Now that we’ve gotten all that pesky apron business out of the way, it’s time to cook, people. The MasterChef kitchen is fully stocked, looking gorgeous, and ready to be invaded by 20 home cooks attempting to claim culinary glory — well, as much culinary glory as one can claim on televised competition.
Our home cooks arrive and they are excited to get things started. They’re even more excited when they learn that this week’s guest judge is Wolfgang Puck. No one faints or anything, which is disappointing. Nevertheless, they do seem genuinely terrified that they’ll be cooking for such a legend.
THE MYSTERY BOX CHALLENGE
Puck announces that the chefs will be competing in the season’s first Mystery Box Challenge. It gets referred to as “America’s most iconic food challenge,” which is a bit of a stretch. Yes, lifting up a box to reveal the ingredient of the day is fun, but iconic? Slow down there, MasterChef. Regardless, our home chefs do lift those boxes up and discover that they’ll be working with… potatoes. Finally, that lumpy little guy gets to be the star of the plate. Get yours, potato!
This is no ordinary Mystery Box Challenge, you guys. To spice things up, Gordon announces that at the end of the challenge, the chef with the worst dish will be eliminated on the spot. Gordon’s not messing around, and neither should the contestants. Unfortunately for three chefs, their potato dishes completely miss the mark. Let’s see who’s on the chopping block today:
Nathan Barnhouse, Slippery Rock, PA
Twice Baked Potato with caramelized onion, bacon, and potato puree
Young Nathan here is called up due to lack of imagination, and also the thing just looks plain ol’ ugly. It’s so unappealing, in fact, that Wolfgang Puck remarks that the dish looks like “someone ate it already once.” In my dreams, Gordon Ramsay mouths “way harsh, Tai.” Alas, Nathan’s potato dish doesn’t taste any better than it looks. Gordon is, frankly, embarrassed that he’s called Wolfgang Puck in to taste something like this. Nathan’s youth and immaturity shows in this dish.
Cassie Peterson, Clear Lake, IA
New York Strip Steak with fried potato salad
Cassie’s dish also has an optics issue. Everything on her plate is brown, and more than that, the food is pedestrian. If she wants to compete against the rest of the chefs here, Cassie needs to be much more creative in the dishes she puts forth. Christina asks Cassie how she’d feel if this were her last dish, and after the despondent cook admits that she’d be heartbroken, Christina simply says, “It might be.” THAT IS COLD. But seriously, Wolfgang Puck won’t even eat the food because he finds it so offensive. All in all, not a great first challenge for Cassie.
Bill Travers, Pauma Valley, CA
Potato Pancakes with bacon
Oh, Bill. Bill, the oldest contestant in the MasterChef kitchen, seems overwhelmed. Yes, he wants the potato to be the star of his dish, but he kind of forgets to add any type of panache to the dish. All he offers our three judges is pancakes and bacon. Once again, the judges reiterate the importance of creativity in cooking. Wolfgang notes that the bacon is good — but bacon’s always good — and knows Bill can do better than this dish. Gordon gives the effort a D–. He’s not grading on a curve.
Gordon, Christina, and Wolfgang seem pretty irritated with their bottom three. All of them lacked creativity, and whoever survives elimination will really have to step it up in future rounds. Any of the three could easily go home, but in the end, the judges were most appalled by Cassie and her fried potato salad. With that, our first chef of the season bids adieu to the MasterChef kitchen.
NEXT: A Gordon Ramsay-inspired elimination challenge
Oddly, we don’t get a look at any of the best dishes, but the judges announce that Andrea and her tortilla española win the Mystery Box Challenge. She gets immunity from the Elimination Challenge and gets to save one half of her chefs from elimination as well — either all the women or all the men. Andrea decides to save the gals, but don’t think it’s due to some girl power, sisters-have-to-stick-together thing. Andrea claims that the men here are her only competition, and she’d rather eliminate one of them than one of the women, whom she thinks she can easily beat. We’re only one challenge in, and the claws are already out.
THE ELIMINATION CHALLENGE
For the elimination challenge, the men will have to recreate a Gordon Ramsay three Michelin starred dish from scratch, with no recipe. They watch as Gordon makes the fish dish, and get to taste it once he’s finished, but it’s up to each of the home cooks to figure out the ingredients and then put their cooking skills to the test. The dish requires a lot of refined technique, and some of our chefs are out of their league before they even begin. Poor Bill barely grabs any ingredients from the pantry in the five minutes they have to shop. Bill is having a rough night.
The Gordon Ramsay dish in question turns out to be Yukon gold potato scaled halibut, set on top of a cauliflower couscous, with caramelized sweet potatoes, parsnip puree, sugar snap peas, and a tasty vinaigrette to boot. Yeah, that’s a lot of ingredients for the chefs to pick up on. Thankfully, many of the guys are able to figure out the complicated dish and this first Elimination Challenge really begins to show off just who has the real technique in the bunch.
One such guy is handy-man Terry. We only saw him in a montage during the battle round, but he had quickly become one to watch. Christina is blown away by how good his recreation is. The flavors are great, his technique is outstanding, and he shows great potential for the competition. Terry checks off all the boxes Gordon and Christina are looking for.
The big winner of the night, however, is the comeback kid: Nathan. That’s right! After being down and out over his baked potato, Nathan offers up a near-perfect recreation of Gordon’s halibut dish. He’s praised by both judges, and the kid breaks down in tears! He feels redeemed and is thankful he had the chance to show Gordon that he’s not immature. It’s a lot of emotions to be taking place over a piece of halibut.
Not everyone did as well as challenge-winner Nathan. There were some missteps. Well, a lot of missteps. And I’m not even getting into Frat Boy Dan’s mess of a plate. Gordon was not enthused by Dan’s inability to take anything seriously. Fortunately for Dan, there were two other dishes worse than his. Tonight, the bottom two consisted of D’Andre and Poor Bill. D’Andre knows his dish is bad before the judges even taste it; he’s embarrassed and knows he can do better. He messes up several of the ingredients — he cooks sea bass instead of halibut, carrots instead of sweet potatoes — but more than anything, the plate lacks any type of personality.
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Poor Bill has the same problems as he did in the Mystery Box Challenge: missing ingredients and a lack of refinery. He correctly chose halibut as the fish, but misses just about everything else. Gordon is dismayed and wonders if they really can’t teach an old dog new tricks. It’s a little harsh to use Bill’s age as a disadvantage, but regardless, the guy did offer up two lackluster dishes tonight. So, unfortunately, we lose Bill, the man who so generously gifted us with the phrase “as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.” We only knew you for a short time, but we’ll remember you forever.
Next week: A team wedding challenge! Drama is sure to ensue.