'MasterChef' has its first vegetarian challenge, and obvious standouts fall under the pressure.
Credit: Greg Gayne/Fox
S9 E14
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Our beloved Top 8 chefs face one hell of a bipolar competition this week on MasterChef, and I’m glad I get to cover for your wonderful regular recapper Sean to see how things unfold. It’s as if the Top 8 team challenge and the resulting pressure test were made with my substitution in mind you guys, I’m serious.

The episode begins with four giant, ominous crates in the MasterChef kitchen, two say vegetable and two say meat. When our home cooks make their way to the front, we immediately hear shocks and awes, in fact it’s one too many. (Sidenote: Are these recorded later and added in for special effect? Sometimes it really feels that way.) Christina Tosi tells the home cooks that they have to split into teams and make 50 dishes using the fresh ingredients from the two crates. Tommy and Hetal are made team captains after their stunning dishes from last week, and Tommy is instantly pumped to be the team captain for once so that the “alpha male” personalities don’t shun him to the side as he’s felt they’ve done time and time again. To be fair, Tommy’s had a few missteps during team competitions (guy couldn’t cook potatoes properly in Vegas), but he seems ready to take charge and finally be seen as a leader. Unfortunately it doesn’t work out once the pressure is actually on.

Tommy picks first and chooses Stephen who could not be more upset to be on Tommy’s team as he believes the two are polar opposites. They’re both ridiculously dramatic, so they’ve got one thing on common at least. Hetal picks No-Sleeve Derrick first, who immediately insults Hetal in his talking head for “not having the voice of a leader” and for being a vegetarian. Nice. Way to get into the right attitude, bud. Tommy picks Katrina and Nick and Hetal gets Olivia and Claudia. When the competitors open the vegetable crates, Stephen immediately melts into pure joy and states, “If I die of irritation from working with Tommy, put me in this box and put me in the ground with all these beautiful vegetables.” And Derrick probably eats his words seeing that there is no meat in the meat crate. Hetal instantly dies of happiness but as we know from MasterChef episodes and seasons past, having an obvious advantage in a challenge could end in a home cook’s demise, especially if over-confidence gets in the way. As a vegetarian myself, this challenge spoke to me on a cellular level. But it was obvious from the moment she picked out her menu that Hetal was going to be in trouble.

The home cooks will feed only vegetarian food critics and patrons in this challenge and Gordon educates the home cooks and the audience on the burgeoning vegetarian diet across the world. But is it just me or does he look a little surprised himself stating these facts? Hetal instantly knows what kind of flavor palate and dish she’s going for: It’s Indian flavors or bust. Her vision and “idea of what vegetarian food should be” sounds pretty damn incredible, her Blue Team is set to make a Chickpea and Cauliflower Curry with Coconut Rice and Tomato Gravy. But Claudia instantly picks up on what will inevitably be the team’s biggest problem: Hetal is the only person on the team who knows the spice and flavor profile and she will have to explain how to make the dish every step of the way. That makes delegating for her and cooking for the others quite difficult.

Tommy on the other hand is not being as assertive as he promised himself he would be, he immediately gets talked over by Nick and Katrina. The Red Team decides on Butternut Squash with Lentils and Mushroom and somehow they plan to incorporate goat cheese into the mix. Tommy’s quiet ideas are being nixed and he’s seeing that his “alpha dog” teammates are trying to take over as they’ve done during their temporary reigns as Team Captain.

As the home cooks begin their actual vegetable prep, Gordon, Christina, and Graham (kind of) put in their two cents about having a vegetarian challenge. Christina says that not using the “crutch” of dairy or meat is a true testament of a great chef. Does everyone really think that cooking Vegetarian and Vegan (which is what they’re describing with this no dairy idea) is really that insanely difficult? Guys, I do it every night. It’s not always MasterChef ready, but it gets the job done. Gordon immediately sees what will become Tommy’s problem: His lack of voice and clashing with the other stronger personalities.

And quickly we see both teams start crashing and burning. Katrina is micro-managing Tommy instead of Tommy taking charge and being confident in his voice and his cooking. The Blue Team on the other hand, is immediately annoyed that they have no idea how to cook any of the food Hetal wants to make. We hear Derrick tell Hetal that “this is a mess,” while Olivia complains that she needs better direction. All Christina can do at the front is let out an “Oh my God” every few minutes. When Gordon comes over to their station and still sees raw potatoes and cauliflower, he instantly kicks Hetal’s butt into high gear, and Hetal dedicates a few minutes to really explain the details of the menu and how things need to be cooked, thank goodness.

NEXT: Meat nightmares right this way.

When Gordo comes up to Tommy’s team, he sees issues with their goat cheese and Tommy immediately blames the whole team for not listening to him when he said the cheese wouldn’t work the way they were cooking it. So a frustrated Katrina says to scrap the cheese altogether. Gordon goes back to his place with the judges and takes a minute to feign surprise at all the chaos going on. You predicted this would happen Gordo, don’t act surprised when it comes true. Meanwhile the Blue Team has an issue with their rice and wants to chuck it from the menu until voice of reason Christina Tosi takes a break from her “Oh my God” script to explain to Derrick and Claudia that saving the rice is really not that difficult. Sometimes these chefs have the most nonsensical problems.

We finally get a feud-worthy moment as the team challenge is coming to a close when Katrina continues to harp on Tommy who is taking forever to plate their food. Tommy finally just lets out a nice, loud “Shut up” and he talks about it as if he’s just cursed out the Queen or something. Sure it’s not the most professional way to get someone off your back, but chill Tommy. Katrina snaps out of her complaining attitude and the rest of the final touches go extremely well for both teams. The judges seem to like the Blue Team’s dish more than the Red Team but in the end, the Red Team takes the victory and Hetal is crushed as she should be. Not succeeding in your area of expertise is always made into the biggest problem on MasterChef, but in this case her ambition and confidence in the dish when her teammates had none really was a big problem. And now someone has to go home because as Derrick rightfully states, they did exactly what their leader wanted.

Instantly my vegetarian dreams becomes my vegetarian nightmare as the pressure test is revealed. The four home cooks randomly select a station and a box in front of them. As they open the boxes one-by-one, with Hetal starting first, we see that the home cooks but make a dish out of the heads of animals. Hetal gets a lamb’s head and it’s horrifying to look at. Truly and completely horrifying. When Hetal bursts into tears over what I’m sure is her feelings of terror, pain, and disgust, I can absolutely relate. Derrick gets a Halibut head, Claudia squeals in delight over her pig’s head. And Hetal is told to look away when Olivia lifts up her box and sees a GIANT cow’s head. This was definitely a water break moment for me.

But like a pro, Hetal sucks it up and gets rolling with the rest of her competitors. Derrick immediately starts concocting a dish with way too many flavors, ingredients and other food elements. (You would think having too much of something wouldn’t be his big issue given that he never has too much of a shirt.) Claudia is over the moon with her animal head, and Olivia doesn’t seem too sure where she should begin with her cow’s head. Gordon makes his way around and sees that Hetal is studying her meat rather than cooking it right away as she won’t taste it and must figure out how to cook it through science (Bill Nye should be here right now). When Gordo gets to Claudia they have a little fun at their dead pig’s expense. That was pleasant (Read: NOT at all).

Christina remarks that she thinks Derrick can go as he seems to be cracking under the pressure. Plus Stephen taunting him from up above is definitely not helping. But Derrick is trying to maintain some semblance of focus by making a rockstar reference (the pressure tests are apparently like “being onstage with the spotlight going.” Poetic) and by remarking that Stephen doesn’t bother him. “I don’t care about you or your garden,” Derrick says in his talking head. “I’m here to win.” And for those playing the MasterChef drinking game at home, that phrase means it’s time for a chug. Lots of drama and tension later, we get the final products.

Hetal’s Braised Lamb Tongue and Cheek with Jasmine Rice and Arugula Salad gets mixed reviews. Gordon tells her that she frustrates him. Apparently the meat itself tastes wonderful, but there’s one too many things on the plate and the rice is a bit overpowering. Derrick goes next with his Tandoori Halibut Cheek with Cauliflower Puree, Cabbage, Mango Balls and a Grapefruit Gastrique. Already we see the problem. The plate is an explosion of too many flavors. Graham’s corny line actually perfectly describes the dish: “It’s not fusion but confusion.”

Claudia gets raving reviews for her Pig Ear and Cheek Tostadas, but Olivia’s BBQ Beef Cheek with Braised Kale and Cheddar Polenta goes wrong in Gordon’s mind. He says that the dish is plated wonderfully, and overall it tastes fine. But the big problem is that the beef cheek doesn’t have a distinct beef flavor. Because we need another cheesy line, Gordon states, “You’ve forgotten the hero and that’s the beef. And that’s my beef.”

In the end, Claudia’s dish proves victorious, Hetal and Derrick are safe, and Olivia goes home over her meat confusion. Olivia predicts Katrina to win the MasterChef title and ends her journey on a rather beautiful note. “Before MasterChef I felt stuck in my life. But leaving now, I feel free.”

So friends, did Olivia deserve to leave the competition? Will Derrick ever stop overdoing his dishes with flavors and under-doing his shirts with sleeves? Next week’s promo shows more feuding on the horizon, and thank goodness because that’s precisely what this meaty meatless episode was missing.

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