“Lift carefully and watch your fingers,” Gordon Ramsay advises the MasterChef contestants as they begin their mystery box challenge tonight. Away come the boxes to reveal mounds of moving crab, and out come the shrieks from those home cooks who have never worked with live shellfish. Among them, Hetal, an Indian who is vegetarian, and Olivia, the fashion stylist who says all crustaceans remind her of “giant bugs and aliens. So gross.”
Hetal dives right in and uses the blue crab to begin a tomato curry and rice. Olivia is not so quick to start. She flags Gordon down and peppers him with questions such as, “where is the head?” and, “where is the meat?” Gordon is supremely calm and helps her out. With that, and with a little encouragement from Hetal, Olivia apologizes to the crab before putting him in the pot.
We learn there are two gents from Louisiana in the contest, both of whom are huge seafood aficionados. Charlie, from New Orleans, tells Christina Tosi he eats crab three times a week, laughing, “usually I stink for the rest of the day.” His pan-seared blue crab cake and hollandaise sauce will be going up against Jesse, a Baton Rouge native, and his crab dumplings and fish stock soup with a side salad.
The three standout dishes are called to the front. The first is Amanda’s stunning trio of crab cakes, with a mango and arugula salad and avocado cream sauce. She opted for the dungeness crab and her cakes look freaking amazing; soft, moist, and overflowing with tender meat. Gordon declares them delicious, but maybe she could’ve had a bit more apple to back up the sweetness.
The second hopeful is Olivia, who’s struggled a bit up to now. “Everything I’ve made has been ugly, and I’m excited to show people I’m a stylist for a reason. Tonight, I took something disgusting and made it gorgeous,” she tells us. Indeed she has. Her crab cake benedict with a roasted asparagus bridge atop looks marvelous. I would inhale this for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Graham, Gordon, and Christina agree, declaring it her best work yet and you can actually see Olivia’s self esteem soar.
The final top dish is Jesse’s dumpling soup with a small pile of salad, which looks bland, all yellow with a sprinkle of green. The soup looks bland, too; just beige on beige. However, Christina quickly tastes pork fat in the soup, leading Jesse to reveal the first ingredient was peppercorn bacon. I now love him and this soup. As does Christina. “The bacon was a very smart choice,” she praises. The salad was good, she thinks, but he could’ve forgone it as the soup stands on its own. Gordon’s turn to taste and he spices things up, asking Jesse, “Do you have a girlfriend?” He does. “And was the first thing you gave her crabs?” Gordon retorts. Juvenile sexually-transmitted disease jokes aside, Gordo loves the taste and tells Jesse he must cook on this level every time he’s in the kitchen.
The winner is an elated Jesse. “I have all the power. I’m like the Wizard of Oz right now,” he grins. His advantage for winning won’t be revealed in the pantry, but right out in the open. The fate of his fellow contestants lies in his hands, Gordon says. “Who would you send home right now?” asks Graham. Wait, they’re just letting this guy kick people out?! Jesse smiles and rubs his palms together gleefully like a Dr. Evil about to feed someone to a pack of sharks with lasers. Jesse chooses Stephen, but Stephen doesn’t have to leave. The judges are just curious. Lame.
Graham brings out a box and announces that there’s a special, awe-inspiring ingredient inside. “A gift from mother nature.” The box is either gold-lined or back light, as there’s a bright glow that is cast over the faces of the judges. “It’s like a scene out of Pulp Fiction with this box,” says Derrick, my favorite rocker contestant who owns nary a sleeved shirt. “Stephen, what do you think is in this box?” Gordon inquires. “My f—ing destiny,” comes the answer.
No one will know what the ingredient is until they’re in the pantry, so here comes the twist. If Jesse hands a contestant a regular shopping basket, they’ll be using the ingredient to craft a savory dish; if it’s a basket with a bow, a sweet dish. The judges tap the box again and say that it could be game over for those who need to use this mystery thing to make dessert.
NEXT: Basketful of surprises