Tighten up those aprons and sharpen those knives, people: Season 7 of MasterChef is upon us! Let’s welcome back our esteemed judges, Gordon Ramsay, Gordon Ramsay’s glorious head of hair (it’s always judging us), and the dessert queen herself, Christina Tosi. Noticeably missing is Chef Graham Elliot who parted ways with the MasterChef kitchen to pursue other opportunities. In his stead, this season we’ll be treated to a revolving door of celebrity guest chefs, including the man, the myth, the legend: Wolfgang Puck. A party that includes both Gordon Ramsay and Wolfgang Puck? I’m so there. Well, in this case, I have to be there because it’s my job to recap this show, but still — that’s a great guest list.
For the premiere, however, it’s just Gordon and Christina who hold the hopes and dreams of 40 home cooks in their hands. Per usual, this season’s crop of MasterChef hopefuls hail from all across the country and from all walks of life. There’s a nurse! A teacher! A pageant queen! A firefighter! A frat dude! Several individuals who work in “marketing”! And various other people who like to yell their occupations into a camera. All 40 of them have arrived looking to win one of Gordon’s magic white aprons, a spot in the MasterChef kitchen, and a shot at the grand prize: $250,000, their own cookbook, and bragging rights, duh.
But first, 40 must become 20. To whittle down the playing field, the Top 40 will face one another in head-to-head battles over their signature dishes. This week, 10 cooks will make it through to the next round. Now, let’s hand out some aprons!
THE BATTLE OF THE STEAKS
Season 7’s first match-up is between Kentucky native and teacher Brandi, who comes to us from a town that literally has only two stoplights, and California mixologist Samson. They try to paint Samson, who grew up in an Orthodox Jewish family and remained kosher until he was 20, as someone trying to prove his new way of life to his less-than-understanding family, but, like, no sob story on the planet can save a person saddled with the “mixologist” label. We’re all rooting for Brandi in this fight.
The two chefs’ different styles are clear in the plates they offer the judges. Brandi’s steak dish is full of down home southern flavors. She uses a cast iron skillet to perfectly sear her meat, and covers it in a Kentucky bourbon cream sauce. It’s not the most beautifully plated dish, but it tastes great. Christina loves the simplicity of it all. Samson, on the other hand, nails the presentation, but Gordon is missing the chocolate flavors from his port and pomegranate reduction that’s covering his pan-seared steak, and Christina wishes his parsnip purée were a bit silkier. Both contestants nailed the protein in their dishes, but the first apron of the season is handed to Brandi.
THE BATTLE OF THE CUPCAKES
With Christina Tosi as a judge, there’s no getting around some dessert challenges. This comes as welcome news to Miami-based college student Andrea and all-American gal Taylor; they’re both baking fiends. But tonight, only one girl rocking a sweet tooth can grab a spot in the MasterChef kitchen. Andrea and Taylor have 45 minutes to make the best cupcakes of their lives. No pressure, ladies!
Andrea, though one of our youngest competitors, seems immediately comfortable in the kitchen. She makes a guava cupcake with cream cheese icing to showcase the Cuban influence in her cooking. Both Gordon and Christina want more of the guava punch to the cake, but they have to admit, the tiny cake is cooked perfectly. Taylor, sadly, buckles under the pressure. She decides to whisk her egg whites separately and fold them into her yellow cupcake batter, but it’s a risk that fails her. The cupcakes fall and although her raspberry-lemon buttercream tastes great, the ratio of icing to cake is completely off. Come on, Taylor: YOU HAD ONE JOB. The apron easily goes to Andrea.
NEXT: Sure, they can fight fires, but can they cook?
THE BATTLE OF THE FIREHOUSE FAVORITES
There are four firefighters in the Top 40, and there’s no way they can all move on in this competition; how would we keep them all straight?! So, Gordon and Christina, call Manny, Joe, Eric, and Freddy in to cook their firehouse specialties. Since the possibility of running into firefighters at the grocery store is the main reason I ever go food shopping, I’m really into this battle.
Each of the guys has a distinct style of cooking. Freddy is the oldest of the four and is confident under pressure — maybe a little too confident. The firefighter decides to make a chicken curry in just 45 minutes. As soon as they hear this, both Gordon and Christina worry that he won’t have enough time to make a truly flavorful curry; it takes hours to make the dish properly. Well, they’re the judges for a reason, and they are completely right. Everything is cooked well, but it needed more time to really blow them away.
Eric, a New York firefighter, opts for a healthy dish, and whips up some ground turkey spring rolls. Gordon is hesitant about using ground turkey as the protein in this dish, but is pleasantly surprised by the heat and spice the whole thing has. Manny, a firefighter from Orlando also brings the heat with his steak in chimichurri sauce. Manny’s steak is cooked perfectly, and Christina loves the plantains on the side. Manny also makes jokes about his gut being one big ab, so we love him immediately.
The final dish in this four-way battle comes from Brooklyn-based Joe. If you haven’t already guessed, Joe cooks Italian dishes. For Gordon and Christina, he offers up a pan-seared pork chop with Swiss chard and potatoes. Unfortunately for the affable dude, his meat is overcooked and chewy. It’s pretty clear that the MasterChef firefighter slots belong to Eric and Manny.
HOT DADS MAKING PORK CHOPS
The final pairing of the evening is between David and Joe, both young dads who love to cook pork. David is a very successful professional poker player (he made a cool $9 million, why is he on this show?), and Joe works in high-end restaurant marketing. Both love their cute kids. Only one can win.
For his pork chop, David decides to double-down on his blue cheese. He makes a boneless chop on a bed of blue cheese grits, covered in caramelized onions and blue cheese crumble. Gordon thinks it would’ve been wise to have held back on the overpowering cheese a little, but the pork is great. Joe and his full suit decide to go a little more high-end, because of course he would. He makes a bone-in pork chop with brandied cherries and a cauliflower purée. Gordon is underwhelmed. The sides were good, but the hero of the plate, the pork, was undercooked. There can only be one Hot Dad of season 7, and Gordon and Christina go with David.
A short montage reveals the other five contestants who’ve earned an apron in the first night of competition. It runs through several battles pretty quickly, but from what I can gather, our five other winning home cooks are handyman-come-pasta-maker Terry, blonde Italian Lisa Ann, old person Bill, young person Nathan, and investigator Barbara, who is so intimidating within her five seconds of air time that I’m obsessed with her.
There you have it! The first 10 spots of season 7 have been claimed. Next week, more battles! Until then, find me on Twitter and let me know if you have any favorites already, which guest judge you’re most looking forward to, and what shampoo you think Gordon Ramsay uses. These are the important issues of our time.