June 13, 2012 | Posted in REALITY TV | By

Episode Recap & Review by sockii

MasterChef The Ultimate Cookbook.

The MasterChef Ultimate Cookbook, featuring recipes from the television series. Get it today at Amazon.

So, we finally have our Top 18 contestants for MasterChef – and now it’s time for their first “Mystery Box” challenge! The Mystery Box challenges are some of my favorites as they’re a bit like Chopped – only part of the challenge here is the ability to choose NOT to use certain ingredients, if they just won’t go well with the rest. Here, the Mystery Box is revealed to contain ingredients including a duck breast, kale, rhubarb, sweet potatoes, bananas, dark rum, Chinese five spice and maple syrup.

The judges discuss what they would do with these ingredients while the contestants start planning and cooking. In the judges’ estimation, the bananas are the tricky ingredient that should probably be left out, as they are likely not going to go well with the other ingredients. Some seem confident in what they are doing, although there are a few mishaps off the bat, including Felix’s pan being cold when she was supposed to be pan searing her duck, and Helene causing an oven fire.

Usually Mystery Box challenges are not elimination rounds, so the contestants weren’t too worried – until the judges announced the “rules would be changing”! (Cue “shocked” reaction takes for drama.) Three contestants are called out for having the worst appearing dishes which the judges would now taste and decide if these chefs would be staying or going. Ryan was heavily criticized for his terribly plated rum-glazed seared duck breast with caramelized bananas – not just were the bananas a bad idea but the duck was dry. Samantha prepared a seared duck breast with a sweet potato-rhubarb puree which failed apparently on every level – most crucially perhaps the fact that her duck was raw beneath the sear, rendering it mostly inedible. Scott prepared a bizarre duck and sweet potato profiterole, his only saving grace being that the duck was at least acceptably cooked.

Ryan tried to save his butt at the last moment with an embarrassing plea to the judges – and pointing out how much worse Samantha’s dish was compared to his own. That surely didn’t win him any points with either the judges nor the other contestants, but still, it was Samantha who was dismissed at this point. Felix was then awarded for preparing the dish the judges liked the best, despite her earlier problems getting her pan hot! Felix certainly seems to be a contestant to watch out for this early in the competition, and she gets the advantage for the next elimination challenge to come.

Felix was brought into the MasterChef pantry where the three judges present her with a choice. They each have one dish they say makes them “nervous” to cook, despite their years of experience in the kitchen. For Joe, it is risotto – certainly one of the most deceptively challenging dishes in Italian cuisine to prepare as it requires constant hands-on attention and timing to cook the rice just right. Graham says a classic New England clam chowder is his challenging dish – not that it requires many ingredients but each much be prepared and combined just right. Of course, Gordon’s dish would be familiar to anyone who watches Hell’s Kitchen – Beef Wellington! Felix got to chose which of these three dishes the contestants must take on. She choose (I think wisely) the risotto – of course, she didn’t know until her choice is revealed to the others that she would get to sit out the challenge as she’s been given immunity from the elimination.

The other 16 contestants then had less than an hour to make a risotto that would impress the judges. Some clearly had more experience than others with the dish – Monti claimed she only tried to make risotto once before and it didn’t turn out well at all. Tali eschewed traditional risotto cooking techniques in favor of trying something fancy with molecular gastronomy ingredients. The judges quickly didn’t seem impressed with this. Indeed, they pointed out how one of the biggest mistakes the contestants could make is not following risotto cooking techniques properly, and throwing too many different ingredients into the dish. Most typical risottos only feature one or two flavors predominantly, so as to let the rice be the star of the plate.

Frank Mirando clearly had a handle on how to make risotto and didn’t mess around going overboard with fancy or weird ingredients. The judges praised both him and David Martinez – David for having the absolute best risotto of the day, prepared with poblano peppers. They would both get to be team leaders for the next challenge. While some contestants were criticized for less-than-stellar dishes (notably Monti Carlo and Christine Ha), the judges appeared to have three chefs targeted for possible elimination for the worst dishes of the day: Tali, Helene and David Mack.

David’s fault was not washing the morels he used in his morel and portabello mushroom risotto – hence the dish mostly tasted of dirt and was gritty. Helene did a bizarre saffron risotto topped with scallops in burdock root “baskets”. The scallops were basically raw and the rice undercooked. Tali’s strange pistachio, cherry, cranberry and gooseberry risotto just didn’t work at all – who ever heard of most of these ingredients in a risotto? At the end of the episode, David was the one to go home for making the mistake of serving the unwashed mushrooms.

Did the judges make the right choice? Often it’s hard to tell everything that was probably going on in making the final decision. It’s clearly not based just on the actual dish presented but what the judges may see as the contestants’ ability to continue on in the competition and do better. (And also perhaps The Powers That Be wanting to keep some contestants going for “drama” and their “reality tv personality factor”, as I call it.) Tali’s dish was bizarre and (in Joe’s words) “disgusting”, but apparently they see enough potential in him to at least give him another chance. He’s also got an arrogance that might make him play out as a good “villain” in the show. Helene seems to be a screw-up on multiple levels in this episode (from the earlier oven fire to her poor risotto) and might have been my choice for elimination based on just those factors, but clearly she wasn’t the worst in the judges eyes at this point.

In any case, that’s two eliminated in one episode: David Mack and Samantha. Now the remaining 16 will have to face their first team challenge next week. It will be interesting to see how alliances start developing and who has talents for organizing a team, not just cooking in the kitchen.

For more on Season Three of MasterChef US including polls and background information on all contestants, check out my full season hub!

MasterChef US 2012: Season 3
MasterChef has been a hit television sensation all around the world. Learn about the contestants from Season Three, which aired in the summer/fall of 2013 on the FOX Network.

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.

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