MasterChef recap: Think Inside the Box
Are these eliminations feeling more and more heartbreaking to anyone else lately? Damn you MasterChef, your evil plan is working on me! This week’s episode felt more like a continuation of last week’s thanks to the concept of the challenge. Last Wednesday had the contestants using boxes of ingredients chosen by previous MasterChef winners (and mystery box challenge winner Claudia), while this week had the MasterChef judges give boxes of their favorite ingredients to the four remaining contestants who then had to work in teams to provide the judges the perfect appetizer and entree. As Nick created the best dish in last week’s challenge, he picked friend and fellow awesome home cook Claudia stating that he would rather pick someone who he works well with and wouldn’t send him to the pressure test rather than working with someone who he could beat in said pressure test. Derrick remains confident in his chances of making the semifinals by stating, “Right now I’m looking at the winning team, Stephen and I.” Guess that rivalry from earlier in the season is really gone for now.
After the teams are chosen and clothed in their blue and red aprons, the judges each bring out a special box with their name engraved on top, and the challenge is revealed. But after telling the home cooks what they have to do, Christina removes her box from the competition and Derrick immediately understands what’s happening: Whoever must cook in the pressure test will have to make a dessert using Christina’s box ingredients. The teams pick their box based on a fortune cookie (a move I don’t fully understand because none of the judges cook in an Asian style, but whatever I’m moving on). Derrick and Stephen get Gordon’s box, which includes, among other ingredients, live prawn, duck, rack of lamb, morels, and pomegranates. That leaves Graham’s box — which features live dungeness crab, salmon, heirloom apples, and more — to Claudia and Nick. But before the home cooks can get started, there is one more small surprise waiting for them. Gordon and Graham bring out tables of dishes that the home cooks are to use as inspiration when planning out their menus.
As the 60 minutes begin, Claudia and Nick instantly start thinking alike by wanting to make a full seafood theme with both dishes. They settle on crab for the appetizer, even though Graham thinks using crab with such little time is a bad idea, and salmon as their main entree. Even Derrick and Stephen are working well together during their idea time as both settle on prawns for appetizers and duck for the entree, both Gordon approved proteins. Unfortunately, Claudia and Nick fall into problems almost immediately with their originally planned crab broth appetizer as with 20 minutes down Nick has yet to put the crab for the broth into the pressure cooker. In typical Gordon fashion, he freaks out a bit at the two home cooks over their lack of planning (re: Nick’s lack of planning), and Claudia and Nick smartly decide to change their menu and make Italian crab cakes instead of their more ambitious appetizer.
Derrick and Stephen are starting to get tense with one another, but miraculously neither blows up at the other. However, when Derrick decides to grab pomegranate for their appetizer in order to add more color, Stephen says that Derrick will have to defend his decision, taking himself out of the equation. What Stephen has yet to understand is that if Derrick’s appetizer mess-up sends the team to the pressure test, it won’t matter who made the error.
Sure enough at the tasting, Derrick’s pomegranate sprinkling does affect their prawn ceviche appetizer negatively, but Claudia and Nick apparently make a much graver error of reusing their red pepper sauce from the appetizer on their pan seared salmon entree. Aside from that supposedly egregious mistake (fine food aficionados, please explain to me why this is such a bad move!), some of the salmon is cooked a little rare and the skin on the fish is soggy by being placed down on the sautéed kale, which Gordon basically calls a rudimentary ingredient (didn’t he choose it for his box though?).
NEXT: Christina’s most difficult dessert trips up the home cooks
Derrick and Stephen have issues with their entree as well, but their problems don’t overshadow the flavor produced in the overall menu. The men advance to the semifinal as Claudia and Nick are sent to the pressure test. Fortunately for both, they’re pretty damn good at making desserts. Unfortunately for both tests, Christina decides to choose the hardest dessert on her table of dishes for the home cooks to replicate: her chocolate malted layer cake.
Christina tells the home cooks she’ll give them the beginner recipe for the dessert and the cooking time of 90 minutes begins. At first Claudia is kicking the cake’s ass while Nick struggles in the back as he ruins his first cake batch and must start again. Unfortunately he doesn’t have enough ingredients to make the larger sized cake and must scale back. Meanwhile Claudia’s cakes are taking forever to set and she’s taking forever working on charring the marshmallows for the outside of the cake. Nick kicks things into high gear and suddenly he’s the one on the right schedule. He’s the one who actually has time to properly garnish his cake with time and care while Claudia works until the last second throwing marshmallows all over the place.
When the home cooks finish the cook time, Claudia is in tears out of disappointment. She knows she could have done a better job and so do we. But Christina tells her, as important as presentation is, the real judge is taste. And Claudia’s cake is pretty much perfect. Both Christina and Graham appreciate the flavor, though Graham finds critiques that Christina does not point out. When it comes time to taste Nick’s better-looking cake however, Christina takes one bite and walks back up to the judges without saying a work to the home cook. She tells the judges that “there’s something wrong with the cake.” When Gordon tastes it, we get the news. Turns out that when Nick was remeasuring his ingredients for the cake and realized he ran out, he didn’t pair down the rest of the ingredients enough to match his now smaller cake. The resulting dessert was too sweet and Gordon gives Nick a hard time about not asking Claudia for more ingredients (she says she would have provided Nick with what he needed and considering their friendship, I believe her). Nick starts to break a bit and states, “I fought by myself, and I didn’t think to ask for help.” Gordon appreciates the tenacity of this work ethic but knows the truth. He doesn’t come right out and say it right away, but it’s Nick’s time to go.
Nick gets sent home for his too-sweet cake, and Claudia is devastated that her friend is leaving. But it’s a rather determined and grateful man that’s leaving the kitchen rather than a dejected one. “I’m not sad,” Nick says. “I took a risk coming here. I’m not going back to work where I was before because of you three. I can’t explain or thank you enough.” Nick tells Gordon that after jumping in the ocean back in San Diego, he still plans to open the gastro pub that he hoped to start with the MasterChef title. Gordon, whom we all know at this point is actually a giant softie, tells him to follow his dream and that if there’s anything he can do to help, he will. Nick then names Claudia as his pick to take home the MasterChef title; he says, “Claudia reminds me of someone that I cherish: my mom. She’s a fighter, so I think Claudia.”
So readers, commenters, MasterChef and cooking lovers, what do you think? Is Claudia taking home the title next week? Or will farm-crazy Stephen or sleeveless rocker Derrick be crowned the next MasterChef?