“Return of the Champions”
Last week, Hetal was sent home after failing to impress with a trio of pasta dishes. That’s left us with Claudia, Stephen, Derrick, Katrina and Nick in the top five.
As the “magical five” enter the MasterChef kitchen this week, we hear from Claudia first. Her goal is to make her daughter proud, she says, and it’s time for their next Mystery Box challenge.
The home cooks are told to stand behind whichever station they want and to then lift the boxes waiting there. Under each one is a different, single ingredient. Katrina has a pear, Stephen has a portabella mushroom, Nick has a block of chocolate, Claudia has a tomato, and Derrick has a wedge of blue cheese. Derrick is not happy as blue cheese is his least favorite ingredient in the universe; “it takes like Stephen smells,” he says, for a very unpleasant mental image.
Gordon says this is the toughest Mystery Box challenge ever. How to create a MasterChef worthy dish with a single ingredient? Well, they will have a very simple pantry box to utilize as well: eggs, yeast, flour, sugar, herbs, chicken stock, lemon, lime, heavy cream and some basic spices. They now have to make the “greatest dishes of their lives” in one hour.
The judges say it’s about being creative and clever with the pantry box items. Stephen says this is the type of challenge to separate “the men from Derrick”. Nick is making vanilla-chocolate cupcakes with chocolate-speckled whipped cream. Derrick is making thyme-flavored pretzel bites with blue cheese dipping sauce. This dish is all about his mom, he says, as it’s something she loves. Stephen is roasting mushrooms, making a hollandaise sauce with mushrooms and also a pate a choux pastry. He tells Christina his dream is operating a farm-centric food truck in his dessert community. Katrina is making a pear carpaccio with vanilla-mint sauce and chutney.
Claudia is doing a savory tomato Napoleon with fried flour tortillas. She says she dreamed of tomatoes – and Gordon in his jeans – the night before. She confesses to having a crush on Gordon which earns her a hug. Stephen pipes in that he likes Gordon’s jeans too, which earns him a slap on the behind. I think Stephen enjoyed that just a little TOO much…
Time is nearly up and Gordon is worried about Katrina. Is she being too complacent? Claudia’s tortillas look nice and crisp, Christina says. Time is called and the judges will be tasting the top three dishes only. The first home cook used the main ingredient across a couple of different applications and tied it together with an amazing sauce: Stephen. (Who, it’s clear, had more than just one portabella mushroom to work with!) He’s made a mushroom sandwich “five ways”: roasted portabella, mushroom jus, mushroom milk curd cheese, mushroom hollandaise and sauted mushrooms. He used the pate a choux as the base. Gordon loves that he had the “balls” to make a hollandaise and a pate a choux, but the cheese needs seasoning as it’s a touch on the bland side. But great flavors, it’s a contender. Graham says it’s great, it’s Stephen staying on track. Christina is impressed, there’s a great balance of acidity but it’s maybe a little rich.
The second dish used bold flavors and wasn’t plated as a classic entree: Derrick. He’s made herbed pretzel bites with blue cheese dipping sauce. Graham wants to know where that came from? Derrick says his childhood, because he loved getting cheese and pretzels at baseball games with his mom. It’s really good and creative, getting the curve ball of the blue cheese. The only thing he would have done better would be to chop the herbs on top for a little color. Gordon says it’s bloody good. There’s only two things on the plate and that’s strong, it’s sending a message to everyone else.
The third dish they will take a look at has a lot of complex components and stuck to their roots. Visually it’s restaurant quality: Claudia’s dish. She’s made a tomato Napoleon with roasted tomato and garlic sauce…and clearly had more than one tomato to do all of that as well! Christina is “impressed” (again…could she come up with another complement soon, please?) She thinks there’s a good balance of sweetness and acidity. Gordon says it tastes fresh and it’s exciting.
The judges debate and of the three “stunning” dishes, the person who made the best dish is Claudia. She’s off to the pantry to find out her advantage in the upcoming Elimination Test. So she may have won the Mystery Box based on her tomato dish dream, but now it’s time for her to focus on her dream to win MasterChef. Tonight they are going to focus on not the prize money, not the MasterChef trophy, but the thing that could put her “face” in the homes of many across America: the MasterChef cookbook. They show her a black covered book with then a cut out photo of her stuck on the cover.
For winning the Mystery Box she is safe from elimination. She also gets to take a basket and fill it with 20 of her favorite ingredients available in the pantry, ingredients that they’d likely find in her kitchen – and featured in her cookbook.
Soon she leaves the pantry with her basket. The judges explain how she picked 20 ingredients that could feature in her cookbook should she win, and now she will get to pick which one of the four of them will have to cook a dish using those ingredients.
But what of the other three contestants? Looks like they will need some more baskets to choose from. The judges have invited some special guests to do that. The first is someone who has been there before in the MasterChef kitchen: it’s season five winner Courtney Lapresi. (Ugh. I knew this day was coming, but wasn’t looking forward to having Courtney back on my tv screen any time soon.) She’s there with her cookbook, Everyday Fancy, and her own basket of ingredients. But wait! It’s time to also welcome back season four winner, Luca Manfe! Everyone seems very happy to see Luca – myself included! Derrick remarks that just saying his name brings a smile to your face. Claudia says Luca is someone she absolutely aspires to be like. But they’ve got one more phenomenon to bring out: the global inspiration Christine Ha. Nick says how Christine is an inspiration to everyone, how she’s a better cook than many people with all of their senses. (Interesting how they had no sound bites of this season’s contestants talking about Courtney as an inspiration!)
Gordon asks them how it’s been for each of them since winning MasterChef. Courtney says she threw herself into her cookbook. Luca says his catering business has taken him all over America – and he even cooked for Michele Obama! Christine has made guest appearances on MasterChef Vietnam and has a cooking show in Canada, Four Senses.
Like Claudia, the past winners have put together baskets of 20 of their favorite ingredients. Courtney has done a dessert basket: edible flowers, champagne, other fancy bakers’ choices. Luca’s basket is ingredients you’d find in his mother or grandmother’s kitchen, a classic Italian basket including broccoli rabe, eggplant, white wine, and veal. Christine’s basket features Asian ingredients: cilantro, lime, pork, shrimp and “her favorite”: fish sauce. Finally, what is in Claudia’s basket? Cilantro, lime, pineapple, jalapenos…it’s screaming Mexican, Gordon says.
Nick says the only basket he doesn’t want is the Mexican one. Even though he lives in San Diego where Mexican food is everywhere, he doesn’t cook it. Hmm. Can we guess who is going to get that basket, fellow viewers? Of course, when Claudia gets to choose who gets which basket, she gives Nick her basket. He says it might as well be filled with “rocks and empty shells”.
Claudia gives Stephen the basket from Christine, saying she hasn’t really seen him work with these kinds of ingredients before. Luca’s basket, she says, is the easiest because everyone has cooked Italian. Courtney’s is the most difficult because it’s clearly a high end baker’s basket. She gives Katrina Luca’s basket and Derrick Courtney’s basket.
They have one hour to use only the ingredients in their baskets to make their “MasterChef worthy” dishes. The former winners join Claudia on the balcony to watch the action. The judges think the Italian basket should be easy for anyone but Katrina doesn’t seem to be on her game tonight, she could get tripped up. Courtney thinks Stephen is “amazing” after watching him in action for a while. Well, that’s one way to put it.
Gordon checks in with Derrick. He’s making a chocolate pot du creme, but is that enough at this stage of the competition? He seems to think so, as he’s going to be using the edible flowers and the mascarpone cheese to elevate it.
What is Nick making? Forty minutes to go and he doesn’t seem to have a plan yet. Mexican food is out of his comfort zone so he’s lost. Derrick says Nick is going down in a “big ball of Mexican fire”. But looking up at the previous winners in the balcony, he says, he finds his inspiration.
Katrina is making veal scallopini with broccolini pasta. Graham wants to know if she’s excited, because she looks like she’s snoozing. He gives her a pep talk, but will it get her going?
Time for Christina to check in with Stephen. Meanwhile up in the balcony, Luca is asking Claudia if Stephen is nuts. Claudia concurs that he is. Stephen is making a mixed grill, pork tenderloin in a red curry, shrimp with yellow curry, and tofu with madras curry. Is that too complicated, he asks Christina? You think? Even Christine subtly suggests he might want to tone things down.
Gordon checks in with Nick. He’s against the wall, he says. He’s doing chorizo mussels with pineapple and rice. But he seems to be pulling things together now that he has a plan.
How does Luca think Katrina is doing with his basket? She’s going in with a very rustic dish, he says politely. Claudia thinks Nick is looking vulnerable but with some good techniques. Is Stephen doing too much, and is Derrick being too simple? We’ll find out once time is called.
Time to say goodbye, sadly, to the previous season winners. Can I add a moment of “Aw” over how cute Luca was escorting Christine by the arm? Total Italian gentleman, and so nice to see the two of them again.
All I have to say to Courtney is “Bye, Felicia.”
First up for tasting is Derrick. He had the hardest basket, he says, and even if his dish looks simple he feels he did it justice. He’s made a chocolate and darjeeling tea pot du creme with mascarpone cream and a champagne lemon torched sabayon. Derrick says he chose this dish to play to his strengths. The flavor is good, Gordon says, but it’s so heavy. The execution is a “cop out”, the edible flowers were pre-made, and Gordon doesn’t like the mouse in the mold. He wants more because it’s good but it’s safe. Christina says the darjeeling tea plays well with the chocolate but the torch on the sabayon makes them taste like scrambled eggs. It might not be enough to take him to the final four.
Nick is next with his basket from Claudia. He has chorizo mussels steamed in pineapple juice on cilantro lime rice with poblano sauce. Gordon says it looks fantastic. The mussels are cooked perfectly and it’s incredible. The flavor, texture and heat are there. He’s headed to the top four based on this, Gordon says. Graham says it’s “beautifully sexy”. The charred corn give it a beautiful smokiness and it’s the best dish he’s done.
Stephen is next with his “Deconstructed Pho” of shrimp, pork, tofu, mustard greens and broth. (Sorry Stephen, but there’s never any curry in any pho I’ve ever had!) Christina says he did a good job of honing in on the Asian flavors. Graham says there’s great seasoning all around, especially on the tofu. The one thing he’d do is it’s a little hard to eat and it would be easier to enjoy in a bowl.
Lastly, time for Katrina. She’s never made veal scallopini before but she’s proud of herself. Her veal is served over homemade fettucine and broccolini and mushrooms in white wine, garlic and shallot sauce. The pasta is delicious, Gordon says. But is the veal overcooked? No, Katrina says. But Gordon is already going “damn damn damn”. It’s not pink, it’s raw. He wishes she left the veal off as the pasta is delicious.
After the judges debate, all four are called forward. The one truly great dish of the night? Is Nick’s. He’s safe and headed up to the balcony with Claudia. Stephen got carried away with his presentation, but the strength is there and his dish has landed him in the balcony as well. That leaves Derrick and Katrina at the bottom. Derrick’s dish was underwhelming and Katrina’s missed the mark. But Derrick did just enough to be safe. Katrina is going home.
Before she goes, however, we get some full on waterworks and an invitation, from Gordon, for her to “spend time” in his restaurants in France. He’ll arrange that personally, he says, but what exactly is he promising her? It’s about as clear as mud. Maybe it’s no more than the one day “internship” that season four’s Kathy Prieto received, hmm? We also get Katrina’s prediction that Nick is going to be the next MasterChef before she leaves.
This episode was mostly enjoyable, to me, for getting to see Luca and Christine again. And Katrina’s departure was no great surprise and fairly overdue, in my opinion. While she could do a good job with certain homey dishes she just didn’t seem to have the finesse needed to really be creative and polished in a restaurant chef way, like the other contestants at this point.
I’m happy to see Nick doing so well at this point. He was a sleeper for the first half of the season; could he actually end up coming out on top? I’m not so sure about that. He’s also failed sometimes by either over-complicating a dish or doing something too basic (like his cupcake in the Mystery Box tonight.)
Honestly at this point it’s really getting hard to predict, of the four left, who is going to win it all and who is going home next. I have the feeling now with Katrina gone that Claudia definitely has the strongest point of view to market in a cookbook, but I do wish we’d see her do more outside of her Mexican food comfort zone.
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!
Related posts at Spacial Anomaly
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.