It's all the tongue and stomach lining you can eat ... if that's something you're into

By Maggie Fremont
July 20, 2016 at 08:58 PM EDT
Greg Gayne/Fox
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It’s lights up in the MasterChef kitchen and our judges waste no time in getting this party started. Sadly, the lovely Aarón Sánchez will not be joining us this week, but in his stead is equally as charming Chef Edward Lee. Seriously, is this season of MasterChef operating á la auditions for the seat next to Kelly Ripa? We are getting a good, ahem, taste of all the contenders and I like what I’m seeing out of Edward so far. He’s famous for his Southern cooking with Asian flavors, and, I suspect, for that goatee.

THE MYSTERY BOX CHALLENGE

Chef Lee has the honor of instructing our 14 remaining home cooks to lift their mystery boxes. Inside is a crisp $20 bill. That’s right, the cheftestants are cooking on a budget tonight. The MasterChef pantry has been transformed into a grocery store, and each cook can only spend up to $20 on ingredients to make a tasty, healthy, MasterChef-worthy dish for a family of four. To prove the challenge is more than do-able, Edward Lee joins in on the fun (he ends up making a seriously delicious looking shrimp curry), so, you know, no pressure.

It would’ve been great to have spent a little more time in the pantry as our cooks tried to figure out their ingredients, since, well, that was the whole point of the challenge, but no, we’re getting right into the cooking. Three contenders make it through to the finals for this Mystery-Box-on-a-Budget-Challenge. Let’s take a closer look at what they served up:

Shaun O’Neale, Las Vegas, NV

Trout Amandine With Wax Beans and Fish Broth

Shaun stretches his 20 bucks all the way into a very highbrow meal, and the judges are impressed. Christina wants a little more crisp on the skin, but the broth is nice and light. Edward thinks the fish was perfectly cooked and the broth well-seasoned. He gives Shaun about as good a critique you could ever ask for: He’d eat this meal every night.

Brandi Mudd, Irvington, KY

Seared Chicken Thigh With Polenta and Fried Green Tomatoes

Admittedly, I’m a sucker for anything sitting on a big bed of polenta, so I am into this dish. The judges are, too. It’s a good thing, since Edward Lee is currently residing in Kentucky, and Brandi doesn’t want to disappoint her hometown buddy. He is a fan of her decision to go with simple and honest flavors but finds her fried tomatoes overcooked. Gordon wants more vinegar to add a little acidity to the polenta, but overall gives this country girl a big thumbs up.

Eric Howard, Queens, NY

Stuffed Chicken Breast With Pesto and Roasted Asparagus

Eric is used to cooking big meals on a small budget, since he’s in charge of cooking for his firehouse. (In case you’ve never had the pleasure of seeing firefighters grocery shopping while on duty, you should know that it is one of life’s greatest gifts.) Eric’s dish here looks pretty good, too. Who doesn’t love chicken stuffed with cheese? Seriously, tell me who. I need to understand their lives. Both Christina and Edward rave about Eric’s pesto, but Edward thinks Eric should’ve removed the bone before serving and Christina wants something more filling than asparagus on the plate. BUT WHAT OF THE CHEESE, CHRISTINA?

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Shaun’s fancy-pants trout wins the challenge, and he gets some pretty decent prizes: His recipe will be featured in Family Circle magazine, he gets immunity from elimination, and he becomes the master of the elimination challenge. If there’s any elimination challenge you’d want control over, this one just might be it.

THE ELIMINATION CHALLENGE

Gordon and Edward wheel out two long tables, one with plates that feature pictures of each of the home cooks (is this like a collector’s item we can purchase on eBay at some point — asking for a friend), and the other has plates with some less-than-appetizing proteins on them. It’s all the pig’s ears, bull testicles, tripe, chicken feet, lamb tongue, and pork tail you can eat!

As the winner of the Mystery Box Challenge, Shaun gets to select which cook will get which protein. Everyone’s wishing they’d been just a little bit nicer to Shaun. He gets to grant immunity to one fellow contestant — he selects Brandi — and as for the rest, he decides to pair some of the tougher proteins with the weaker chefs. The guy is looking to trim the fat, as it were.

NEXT: Whoever said tongue was the new kidney was seriously disturbed

After 45 minutes of cook time, Tanorria has whipped up a gorgeous salad topped with pig’s ears, Dan puts forth some seriously delicious looking Rocky Mountain Oysters (so much testicle word play, so little time, but my favorite was: “It takes balls to cook balls”), and Nathan, who’s apparently worked with these types of ingredients before, almost falters with an unappetizing BBQ pork tail sandwich. In the end though, the judges agree on two top dishes and a bottom three. Here’s what each of them came up with for their a-typical proteins, respectively:

Eric Howard, Queens, NY

Chicken Foot Madeira With Mashed Potatoes and Snap Peas

Yes, Eric, we’re all surprised that you’re on top in this challenge, but apparently the judges are into scary looking proteins sitting on a mountain of mashed potatoes. Who knew? Gordon and Christina are both put off by the presentation — those feet are in need of a pedicure — but impressed by the flavors. Eric is two-for-two this evening and the judges are taking notice of his streak. Maybe Terry finally has some competition … just kidding folks, that dude has it in the bag.

Katie Dixon, Hattiesburg, MS

Kidney Curry

Finally! We have an Elle Woods of reality TV cooking competitions. Watch out, world! Katie wants to make it clear, especially to Shaun, who thinks she’s a weak link (such a Warner, am I right?), that she’s no dumb blonde; She came here to win. She goes with her gut and steps out of her comfort zone to deliver a lamb kidney curry with a punch. Edward is surprised by how good it is. The dude knows his curry, and thinks Katie’s is flavorful and the kidney is cooked perfectly. What, like it’s hard?

D’Andre Balaoing, Las Vegas, NV

Braised Lamb Tongue With Salad and Mustard Seed Caviar

Oh, dear, sweet, D’Andre. Please go home. Not to be rude, but the kid has had some trouble on this show, and it’s painful to watch him flounder repeatedly. This challenge is no different. The judges watch in horror as he unravels, completely burning his parsnip purée. When he brings his plate of braised tongue to Gordon, the guy doesn’t even want to eat it. Alas, the man is a professional, so he sticks that tongue in his mouth … and then promptly spits it back out. Well, at least this time when Gordon has D’Andre taste his own food the home cook doesn’t eat it directly out of Gordon’s hand again. That’s something, right?

Alejandro Toro, Miami, FL

Chicken Oysters With Plantains and Mango Guacamole

It’s strange to see Alejandro in the bottom, especially when, as Christina constantly reminds us, he had one of the easier proteins to work with. Unfortunately, even though he was on top last week, Alejandro serves up a very underwhelming dish. He claims he followed his instincts in order to cook with something he had no prior experience with, but sadly his instincts were to leave out all the flavor. I guess the lesson here is to never, ever trust your instincts.

Diana Bilow, Plainfield, IL

Tripe Menudo with Corn and Jalapeños

Diana, like D’Andre, has hit a few bumps along her MasterChef journey. Remember the fossilized cornmeal chicken? This is her chance to finally show the judges what she can do in the kitchen, and so she takes that chance and decides to use it to serve Gordon Ramsay raw tripe. It’s really not a great use of her time. Since she had no idea how to fix the raw stomach lining, she simply minced it up into tiny pieces, smothered it in her broth, and hoped no one would notice. Well, Diana, they noticed. They noticed big time.

Out of our bottom three, Alejandro is quickly sent to the Balcony of Safety, as it should be. Between D’Andre and Diana it’s fairly even here as to who deserves the boot. Diana made a huge mistake and tried to cover it up, and D’Andre made Gordon Ramsay eat a dish he likened to dog food. It’s a toss up! With that in mind, the judges decide to send Diana … and D’Andre home. That’s right, you guys: It’s a double elimination. MasterChef is getting serious.

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