One chef hits the floor in his quest for kitchen glory

By Maggie Fremont
August 31, 2016 at 10:41 PM EDT
Greg Gayne/Fox
S7 E14
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We’re really getting down to it, MasterChef fans. Gordon, Christina, and returning guest judge Kevin Sbraga open up the glorious MC kitchen and Gordon introduces the chefs as the “Magnificent Seven.” Gordon Ramsay is the greatest and all, but he might be pushing it with that one. When we started with 20 contestants, this wasn’t exactly the top seven I had in mind, but here we are. All of the cooks seem to have a renewed sense of determination, which makes sense since they’re so close to that sweet, sweet $250,000 prize, they can almost taste it. Emotions are running high, people are collapsing during challenges, things are getting real, people.

There’s another two hours of challenges to get through, so let’s start cooking. And also recapping.

MYSTERY BOX CHALLENGE

First on the menu, the top seven have a fun Mystery Box challenge to survive.

When the cooks lift their boxes, they find three simple kitchen tools: a cast iron skillet, a wooden spoon, and a paring knife. They’ll have 60 minutes to cook a restaurant-quality dish using only those three tools. To spice things up, Christina announces that they’ll be cooking alongside a world-class chef who owns dozens of restaurants all over the world and has a gorgeous, voluminous, put-your-fingers-through-it head of hair. Okay, she doesn’t mention that last thing, but she should because the chef she’s talking about is Gordon Ramsay. The cooking and the hair are equally important.

The challenge pushes our contestants to be creative while also showcasing some staples of home cooking. Gordon whips up both a rib eye steak and a caramelized tarte tatin, because he’s Gordon Ramsay and he has magical powers. The judges then pick their top three dishes from the crowd to taste:

Tanorria Askew, Chattanooga, TN

Crispy Skin Chicken Thigh With Green Beans and Mushrooms

Tanorria decided to focus on old school Southern cooking again, and it pays off. All of the judges applaud her decision to cook bone-in chicken thigh, pointing out that it adds a lot of flavor to the meat. The chicken is juicy and seasoned well, and the veggies are the perfect accompaniment. It’s a simple dish, but it’s cooked well. You can’t ask for much more than that.

Brandi Mudd, Irvington, KY

Togarashi Spiced Rib Eye With Mango Slaw and Mushroom Turnovers

Miss Brandi is a delight, isn’t she? She’s obviously so happy to be in the kitchen, doing what she loves, and getting the opportunity to grow as a cook. She’s used to cooking with a cast iron skillet, and back home she uses a skillet that’s 100 years old, passed down from her great-grandmother. So, yeah, she’s feeling good about this challenge. The judges are feeling good, too. They’re impressed with her turnovers and her meat is cooked just right. When Gordon referred to Brandi as a front runner, he wasn’t kidding.

David Williams, Las Vegas, NV

Bacon Wrapped Shrimp With Tomato Salad and Anchovy Sauce

David just edges out his fellow high-end Las Vegas chef, Shaun, to earn a spot in the top three. The judges love that David was able to make a light, fine-dining dish out of a cast iron skillet. Tanorria points out that his shrimp and tomatoes look more like an appetizer, compared to her and Brandi’s entrees, but the judges don’t seem to mind. The shrimp is cooked well, and the whole plate looks very refined. Appetizers are food too, ya know.

After, well, very little deliberation, Gordon, Christina, and Kevin name Brandi as the winner. Get it, girl! It’s a good thing, too, because the Elimination Challenge the judges have in store is a doozy.

ELIMINATION CHALLENGE

It’s a tag team challenge! MasterChef tag team challenges bring such pain and panic to the contestants, but an overabundance of joy to the viewers. In television, the viewers always win, so suck it up, chefs! The remaining cooks — sans Brandi — will be paired up and forced to work together to make a snazzy little MasterChef picnic platter. It includes beef sliders, lobster rolls, Scotch eggs, homemade potato chips, heart-shaped jam cookies, and strawberries covered in chocolate tuxedos. Oh, and don’t forget the champagne. This mad dash to cook food good enough to keep you in the top six is supposed to be romantic, after all.

NEXT: Tag, you’re it

Brandi gets the honor of selecting the pairs, and our little Kentucky sweetheart does not hold back. She knows Shaun is the best cook left in the competition and he needs a big handicap: She saddles him with Nathan. Not only has Nathan repeatedly proven that he can’t handle the pressure of team challenges regardless of his teammates, he and Shaun really don’t work well together. It’s a good strategy on Brandi’s part. She also pairs David with Katie and Tanorria with Dan. David makes some terrible comment about making sure Katie follows orders, but really everyone is just thankful to not be paired with you know who.

David & Katie

David and Katie have some communication issues as a team. It boils down to David not having faith in his partner’s skills and getting very, very aggressive. So aggressive, in fact, that as the time winds down and David is unable to pop open and pour the champagne, he throws the bottle in anger. During judging, he gets a very stern talking to by Christina. He apologizes to the judges, but never to the champagne bottle. That bottle is the real victim here. Regardless of whatever issues the pair had, their food is on point. The Scotch eggs, although awkward looking, are cooked perfectly inside, the cookies are Christina Tosi-approved, and the beef sliders are well seasoned. A lot of their success is due to Katie’s cooking, and ability to tune out her angry partner.

Tanorria & Dan

Who would’ve expected Tanorria and Dan to work so well as a team? They both help each other from the sidelines, and keep the other on track during the switch-overs. Unfortunately, this success in communication doesn’t lend itself to success with cooking. Their platter is a mess: They were only able to come up with two Scotch eggs, and both of those were completely undercooked, their strawberries aren’t fully covered in chocolate, and their sliders have an uneven cook. Everything is just average, so their fates will depend on how their fellow competitors fare.

Shaun & Nathan

As expected, this partnership does not go well. Nathan kicks off the challenge, but suffers from his inability to multi-task. All Shaun can do is watch from the sidelines and try to guide his partner. As the two switch back and forth, Nathan only grows increasingly panicked. So much so, that Gordon has the kid sit down, drink some water, and breathe. It’s uncomfortable to watch. He continues to freak out until he collapses. He’s fine, and Gordon comes to his rescue (swoon!), but Nathan’s lack of composure is the downfall of the partnership. Shaun spends so much time focusing on keeping Nathan from not having a full mental breakdown, that he’s unable to do his best cooking. They don’t make any Scotch eggs, and Nathan completely undercooks the lobster and beef. It’s a mess, and Shaun knows it.

It’s no surprise that David and Katie are declared the winners. They join Brandi on the Balcony of Safety, and are quickly followed by Tanorria and Dan. Let’s not draw this out: When it comes down to Shaun and Nathan in the bottom two, it’s clear that Nathan is going home. Not to be too harsh, but, FINALLY. The best cook should win this show, and it’s obvious that Nathan is out of his league here. Time to move on, you know?

THE TEAM CHALLENGE

The top six cooks get all gussied up — David may have a temper, but he also has style — and head on over to the Park Plaza Hotel to meet the judges. They get news of a pop-up restaurant they’ll be putting together for a 1920s themed party, but all I can think about is how nice Terry would’ve looked in a suit alongside the other guys. I’m still not over that loss.

Thanks to their win in the tag team challenge, Katie and David are appointed team captains. David wants team players in the kitchen with him, so he opts for Brandi and Tanorria. Katie’s pretty stoked to have Shaun on her team, and she’s fine with Dan, too. As it so happens, it’s the boys who should really be worried about being on Katie’s team — she has some issues with leadership.

NEXT: In a matter of plating

Sure these home cooks are being tossed into a real live functioning restaurant kitchen for the first time (with Gordon Ramsay as their expediter, no less), but there is one bit of silver lining: They don’t have to come up with their own menu; Gordon’s selected two appetizers and two entrees for them to serve. Okay, maybe that’s not so much a silver lining as a terrifying fact. These aren’t simple dishes: pan-seared scallops with quail eggs, oysters Rockefeller, poached lobster tail, and some beautiful filet mignon. Things are about to, ahem, heat up. You’re welcome.

Katie’s red team has a rough night. Dan looks completely overwhelmed in the kitchen, and getting constantly yelled at by Gordon isn’t helping him focus. The bigger problem though, according to Shaun anyway, is Katie’s pride. As team leader, she wants to be the one plating all of the dishes before they go out, but when she starts having issues and plates are going to Gordon with raw meat, she refuses to relinquish the job. Shaun is definitely the better person to be plating, but Katie wants to prove herself. Although they have lots of back and forth with Gordon, most of the customers seem to enjoy the food, even if some of it came out cold. Just keep pouring them some of those 1920s cocktails and they’ll think everything is fantastic.

The blue team also gets off to a rocky start. Tanorria is struggling with the quail eggs and for some reason David just refuses to communicate with her. After a stern talking to from Gordon, and realizing that Gordon shouting out orders for David to remember is simply a numbers game — he’s a poker pro, remember? — David, Tanorria, and Brandi get into a good groove. Again, there are minor complaints from patrons, but nothing too egregious.

The final decision is left up to the judges, and after hearing feedback from diners and watching the teams work in the kitchen, they bestow the pop-up restaurant challenge win to the blue team. David, Brandi, and Tanorria are in the top five. Two other cooks will be joining them, but Katie, Dan, and Shaun will have to duke it out in an extra-challenging pressure test first.

THE PRESSURE TEST

As if the three potato pressure test wasn’t hard enough, the chefs are faced with the impossible challenge of cooking three separate desserts in one hour. Katie, Dan, and Shaun have to bake one milk chocolate cheesecake, a white chocolate éclair, and one dark chocolate lava cake. It all sounds delicious, but there’s no way some of these cooks are getting through the hour without having something underbaked or missing from the judges’ table. Even Gordon, Christina, and Kevin know this is a tall order.

Unsurprisingly, Shaun gets out of the test fairly unscathed. His cheesecake looks good from the outside and is just a touch underbaked once Christina cuts into it. His éclair, though, has some issues: Although the pastry itself is nice, he doesn’t let it cool long enough before piping the white chocolate inside, and when Kevin takes a bite, all the filling has melted. Shaun saves himself, though, with his lava cake. It is perfectly crispy on the outside and nice and gooey on the inside. Shaun easily sails through to the top five.

From the beginning of the Pressure Test, it was always Katie versus Dan for the final spot. They don’t make it easy on the judges either. Katie’s cheesecake is completely flat, but the crust is good, whereas Dan didn’t use the water bath to bake his, so it is overbaked on the outside and underbaked inside. It’s a draw. Dan’s éclair is cooked a little too long, but it’s full of white chocolate filling. Katie’s, on the other hand, is missing white chocolate completely. In a challenge all about chocolate, that’s not great. It’s obvious that the éclair round goes to Dan. It comes down to the lava cake — as life does, usually. Both Katie and Dan royally screw up their lava cakes. Neither cooked them long enough, and they are both an underbaked mess when Gordon opens them up.

The judges know Katie had some nice flavors in some of her desserts, but they just can’t give a chocolate challenge win over to someone who forgot to put chocolate in one of her dishes. With that, we bid adieu to Katie. In the end, she taught us many things: Think positively, determination goes a long way, and never, ever forget the chocolate.

Next week: Richard Blais is in the house — er, kitchen. Get excited, people!

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