August 5, 2014 | Posted in EPISODE RECAPS, REALITY TV | By

Screencap from the August 4 episode of MasterChef.

Screencap from the August 4 episode of MasterChef. Watch it now via Amazon Instant Video.

There’s now 11 chefs left and everyone seems focused on making it into the top 10. I’m not sure when the top 10 became such a big deal on MasterChef…I guess that’s just what the producers wanted everyone to talk about? Elizabeth is “super pumped” for the upcoming Mystery Box challenge, and so is Francis. Based on the opening sound bites we can get a pretty good idea of who is going to be in the focus this week – and who will likely be one of the contestants going home.

The judges always throw a lot at the contestants and tonight is no different. There are two boxes in front of each chef. This challenge is all about choice. Everyone is told to lift the box on their right first. Inside is a selection of “every day” ingredients, things like iceberg lettuce, mustard, ground beef, bacon, tilapia, dill pickles, processed cheese dip. (It’s like a Walmart shopping nightmare! If they were sponsors this year I’m not even sure they’d want to own up to that box.)

Inside the other box is a selection of gourmet and fancier ingredients: ahi tuna, kobe beef, Berkshire pork, fresh peas, parsnips, mixed greens, stilton cheese, and caviar. It’s not about making a right or wrong choice between the two of them, it’s all about the execution.

The luxury box looks like a trap, Victoria thinks. They have 60 minutes and can only choose ingredients from one of the two boxes. Leslie is going for the fancy box. Daniel is doing the cheap box and will make something no one else is making, he says. Elizabeth is doing the expensive box because it seems disrespectful not to use such great ingredients if given the chance. Victoria is doing the everyday ingredients to knock it out of the park.

It’s the time there’s ever been a choice in the mystery box and the judges seem to agree with Victoria: the fancy box could be tricky for people who don’t know the ingredients well. Courtney is using the fancy box; she’s doing pan-seared pork shop – she loves luxury. It’s the every day box for Victoria and Joe thinks she definitely made the right choice. She’s using the tilapia and making an iceberg salad with bacon vinaigrette.  Elizabeth is also doing the pork chop from the luxury box.

Leslie “fancy pants” is using all three proteins from the luxury box: kobe beef, pork chop and the ahi tuna. He’s also preparing the parsnips with the truffles. The problem, however, is he is missing seasoning – or so Joe yells at him. They argue and make it seem like he’s headed for disaster.

Francis is also using the kobe beef and the tuna to make a kind of chessboard – it’s his interpretation of “surf and turf.”

Joe is excited for Victoria and Elizabeth’s dishes, but with time up who will the judges pick as the top three? The first person used the high end box to perfection…seasoning was spot on… It’s Elizabeth. She’s done a pan-roasted pork chop, herb biscuits, parsnip rosemary oven fries and a pea salad. She also has a grain mustard cream sauce. Gordon likes it. She did justice to the high end ingredients. The cook on the chop is good and Graham says it couldn’t be better seasoned. It’s also plated elegantly. Joe says she was firing on all cylinders.

The next dish was one where the everyday ingredients were turned into a restaurant dish by the home chef: Victoria.  She has prepared tilapia and ham steak, with iceberg salad and potato crisps. The rich saltiness from the ham is great but Graham loves the pickles in the dressing the best. It’s a really good job. Maybe it’s her night to win a mystery box, something she hasn’t accomplished yet. The tilapia is cooked well, she picked a strategy and nailed it, Joe says.

The third dish? This home cook opted for the luxury box and the risk paid off…Leslie! He did all three proteins with truffle puree, stilton cheese and pea puree. The tuna is perfect. Brilliant dish…it’s the best he’s cooked, the judges say. Joe likes the pea puree. The kobe is good with the stilton. And the truffles are in the parsnip puree and it’s delicious. Joe says it’s seasoned perfectly.

Victoria, Elizabeth and Leslie: who had the best dish of the three of them? The person who was the most creative; it’s Leslie for his first Mystery Box win and he’s ready to go to the pantry to find out what it is. Elizabeth is terrified, and in fact no one seems happy about it except for Leslie. He gets to choose a stuffed pasta dish that all the other cooks have to prepare – he is safe from elimination and in the top 10. The first pasta is refined, cultured…it’s tortellini, Joe says. The next is Graham’s choice, a stuffed pasta that’s inventive, hearty, fun, caramelle. I’ve never heard of them until tonight but they look like little wrapped hard candies. The last stuffed pasta is Gordon’s pick, something a little rough around the edges like himself: raviolli.

Leslie chooses the caramelle thinking they will be the most difficult to pull off. The classic preparation is stuffed with mozzarella and served with a tomato sauce, and  Joe wants them to make a dish that is definitely restaurant quality. While the other chefs are putting together their strategy, tasting and looking at the caramelle in the pantry, it turns out Leslie has another advantage. He gets to replace the pasta machine of one of his competitors and force them to use a rolling pin to prepare their pasta dough.

He seems to be enjoying taunting the others with his advantage, going up to each one as if he was going to give it to them, before handing it over to his obvious nemesis: Daniel. Daniel isn’t surprised because he thinks Leslie is a “petty man”. In fact Daniel is acting pretty petty as he points the pin up at Leslie on the balcony and compares it to a baseball bat, that he’s going to knock his dish out of the ball park. We’ll see about that…

Courtney says this is nothing new to her since she’s “third generation Italian”. She’s sticking pretty close to a classic recipe. Francis, meanwhile, has used beet juice to dye his pasta – not an unusual trick in pasta making but the judges are questioning him about it. Gordon wants to know if Francis ever plays it safe, and Francis answers that this is playing it safe for him. Big Willie is doing dessert caramelle with a sweet sauce…it’s just crazy town, Graham says. But Willie thinks he has it under control. He  has to shine so he’s going to do his own thing to get into the top 10.

Cutter is doing mascarpone in his maramelle with a vodka cream sauce and he’s excited. Daniel is doing short ribs with kim chi and watercress. Joe is worried about his wine reduction, but thinks he’s otherwise in good shape.

Jaimeee is doing it the classic way, except for adding a little ground pork to her sauce. Gordon thinks Jaimee is doing good, but Francis’ tastes dreadful.

There are two minutes remaining. Time for finishing touches before it’s hands up and time for tasting.

It was a tough challenge, the judges agree. First up? Daniel, who was at a huge disadvantage. He has short rib caramelle with a tamarind habanero curry sauce. The pasta looks as if it was rolled fine but he added red wine to the pasta dough. The flavor combination doesn’t make a lot of sense. It’s so out of line with what they were asking. Why go so far off? Joe wants to know. It looks more like a steamed dumpling… Joe is coughing because it’s so spicy hot. Could it ever be served in an Italian restaurant? No. The biggest challenge was not the lack of the pasta machine but Daniel himself, Joe says. The other judges agree – the size of the caramelle is wrong, Gordon says. Too spicy, a contrast that doesn’t work. If he wanted to stand out tonight he certainly did that – he might be standing outside the door before the night is over. Daniel wishes he made the caramelle smaller…good night. Disgusting is Gordon’s final word on his dish.

But Jaimee is next. She has caramelle with a creamy tomato and pork sauce. It’s a tribute to her father’s meat sauce. It’s really great. It’s a perfect interpretation of making it her own, and the judges seem as pleased as she is with her success.

Next up is Francis with his short rib caramelle and cauliflower/yellow pepper puree sauce. Graham says the sauce ingredients don’t go together and there’s no seasoning. It’s just not good. Next up is Cutter. He has short rib caramelle with a vodka white sauce topped with roasted garlic. The caramelle look like they have the right amount of filling and they are good – he cooks like an angel.

Next Courtney has mozzarella-stuffed caramelle with a classic tomato sauce. It’s very dry and firm. The plate is simple Italian but of course the judges are pleased with her. We get a short of her heels as she walks away smug and happy with herself.

Last plate that we actually see the judges taste is Big Willie’s. He has squash and apple-filled caramelle with a creme anglaise sauce. Why a dessert? Gordon wants to know? He gets so upset because it feels like abuse. He’s so unimpressed. He’s dreading tasting it because it looks like “regurgitated dog vomit” – yikes! Gordon says the custard is way too sweet. He loves when Willie cooks humble but this is lazy Willie. Disgusting, he says about the second dish of the night. It did not work.

Again, this was a tough challenge for the home cooks. Some rose to it, some deflated. The standout dishes? The first had a perfect balance between the pasta and the filling: Courtney’s. The winning dish, however, featured restaurant quality caramelle…Jaimee’s.

The bad news comes with the announcement of the three worst dishes. These are no surprise. The first over-thought and underperformed…Daniel. The next dreadful dish was made by someone who “didn’t understand the brief” and completely made a mess of it: Francis. The third? Went way too far out of the box…Big Willie.

Tonight all three were so desperate to stand out that at least one will be standing outside the kitchen tonight. Daniel and Willie are called forward first. Tonight…they are both…so lucky they are safe. “Scottish Francis” is going home.

I was pretty unhappy with this outcome as I really liked Francis as a competitor, and I don’t see how his dish was in fact worse than the disaster on Daniel’s plate or Willie’s bizarre dessert pasta. But of course, Willie is one of their “big characters” this season, an easy fan favorite, so he wouldn’t be kicked off yet. And Daniel they just want to keep around, I say for the nastiness between him and Leslie. It’s boring and predictable to me, and I’ll miss Francis’ creativity as the only chef trying to pull off some modernist ideas, which the judges clearly haven’t liked from the start.

We’re down to ten cooks now, but is there anyone in this group who comes across as a real winner, someone who’d write a cookbook I’d want to read? I’m not seeing it yet, not at all.

For more on this season of MasterChef, check out my guide to the season here:

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.

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