Let The Battle Commence! MasterChef Returns for Season Six.
This week we have a special 2-part premiere episode of MasterChef, so I’m going to divide this recap into two separate posts (part two to follow shortly). There are a lot of new hopeful home chefs to meet – and a new judge as well – so let’s not waste any more time on getting started, shall we?
Auditions have been held around the country, and from all different walks of life. Everyone wants that coveted white apron to get into the competition, but only the twenty best were invited to Los Angeles to compete the MasterChef kitchen – or so we (and they?) have been told. And joining the judging panel this year is James Beard award winning chef Christina Tosi, who is replacing Joe Bastianich after five seasons.
As we all know, a quarter million dollars and a cookbook is up for the winner. Christina says she’s excited to be here and she wants them all to “dream big”. Who is the best among them? Several of the home cooks talk about what makes them unique: there’s a clothes designer from Chicago who wants to put couture on the table. A Lebanese immigrant “living the American dream”. A college athlete with a lot of confidence.
But who is standing in their way before they can claim those white aprons? Uh oh…suddenly there are twenty more people arriving who look just as eager to get in the competition. Each and every one of them will now compete in a head to head culinary battle. Each group of twenty has two people with similar signature dishes, so it’s going to be baker versus baker, steak versus steak, seafood versus seafood. Win your battle and you win your place in the top twenty, the judges tell them. Lose and you go home.
And so, let the battle commence! Each will have only thirty minutes to prepare their signature dish and then the judges will decide who cooked better. Everyone has their families and friends there to cheer them on, so there’s going to be a lot of hugging, crying, and melodrama tonight, that’s for sure.
First up are Claudia and Andrew, who will face off in a shrimp battle. Claudia is an events manager and single mother from California. Andrew is a political fund raiser who thinks his southern style will give him an edge, that food unites where politics divide. It’s East Coast versus West Coast, California versus South Carolina. Claudia is making head-on shrimp sauteed in garlic butter sauce with grape pico and white rice, a very Mexican dish. Andrew is making low country shrimp and grits, with some Vermouth in the sauce to elevate the flavor.
As they start cooking, Christina says Claudia has to be careful with the shrimp in shell, as it may be hard to tell when they are cooked perfectly. Gordon likes Andrew’s knife skills, but will the grits cook in time? Claudia is up for tasting first. The shrimp is cooked nicely and the sauce is delicious, Gordon says. Christina says it’s a very interesting combination of flavors and textures although the plating leaves something to be desired. Graham thinks the pico needs some salt.
Andrew’s shrimp and grits with tomato, bacon, vermouth and scallion sauce follows. Christina says the sauce is really delicious, Graham says the shrimp are a little overcooked but he really loves the layers of flavor. So, who gets the apron? Christina didn’t love Claudia’s rice, she wants to give the apron to Andrew. Gordon disagrees and says the shrimp were nailed. It’s up to Graham, who casts the final vote for Claudia. It’s a tearful win for Claudia, of course.
Next up is Stephen and Tommy. Stephen is an “urban gardener” from Palm Springs, California and he’s well…kind of special with how passionate he is about his food. Tommy, the fashion designer from Chicago with a lot of “flair” is up against him so it is definitely going to be an interesting battle. Stephen is 47 and Tommy is 53 – he only has one wrinkle and he sits on it, he says with a smile. They’re both cooking a signature pork dish in thirty minutes.
Tommy is doing a sophisticated stuffed pork dish and he wants to bring color and artistry to the plate. Stephen is doing stuffed pork wrapped in bacon and finished with steamed vegetables. Both are cooking up a storm, but Tommy’s tenderloin is raw in the center when he cuts into it, so he flashes it into the pan to cook it down. But will he have time to plate it all as he wants? It’s down to the wire when time is called and both bring their dishes up to the judges for tasting.
Tommy has Pork Ballotine stuffed with fennel, zucchini and granny smith apples. Gordon tastes the pork and it is cooked…perfectly, he declares after a dramatic pause. It’s moist and he’s amazed it got cooked. Graham says it’s really tasty. Plating needs to be dialed back a bit, however. Christina likes the freshness from the fennel fronds.
Stephen has a stuffed pork loin served with steamed vegetables and couscous. The pork is stuffed with apples, raisins, and walnuts. Graham says the flavors are classic and taste great. Tenderloin has a little too much stuffing, Gordon says, and that the vegetables should have been roasted, not steamed because they’re a little underdone. Chrstina likes the flavor of the pork but the vegetables could practically be a “crudite on the side”. The thing he loves, his vegetables may be the thing that sends him home.
The judges debate who deserves the apron. At the end, Tommy and Stephen both step outside and Tommy reveals he has the apron. “Buckle up your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy ride,” he proclaims.
Next time it’s four contestants battling it out for two aprons, each featuring signature lamb dishes. Moniza is a sales associate from San Francisco. She grew up in a Pakistani household where lamb was as common as chicken or beef. Derrick, the drummer from Fort Myers, says it’s a concert in the kitchen when he cooks. He’s going to be the headliner of the lamb battle. Nate is a medical device sales rep from Chicago, an international food city so “there are no borders” to what he’s going to put on the plate. Amanda grew up in a strict Lebanese family. She’s a social worker in Seattle and grew up learning to love food because of her grandmother’s cooking for the whole family.
Time starts. Nate is making porcini crusted rack of lamb. He always cooks fancy like this for his friends, he tells Gordon. Derrick is making pistachio crusted rack of lamb over parsnip puree. He’s a momma’s boy but his mom doesn’t even know he’s on the show. Amanda is making lamb kofta, which Gordon loves. Moniza is doing beef and lamb kabobs and Christina seems worried she’ll get everything done in time.
Hands up and time to taste. Nate is first with his porcini mushroom-crusted rack of lamb with cauliflower puree, tomato relish and herb vinaigrette. The lamb is closer to the rare side than he wanted, and Gordon agrees, it’s tough because it’s undercooked. Amanda has her grandmother’s lamb kofta with jalapeno-dusted potatoes and sumac aioli. Christina says it has a nice depth of flavor. The potatoes are a little soft and would have been better if they’d been crispy.
Derrick has his pistachio-crusted rack of lamb with parsnip puree and coconut curry sauce. Graham says the preparation, flavor and plating have all been nailed. It’s one of the best things they’ve eaten so far. Moniza has a beef & lamb kabob with pine nuts and ghee tahini. Gordon cuts into one and unfortunately it’s raw inside. He takes an end to taste and for comfort food it’s not giving him comfort.
The judges say they’d like the first person to step forward and take the apron they’re confident they deserve. That’s Derrick after a pause and yes, they tell him he is correct. Perfectly executed dish, Gordon says, and he’s got to make that important call to his mother. Derrick says he’s going to be the first ever “rock and roll MasterChef.”
Of the three remaining chefs, the last apron goes (unsurprisingly) to Amanda.
After these three detailed close battles, we now only get a montage of some of the other hopeful chefs receiving their aprons or being sent home. That’s a pity as I was hoping to see more of these face-off battles and getting to know the people who at least made it into the top 40.
But next up are Katrina and Taylor who are “hometown rivals” from Milwaukee, we’re told. Katrina is an administrative assistant whose job just pays the bills, but cooking makes her love life. She needs confidence, though, and standing in her way is Taylor, a 23 year old server who played football in college. Being an executive chef is his dream and he says being here is partly for his mom and all she did for him. They are both doing salmon, and it’s a challenge “tailor-made for Taylor”, the confident home cook says. He’s making blackened salmon with pineapple salsa. Katrina is making a pan-seared salmon with curry sauce and a slaw. Christina says the flavors are a little confusing, salmon and curry, but they’ll see once the dish is ready to taste.
Taylor is first for tasting, with his blackened salmon, pineapple salsa and lemon vinaigrette. Gordon says the salmon is cooked beautifully, but the spices are slightly bland. It has rustic charm though. Graham is checking his technique and there’s a little skin on the pineapple. Christina says his potential is very clear.
Katrina has pan seared salmon with panang curry, and green cabbage slaw but she’s not sure what made it in her slaw or not: the mint, the jalapeno. Gordon presses her if it’s in there or not? “Earth to Katrina!” Gordon demands, and she says she had them in the bowl but wasn’t sure they made it to the plate. Her salmon is a strong pink throughout. The flavor is delicious, but she doesn’t know what’s on the plate. Graham says the salmon is a little more mid-rare than Taylor’s. Christina says the sauce is really delicious.
One apron, two stunning dishes. Graham is going with Taylor. Christina is going with Katrina. That leaves it up to Gordon. It’s tough, he says, while Graham and Christina defend their choices. Gordon goes with his heart and who he thinks can climb in the competition: Katrina.
So, that’s it for the first half of the premiere. I’ll be back shortly with the recap of part two, where we find out who else will get an apron – and it seems as though some may get a second chance to enter the competition? Stay tuned! (And I’ll save my commentary on the episode overall until both parts are complete.)
Want to share your thoughts on this season of MasterChef and learn more about the competitors? Then check out my MasterChef Season 6 fan page on Wizzley!
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sockii is just your typical Jane-of-All-Trades who never has enough time in her day for all of her projects. She has written for many websites online including Squidoo, Zujava, Yahoo! Contributors Network, HubPages and Wizzley. She has been attending and vending at science fiction and media conventions for over 15 years, and for several years ran an art gallery and jewelry store in Philadelphia. Today she is happy to be living in South Jersey with her partner David and their 6 cats. Sockii is a member of several affiliate sales programs including Amazon Associates and Viglink. Products from these services may be advertised on her posts and pages to generate sales commissions.