If you’ve ever wondered what Gordon Ramsay and Graham Elliot would look like as cowboys, well, the first five minutes of tonight’s MasterChef will sate your curiosity. And it ain’t purty, pardner. Up through an open plain they cruise, standing in the back of a vintage pickup piloted by Christina Tosi, who got the better end of this deal because that thing looks awesome to drive. Down they hop, in their ten-gallon hats and boots, looking like bad extras in a horrible B-western flick. Tommy “can’t believe what the judges are wearing,” but he’s wearing a shirt and tie made from some curtains your mom bought back in 1984. Pot? It’s kettle.
Anyway, it’s team challenge day for the top 10 and they have to cook a steak, sauce, and two sides for “101 cowboys and ranchers,” which sounds like a crummy sequel in Disney’s “Dalmatian” franchise. The cowboys vote on the grub and the losers head to the “slaughterhouse” for a pressure test. If you’re already groaning at the cowboy puns, it just gets worse. Hetal and Katrina won last week’s challenge, so they’re captains and can pick their teams. Except there’s a twist: each will pick the other’s team. Nick explains: “It’s reverse kickball. You want to get picked last, for once.” Hetal goes first, calling Claudia inconsistent and ships her over to Katrina. Katrina burdens Hetal with Shelly. And so it goes until Derrick and Stephen are the only two left as they are the strongest.
Derrick is Team Katrina, and Hetal gives him to her because Stephen “knows his protein stations” and remember: Hetal’s a vegetarian! She doesn’t know steak!! At all!!! OMG!!!!!!!! Katrina’s oddly confident for a woman who has spent a significant amount of airtime either crying or second guessing herself. There’s another little twist in that Hetal can pick the cut of beef (NY strip or hanger) and she lets Stephen pick hanger for superior flavor. Katrina smiles because she thinks the strip is like getting “an extra pot of gold.”
In the kitchens in the field, both teams get their menus going. There’s an argument on Hetal’s red team between Shelly and Olivia over the sauce, with Shelly pushing for barbecue and Olivia for a chimichurri. Olivia wins and gets a sizable eye-roll from Shelly. Shelly also doesn’t think cowboys want the grilled zucchini that Hetal’s demanding, but “hopefully it’ll work.” I mean, let the woman who dominates the world of vegetables select the vegetables, Shelly. In Katrina’s blue kitchen, she’s so decisive, I’m wondering if someone has kidnapped the Katrina we know and replaced her with this woman. She barks out the menu, which needs a bit of help, given she’s got a demi glace on there, but, again, hopefully it’ll work.
In the peanut gallery, the judges debate about who’ll fare better this competition. Gordon says Katrina communicates well, so she’ll be a good leader. So far, he’s right. She’s yet to weep, even when slicing onions. Gordon checks in with Hetal and has a staunch belief that “grilled veggies are for ladies who lunch, not cowboys.” Take THAT, ladies who lunch and/or grilled veggies. The disses keep a-comin’: “We’re feeding the cowboys, not the cows.” He tells Hetal to rethink it, which she does, decides there’s no time to break down another veggie and lands on…sauteed zucchini. “Make it manly,” Hetal tells Olivia, asking her to add some “flavor.” Oh boy. Red team, y’all are screwed.
In the shocker of the season, Katrina’s still leading well, though Gordon tells her to rethink the demi glace, since this is not a wedding reception. As for her sweet potato mash, “get some heat in there. Sweet potatoes aren’t a cowboy’s favorite.” Gordon: how the hell do you know what cowboys prefer in terms of tubers? Katrina takes his feedback in stride, whips around, and corrects course within seconds. Meanwhile, Hetal looks like she’s on the verge of a breakdown. Who’d have thought Hetal would break before Katrina??
Stephen’s manning the red team’s grill, which is the main reason Hetal wanted him, so it’s a head scratcher when Hetal sends Christopher to help Stephen. It’s equally shocking to Christopher and Stephen. Chris knows Stephen doesn’t like him; Stephen says, “Chris talks too much. The first thing he touched was wrong. I don’t have time to teach people how to cook meat. He should go scrub dishes.” Straightforward Stephen FTW. Nick and Derrick are holding it down on the blue team’s grill, though the coals are so hot, “it feels like my skin is burning off,” says Derrick. Is that what happened to your sleeves? Did they melt away?
The cowboys ride up over the range, and Tommy gives us a comment about wanting some chaps with fringe. Hey, FOX. You don’t always have to have the gay guy commenting about clothes. You can let him talk about food, too. The cowboys ride closer and we now see half are women. So what’s all this about being manly and insinuating vegetables won’t be appreciated by these people because they’re not “ladies”…when half of them, in fact, are ladies. I’m sure those ladies eat lunch, Gordon.
Five minutes before plating and Hetal’s zucchini isn’t done because the pans aren’t hot. Wait, Hetal. You’re a vegetarian who can’t get zucchini cooked? Get it together, madam. Olivia’s struggling to get this watery veggie done enough, but they’re late and the first batch of guests ambles away from the red kitchen with empty plates, meaning lost votes. Meanwhile, Katrina’s formed a solid plating line and dishes are flying out of the blue kitchen. I repeat: Katrina’s. Doing. Well. Her strip with fire-roasted red pepper sauce and sweet potato mash and green beans looks really yummy, too.
NEXT: Stephen cracks during the pressure test. [pagebreak]
Voting begins (via branding a wall with a red or blue mark because cowboys!) and the feedback we’re treated to has the blue team in front, though a few people love the red team’s zucchini. Hetal’s crew finds their groove, but Katrina’s never left hers and has this service on lockdown. A cowboy wearing an oversized purple scarf to match his lilac shirt (no commentary from Tommy here?) is the last feller through and with that, votes are tallied. It’s a freaking landslide. By a margin of 50 votes, Katrina and her blue team are the winners, and two ranchers holding blue flags ride by on horseback in the background. Giddyup. Hetal thinks this loss is “God continuously punishing me for cooking beef.” Can you hear my eyes rolling?
Back in the studio kitchen, the red team files in for the pressure test, however one of the five will be saved. The lucky chef will be determined by the blue team. They pick Olivia, because they like her and think she’s a good team player, Nick explains. On to the challenge. Graham explains it’s a fruit tart, which means baking, which means Christina comes up and explains how to bake things for many minutes while I glaze over like the tart she’s cutting into. Of this dessert, I do catch her saying, “You won’t see this beauty on a cattle ranch.” Why not? Cowboys don’t appreciate fruit tarts? Gordon and Christina: You’re aware cowboys are normal human beings who like the same culinary things as you and I, correct?
Christopher, Shelly, Hetal, and first-time pressure-tested Stephen head to their stations. Hetal’s excited because she’s a baker and because there’s no meat involved. Stephen’s glad no one saved him, so he doesn’t have to feel bad when he “sends your ass home,” he tells the blue team in the rafters. Graham is worried about Shelly and her Caribbean influence popping up in this tart, rightfully so. When Christina drops by her station, Shelly admitted she was thinking about mango and coconut, but decided on berry and chocolate. Wise choice. Hetal can’t resist sneaking some Indian flair into her tart via some cardamom.
Then Gordon visits Stephen and they do their weird thing with the aggressive energy and shouting at each other with their faces inches apart. Every time this happens, I picture each of them as an English bulldog, just getting snout to snout and barking at each other, slobber flying everywhere, despite their owners trying to yank them apart. During Stephen’s nonsensical yelling, he includes a slight to Tommy, which perplexes both Tommy and myself. What’d Tommy do to you, Stephen?
Gordon walks away, saying, “I don’t give a f— what you are; I want you to cook your heart out and make this the best tart.” Back with Christina and Graham, Gordon voices his concern about Stephen cracking. Gordon’s right, on more than one level. First Stephen’s crust cracks as he transfers the tart to the pedestal, then he collapses on the floor into the fetal position and begins crying. Mmkay then. He pulls it together and everyone brings forth their tarts in time.
Stephen’s is up first. Christina calls out the loose cream and cracked crust, but says the flavor is delicious. Stephen only rudely snaps at her once (“This was sickening. That’s how I feel right now, okay?!”) and seems to chill when she announces he nailed the taste. Shelly’s (oddly chocolate-less) offering is a hit with Graham, despite a sporadic glaze and slightly undercooked shell. Christopher’s strawberry, blueberry, mint, and lemon number looks great, and has a nice crunch on the pastry, but the cream didn’t set and it’s runny. “It tastes well, but have you nailed it? No,” says Gordon. Finally, Hetal, who brings up something you’d see at Whole Foods for one bajillion dollars. It’s visually stunning, to steal Christina’s compliment, and the flavor’s marvelous. With that, the judges hit the back room to confer.
We hear from Olivia that this is a tough one as there’s no clear, major defining mistake. None of them got all the components right, but no one really duffed it either. Shelly and Hetal are sent upstairs, safe. Stephen and Christopher stand there and the judges randomly reconvene again while Christopher cries. Get it together, guy. Gordon comes back. “There’s no easy way around this. Both of you take off your aprons.” What? WHAT? “And go upstairs because this was too close to call and you’re both saved.” Wait, how was this too close to call when literally two minutes ago, Gordon declared that Christopher didn’t nail it? Why wasn’t he sent home? This outcome is really lame.
Who would you have sent home? What did you think about Katrina’s performance? Who would you rather go to a hoedown with: Gordon, Graham, or Christina?