July 31, 2015 | Posted in EPISODE RECAPS, REALITY TV | By

“Family Reunion”

Screencapture from the July 29 2015 episode of MasterChef.

Screencapture from the July 29 2015 episode of MasterChef. Episode available via Amazon Instant Video.

Last week, we had a “surprise” ending where no one went home after the fruit tart pressure test, so we still have ten competitors left in the competition. What challenge will our competitors face this time around?

As the episode starts, we are back in the MasterChef kitchen. Christopher says it’s a tough thing being in the top ten, because he’s missing his seven year anniversary with his girlfriend. Hmm. Do we think it’s time for a family reunion episode? There has to be one every season. And since he’s the first talking head we see this episode, I get the feeling Christopher might be spending a lot more time with his girlfriend soon by being the next one eliminated…

The judges announce that they will be splitting everyone up into teams of five again. Each team will have to make one entree, two sides, and a dessert, all to be served “family style” in one of “America’s best restaurants” (their words, certainly not mine): the MasterChef restaurant. The meal is going to be “very special” because it’s going to be creating “treasured memories” for a family Gordon has invited. It’s one family that they all don’t want to let down. Gee, who could it be? If you saw any of the episode trailers or teasers, you’ll know the answer to that.

Olivia wonders if it could be Gordon’s family, or perhaps previous MasterChef contestants? Tommy wonders if it could be Prince William and Kate Middleton! They will  have to wait and see. The judges are going to be deciding on who will be team captains. Captain of the Blue Team will be Derrick, and Captain of the Red Team will be Claudia. Neither has been a team captain before. Derrick says it’s about time for him to be captain and he certainly seems excited about it, as does Claudia.

Derrick gets first pick and goes for Nick. It’s family style and Derrick says they share a similar Italian family background. Claudia’s first pick is someone with “amazing flavor profiles” and a “tenacious attitude”: Katrina. Derrick then picks Olivia, and Claudia picks Hetal. Derrick then chooses Christopher (who said in a talking head that he’d rather be on Claudia’s team.) Claudia then chooses someone who understands vegetables: Stephen.

That leaves Tommy and Shelly as the last to be picked, meaning Derrick will be picking for both teams. Someone who is overlooked a lot is Derrick’s choice: Tommy. So the Blue Team ends up consisting of Derrick, Nick, Olivia, Christopher and Tommy while the Red Team is Claudia, Katrina, Hetal, Stephen and Shelly. Claudia seems to be confident because she knows how to delegate, thanks to her day job as an event planner.

Each team just has 90 minutes to prep and make their full meal. They have a full pantry to work from, and the winning team will be safe from elimination. The losing team will face another challenge and “at least one” of them “may” be sent home. (Let’s hope so after last week!)

Time is called. Claudia is thinking nothing says family style dinner more than roast chicken, maybe with mashed potatoes or potatoes au gratin and broccolini. Hetal suggests strawberry shortcake for dessert and they seem to be set on their plan. Derrick and Nick are thinking Italian for sure. Rack of lamb by Derrick, Caprese salad by Olivia, Nick’s baked ziti, and a chocolate mousse pie. Both teams seem to come to plans quickly and start gathering their ingredients.

The judges discuss the night’s challenge. Christina says this should be exciting because we all learn our love for food first at the family table. Christopher is working in the pie crusts for the Blue Team and seems calm but needs Derrick to give him a little more time to roll them out. Katrina is prepping the chickens but wants Claudia to help truss them.

Gordon goes over to check in with Claudia and hear their menu: herb-roasted whole chicken, garlic mashed potatoes, sauteed broccolini and strawberry shortcake. Gordon is wondering if they’re going to get those whole chickens cooked in time when they will need an hour based on the size of the birds, and they barely have that time left. Stephen thinks they should split the chickens in half in order to reduce the cooking time and he gets Claudia’s approval to do just that.

Christina checks in with Derrick and his Italian family style menu, playing to each of his team members’ strengths. Chris still doesn’t have his pie crusts in the oven which has Derrick anxious, and the judges don’t think the Blue Team’s menu is as cohesive as they would have expected.

Two cheeses on the side dishes? The judges seem to think no one is stepping back to see the big picture. Meanwhile, the Red Team still doesn’t have their half-chickens in the oven with only 45 minutes to go and they are starting to fight over it.

Shelly does not want to be serving anyone “bloody raw chickens” so she makes sure they all get in the oven and thinks Claudia needs to get the team back together. Gordon wants Derrick to think about how it’s going to come together on the table, to have two cheese and tomato side dishes. Olivia suggests instead of the Caprese salad that they do a strawberry and arugula salad instead. Derrick says he has to has to trust her to rework that side, and meanwhile he’s getting annoyed at Christopher and if his pie crusts are going to be okay.

Back on the Red Team, Stephen’s potatoes need a bit more creaminess, which Claudia takes charge of fixing. The chocolate mouse for Blue Team’s pies looks good, and so does Hetal’s strawberry shortcakes. The Blue Team’s ziti looks great, but their chocolate mouse pie once put together? Maybe not so much, by the judges’ estimation.

60 seconds to go and it’s crazy time in the kitchen, all the chefs rushing to get everything out on the table for display. Time is called and Derrick feels the lamb and ziti are cooked perfectly, but he hates their chocolate mousse pie. He’s worried they could go down on dessert. Claudia is hoping that the love the Red Team put into their meal shines through.

And so the chefs have to wait outside while the judges welcome their special “family guests” in the restaurant: the loved ones of the home cooks, of course! Derrick’s mom is there, who didn’t even know he was auditioning for MasterChef. She hasn’t seem him in about a year’s time and the last time he surprised her, so this will be her chance to do the same. Shelly’s daughter is also there, along with Stephen’s son, Stephen Jr. The door opens and the food from both teams is brought in. Each guest will receive an entree and dessert plate from each team. Afterwards, without knowing who was on which team, they will be casting their votes individually for their favorite meal.

We also see that the guests include Nick’s mom, Olivia’s mom, Claudia’s mom, Tommy’s husband, Hetal’s husband, Katrina’s boyfriend, and Christopher’s girlfriend. They are debating if the lamb is under-seasoned on the Blue Team’s plate, and is the ziti misplaced even if it’s really tasty? Claudia’s mom says the chicken is so good. So far Stephen’s son likes the Red Team plate the best. Katrina’s boyfriend? Leaning Blue.

But now for dessert, which Derrick is concerned about. Nick’s mom is leaning toward the strawberry shortcake because she doesn’t think the pie crust is just right, as Derrick feared. Christopher’s girlfriend prefers the Blue Team’s pie as it’s lighter and she liked the bitterness of the dark chocolate. Now that the meal is finished, they will leave either a Blue or Red Team card in the bill fold in front of them, depending on which dinner they liked the best.

The doors open to let in the chefs to finally meet their guests. Of course, the emotional family reunions and waterworks begin…not just for the chefs and their guests but for Graham too, in a sweet moment that shows he’s just a big softie at heart. (Okay, and I defy most of you viewers out there to not get a little emotional yourself.) With each home cook standing behind their seated loved ones, the votes are revealed one by one.

They start with Claudia’s mom, who voted for the Red Team. Shelly’s daughter? Voted Red as well. Roger, Tommy’s husband? Voted Blue. Christopher’s girlfriend voted Blue as well. Hetal’s husband went Red and Olivia’s mom Blue. So three to three, and so far each loved one has voted for their chef’s team.

But Katrina’s boyfriend Alex? Ooops, he’s picked the Blue meal, as he was leaning before. Stephen Jr. went Red. Which means its even again, 4-4, and Nick’s mother goes Red to his disappointment, because of the chicken. That means it’s 5-4 Red-Blue. How did Derrick’s mom vote? She has the deciding vote and she went Red, giving the Red Team the victory, 6-4. That means tomorrow night the Red Team will be facing an elimination challenge, but for tonight they will all get an evening together with their families.

And so we return after a commercial break for the pressure test, and Derrick’s not happy about it. He’s not ready to go home. Good news for him, because one person on his team will be safe and the judges choose him: his lamb dish worked, he was unfortunately let down in the dessert department (what about the fact that his entire menu didn’t really work?)
Graham has a dish to present to them that takes the humble potato and turns it into some thing to be served in the finest restaurants: Gnocchi. Nick is confident seeing this; he says he can make gnocchi in his sleep. They each have one baked potato, eggs, butter, salt, pepper, and sage at their stations, and they have 25 minutes to make a delicious gnocchi dish in a sage brown butter sauce.

The judges talk about the tricks to making good gnocchi; it’s important not to overwork or over-flour the gnocchi and to be sure the baked potato is riced to the proper consistency. While Nick is confident, Olivia has only made gnocchi one time before so she’s anxious. Christopher may have blanched his gnocchi too long, which is worrying the judges.

Nick has his gnocchi dish finished and plated six minutes early! Meanwhile, Tommy’s gnocchi is “exploding” so he redoes all of his gnocchi from the extra dough he’d made. With less than three minutes to go, will he be able to complete them in time?

90 seconds left and Tommy’s got to plate. But he’s poured all the brown butter over his gnocchi! Will that be his doom? Nick is first up with his classic potato gnocchi topped with fried sage leaves. The plate smells incredible, Gordon says. “Wow,” crispy, light, seasoned beautifully. He’s nailed it, it seems, and Christina agrees. So light, so pillowy. She just wishes they were a little bit bigger.

Olivia is next with her gnocchi. She was a bit of an “underdog” in this elimination test given her inexperience with making them, but Graham says visually hers are the most beautiful. Not a lot he would change. Delicious, even better than Nick’s, according to Gordon.

Third up for tasting is Christopher. Christina is disappointed by the presentation. The dumplings are on the under-seasoned side and the filling tastes a little dry. With “at least” one person going home, Christina says it’s probably going to be between him and Tommy (why should she say that before she’s even tasted Tommy’s gnocchi?!) Gordon wants to know why his plate looks like it’s suffered from an ant infestation, Christopher says it’s cracked pepper, so that the diner can add how much seasoning they want—a choice Gordon doesn’t think is a good one. Gordon goes in for a taste and Christina calls out Christopher for rolling his eyes up at the balcony while Gordon does so. She’s ready to open the door and send Christopher out right now for being “disrespectful”. It’s a painfully awkward confrontation; we’ve known for weeks now that Christina doesn’t like Christopher, does it have to always be so obvious? This seems like another set-up to send someone home for attitude more than their dish, just like with Sara a few episodes before. Gordon says the big issue with the gnocchi is that it needs more seasoning.

Tommy is last for tasting, and his gnocchi is practically swimming in a pool of browned butter. Why so much? Tommy says it’s “the Jackson Pollack in” him that can’t hold back, but Gordon calls it “Jackson Bollocks”. But, the weird thing is they actually taste decent. Gordon doesn’t get it. Graham says the flavor is on the money, even if the presentation is not there like it is with Christopher’s.

It seems pretty clear that Olivia and Nick did well and will be safe, and that’s what Christina confirms after the judges “consult”. That leaves Christopher and Tommy up for elimination as expected. Christopher? It wasn’t one of his strongest performances, because the flavor was missing. Tommy restarted his gnocchi as time was running out, but then “destroyed” his dish at the last second with all of that brown butter. Gordon tells Tommy he needs to say goodbye to Christopher…and head upstairs to the balcony. It’s not even a very convincing fake out decision! The judges say that Christopher is heading home because he didn’t taste his gnocchi mix and that’s a mistake that can’t be made at this point in the competition.

So, what of this episode overall? I thought it was enjoyable seeing the competitors family members and loved ones like this; it was a little more personal than in the past when we’ve seen letters from home or just a few loved ones up in the balcony without a lot of interaction with the competitors. And it was fun seeing them be the judges of the food, too—probably trying to figure out who was on which team based on the food and in some cases not getting it right! But beyond that, the elimination test was a bit predictable in outcome. Christopher’s departure from the competition was overdue; I don’t think he deserved to be in the top 10 compared to some who were eliminated earlier like Sara who seemed much better cooks overall.

But I was annoyed by the clear example of inconsistency in the judging. What  really matters more: taste or appearance? Some weeks ago, Charlie was sent home in the birthday cake pressure test because his cake looked terrible, even though it tasted really good. Here, Tommy was safe because his gnocchi tasted decent but his plating/presentation was the worst and he did seem to have technical errors that Christopher didn’t. That doesn’t make sense, unless you just accept that eliminations really have very little to do with what gets served to the judges and only comes down to who they want to keep safe for another week’s entertainment value, and who’s 15 minutes of fame is over.

Whose time will be up next week? Do you have any guesses at this point? From the previews all I can see is that we’re going for “Southern Flare” and everyone has to flambe a dish for the Mystery Box challenge. Tommy should be in his element with this challenge, so it’s hard to say even though I wonder if it’s finally going to be time for him to say goodbye after this week’s close call.

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!

MasterChef is back for its sixth season in 2015. Are you ready for another round in this competition of talented home chefs?

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. Marie
    July 31, 2015

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    Like you, I enjoyed meeting the family members and weren’t those two children gorgeous? They really stole the show! But yes, you’d have to be a bit thick not to have guessed which family you might be cooking for. I’d hazard a guess that even the contestants knew – I mean Tommy and his partner wore identical lurid green shirts (Stephen and his son were in matching clothes as well) and I’m thinking that’s not a complete co-incidence.

    I gave Claudia points for thanking Stephen for his advice about the chicken and how important that had been for their team. It’s nice to see credit being given and I warmed to her a little more. Even Stephen seemed a little more human in this episode.

    The fact that it was a team challenge, needing an even number on each team might explain why no-one was eliminated last week. I was puzzled that they gave a free ride to Derrick this time. Maybe they were afraid he couldn’t make gnocchi and risked being eliminated. But I think it was an undeserved save as the menu was ill-conceived – it was that weirdness that cost them the challenge, not the dessert. A couple of people commented that the lamb was bland and that the pasta didn’t belong on the same plate (I agree with them). That’s all down to Derrick. And as an aside, that was NOT ziti they served. Ziti macaroni are tubes. They had some kind of curly pasta, so technically it was “pasta al forno” and not ziti.

    Did the right person go home? Yes, I think so, in the sense that Christopher’s elimination has been long overdue. But if there was a blind test of the dishes, I think that Tommy would have got his marching orders for that stodge swimming in butter. I don’t buy the “flavours were spot on” argument, as his first batch of gnocchi turned to glue. That shows a technical fault in the making (he probably worked the dough too much), so using a bit more of the dough would not have altered that glue like texture, even if you cooked them for a lot less time. The bottom line is that theyy wanted Christopher gone and they found a way to do it.

    I thought Christina’s outburst was dreadful. Honestly, Gordon was inches from him and if he’d rolled his eyes in disrespect, Gordon would have flayed him on the spot. No need for the class snitch to weigh in with her “Teacher, teacher, I saw Christopher do something bad!” routine. It was embarrassing and very awkward for everyone. I’m not certain what she’s trying to prove, but she’s trying too hard and it doesn’t ring true. That strident, screechy voice doesn’t help either. I’ve seen her do baking tutorials on You Tube before and she sounds so much nicer and softer. This appears to be some sort of tough persona she’s adopted and it doesn’t suit her.

    Who will go home next week? I think either Olivia or Hetal, soley based on the fact that neither of their loved ones got to say a word in the “family reunion” episode. Kiss of death, maybe?

  2. sockii
    July 31, 2015

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    Stephen’s son was a real surprise! And they were really sweet to see together. I actually do sort of like/sympathize with Stephen quite a bit as I think he is very smart and skilled, but comes across as just someone with some difficulties in the social skills department (not going to play armchair doctor but he reminds me of people I’ve known on the Aspergers/Autism spectrum.)

    Likewise I feel like Christopher is someone with some issues that ends up coming across in his nervous ticks and awkward behavior, being defensive as a mechanism against criticism. Someone elsewhere commented that they would have loved to see him walk right up to the door at the end of Christina’s tirade and tell her to go ahead and open that door for him, instead of waiting for the inevitable elimination, and I agree that would have been a suitable response (also, what is with the awkward way that Christina shook hands at the end? That seemed as weird and fake as the entire mean girl act.)

    I wonder if they just called it “baked ziti” because that’s what most people think of in terms of a baked pasta noodle dish like that. Maybe the pantry was out of ziti noodles? 🙂 But yeah, their menu really didn’t make a lot of sense and Derrick wasn’t that strong of a leader. Gordon complemented him on the lamb yet the family diners seemed to think it was under-seasoned…seems like some bad work by the editing monkeys behind the scenes!

    Good thought on either Olivia or Hetal going home next. Olivia seems to be getting stronger lately after being a lot in the background at first, so I’m tempted to think Hetal is the most vulnerable. I don’t know how well she’d do with Southern-themed cooking challenges as looks to be the plan for the next episode, and despite some strong showings earlier on she’s a bit inconsistent unless it’s something baking related or where she can do a vegetarian Indian dish.

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