Welcome back to the MasterChef kitchen! There are 10 aprons left, and 20 home cooks vying for those final spots in the competition. Who will move forward to wow Gordon Ramsay, Christina Tosi, and a smattering of celebrity chefs this season? Maybe it’s the 26-year old dude who still insists on being called a frat guy. He deserves the win, if only to define himself as something other than a frat boy. College is awesome, but we all have to grow up sometime, Dan. Or, hey, maybe it’ll be the construction worker who loves his mom so much that he is brought to tears — oh, please let it be him? Only time will tell. One thing’s for sure: Week 2 of the big apron-off has dialed up the emotions. There’s so much talk of making parents proud! And hugging! MasterChef could always use more hugging.
Before we let our tears water down our beurre blanc sauce, let’s get to the cooking. And also to the recapping.
THE BATTLE OF THE TACOS
Aforementioned frat guy Dan is finally called up to show off more than just his ability to relate real life scenarios to the Greek system. Do we really need to equate this head-to-head battle with hazing? Let’s all stick to the cooking, okay? Maybe his competition, nail technician Takeila, can put Dan in his place. Tonight, they’ll be whipping up some tacos for Gordon and Christina. Sounds simple enough, but both competitors will have to really impress in order to come out on top here.
Dan’s making beer-battered flounder tacos because of course he is. Christina and Gordon worry about the thickness of the batter — it may take away from the flavor of the fish. He’s going for nice and light with a freshly made pico de gallo and a lime crema to top it all off. It looks delicious, the recapper said begrudgingly. Dan also whips out some hardcore foodie knowledge when asked to explain the hows and whys of his batter. Maybe there’s more to this frat guy, after all. Takeila attempts chicken jerk tacos… and waffles. Although her marinade includes water rather than something with flavor, the judges enjoy her protein, but overall they find her dish to be unfocused; the waffles don’t make sense here. Dan’s simple but well-cooked fish tacos earn him the first apron of the night.
THE BATTLE OF THE BURGERS
Turns out, the Battle of the Burgers could also be called the Battle of the Grown Men Who Are Very In Touch With Their Feelings and Just Want to Make Their Mothers Proud. Battle of the Burgers is much catchier though, so I get it. Zack is a construction worker who is very into his time at the gym and also likes to cook wearing a tank top. Maybe not the most sanitary, but let’s not fault him for it. Oh, and it goes without saying, the dude loves his mom. Alejandro, his competition from Miami, also loves his mother. His family came from Venezuela to pursue the American Dream, and he wants to show gratitude for all the opportunities his mother has give him. Do we even have to cook? Let’s just talk about making mom proud some more.
Okay, we’ll let them cook. Alejandro opts for a hamburguesa con todo, which contains two beef patties, a fried egg, ham, tomato, cabbage, ketchup, mustard, garlic mayo, and probably 30 other ingredients I didn’t catch. Christina wishes his grill pan had been hotter so that the patties had a better sear, but otherwise the burger with everything gets a thumbs up from Tosi. Gordon thought it was messy looking (um, duh), but loved the flavors. Zack goes with a black-and-bleu burger, stuffed with bleu cheese and topped with grilled jalapeños, raw onions, and a honey bourbon ketchup. It’s a little too hot for Gordon’s taste, and he wishes there was more balance in flavors. To make this battle excruciating, Gordon has both of the guys bring their mamas in before they hand out the apron. This is just mean. For a moment, I was hoping both men who be granted an apron in front of their mothers because I live in a dream world. Nope, there can only be one king of the burger, and tonight, it’s Alejandro.
NEXT: MasterChef gets its grits on
THE BATTLE OF SHRIMP AND GRITS
Ah, yes, the battle of one of America’s great comfort foods, to which I say: GET IN MY BELLY. Okay, so there was only one out of the four dishes presented to Gordon and Christina in this battle that I wanted to devour, but man did Tanorria nail her made-with-Southern-love offering. Tanorria hails from Tennessee, so she knew going in to this battle that she’d have to bring her A-game, lest she be banned from TN forever. She uses a recipe from her grandmother that includes a heck of a lot of butter and cream, and Christina goes crazy for it. It’s a no-brainer that she’s getting one of those aprons.
Not so pleasing is Neco’s simple take on the dish — she uses water instead of broth, which is a big no-no when it comes to grits. Gordon liked the shrimp and crab, but her grits were boring. Shawn has the opposite problem: His grits are good, but he completely overcooks the shrimp. Gordon is not pleased. I love when Gordon gets riled up this early on in the season. Rounding out the foursome is Brittany, who makes her shrimp and grits with an Italian twist to honor her grandfather. The young gal shows she’s up for taking risks and decides to make a beurre blanc sauce with beer rather than wine. Although her dish had some problems, Christina and Gordon see the potential in Brittany, and would like to keep her around to help her grow as a cook. Brittany joins Tanorria in a white apron celebration.
THE BATTLE OF SURF AND TURF (AND VEGAS!)
In the final battle of the night, two boys from Las Vegas duke it out over surf and turf. Of course, they come from very different versions of Vegas. Shaun is a DJ living the glitz-and-glam life on the strip. The dude knows high-end cuisine and can cook a killer surf and turf without any hesitation. James does not live in the bright lights of Vegas. He’s a truck driver who looked for any excuse to get out of his impoverished side of town. I love James. Can he stay no matter what? He rigged up a portable kitchen on his truck, and he wears adorable bow ties. We need him. Shaun isn’t just a DJ though, he’s also a son who lost his father, and he’s cooking for him. When did MasterChef get so emotional, you guys? I dig it.
James cooks Gordon and Christina a Cajun-style surf and turf. He has rib-eye in a Cajun rub, Cajun shrimp balls, and a nice hunk of lobster in Creole seasoning. Gordon isn’t a fan of the presentation, but he’s surprised by the great balance of flavors. Gordon, too, is a big fan of James. Shaun presents a much flashier surf and turf. His is topped with foie gras and a bone marrow beurre blanc sauce. Talk about glitzy. Although he barely plates anything in time, he manages to get all of his ingredients on there, and they look pretty good to boot. He earns top marks for presentation. Gordon thinks Shaun needs to edit his dish; there is way too much going on. Christina, however, enjoys the luxurious addition of the foie gras. The judges seem to get a bit heated over who should take this one — Gordon is Team James, Christina is Team Shaun — but in the end, presentation wins, apparently. Were you as shocked as I was that Shaun earned a spot in the Top 20 over James?
Another super short montage informs us that those five home cooks are joined by Katie, Diana, Cassie, Diamond, and D’Andre. All of whom we know nothing about, except that they all have loving family members who make them cry and give them hugs. Remember when I said there’d be hugs?
Well, there’s our Top 20, folks. Now that the head-to-head battles are over, we can finally get this competition started. MasterChef is pulling out all the stops: The first celebrity chef judge of the season is Mr. Wolfgang Puck himself. This is going to be fun.