MasterChef

MasterChef: Finale

Guys, I wasn’t ready for MasterChef to end!  I wasn’t ready for the finale.  This week we got two episodes: the semi-finals, and the final showdown.  Let’s recap, shall we?

Stephen, Derrick, and Claudia are tasked with serving up a beautiful dish… well, times thirty.  Gordon, Graham, and Christina invite 10 of their most respected culinary team members to taste these dishes.  The best of the three wins his or her way straight to the finale.  Two remaining two face off for that last spot.

To accomplish this task, they each are assigned a sous chef: Stephen gets Tommy, Claudia gets Katrina, and Derrick gets Hetal.  Here’s what they make:

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The winner with the most refined dish is DERRICK!  I am so happy to see my frontrunner go straight to the finale.  Now Stephen and Claudia face off with three dishes: a cheese soufflé, steak frites, and a raspberry coulis-filled panna cotta.

As much as I wanted this Derrick/Stephen showdown, even I must admit Claudia dishes looked better.  They tasted better too, and it’s Claudia vs. Derrick in the final. (more…)

MasterChef: Final Four

As soon as this week’s MasterChef started, I was nervous.  Gordon, Graham, and Christina announced that it would be a team challenge.  Who picks the teams?  Last week’s winner, Nick, of course.  He picks Claudia, putting Stephen and Derrick on the same team again.  The winning team goes straight through to the semi final.  The losing faces off in a pressure test.  I’m nervous, because ALL I want is Stephen and Derrick in the finals, and if they don’t win… ahh!

Three ingredient-filled boxes are wheeled out, one with each judges’ name on it.  All three will feature in the episode, but for now, we’re just dealing with Gordon’s and Graham’s.  Inside are signature ingredients for each chef.  These are what the home cooks are to use to create an appetizer and an entreé.  Gordon and Graham each made about 30 to dishes to inspire them.  Christina hands out two fortune cookies to see which team gets which box.  The Blue Team of Stephen and Derrick gets Gordon’s.  The Red Team of Claudia and Nick gets Graham’s.

It’s nerve-wracking and dysfunctional, but here’s what they come up with:

Red's appetizer

Red’s appetizer

Blue's appetizer

Blue’s appetizer

Red's entreé

Red’s entreé

Blue's entreé

Blue’s entreé

AND THE BLUE TEAM WINS.  All my fears are gone.  I don’t even care who the third is.  (I’m actually cheering on Claudia.)

The pressure test is a dessert from Christina’s box.  She also brings out a beautiful dessert table for inspiration.  She asks Nick and Claudia which they think the most difficult is.  Nick points of macaroons and the croque en bouche.  Claudia thinks the layered cheesecake or the pavlova.  Christina has other thoughts: her chocolate malt layer cake.  She gives them her basic recipe and 90 mins to tackle this cake it takes months to master.  I’m invested again.

Derrick yelling “start decorating!” at Claudia about sums up my feelings while watching this.

Claudia’s cake looks a mess, but Christina says, it’s the inside that counts.  Christina marvels at how light and fluffy her cake is.  Graham notes her proportions are off, though.

Nick’s pretty cake is up next.  Christina thinks the cake is a bit short and Nick admits he messed with the proportions, but gosh do those layers look lovely!  It’s all in the taste, though.  Christina takes a bite and walks away without saying anything.  Back with Graham and Gordon, she whispers that there’s something not quite right about the cake.  Gordon tells us: it’s too sweet because of the changed proportions.

So who goes home?!  Taste wins in the end: Nick goes home, and Claudia’s in the semi finals.

WOW what an episode.  What did you guys think?!

MasterChef: Magical Five

Gordon calls the home cooks the magical five, then proceeds to say “magical” at least two additional times throughout the episode.  Interesting.

It’s kind of a Mystery Box Challenge for these top five, but when each lifts their box from their randomly selected work station, the discover a single ingredient and a different one for each home cook.  Katrina has a single pear.  Claudia has a single tomato.  Stephen has a sing portabella mushroom.  Nick has a big piece of chocolate.  Derrick has a wedge of blue cheese.  Using a staple pantry basket, the home cooks must create a MasterChef quality dish highlighting their ingredient.  Top three:

Stephen, who used mushrooms five ways in this preparation. The urban gardener thrived in this challenge.

Stephen, who used mushrooms five ways in this preparation. The urban gardener thrived in this challenge.

Claudia, who dreamed about tomatoes and this moment the night before.

Claudia, who dreamed about tomatoes and this moment the night before.

Derrick, who hates blue cheese, but used childhood inspiration to make this dish.

Derrick, who hates blue cheese, but used childhood inspiration to make this dish.

Claudia won her ticket into the top 4, proving that dreams come true!  She also got to gather a basket of 20 of her favorite ingredients for one of the home cooks to use.  One basket but four home cooks up for the challenge begs for some help.  In comes Courtney, last season’s winner, who I cried tears of joy for when she took the MasterChef title, with her upscale dessert basket.  In comes Luca, the winner of the season prior who I also cheered on to victory, with his Italian basket.  In comes Christine Ha, the winner of the season before that and before I watched this show.  I NEED to see her season because this woman literally blows me away.  She brings an Asian basket into the mix.

Claudia gets to assign these baskets.  She gives her Mexican basket to Nick, the Asian basket to Stephen, the least-intimidating Italian basket to Katrina, and the hardest basket– the dessert– to Derrick.

Here’s what they make:

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Derrick may have been calm, cool, and collected, but his dessert was safe in the eyes of the judges.  Nick struggled a lot in his discomfort with the ingredients, but knocked it out of the park and joins Claudia on the balcony.  Stephen was just barely able to restrain himself with all these ingredients, but was successful.  It comes down to Katrina with her raw veal and Derrick’s safe dish.  Katrina is sent home.

I was so worried for Derrick, but he deserves that space in the top 4!  I’m gearing up for a final battle of Derrick v. Stephen… what do you think?!

MasterChef: Takeover

The top six home cooks were tested on the line this week!  The challenge was a restaurant takeover at legendary Japanese fusion restaurant, Chaya.  The executive chef here invented tuna tartare in that very kitchen… so no big deal or anything.

Last week’s winning team of Stephen and Derrick get to take their places as captains.  Stephen selects Nick to start his red team and Derrick picks Katrina for his blue.  Stephen selects Claudia, automatically assigning Hetal to Derrick’s team.

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Along with the tuna tartare appetizer, the teams are also preparing a wagyu beef appetizer.  For entrées, they are preparing venison, and a miso sea bass.

Blue starts off a little stronger, but both teams actually are able to prepare impressive and delicious appetizers to Chaya’s diners.  Entrées go well for blue right off the bat, but it takes red a while to get the timing down between the sea bass and the venison.  They get it down, but they receive comments about their food being oily.  Blue seems to fall apart at the end of service.  The fish gets burnt, the team slows down.

Gordon Ramsay gathers the home cooks back at the MasterChef kitchen to announce the winning team: Red!  That places Stephen, Claudia, and Nick on the balcony and safely in the top 5.  Derrick, Hetal, and Katrina now face the dreaded pressure test… and it’s a bad one.

Christina presents a beautiful ricotta-and-spinach-filled manicotti.  Graham presents a squid ink-striped farfalle with clams and scallops.  Gordon presents a single egg yolk-filled raviolo.  Each of these dishes looked harder than the last, and Derrick, Hetal, and Katrina must make all of them.  In an hour.

It’s a pretty mad dash.  Derrick looks fairly under control, as he’s been in a million pressure tests and is probably used to it by now.  He struggles most with the egg-yolk ravioli, making it almost too small and threatening to break that yolk before cooking.  Katrina’s biggest concern is the squid ink stripes in the farfalle.  She can’t figure out how to do them!  Hetal is in a panic.  At one point, she decides to only present two dishes, which would have been the worst idea ever.  Speaking of horrifying things she almost did– she almost put the manicotti filling in the ravioli!  Claudia caught her from above and told her that wasn’t right.

Christina tastes the manicotti from each home cook.  Derrick’s sauce could use a pinch more salt and his pasta a pinch more filling, but it’s good.  Katrina’s comes out great.  Hetal’s sauce is bland and her manicotti is also lacking some filling.

Graham tastes the squid ink farfalle.  Derrick’s seafood is cooked beautifully, but his past is a bit under.  Katrina couldn’t get the squid ink stripes in there, but her seafood is also well cooked.  Her pasta is undercooked too, though.  Hetal’s pasta is done nicely and cooked well, but her seafood has not a sear in sight!  Graham makes a face trying to eat it.

Gordon tastes the ravioli.  He makes a big deal about the raw sage Derrick put atop his, but the yolk oozes out of the perfectly cooked raviolo and all is well as far as I’m concerned.  Katrina should’ve been paying attention to Claudia/Hetal, because she put ricotta in her raviolo… other that that, it would’ve been good.  Hetal basically cooked her egg yolk, over-cooked and over-peppered.

Hetal is sent home.  I’m sad to see her go, as I’ve really enjoyed her!  She’s done such impressive cooking, especially for a vegetarian!  I’m throwing all of my support behind Derrick.  How awesome would it be to see him and Stephen in the finale?!  Thoughts?

MasterChef: Coffee & Tag Team

It’s the top 7 home cooks in the kitchen this week on MasterChef and they are trying to be the top 6.  What’s standing in between each of them an that distinction?  Oh, a Mystery Box Challenge.  They pull away their boxes to reveal a cup of coffee.  These Mystery Boxes have gotten very symbolic, eh?

The home cooks get an hour to create a dish out of something we are very used to drinking, but perhapys not eating.  Many of the home cooks wisely choose to skew sweet.  The top three dishes are:

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Derrick with his beautiful blue eyes and arms caramel latte panna cotta, Hetal with her chocolate coffee cake, and Nick with his vanilla coffee pound cake.  Nick wins the advantage for the episode and his first Mystery Box Challenge!

Despite the win, Nick isn’t choosing what his fellow home cooks have to make.  Gordon, Graham, and Christina have done the picking.  Nick gets the free pass into the top 6 and the ability to form the teams for the challenge.  They home cooks will work in pairs to recreate the summer appetizer platter put before them.  It includes chicken wings, shrimp skewers, chips and guac, sliders, pigs in blankets, and oh yeah, did we mention it’s the tag team challenge?  The home cooks will be tagging in and out to create one platter, together.  Nick is particularly strategic in forming the team of Stephen & Derrick, though they are perhaps the two strongest home cooks… they don’t enjoy each other.  Another strategic choice comes in the form of pairing Tommy & Katrina, who have bashed heads before.  This leaves Claudia and Hetal together.

As expected, Stephen & Derrick are an explosive combination.  Stephen does A LOT of frantic yelling and they make me nervous altogether.  It’s also stressful to watch Tommy & Katrina, where again we have Katrina yelling a lot at Tommy and Tommy telling her to stop yelling at him.  Things are relatively calm for Claudia & Hetal, who seem to work together fairly well.  When the final minutes tick away, we see Derrick complete his team’s platter at the buzzer and it looks perfect!

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Derrick & Stephen prove they are a force to be reckoned with, despite working against each other and Gordon mocking they way they yelled.  Despite the smooth sailing, Hetal and Claudia did not fair so well.  Their platter is a mess, and for some reason there are burnt mushrooms everywhere.  The shrimp is raw.  It’s a pretty similar story for Tommy and Katrina, for whom the judges can barely find anything positive to say.

Derrick & Stephen earns their safety easily, and pop up to the balcony as champions.  Hetal and Claudia have just a tiny advantage over Katrina & Tommy, and also find themselves safe.  Katrina gets saved, and Tommy is sent home.

He exits in supreme Tommy fashion, and it is glorious.  You do you, Tommy!  We’ll miss you.

So, at this point, I’m Team Derrick.  Who you all cheering for?!

MasterChef: Heads Up

The 8 remaining home cooks walk into the MasterChef kitchen this week and are greeted by two sets of large boxes: one labeled “vegetables” and one labelled “meat.”  This team challenge is captained by last week’s winners, Hetal and Tommy.  They’ll be cooking for 50 people dining in the MasterChef kitchen.

Tommy gets the first pick for his team and surprised everyone when he picks the urban gardener himself, Stephen.  Hetal snatches up Derrick for her pick.  Tommy then selects Katrina for his team.  Hetal picks Olivia.  Tommy takes Nick to complete the red team, and Claudia goes over to Hetal’s blue team.  Then they open the boxes.  Stephen is particularly happy at the beautiful plethora of fresh veggies.  Hetal is too, but she’s even happier when they open the meat box… which is empty!  That’s right, it’s the first ever MasterChef vegetarian challenge!

For the vegetarian diners, the team’s create:

IMG_8883Captain of the blue team, Hetal, has a definite direction.  She’s the vegetarian and should have this challenge on lock.  She goes Indian, but her team is unfamiliar with the flavors, thus can’t get enough direction from her.  The rice goes wrong, but the plate looks beautiful when all is said and done.

His teammates’ suggestions form the dish, Tommy finds his voice with the red team eventually.  (Read: he straight up tells Katrina to shut up.  And she does!)  Service goes particularly well with Tommy heading up plating, and he leads his team to victory! He even gets a smile out of Stephen when he plants a kiss on his cheek.

Bad day for the vegetarian.  And it’s about to get even worse.

The pressure test is the polar opposite.  Hetal, Derrick, Claudia, and Olivia find themselves in front of four different sized boxes.  Hetal’s reveals a sheep’s head, Derrick’s a halibut’s, Claudia’s a pig’s, and Olivia’s a horrifying cow’s.  Something from these heads must feature in each of their dishes.

This unlikely friendship was a supreme delight!

This unlikely friendship was a supreme delight!

Hetal is clearly uncomfortable, but with the lamb she’s actually gotten her best option.  She’s dissected a sheep’s head, she notes, but lamb is also pretty common in Indian cuisine, where she’s comfortable.  Derrick has probably the easiest one to work with, but with a short cooking time and Derrick’s tenacity, many expect him to overthink it.  He mentions smoked mango balls when the judges’ come asking, setting off Tommy and Stephen into snickers.  Claudia is beyond confident with pork being so important to her culturally.  She’s roasted whole pigs and has a plan of action.  Olivia is not a natural fit for a cow head, but she too formulates a plan and attempts something with the confidence of a MasterChef.

Here are the results:

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  • Hetal is always miraculously able to do wonderful things with meat, but Gordon thinks the other elements on the plate are confusing.
  • Derrick did overthink it, but the halibut is cooked perfectly.  The rest of plate’s components are doubled-up.
  • Claudia knocks it out of the park.  Christina just loves it.
  • Gordon notes Olivia’s dish looks like it came out of a bistro, but there’s no way of telling what the meat is… and that is the point of the challenge.

Olivia is sent packing.  It’s sad, because Olivia has been a pure joy to watch.  She’s grown a lot and made some very impressive dishes.  She leaves with more confidence than ever, saying the journey– the time spent with Gordon, Graham, and Christina– was really the reward.

Who do you think will be next to go?!

MasterChef: From Flambé to Chicken & Waffles

Something’s on fire in the MasterChef kitchen.  Lots of things, actually, and don’t worry; they’re supposed to be.  This week’s Mystery Box challenge revealed a selection of alcoholic liqueurs meant expressly from a flambé challenge!

Christina, Graham, and Gordon each demonstrate a flambé dish.  The nine remaining home cooks try their hands at the fiery creations.  The judges taste:

Tommy's bananas foster (my favorite!), Katrina's sea bass and seafood stew, and Stephen's sea bass wrapped in leeks.

Tommy’s bananas foster (my favorite!), Katrina’s sea bass and seafood stew, and Stephen’s sea bass wrapped in leeks.

Stephen wins three advantages!  First, he doesn’t have to cook.  Second, he takes control of the challenge.  He gets to chose between three Southern specialities: shrimp & grits, chicekn & waffles, and gumbo.  He picks chicken & waffles.  Each home cook has 60 minutes to prepare their take on the dish.  Oh, but then there’s that third advantage– one home cook will only get 30 minutes.  Stephen singles out Derrick, his toughest competitor, and continues the psychological warfare.

Here’s what the home cooks come up with:

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  • Derrick (top left) impresses the judges with a brave and good attempt, despite his 30 minute disadvantage.
  • Hetal (top center) is an expert at cooking things she doesn’t eat, huh?  Her Indian-inspired waffle ensnared Christina from the beginning, and her dish is absolutely delicious.
  • Claudia (top right) puts out a dish that is not pretty.  The waffle is, according to Chef Ramsay, embarrassing.
  • Nick (center left) doesn’t make much of an impression, but no news seems to be good news for him.
  • Katrina (center right) elicits a “miso disappointed” from Chef Ramsay.
  • Olivia (bottom left) is passable, but her dry chicken and okay waffle don’t do her many favors
  • Tommy (bottom center) is the superstar of the episode.  His chicken is incredible and his waffles are in another league.  Graham asks him to jar & sell his marmalade.
  • Shelly (bottom right) prepares something completely bland, and worse, her chicken is pink!

Tommy & Hetal are the top two and are set to be team captains next time around!

Shelly & Claudia are the bottom two.  Claudia’s never been in the bottom before, and even Chef Ramsay knows Shelly has gone as far as she can go in this competition.  She is eliminated.

So, I have a definite favorite pulling ahead… do you?!