“Think Inside the Box”
Last week we said goodbye to Katrina, after she failed to impress with a Mystery Box of classic Italian ingredients and served up raw veal. Who will be going home tonight? It’s down to Claudia, Nick, Stephen and Derrick and the episode begins with talking heads from each of them about what they hope to do if they win MasterChef. Stephen talks about his idea of opening a farm-driven food truck. Nick wants to open a gastropub in his home town of San Diego. Claudia wants to open a Mexican restaurant. Derrick wants to open a restaurant, too, a rock-and-roll themed one named “Rock Torn Rose” (if I heard that correctly.)
The judges inform them that tonight they will be cooking in teams. The winning team will move on to the semi-finals. The losing team will go head to head in a pressure test. Nick gets to pick teams because he won the pressure test last week with his Mexican ingredient box and chorizo mussels. It’s a tough choice – does he pick someone he thinks is the strongest so that they should win the challenge? Or does he pick someone he thinks he can take on in a pressure test? He picks Claudia, so that Stephen and Derrick will have to work together.
Now they find out the next part of their challenges. The judges roll out three boxes, each with their names on them. Each box contains ingredients that define the chef’s way of cooking. The two team will be making an appetizer and entree in an hour using the ingredients in one of the boxes. Christina’s box is wheeled away and it’s down to Graham and Gordon’s boxes. That means for sure Christina’s box will be a dessert box, that will have to be used in the pressure test, they realize.
Which team gets which box, Gordon or Grahams, will be decided based on fortune cookies. Stephen and Derrick get Gordon’s box and are Blue Team, and Claudia and Nick get Graham’s box and are Red Team.
Gordon’s box has ingredients such as rack of lamb, duck, filet mignon, spot prawns, watercress, butternut squash, and pomegranates. Graham’s box has live crab, wild salmon, Berkshire pork chops, fennel, asparagus, creme fraiche.
Before they have to start cooking, the judges will give them some inspiration: an array of dishes are wheeled out into the kitchen which could all be made with the ingredients in their boxes. They can go a “million ways” here with the two courses they have to prepare in an hour, appetizer and entree.
Nick says the challenge is coming up with a menu and sticking with things. They want to go seafood. Derrick and Stephen seem to be coming up with a seafood appetizer and something with duck for their entree.
After about 5 minutes gone into dish planning, they are getting down to the cooking. The judges debate how they would approach the challenge. Gordon thinks, with his box, the shellfish would be great for the appetizer then going into the duck or filet. Graham says they should be wary of the crab in his box…so much work for so little meat.
Stephen and Derrick are going with a prawn ceviche appetizer. Nick and Claudia are making a crab broth with cilantro oil. But he doesn’t have the live crab in the pot yet with 15 minutes gone, which could be a problem according to the judges. How will they get enough flavor in their broth in so little time, even using the pressure cooker? Claudia thinks they should change plans and go for an “Italian” crab cake to start.
Meanwhile the judges check on the team’s entree plans. Gordon warns Stephen and Derrick to make sure they have their duck cooked enough, and they seem to be arguing over how to cook it. Over on Red Team, their entree will be salmon with Tuscan kale. Derrick thinks they need some more color on their appetizer plate, everything is too green. It’s a rush to the finish as both team’s appetizers and entrees have to be completed simultaneously.
Time is called and the judges are ready for the tasting. They start with Red Team’s appetizer: Italian crab cake with roasted red pepper sauce, cilantro oil and avocado mousse. The cake tastes good, it’s seasoned nicely, it tastes of crab. It’s not really luxurious, it’s not really Italian, but it’s well done for change of direction they undertook. It’s chock full of crab, Christina says, but they could have used maybe more roasted red pepper to sell the “Italian” style of the appetizer.
Blue Team has their spot prawn ceviche with pea and avocado puree, spot prawn roe and pomegranate seeds. Who cleaned the prawns? Derrick. The puree is intriguing, Gordon says, but there’s one ingredient there that doesn’t sit: the pomegranate seeds. Gordon doesn’t want to feel like he’s going to the dentist while eating an appetizer! It was a dish on the verge of something special but ruined by the pomegranate seeds. Graham says it’s seasoned nice but he’d like the cucumber cut smaller and it’s not the dish that makes him say “semi-final”. Based on this feedback, it seems like Red Team may have edged out Blue Team on the appetizer round.
Time now, though for the Red Team’s entree. They have pan seared salmon over Tuscan kale, celery root puree, roasted red pepper sayce and salmon roe. The judges are confused: why did they use the roasted pepper sauce twice? It’s the same exact sauce as on their appetizer, and that’s a big problem. They say they knew their salmon needed a sauce and they didn’t have the time to make a new one, but that’s not flying with the judges. And why spend time to do a crispy skin fish to then put it on a wet bed of kale. Graham wants to know. Their appetizer was great but this entree has taken them back down the slope. Gordon says fennel or asparagus would have gone much better with the salmon than kale did. And the salmon is rare, not medium, as it should be. It tastes better than it looks but they’ve cooked better individually than as a team here. It shows no personality, just confusion.
Blue Team, meanwhile has seared duck with butternut squash puree, brussels sprout and a morel mushroom and shallot sauce. Derrick says he would have seared the duck differently than Stephen did. The duck skin is a little tough to get through, the judges agree, but overall it was definitely a really nice 50-50 marriage of a dish. The morels have a deep earthy flavor to go with the duck. But the morels also have sand and grit in them, Gordon says, which is a shame. They weren’t cleaned enough.
So, which team won the challenge? Derrick says it feels kind of 50-50 at this point. But there can only be one winning team and it’s Blue Team. Derrick and Stephen are safe from elimination, meaning Claudia and Nick have to face off see who will stay in the competition.
So now it’s time for Christina’s box of ingredients to be wheeled out. Nick doesn’t want to get too confident but he has done good in the last few baking/dessert tests. Along with the box of ingredients, an array of fancy desserts are wheeled out and the two are asked which they think is the hardest to make. Nick says the macarons and “the tower of power” – the croquembouche. Claudia says the pavlova and three layer cheesecake are the hardest.
But no. According to Christina the most difficult dessert is one of her own (of course): the Chocolate Malt Layer Cake. There are six parts to the dessert, including the chocolate cake, hot fudge sauce, malted milk crumbs and charred marshmallows. Christina will give them her basic recipe and 90 minutes to make this dessert that normally takes “months” to learn how to make.
How do you teach people to make this? She explains as Claudia and Nick start cooking, that they need to start with the cake batter itself: the butter, the sugar, the sponge batter needs “tunneling and aeration”. Claudia says she’s feeling good at this point. Meanwhile, Nick realizes he used the wrong bowl of ingredients in the mixer – he’s screwed. He has to start over but if he ratios right, he should be ok, he thinks.
While the cakes are baking, they have to make the frosting. The butter has to be the right temperature. The charred marshmallows should be pretty easy, but Claudia’s spending a lot of time working on them. Nick’s sponges are out of the oven, but Claudia’s aren’t done because she make them so thick.
Cake, soak, frosting, charred marshmallows, frosting, over again. That’s how they have to be assembled. Christina checks on Claudia and tells her it’s time to get the cakes out of the oven. In fact she’s quite insistent about it after the other judges commented that she might be overcooking them if not careful. Is it fair the way Christina is helping Claudia out so much? More on that later. We hear now that the malted chocolate fudge is the hardest part to get right. Claudia’s got to get the glaze on her assembled, while Nick is finishing his marshmallows. His cake is looking spot on, and Claudia is struggling. She just has to dump the marshmallows on her half-iced, half-glazed cake and run with it. Hers looks like a disaster compared to Nick’s.
But we know it’s never that simple here in the MasterChef kitchen, is it?
Claudia says she feels disappointed. She’s worried about going home. Nick says this challenge was the hardest thing he’s ever done inside of the hardest thing he’s ever done – going on MasterChef in the first place.
Christina starts with Claudia’s cake. The outside is a mess but what’s inside is what counts, right? Christina says it’s “very impressive”. Claudia almost managed to get the layers of the cake than how Christina makes it. Visually Nick has her beat but from a flavor standpoint it could be tough to beat Claudia’s. Graham says flavor-wise it’s delicious. The sponge cake is really big but it’s not in proportion. Half of the slice is crying out for more glaze and icing. He kind of expected more from her.
Time to check out Nick’s cake. Christina is first again and visually it’s beautiful. Her one concern is the height – his is much shorter than Claudia’s. He shortened the recipe to make up for losing his first batch of batter. How does the slice look? It’s pretty beautiful. “Thank you baby Jesus,” Nick says. But the taste? Christina pulls a “Joe” move, giving Nick the stink-eye before saying nothing and going back to the other judges. She whispers to them that there’s something in the cake that’s not quite right. (Is it fair for her to be planting that seed of doubt in them before they even get to taste it?)
Gordon says it feels expensive, it looks beautiful…frosting delicious, fudge beautifully done, but it’s very sweet. Why is that? Nick realizes that when he scaled down the recipe he may not have correctly adjusted the sugar. Why didn’t he ask Claudia for ingredients if he needed them? Because he didn’t think to ask for help. He’s hoping that the presentation and the other flavors will carry through.
The judges debate but we can all at home see where this is leading. Despite nailing every other element of the cake perfectly, Nick is going home because of too much sugar in his cake batter. Claudia is safe and in the top three, because baking is a “science” and you can’t mess with those ingredient proportions. (Even if you end up presenting a really crappy looking, half-frosted cake.)
This episode really made me angry, and I know I’m not the only one. If you look at the official Facebook page for MasterChef there are hundreds of comments questioning the judges’ decision to send Nick home and not Claudia, how unfair it seems when he got every part of his cake seemingly right except for their being too much sugar making it “too sweet”. More grievously people think it was wholly unfair for Christina to step in and help Claudia so much, insisting on when to take her cakes out of the oven when otherwise Claudia might have over-baked them.
While it’s true the judges taste and comment on dishes regularly, at least the way we saw it in the editing here it appeared Nick was getting no help from the judges at all while Claudia was getting lots of help and encouragement. Did they just want to make sure the top three weren’t all men? That’s the appearance that I was left with, and it’s not a good one.
For some reason I have failed to warm up to Claudia throughout the season and it has become worse as I feel there has been too much favoritism shown to her by the judges – this week as perhaps the most obvious incident of all. Gordon excessively picks on Derrick while he seems to be the most technically savvy chef, just someone who occasionally overdoes it on presentation or goes a little too far. At this point I would greatly prefer a Stephen vs. Derrick finale over any other combination (that is, any featuring Claudia) but I just can’t shake the dread feeling she’s being pushed hard to be this season’s winner so they can easily market a Mexican cookbook out of the deal.
I guess we’ll find out one way or another next week, as we’re going to get a “2-hour finale” (meaning the Top 3 become 2 in the first hour, and then the standard one-on-one, appetizer-entree-dessert battle in the second hour. Do you have any predictions for the top two, and then who will win it all?
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.