May 28, 2014 | Posted in EPISODE RECAPS, REALITY TV | By

From 30 to 22: The top “home cooks in America” compete to earn their place in the MasterChef kitchen in the first episode

MasterChef Season 5 official promotional image.

MasterChef Season 5 official promotional image. Watch episodes now at Amazon Instant Video.

It’s that time again…MasterChef time! Season 5 has just begun, and once more I will be doing episode recaps so you can follow the action at home—and chime in with your thoughts and opinions on each episode.

There are changes right from the beginning on how this season will run as compared to the past. For one thing, we are not going to see individual “auditions” before the judges as in the past, to select a top 100. That’s a shame as I always enjoyed the audition episodes in the past. Here instead we are beginning with 30 cooks who are already coming into the MasterChef kitchen. They’ve (supposedly) been selected from the open casting calls held in various cities, this year including New York, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles (I went to the Philadelphia auditions, and you can read about my experiences in my article on Ageism in MasterChef casting.)

After some initial (staged) shots from the casting calls, the real episode begins. We hear soundbites from some of the contestants about how excited they are to be there before we even learn any of their names…that doesn’t bode well that many of them will be staying around for very long! Gordon, Graham and Joe enter to cheering and applause, but the good mood may not last for very long: the thirty chefs in in the kitchen will have to compete to earn an apron from the judges before going further, and only one of them will win the grand prize of $250,000 and their own cookbook.

Their first challenge? They have one hour to conceive and create one “stunning dish”. The theme? They are asked to turn over their chopping boards there they see a mirror…it turns out they need to put “themselves on a plate”. The judges want the contestant’s’ signature dishes. Astrid knows she is going to make her coriander crusted shrimp as she is from Louisiana but has Latino roots. Tyler is doing venison with chimichurri sauce as he’s a hunter and it’s something he would make at home.

The judges will be eliminating people as they cook if they don’t like what they see, so not everyone will even make it through the first hour of cooking. Joe says the competition begins in the pantry. There’s discipline in not getting distracted by too many choices and sticking to their ideas and plans. Willie is doing white wine apricot chicken, which is something he would make at home. Francis L is doing a dish featuring molecular gastronomy…he’s a music video director from New York and he “loves his chemicals”. He also seems to love colorful outfits!

The judges discuss what they are looking for in the immediate eliminations…knife skills, organization, cleanliness at their stations. We meet Gavin, who is doing chicken liver ravioli. Elise is doing blueberry hand pies and we get her “sob story” moment about how she wants to get out of her cubicle desk job and do something new with her life. Dan is making ramen, and seems to be impressing Graham with the flavors he’s developing in his broth and other elements.

Trouble is brewing not for some of the contestants early on. Gavin may be over-complicating things, Gordon fears, with too many elements in his dish. Francis L breaks his syringe and is freaking out about how he’s going to complete his dish without it. Tyler’s chimichurri isn’t coming out good, so he’s worried he could be asked to leave immediately.

Gordon calls stop and “knives down”. One person is leaving right now. There’s a lot of tension in the air until Gavin is called out for not tasting his dish as he is going…it’s a fatal flaw for a MasterChef. His chicken livers are bland and he is out, the first of the 30 to be eliminated.

Twenty minutes are left and they have to focus on finishing their dishes. Francis L is improvising with a squeeze bottle and hopes he can get his dish completed.

Next we meet Courtney, who is making brown butter ricotta gnocchi with peas. She’s the Philadelphia area’s lone representative, an aerial dancer and gentlemen’s club entertainer…oh boy. I get the distinct feeling we’ll be seeing more of her this season, especially as it turns out she is friends with the winner of Hell’s Kitchen Season 10, Christina Wilson (see Christina’s Facebook post of April 30, 2014). Things that make you go hmmm with the casting, perhaps? I guess we’ll find out.

Elizabeth is making a peanut butter bread pudding but Gordon is worried her dessert dish won’t be finished in time. Dan, Tyler and Willie are praised for doing well. There’s another “knives down” called with just ten minutes remaining. Natanya is asked to leave for technical errors in her sauce which has broken, has raw wine in it still, and just isn’t coming together. She looks upset, but we’ve hardly gotten to know her. Oh well, goodbye Natanya!

Only eight minutes are left. The contestants are plating through the final seconds and then time is called. The judges have been tasting everything as the preparation was ongoing, but now they will take one final taste of each plate. Some of the contestants definitely seem to be in trouble, others are confident they will get an apron.

The first apron goes to Courtney for her “brave and tenacious” gnocchi. Willie gets an apron next, then Dan, Jamie, Tyler, Victoria, Christian….it’s getting down to the last apron and there Elise, Elizabeth, Francis L, and several others we haven’t met yet still waiting.

The last apron goes to Elizabeth. Elise is devastated  But wait! The nine remaining without aprons will have one last and final chance to earn one in a new challenge. Now they will have the same exact, limited ingredients to use. Basic things like bacon, carrots, potatoes, mushrooms and chicken that can be found in any pantry or home refrigerator. They have to use these limited ingredients to make a stunning dish…and one of the judges will be cooking alongside them. Gordon is selected by Astrid. They have one hour to compete and stay in the competition.

Gordon gets to his station and starts cooking…but won’t reveal what he’s making until the end. Corey, who we haven’t met yet, is doing fried chicken and Joe questions whether he should be doing something he hasn’t made before. Elise is doing chicken pot pie, and is questioned about the idea of doing a pie again when her first one wasn’t a winner. We next meet Leslie, a 56 year old stay-at-home dad from Malibu, California. He’s doing stuffed chicken breast, something he says he would make for his family.

Astrid is called out for her sloppy station by Joe. There is trash all over the floor and for a moment it looks like she might be told to go home right then and there. But it’s a warning only, so she is still in it.

We catch up with Gordon for a moment, as he is infusing a broth with fresh herbs using a French press. But we still don’t know what his final dish will be.

Chandis is shaking while trying to peel her shrimp for her potato cakes with shrimp and mint. Leslie is confident while getting teased by some of the safe contestants up in the balcony.

Time is called and now we get to find out who will move on…but Gordon is first with his minted shrimp dumpling with sweet and sour asian broth. It looks great and the other judges praise it, saying this is the kind of cooking the contestants should be striving for. Are any of them even close? We’ll find out shortly as they are called up in groups of three for the final tasting.

Corey, Leslie and “Little Gordon” are first. Gordon has made a seared chicken breast with potato puree and soft boiled egg. Graham tastes and says it has great flavor even if it looks amateurish compared to “Big Gordon”‘s plate. Leslie has stuffed chicken breast with mashed potatoes and carrots. Joe thinks the portion is huge but it’s got nice seasoning and crisp skin. Delicious food, “absurd portion”. Corey is last with his fried chicken and potato souffle. Gordon says to “never play with the souffle”…and he cracks his plate trying to get the souffle out of its baking dish. But the “dish was broken” before then, according to Gordon.

The judges debate who of these three will go home and who will stay. Gordon is safe. Corey is going home. Leslie is asked if he “really needs” this competition (what’s up with that? Because he’s older than the rest and seems to have a comfortable life?), but he does get an apron.

The next three up are Astrid, Amy and Michael. Astrid is first and has made a seared chicken breast with potato hash. Gordon says overall the flavor is there. Amy has shrimp and chicken tacos with chimichurri sauce and bell pepper salsa. Grahan thinks the shrimp taco was good but the chicken one was pretty dry. Michael has made roasted chicken and corn maque choux…it’s too salty. There’s only one apron to be handed out this round and it goes to Astrid.

The last three are up. Francis L has made a playful dish of spinach pasta with sous vide shrimp. “Runaway shrimp” was his concept with the plating, that the pasta was to be like seaweed and the shrimp are trying to escape it. Graham is not sure about his sauce. Chandis has potato rosti stack layered with spinach, shrimp and mint. The shrimp are cooked fine but the potatoes are raw…it’s one of the worst offenses in the kitchen, according to Joe. Elise has chicken pot pie with succotash. Gordon says the really bizarre news is that it tastes good but “it’s a pot pie” and she should come out of her comfort zone.

Chandis will not be moving on because of her “unforgivable” errors. Francis made a bold move doing pasta from scratch and will be continuing on. Elise is the last one to be decided upon…she’s ready to break down (again) (cue the sad music)…Gordon says “I’m sorry…you’re not going upstairs to the balcony…because they are coming down to congratulate you.” And so from 30 we are down to 22 after this first episode.

I had to watch the episode twice to make up my mind about how I felt about the start of this season—and to convince myself that I was going to commit to doing full episode recaps this year or not. I wasn’t sold at first, and was disappointed in the change of the starting format. But, in the end I decided I’ll give it a shot after all, despite some of my continued disappointment in the casting and overall trends with the show. So far I like Dan, who seems serious and with some real kitchen skills, and Francis L, who could be fun with the molecular gastronomy elements he wants to bring in to things—although I wonder how long he will last. I’m not sure about Leslie; I want to cheer on an older contestant on the show but it looks like he’s going to be antagonizing some of the other chefs a lot. Elise looks like someone they are going to play up a lot for her sob story background, and Courtney, well. It’s going to take a lot for me to really be impressed with her cooking skills and that she’s not just as the typical young, pretty, actress/model/wanna be celeb-type that they always seem to like so much on this show.

What do you think, are you in for another season of MasterChef? And are any of the contestants standing out for you so far? Feel free to leave a comment below!

My MasterChef Season 5 “Hub” Page

All episode recaps listed, links to learn about this year’s contestants, and more!

MasterChef US 2014: Season 5
Welcome to my MasterChef US Season 5 fan page! Here, over the coming months, you will find my detailed episode recaps and reviews, where you’ll be able to share your own thoughts and opinions on the show and this year’s contestants. The fifth sea…

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.

1 Comment

  1. MasterChef Season 5 Episode 2 Recap and Review: June 2, 2014 - […] Previous episode recap: May 26, 2014 […]

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