This week, the MasterChef kitchen opens its doors to Latin Chef Aarón Sánchez, to which I eagerly ask: Can we keep him? Aarón is an excellent guest judge. He doles out constructive criticism, seems enthusiastic, and is also quite handsome. All major requirements for quality guest judging on a reality TV cooking competition.
THE MYSTERY BOX CHALLENGE
Joining our three judges for the Mystery Box Challenge is reigning MasterChef champ Claudia Sandoval. Claud looks like she’s doing well since we last saw her, although that may be due to the fact that although she’s back in the MasterChef kitchen, she does not have to cook for her life. Instead, she’s on the other side of things, and tonight, she curated a Mystery Box especially for our cheftestants. The box is full of Latin food staples. For some of our cooks, this is very much in their wheelhouse, for others, not so much. As an added bonus — and added stressor — both Claudia and Aarón make dishes using the same ingredients the cooks have been handed, simply to demonstrate the quality that is possible to reach in this challenge. By the looks of it, the quality is very, very high. Let’s take a look at which three contestants measure up:
Alejandro Toro, Miami, FL
Arepas Three Ways
Alejandro is Venezuelan and hails from Miami, so the guy is feeling the pressure to really shine in this particular Mystery Box Challenge, and shine he does. He opts for arepas, a Venezuelan classic, and packs them with seafood, black beans and cheese, and skirt steak with mango salsa. It’s like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, but all three choices are a perfect fit. Christina’s a fan of the pumpkin-seed arepa shell, and Aarón calls the dish a home run, which I think is the best Alejandro could hope for — but we’re here to cook, not play sports, so who really knows?
Tanorria Askew, Chattanooga, TN
Roasted Shrimp with Poblano Creamed Corn and Avocado Crema
Tanorria, a personal favorite from the Battle Rounds, is looking for more opportunities to prove her cooking skills to the judges. Mission accomplished, Tanorria! The judges can’t wait to dig into her beautifully plated shrimp dish. Gordon loves the presentation, but laments that leaving the shrimp shelled in this instance makes it a little awkward to eat. Luckily for Tanorria, everything on the plate tastes insanely delicious. Aarón agrees, and is impressed at how thoughtful the dish is — its flavors complement rather than compete with one another, and it always remembers to send a birthday card.
Andrea Galan, Miami, FL
Spot Prawn Al Ajillo with Grilled Cactus and Stuffed Poblano
Andrea is a big fan of Chef Aarón Sánchez (get in line, girl!), so she’s very excited when she gets called forward as one of the three best dishes of the night. The judges praise her cooking technique with her shrimp, but the big stand out of the dish is her chile relleno. Her egg-white batter is a hit with both Christina and Aarón, who can’t get enough of the stuffed poblano. However, they both find that the dish is lacking in overall flavor. Those shrimp needed one last touch of something, anything, to really bring this challenge home.
This Mystery Box Challenge win goes to Tanorria, who is granted immunity for the elimination challenge and then whisked away to the pantry for two more fun little prizes.
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The elimination challenge is a bake-off, and Tanorria gets to choose what, exactly, her competitors will be forced to bake. Her options are pies, puddings, or puff pastries. Because it seems like people royally mess up puff pastries pretty easily, Tanorria selects pies. But wait — she has one more advantage: At the end of 75 minutes of baking time, Tanorria can give three of her fellow contestants immunity. When it comes time for her to hand out her three wooden spoons of safety, Tanorria is ruthless. She taunts, she refuses to give spoons to people who will obviously need it — to each her own, but she should remember the tables may be turned on her very soon. Eventually, she saves Diana, Diamond, and David. The girl really likes D-names. The rest of the cooks are left to fend for themselves, some with better results than others. The judges take a closer look at six pies:
Brandi Mudd, Irvington, KY
Apple and Cheddar Pie with Maple Bacon and Pecans
This challenge has Brandi Mudd written all over it. Back in Kentucky, Brandi spends a lot of her time making apple pie, sweet potato pie, pumpkin pie, all the pie. She’s also auditioning for a role in Waitress, apparently. The girl loves pie. And although her pie topped with maple bacon (who knew pie could get any better than it already is?) sounds great, when Gordon cuts into the dessert, it is a disaster. The entire thing is undercooked, raw granny smith apples and a mostly inedible crust abound. Gordon’s not really mad, just disappointed. If we’re being honest, I’d take a disappointed Gordon over a mad Gordon any day.
NEXT: Like *NSYNC once said (probably), pie, pie, pie!
Terry Mueller, Long Island, NY
Blueberry Pie with Sugar Crust
Is there anything this handyman can’t do? The guy can fix stuff in your house and bake you a delicious pie afterward. What more does any human need, really? Terry — who, Gordon is quick to point out, has hands that are about the same size as his pie — offers up a simple but beautiful blueberry pie. When Gordon lifts up a slice, the thing is picture perfect. Even better, it tastes perfect, too. Gordon calls it one of the best pies in the competition, ever. Maybe it’s all the pie talk, but I get a little choked up as Terry walks back to his station. It’s apparent he absolutely loves cooking, is so happy to be here, and is living out a true dream. BUT LET’S BLAME IT ON THE PIES.
Lisa-Ann Marchesi, Gillette, NJ
Berry Pie with Mint, Chocolate, Orange Zest, and Mascarpone
If you read that pie description and thought, “Boy, that’s a lot of disparate ingredients for one pie,” you’re about 45 percent on your way to being a guest judge on MasterChef next season. In an effort to put an Italian flair on her pie, Lisa-Ann goes overboard, and her pie is a bit of a mess. Not a total mess, though! Sure, Christina notes the pie could do without the mint, mascarpone, and orange zest, but some of it does work. Whether or not it’s sheer luck or the promise of real skill is yet to be determined.
Dan Paustian, Charlotte, NC
Country Berry Pie with Cream Cheese Crust
Believe it or not, Frat Boy Dan has never made pie before. To not completely implode during this challenge, he conjures up an old family recipe and, well, tries his best. The judges are wary when they see him using scissors to trim the crust after it bakes over the dish, but as it turns out, there’s no reason to stress! Gordon easily cuts a nice-looking piece and the whole thing tastes pretty good. Pretty good is a big win when you’ve never baked a pie before. Gordon is impressed and Christina thinks the kid doesn’t know his own potential. Is Dan a dark horse?
Eric Howard, Queens, NY
Berry Pie with Oatmeal Crumble and Raspberries
Firefighter Eric wants to prove he’s well-rounded in the kitchen — that he can cook and bake. Unfortunately, he fails. When Aarón cuts into his oatmeal-crumble pie, it is a complete mess. Aarón thinks Eric used too many types of berries, which make for an uneven bake. It’s really undercooked and watery, so no, Aarón would not like a second piece. Eric is disheartened, and thinks an extra 10 minutes of bake time would’ve changed everything. Eric just learned a tough lesson about the kitchen and life in general, I suspect. This show is so deep, you guys.
Brittany Craig, New Hartford, NY
Berry-Rhubarb Pie with Cinnamon Crust
How can a pie that looks so delicious taste so bad? It’s like you can’t even trust your eyes anymore these days. How tragic. But, according to our judges, that is exactly the case with young Brittany’s berry-rhubarb pie. Gordon’s just as distraught as the rest of us, when he cuts into the beautiful pie only to find undercooked rhubarb, soggy crust, and almost zero flavor. Gordon is so distraught, in fact, he likens it to getting “kicked in the nuts.” He’s such a drama queen sometimes! Unfortunately, it means Brittany is on the short list to go home this evening.
The big pie winner is, of course, Terry — because Terry is the best and we’re all better people for having him in our lives, or, well, on our televisions. Is it too early to have a front-runner? Regardless, Terry is proving himself to be a real force in the kitchen. On the other end of the spectrum is our bottom three: Brandi, Eric, and Brittany. In a very rude twist, the judges have Eric step forward and then tell him to say goodbye…to Brittany and Brandi, because he’s safe and one of the ladies is going home. See what I mean? Rude. In the end, Brittany‘s inexperience costs her, and she and her rhubarb are asked to leave.
Do my eyes deceive me, or does it look like Aarón is back to guest judge again next week? See, Oprah was right! Put your hopes and dreams out into the world and they will come back to you. We’ll also get a Gordon Ramsay demonstration on how to cook lobster and what is sure to be some voice-over full of lobster-related puns. You know how much MasterChef loves its puns.