Here we are, MasterChef fans. The final episode. Stephen, Derrick, and Claudia file in. Everyone wants to win, for a reason that has been hammered home via their personality plot points; Derrick thinks this is his culinary Grammy, Claudia for her daughter, and Stephen for his vegetables in his garden or something. $250K, a cookbook, and the MasterChef trophy are on the line here, and while the first two are great, the trophy seems like someone on the production team was like “yeah, an octagonal piece of clear plastic with the show’s logo etched in it oughta work!” Anyway, our trio’s first challenge is to cook for some culinary VIPs to determine who goes straight through to the finale.
Before we start, the contestants are issued sous chefs: Katrina, Hetal, and Tommy. Everyone’s excited about this except Stephen, who “is always worried about Tommy.” Stephen unrolls his apron to find out he’s paired with Tommy and makes his trademark guttural sounds. As a means of welcome, Stephen threatens to “beat you down” if Tommy gives him any trouble. How warm. Claudia is paired with Katrina, meaning Derrick and Hetal are matched. They must create a restaurant dish that represents their style, and with that, off they go. During the cook, Derrick and Hetal work well together, as do Claudia and Katrina, and, of course, Stephen barks at Tommy for nearly everything Tommy does.
When the judges arrive, Gordon Ramsay demands the chefs turn around to face 30 people. “These are the people who help achieve our food dreams,” he says. Each judge has invited 10 people from their culinary crews. Derrick and his final sleeveless shirt sum it up nicely: “You think cooking for one Gordon Ramsay is tough?! Try 10 of him! This is, by far, the most important dish of my life.” Everyone’s doing well, even Tommy with all of Stephen’s yelling, until it comes time to plate. Claudia’s forgotten to remove one octopus from a pressure cooker. The judges are DISMAYED at this, whereas I’m all, “Okay, she’s still got five minutes. She can pull this off.” It comes down to the wire with all three judges counting down in unison like this is New Year’s Eve, but everyone gets all their plates completed and are served.
Stephen’s pan seared scallops, with rutabaga, beets, and asparagus with a walnut sauce looks incredible. Claudia’s grilled octopus with frisee salad and oregano potatoes looks a little meh. Frisee salad? You’re in the semi final and that’s the best you could do, Claudia? Derrick has a miso black cod with daikon puree and sauteed bok choy and sauteed oyster mushrooms. It looks better than most cod dishes I’ve been served in high end eateries. The trio retreats to a lounge to wait while the culinary families nosh and we hear how hard they all worked and how badly they want this. (Duh on both accounts, though, right?)
With great flair and pomp, the 30 judges line the sides of the cook stations in the kitchen in two neat lines as the verdict is read. The victor, with 15 votes, is Derrick, who sprints down in sheer glee. Up to the balcony Derrick heads. He’ll sip champers and watch Stephen and Claudia battle it out for a spot in the finals. “There’s no time to be upset. I have to focus on beating Claudia so I can go beat Derrick,” says Stephen. And so we begin the final pressure test of the season.
It’s three pressure tests in one: a cheese souffle (“nearly impossible to nail,” Christina says), steak frites, and a panna cotta with raspberry coulis inside, which “can create a total disaster if not executed properly,” per Gordon. They’ve got one hour to make all of this, but Graham Elliot will help calm their nerves via… a Skype call with their friends around the world…? What the hell is this? I’d be looking for another sous chef or a time advantage or something. But both chefs appreciate this small gesture and are inspired to tackle the three technically challenging dishes. Off we set.
Stephen’s off to a strong start. Claudia’s struggling a bit particularly when she tosses the extra panna cotta she needed to use for a base for her dessert. Christina Tosi cannot believe this has happened. Stephen puts his souffles in too early, though he’s got a plan to rest them. Gordon tells him this is impossible, while pinching his nose in frustration. Why aren’t these two screaming at each other? Graham kindly reminds these two with 30 seconds to go that only one of them moves on, though I think they’re pretty aware of the stakes, homie.
To the tasting table we go. Claudia’s souffle has risen nicely while Stephen’s has deflated significantly, though he thinks it all comes down to taste. Christina seems to relish in not giving the contestants any feedback, choosing to whisper her thoughts to Graham and Gordon. (Claudia’s is fluffier; Stephen wins on seasoning.) Graham steps forth to taste the steak frites. Claudia’s got a perfectly medium rare cook on her meat, and a beautiful golden crisp on her fries. Visually hers looks great. Then again, Stephen’s looks equally sublime. He acknowledges that Claudia bested him on the souffle, but thinks he takes the steak.
NEXT: Will it be Claudia or Stephen? [pagebreak]
Last, the panna cotta. Claudia’s winning, if we’re going on looks. I say this because Stephen’s coulis has leaked out and is visible on the plate; a no-no. “It’s got a leak, but I know my flavors are there,” Stephen says. Gordon cuts in and gives a slight smirk at Claudia. Stephen’s bleeding dessert is “just oozing out” everywhere, says Gordon. Stephen’s flavor was spot on, but Claudia obscured the secret of the filling better. The winner is Claudia. Wow. I’m kinda floored Stephen’s done. I was hoping for a machismo showdown for a finale. But bravo to Claudia, who did clearly outcook Stephen. He’s gracious in defeat, and we learn Gordon wants to invest in Stephen’s future culinary ventures, particularly a food truck concept.
Onto the finale. We’re treated to the whole backstory of each contestant, though if you’ve been REMOTELY paying attention during the season, you’re already up to speed. Derrick plays the drums (we see a clip of precisely this, in which Derrick is wearing NO shirt whatsoever). And Claudia is a proud Latina, lower-income, single mom. Out come the finalists’ families, and it’s a tearjerker, hitting you right in the feels. They’re well-wished by those closest to them and, with that, we’re into the final; a three-course culinary masterpiece. “Make it the best of your lives,” they’re told, as they run into the kitchen, a live studio audience cheering loudly.
Up first, appetizers. Derrick’s doing a spiced pork belly with watermelon three ways: a sauce, a pickled rind, and infused squares. Claudia’s doing a tamale with Mexican truffles. Both feel confident during the judge check-ins; both seem to be crushing it. Claudia tastes her own food and essentially cries at how good it is, which is a first for Gordon. Overall, this is a very melodramatic affair, more so than perhaps is needed. But let’s see how the food turns out. Derrick’s plate looks fabulous, per usual. “I think I’ve got it,” Derrick says, and the judges seem to agree. Gordon raves about it; Graham wants to put it on a menu; Christina thinks he’s blown by the bar.
Claudia’s huitlacoche tamale with cactus salsa, avocado crema, and chicharron looks simple yet elevated. Gordon thinks it’s got a beauty and finesse; Graham loves the balance; Christina appreciates “the emotional moment you gave us with this food.” Mmkay. Onto entrees. Derrick’s whipped up an incredible pan seared venison, root vegetables, and a puff pastry latticed cage. The finesse that went into this plate is remarkable and it resonates with the judges, who fall all over themselves to praise him. Claudia’s made swordfish with Mexican squash and chickpeas. It looks great, but it’s missing the wow factor of Derrick’s dish, in terms of aesthetics. Gordon’s worried it’s going to be dry, but it’s not. “This is your most accomplished dish,” Gordon says and Christina and Graham agree.
The last dish of the season is dessert. Derrick’s doing a 30-second sponge cake, cooked in a microwave, which Gordon finds hilarious given the expensive kitchen. Claudia’s got an issue with her flan molds in that water has seeped in and she must start completely over. Meanwhile, Derrick’s batter is too thick and refuses to emerge from the pressurized container. After struggling for a bit, out it comes and Derrick’s back on track. So is Claudia. And suddenly, it’s all over. The plates are at the tasting table, and we’re about to get the final bites and critiques.
Derrick’s dessert is “gorgeous,” per Christina. The flavor is also spot on, per Graham and Gordon. Claudia’s hibiscus poached pear dish is “eye opening” and “explosive” and “incredibly successful.” “The next time we see you both, we’ll crown one of you America’s next MasterChef,” Gordon says, dismissing both back to the kitchen arena.
Christina, Gordon, and Graham emerge to bestow the title, check, and chinsy trophy on the victor. But who will it be? “You’ve both been phenomenal,” Gordon begins, but there can only be one winner. “Congratulations to Claudia.” Claudia? I’m a little surprised. I thought Derrick kinda had this. Claudia cries, Derrick stoically accepts defeat, and Gordon Ramsay sprays a bottle of bubbly everywhere while confetti falls. And that’s how we close the season.
Did you think Claudia was going to win? Who do you think cooked better plates tonight?