dummkopf!  No surprise he was on the bottom with Veronica and Charlie. Charlie’s saving grace is that his shrimp was cooked right, so he got sent back to his station. And if you have a choice between someone who at least tried and failed with a fresh corn dish versus someone with raw pastry and canned corn, it was not hard to say as Jesse noted who should go home. And so Justin ends up leaving Masterchef.

*This goes back to a cardinal rule of reality food competition. Unless you are specifically told to use a canned product, if the fresh one is available use that. Most trained chefs have good palates and are going to tell the difference in flavor between fresh and canned. Charlie made the mistake of treating his corn grits as an add-on rather than as a centerpiece and it suffered. And Veronica overthought her dish and her overconfidence blinded her to its defects.

Next week: Las Vegas. Hopefully we will not have an elimination challenge on a rooftop again.

MasterChef US Season 6, Episode 4:Knott’s Berry Farm and Cinnamon Buns

20 cheftestants remain and face their first team challenge at Knott’s Berry Farm. The losers face the dreaded pressure test where cinnamon buns determine their fate.

*Knott’s Berry Farm is a nice place for the team challenge. It is considered one of the earliest theme parks in the country as it started in the 1950’s before House of Mouse was built. Much has changed along with the rides and attractions. In addition to the famous chicken restaurant, T.G.I. Fridays and Cinnabon are there as well. But today Masterchef is holding food court serving up hamburgers with onion rings and coleslaw, and fish and chips.

*People sort themselves on their own into teams but the judges decide who are the team captains. Team Blue is Darah and Team Red Kerry. Darah works in a theme park and Kerry is a human relations department manager. Fire up the grill and get the fryer going.

*This is not a real difficult task but requires organization to pull off right. And both teams have problems. Team Red wants to do three sauces but Gordon nixes that. Later though Kerry screws up by not having onion rings (he got too busy) so they have to race to get them done.

Photo: Fox
Photo: Fox

*Team Blue is disorganized because Darah is not a good leader. Katrina is doing the batter for both onion rings and fish. Tommy is concerned she is moving too slow but she is the only one doing both. Two problems emerge. One is that fish are not being cooked and later because the batter is too thick they are coming out raw.  Gordon threatens to shut down Team Blue if they have another major problem.

*The ten second rule meant if you did not have the food ready for them, they got an empty basket. Both teams had problems but Team Blue came up short in the end. Even though comments were suggesting many liked their food better, too few were able to cast their vote for them. They got empty blue paper lined baskets and the paper ended up blowing around Knott’s Berry Farm for the rest of the day.

*Everyone reassembles the next day for the Dreaded Elimination Challenge. Team Blue stands there and the inevitable question to Darah is what went wrong. She did not answer that question and instead talked up individual team accomplishments. Oops. Talk about clueless about the concept here. The judges want to know what YOU did wrong.

*Well Tommy sure does not like Katrina much. He said the problem was lack of communication and through some dog poo at Katrina. I hardly think she was the problem on this team (she was one of the harder workers there). Derrick was never asked but in the confessional did not think much of Darah.

*Darah has the option to save up to five people and her choices mostly puzzle the judges. She does not save either Katrina or Derrick who did a lot of the work. Hetal declines the save saying she belonged there and offers her spot to Derrick (who did not belong there). Darah did not save herself leaving Katrina, Olivia, Hetal, and Tommy to join her in the Dreaded Pressure Test.

Cinnamon roll buns fresh from the oven. Photo:Eric Petruno
Cinnamon roll buns fresh from the oven.
Photo:Eric Petruno

*Cinnamon Roll. Ah, the lure of the cinnamon roll.  Fragrant and gooey deliciousness when done right. They are a joy to eat. But like all pastries you have to pay attention to the rules about rolling out the dough and shaping it right. You also have to get the spice mixture right and a topping that goes with rather than fights the pastry. And since this is from scratch, you have no where to hide. The cinnamon roll is unforgiving. Fortunately most of them measure up but the competition was keen.

*Hetal was the real surprise here. She produced a batch that was delicious, evoked memories of India for Gordon (he did a series of shows where he travels through India to learn their food), and got an additional accolade. Gordon thinks she has a future in baking. I think if she plays her cards right she will go far not only on the show but much further.

*Katrina was upset by being in the pressure test. Making it worse was Tommy. Tommy said some rude comments during the preparation time. But Katrina had the last laugh. Tommy really dislikes her and likely we will see more of it.

*Both Katrina and Olivia passed muster with the judges with some minor criticisms here and there. They were not in danger of going home.

*Tommy. Where to begin with this guy? Well he reminds one of that guy a few years back that decided that madness came before genius and produced artistic dishes that totally fell flat with the judges. Tommy decided to do the same and produced the most hideous looking cinnamon buns ever on national television. They may have tasted okay, as Gordon noted, but you would not want to ever see those buns in the light of day. I think they would make a splendid Haunted House scary meal dish.

*Alas poor Darah. She really messed it up big time. The anise overpowered the buns and worse, they were raw. There was nothing good to say about these buns and so she got the chop in the end leaving Tommy to muse as he walked back that Katrina was still in the game.

*This episode showed us a lot of things. Leading a kitchen brigade requires communication and the ability to watch how things are going. You have to be organized otherwise customers ending up waiting too long for food or miscues end up with dishes not done right.

Next week: Crabs. How will they deal with live crabs? Never show fear and watch out for the pincers. They are not giant mutant crabs! 🙂