It’s the 100th episode of MasterChef, so the 14 remaining contestants are trotted out to a vineyard on a cliff somewhere in Southern California to celebrate… by cooking 50 dishes for culinary luminaries. For this team challenge, the judges are looking for an appetizer, featuring oysters and caviar, and one entree starring duck breast. Sounds simple enough, right? The judges wax poetic about “history in the making” and “stunning” this and “amazing” that before we can get down to team selection.
The captains, Nick and Olivia, waste no time in picking the star players, though some of those players are less than enthused by their captains. Namely Derrick, who has worn not one but TWO sets of sleeves for this fine occasion (a shirt and a jacket). However, he’s sleeveless during his confessional when he craps all over Olivia for choosing him, saying she’s not confident enough to lead. Tommy’s the last chef chosen, which reminds him of gym class all over again. Olivia takes him, though she’s concerned because he does “stupid things” and he “overcomplicates things.” Like his wardrobe for today: a puffy pirate shirt with a ruffled front and a shiny metal jacket. This is a cooking contest, not a Liberace impersonator competition.
Off the two teams go and Nick’s off to a strong start, keeping things simple for his Blue Team. Olivia opts to do precisely the opposite, droning on and on about what each dish will entail. She wants to smoke the oysters, something Derrick thinks is unnecessary when a simple fry will be faster and perhaps tastier. Derrick’s overruled and shakes his head while Katrina looks on, confused. I’m confused by her headband full of large yellow flowers. Anyway, Derrick thinks his second challenge today will be contending with Olivia, whom he now mocks by doing his best Valley Girl accent, which is passable at best.
The cooking begins and the smoked oysters are already proving to be too much for the Red Team, especially for everyone’s tear ducts. The plumes are forcing Olivia to squint, but not as bad as Christopher, who is manning the smoking station. There’s now a debate as to how long it takes to actually smoke an oyster. Tommy, who says he’s part Creole, thus possessing extra knowledge about the shellfish, says they should only be kissed by the smoke, whereas Christopher and Olivia think six minutes are necessary to fully cook the little buggers. Gordon Ramsay comes over to poke at them with an all-knowing finger, before cursing a whole bunch. Turns out Tommy and his gaudy statement necklace are right when they lean in to tell us “I told you so.” These oysters are overcooked “to death,” per Gordon. Christopher and Olivia wince and the Great Oyster Disaster of 2015 means now they can only serve two per plate instead of three, meaning everything else must be super on-point, says Olivia.
Concerned Olivia and her motley crew are going to mess up their special day, the judges demand to see the Red Team’s appetizer. Smart decision, guys. Olivia meekly offers a plate with what looks like bits of chewed up sock on it, topped with a few sprigs of grass. It’s so small and pitiful, I actually leaned toward my screen to see if I’m missing something. I’ve seen minimal food presentations before, but this puppy takes the cake. You can tell Olivia knows it’s bad by the fear and trepidation in her shaky voice. Graham Elliot thinks this should be garnish atop the plate, not the entirety of the plate. Gordon commands the Red Team to start over, barking that this will not do at all. At this condemnation, you can see the panic rising in Olivia.
While Olivia et al head back to the drawing board, Nick’s Blue Team is already plating beautiful butter poached oysters with a cucumber and apple pickle and a caviar vinaigrette. It looks simple, fresh, and classy, all of the hallmarks the judges were seeking. The Red Team revamps everything and comes back with a smoked oyster and caviar salad, essentially, rounded out by a heap of fennel and grapefruit. It looks like it was thrown together in the four minutes that it actually was, but it’s better than an empty plate, I suppose. Olivia has no plating process, instead opting for sheer chaos at the pass, so Derrick steps in while Graham bellows at them to get moving.
Feedback from the guests starts coming in: The Blue Team could’ve made the caviar more of a star, but it was really scrumptious; the Red Team has just given a salad when everyone thought they should’ve gotten a few simple, yet elevated bites. Whoops. Gordon calls Olivia over to tell her to her face how terrible her first dish was. Olivia knows and, on the verge of tears, blames Derrick for just taking over. Which isn’t quite fair since Derrick is the one who said not to smoke the damn things in the first place, madam. Gordon tells her to get it together for the mains.
And here’s where everything reverses. The Blue Team’s got a solid aroma coming from their ovens. The problem is the scent is that of burning plastic. Gordon fishes out a pan of carrots to find they’re completely burned. Charlie cops to not setting a timer as Gordon tosses this pile of orange and black goop into the trash. Without any additional carrots, they’ll need a new veggie ASAP, says Nick. They end up putting forth a Moroccan spiced duck with roasted fennel and forbidden rice, which looks just okay, but really pales in comparison to what’s coming out of the Red kitchen. Olivia’s crew has made a fantastic looking duck braised in ginger butter, over a cauliflower puree with roasted (but not burned) carrots. It’s a far prettier plate, and Graham agrees, saying he’d want to be on the Red Team right now.
NEXT: Oh how the tables have turned…