Twenty contestants come to 'MasterChef'—only to learn they have to face off with 20 others.
Credit: FOX

MasterChef season 6 kicks off with 20 hopeful contestants standing proudly around the entrance to the set. And proud they should be. Gordon Ramsay emerges to tell them they’re the best home cooks in America, here to slice, dice, and chiffonade their way to the coveted title of MasterChef. Plus, Gordon hasn’t called anyone a stupid donkey yet, so it’s smiles all around. Grins turn into grimaces when Gordon announces that there’s only one thing standing between the contestants and the ultimate prize. Here comes the twist for anyone who hasn’t read the title of this episode: Ramsay trots out 20 more contestants, much to the chagrin of the original cadre, who throw some serious shade at the newcomers.

“You going to welcome them?” asks a smug Gordo. (Nope.) Gordon, Graham Elliot, and newcomer judge Christina Tosi—owner of Momofuku Milk Bar and recipient of many of my dollars for her addicting Cake Truffles—break down how tonight will play out. It’s a 30-minute head-to-head battle with similar signature dishes, with the victor earning a spot in the competition and the loser issued a ticket home.

First up in the battle of shrimp is Claudia, a single mom with Mexican roots trying to show her daughter that passion and drive will get you everywhere. Her competition is Andrew, a preppy political fundraiser who is always rocking a bow tie. Andrew, much like Bubba in Forrest Gump, knows shrimp from his Southern upbringing, telling us he used to fish for the critters off his neighbor’s dock. Claudia puts forth a dish that looks like it was plated by a blind person, while Andrew’s shrimp and grits dish looks quite polished. Gordon feels the love and flavors in Claudia’s cooking more, while Christina casts her ballot for Andrew. Graham, noting that Andrew overcooked the shrimp, gives the apron to Claudia, who cries and tells us “fairy tales don’t come true for people like me,” while she squeezes her daughter, hitting us right in the feels.

Next, we meet Steve, an urban gardener/Henry Rollins doppelganger. Steve’s a TV producer’s dream, because he says things like “I grow really good food, then I cook it so you can eat it and be happy and make babies.” …Mmkay. “And I’m not being arrogant, but my food is great. There are no words to describe my food,” he says, pouring beet juice over a plate of vegetables that doesn’t look particularly appealing to this diehard bacon enthusiast.

Steve’s taking on Tommy, a fashion designer clad in an asymmetrical brown jacket and sporting a Pete Wentz haircut. Tommy wants to “unleash an avalanche of style. I’m going to put couture on a plate.” Cut to some artfully designed plates from Tommy’s submission video. Tommy then gives us a dance that’s cross between a tiger being born and a figure skater hoping to score extra points for creativity. “I want that apron more than I want a Chanel haute couture dress,” Tommy says before they start.

They’re cooking pork and, just before plating, Tommy discovers his tenderloin is raw in the middle. He yelps before chucking it into a pan to finish. As time is called, Tommy shoots his hands up in the air like a gymnast who’s stuck the landing. His dish, a pork ballotine, doesn’t look as nice as his home dishes did, but the taste is spot on, per the judges. Steve’s pork is also a home run, but his roasted veggies are so raw “they could be a crudite,” says Christina, noting the irony that Steve should know better as a gardener. “Yeah, it’s sad,” Steve admits. Tommy gets the apron, and tells us to “buckle up. It’s going to be a bumpy ride this season.”

Lamb is a four-way showdown between Monzia, a Pakistani woman well-versed in Middle Eastern fare, Derek, a drummer who apparently can’t afford a whole T-shirt, Amanda, whose cooking pays homage to her Lebanese roots, and Nate, a medical sales rep who simply says, “I cook international.” Not well, apparently: Nate’s rack of lamb is too rare. Amanda’s lamb kofta with potatoes and sumac aioli looks bland, a pile of brown and yellow. Monzia’s lamb and beef kabob is raw in the middle. “Lamb is a comfort food and that’s not given me any comfort. It’s given me the heebie jeebies,” Gordon curtly says. Derek’s pistachio-crusted rack of lamb with a parsnip puree and coconut curry looks like it belongs in any Michelin-starred eatery, and the judges agree. Derek takes the first apron, and leaves to call his mom, who was unaware he’d entered the competition (his career as a drummer has, so far, been disappointing to her, so he wanted to surprise her with some good news for once. It worked.) Amanda snags the second apron.

Thanks to an efficient montage, we breeze through 12 more contestants (who presumably did not have compelling backstories) and come to the salmon contest. Katrina, an assistant in search of her true calling, tells us with a cracking voice that she needs to find confidence in her head and heart. Taylor, a former college football star who traded the gridiron for a griddle, opposes her. Taylor’s blackened salmon is cooked beautifully, however the spices are bland. Katrina made pan-seared salmon with panang curry and rice and a cabbage slaw that is “supposed to include mint” and other things. Supposed to? “Well, I hope it’s in there,” she murmurs. “If you don’t know if it’s in there, we’re screwed,” snaps Gordon. Katrina’s eyes and mouth clamp shut. “Earth to Katrina!” Gordon barks, getting down on her level. After much blinking, she meekly offers, “I had them in the bowl; I don’t know if they made it on the plate.” Whatever did make it to the plate impressed the judges, who give Katrina the apron.

Fruit desserts sees Hetal, an Indian cook who found her love of baking as a result of her biochemistry degree, pitted against stay-at-home mom of four Jill, whose cooking is as eclectic as her bright red hair. Hetal’s apple pastry cup with candied pecans and cardamom whipped cream looks really tasty, though Gordon thinks it’s too safe. Jill makes ebelskivers—awesome little Danish donuts—alongside a peach compote and raspberry coulis, which is “you on a plate,” according to Graham. Hetal wins, thanks to Christina’s tie-breaking vote.

NEXT: The final spot is up for grabs—along with two more

We skip over seven more apron awards, meaning we’ve only got one spot left. Enter Shelly, a kitchen assistant and mom to a 9-year-old daughter, who is her everything. Her adorable offspring hugs her before Shelly heads in, adding “Don’t cry! You’ll be the best cook all day.” Cut to Christopher, a restaurant manager who bounces about, tugging on his suspenders, saying, “Oh man. The judges are going to love me!” Shelly’s daughter catches this, remarking, “That’s the guy you’re going against? You got this in the bag.” Shelly’s daughter FTW.

It’s chicken versus chicken and Shelly taps into her Jamaican heritage to deliver escovitch chicken with plantain mofongo, in a nice, neat stack. Christopher’s chicken scallopini with strawberry agrodolce looks like it could come from any Olive Garden, if Olive Garden knew how to make strawberry agrodolce. The judges are torn: Christina votes for Christopher, while Gordon sides with Shelly. Graham asks why each contestant deserves it, instead of deciding based on taste. He gets an impassioned speech about the American dream from Shelly, who is on the verge of crying. “Give it to her, Graham,” Gordon pipes up. Christopher, an Asian immigrant, also rolls out an American dream spiel, though it pales in comparison to Shelly’s. Christopher wins the apron, and Gordon sighs that they’ve made a major mistake.

The 20 winners stream onto a catwalk above the 20 losers, when Gordon drops another bomb. Motioning to the defeated, he says “We want to give some of you another shot. But just six of you.” Each judge selects two cooks who will fight for redemption and one of two available aprons. Graham goes for Taylor and Steven. Christina picks Andrew and some woman we haven’t seen before. Gordon picks Jill and Shelly, the latter of whom hugs Gordon, elated. The challenge? Chicken and kitchen staples, chosen by Christina. Off they go.

Most are making some yummy-sounding things. However, the woman we’ve never seen before is making a chicken, bacon, chocolate and cheddar dish, which prompts Gordon to (rightfully) call her mad. Steven’s doing pappardelle from scratch and pinky swears with Gordon that he won’t serve raw vegetables again. Jill’s making her dad’s blueberry barbecue chicken, which Christina politely describes as an “interesting” flavor pairing.

When it’s time to taste, Andrew brings up a stuffed chicken thigh with mushroom duxelle, which looks scrumptious. Gordon points out that Andrew’s pureed everything, thereby losing his perspective on the dish. In a cute turn of events, Andrew counters that his duxelle is not a puree, prompting Gordon to give Andrew his suit jacket and march him up to stand beside the other two judges. Gordon asks Graham how many purees are on the plate (three, including the duxelle). Then he asks Andrew how many. “I’ve recently learned it was three, chef,” Andrew admits. “Thank you. Duxelle is a dice, not a puree. Now give me my f—ing jacket back,” Gordon commands.

Taylor’s plate fails to impress, thanks to the inclusion of a “gummy” potato puree, and while Jill’s blueberry barbecue chicken does have good flavor, her scalloped potatoes don’t. Steven’s plate is overflowing with an array of foods, each of which should be an entire dish in its own right, Gordon says, but says the taste is great. Shelly’s mushroom kale chicken fritter blows away the judges.

Last up is the woman we haven’t seen before, who presents her chicken roulade stuffed with kale, bacon and mushrooms and a smear of gross chocolate mole sauce. Graham doesn’t pull punches. “Why did the chicken cross the road?” he asks. “To get me an apron,” she smiles. “No, to escape that s–t stain,” Graham corrects, while the aproned winners in the rafters cheer his diss. “It looks like the chicken’s plated on a diaper,” he astutely surmises.

All come forward for the apron ceremony. Diaper Chicken is sent packing, while Shelly gets the first apron and cries. Taylor is rejected a second time and Jill, Andrew and Steve anxiously wait to see who’ll win the final apron. It goes to Steve, who Gordon tells to smile, as he’s yet to do so the entire episode. Steve listens, beams broadly, and hugs the judges. And with that, we’ve got our cast for the season.

Who’s your favorite contestant so far? Who’ll be the first to cry? Think Steve’s food is so good, it’ll help people make babies?

Episode Recaps

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