Wednesday, September 17, 2014

S5E19: Digest This Finale Recap with your Brain

Are you pumped?! That’s not pumped enough! I want you as pumped as all of these paid extras that strangely appear to all be in their early twenties! It’s like they all just moved to Hollywood with dreams of becoming famous and are at the MasterChef Finale because they need this pittance of a paycheck to stay alive for the next few months before moving back home and taking mailroom jobs at their fathers' accounting firms. But that isn’t the case. These are real fans. And they’re really pumped! They aren’t worried about not having chairs, because they’re going to be on their feet for the whole show, cheering on the two best Home Cooks in America!

By now, you should know that I’m referring to Courtney and Elizabeth. They’ve been at the front of the competition all season long—except for that donut episode when Kira was inexplicably sent home instead of Courtney—and they’re ready to battle it out for the title of MasterChef.

Oh wait. They’re already sitting. Get up, you ungrateful megalomaniacs! This is the MasterChef Finale!

We’re treated to a montage of some of our favorite MasterChef moments from Season 5. I NEED YOU ON THE GRILL. YOU’RE NOT SORRY AT ALL. I’M NOT GOING TO STAND HERE AND BE ABUSED. All of them classics. But that’s the past, and this is the (pre-taped) present. Let’s welcome our finalists.

The MasterChef Doors open, and in walks Elizabeth. She lives in New York and works at an advertising agency. “I enjoy my career,” she tells us. And why wouldn’t she? Being a creative in advertising is a pretty sweet gig if you can get it. But Elizabeth wants more. She has culinary dreams. She has cookbook writing dreams. And she might just see them come true today. The favorite, Elizabeth made it through the entire season without facing a Dreaded Pressure Test. That’s impressive, but will the lack of Dreaded Practice be her downfall? The only thing that stands in her way is herself.

Oh, and Courtney. From Philadelphia, Courtney is embarrassed of her past, not that she should be. She paid her bills by working in a gentleman’s club. (America gasps in horror and clutches its pearls.) This is her chance for a new beginning, a career that will make her family proud. Courtney has faced more scorn from the internet crowd than any of her co-competitors due to everyone projecting his or her own insecurities onto a female target that has the gall to utilize her feminine charm. I, too, was hard on her at first, but then she began to display real emotion, passion, and even occasional vulnerability. Add that to some serious cooking chops, and you’ve got a pretty compelling character

Courtney and Elizabeth’s fallen comrades stand on the MasterChef Balcony to watch the finale. It’s good to see these familiar faces again, but unfortunately Little Gordon couldn’t be with us. He died. RIP.

Release the relatives! Elizabeth’s mother encourages her to “Cook your ass off.” I decide to call my mom and see if she has any words of encouragement for me. She tells me, “Stop using so much toilet humor. You’re embarrassing the family.”

Courtney is pretty stoked to see her family. The run in to greet her. “Is Cooper here?” she asks them. He is. That was adorable. I’ll even forgive the argyle sweater. But just this once.

Get these families out of here. It’s time for the main event.

Tonight’s challenge is to make an appetizer, an entrée, and finish with dessert. “Three identical plates of each course, one for each of us,” instructs Graham. They have ten minutes to get everything they need from the MasterChef Pantry, and their time starts…now.

Leslie wants Elizabeth to win. Willie thinks you shouldn’t count Courtney out, because she works well under pressure. Daniel says that Elizabeth is the Terminator, and she’s going to shut Courtney down just as soon as she’s done murdering Sarah Connor.

Elizabeth is planning on making a grilled octopus with a warm chorizo and chickpea salad for her appetizer. That’s pretty risky. If she overcooks the octopus, it will be tough and rubbery. If she undercooks it, the octopus will strangle the judges.

Courtney will be making a crispy pig’s ear with dandelion and fennel salad and a quail egg. That’s also risky. Gordon loves calling bad dishes a “dog’s dinner,” and pig’s ears are literally what dogs eat.

Time begins, and our two finalists tie their hair back and get to work.

Hey, Kira! How’s it going? Read this blog often? Me? I’m not up to too much. Just chillin’. Writin’ recaps. Working out a lot. Okay, I got to get back to it. See ya around!

“There are no heels in the kitchen anymore,” says Elizabeth, incorrectly. “It’s knives, and it’s time to do battle. Let’s do this.” She has her game face on. And her game boots.

Guess who likes pig’s ears. This guy. “I think it’s a very awesome, trendy way to go,” says Cutter, always with his finger on the pulse.

Cook, cook, cook.

Could Joe be any more in Courtney’s corner? “Courtney’s strategy is working,” he says. “She put the full court press on Elizabeth, and I think Elizabeth is beginning to buckle under the pressure.” The way he blatantly roots for the Italian contestants is starting to feel like a reverse hate crime.

Time begins to run out as Elizabeth pulls her octopus out of the pressure cooker at the very last minute, and they both begin plating. Victoria is pumped. I mean it this time. She’s legit pumped

Time ends, and they bring their plates forward. Courtney says Elizabeth’s plating looks a little haphazard but overall the dish appears to be okay. Elizabeth’s eyeballs disagree. 

They serve the judges in the MasterChef Restaurant, and Elizabeth goes first with her grilled octopus with chickpea and chorizo salad. “This is truly an octopus that I can eat with my eyes,” says Joe, tentacles hanging from his tear ducts. But when he takes a bite with his mouth, he’s less pleased. “I think you may have overcooked the octopus.” Graham and Gordon both compliment her flavors and aggressive spicing with no additional word on the cook of the octopus.

Courtney presents her crispy pig’s ear with dandelion and fennel salad. Elizabeth tells us that it looks like a usual Courtney dish: “meticulous and soulless.” Joe calls the dish “assertive and opinionated,” meaning that in a good way, I think. Graham says it tastes great. Gordon says that Courtney delivers “a punch with flavor. Great job.”

It appears that Courtney has a slight lead going into the entrées. They have sixty minutes to prepare them, and their time starts…now.

Graham says that they are neck and neck, so maybe Courtney doesn’t have a lead. Elizabeth begins working on a rack of lamb, another dish very sensitive to cook time. Courtney is preparing a sumac duck breast, calling it very traditional. 

“Hey, Coop. Wanna see some fire?” asks Courtney. He does.

“I mean, I can flambé, but I don’t need to,” says Elizabeth. It appears that Courtney is getting under her skin, and—oh hey, Kira! Having a good time? I’m just finishing up this recap but still finding the time to play with my dog. Yeah, I have a dog, and I love her. She’s a rescue. I rescued her. From a burning building.

Courtney begins plating while Elizabeth’s lamb is still in the oven. “Tonight, I am struggling with time more than I have anytime previously,” says Elizabeth. The pressure is getting to her. Perhaps the lack of Dreaded Pressure Test experience is coming back to haunt her. She takes the lamb out and begins cutting it. The first slices look good, but the last ones, not so much. “That looks really rare,” says Christian. Trust him on this. No one is more honest.

Oh my god! Is that a g-g-g-ghost?? No, it’s Little Gordon! He’s alive! Bless his little heart.

Time ends, and they bring their plates forward. Courtney says she thinks Elizabeth’s lamb looks raw. Oooooh! “No, it’s medium rare,” says Elizabeth. That comment really bothered her. “Courtney started something,” she tells us, “and at this point, the gloves are off. My dish is about to knock this bitch out. It’s on.” The fight is on, she means. The gloves are off. And the heels are off, too. Except for Courtney’s heels. Those are on.

Elizabeth presents her spiced rack of lamb with red quinoa and carrot purée. She admits to Joe that his is undercooked, but I think she was smart to serve that one to Joe, seeing as how he is already in full support of Courtney and a lost cause. Gordon’s is cooked perfectly, however, and he is particularly impressed with the quinoa. Graham calls the dish a knockout. Elizabeth removes her mouth guard and spits blood into a bucket as her trainer applies Vaseline to the cut over her eye.

Courtney presents her sumac duck breast with spring vegetables and farro. “Visually gorgeous, and I think it tastes as good as it looks,” says Graham who has been full of compliments all evening. Joe also loves it, saying that it looks like it came out of a restaurant. Gordon continues the praise parade, “Elegance matched with fragrance matched with great finesse. Stunning. Absolutely stunning.”

The judges insist that no one is solidly ahead at this point, but it seems pretty clear to me that Courtney is in the lead. Dessert is still to come, but really, it might be too late for Elizabeth.

Bad news, guys. During entrée service, Little Gordon fell ill and died. RIP Little Gordon. I’ll do my best to honor your memory with the rest of this recap.

For dessert, Elizabeth is making a grapefruit and olive oil cake with a plum trio. “Wow,” says Gordon. Courtney will be preparing a cherry meringue with salted chocolate and spiced almonds. They have one hour, and it starts…now.

Joe visits Elizabeth and asks her if she wants this as much as Courtney. “I absolutely want this as much as she does,” says Elizabeth. “Just because I work at an office and not a nightclub does not mean that I don’t deserve to win this.” Oh no she didn’t! 

Gordon asks Courtney if she’s worried about having enough time for the meringues to dry, but the heat emanating from Elizabeth’s fiery stare should be more than enough to do the trick.

Once again, Elizabeth has timing issues. Her cake is undercooked in the middle, but she decides to only use the outer edge, keeping it perfectly moist. Ah, moist. I love that word. Don’t you? Moist moist moist. MoisterChef. She takes a bite and shows us a face that her husband, Ross, is very familiar with. Am I right, Ross? High five, bro.

Courtney tries a bite of one of her meringues and shows us her Oh no, I just ate one of the judges’ meringues face. She tells us, “I have just quite possibly eaten a quarter of a million dollars.” And that's the face she makes? It doesn't seem like she got her money's worth.

Time is counting down, and this guy is really earning his paycheck. 

Stop. Wow. Well done.

They bring their desserts forward. Elizabeth says that Courtney’s dessert looks like second place. Oh snap!

Back in the MasterChef Restaurant, Courtney goes first this time. She presents her cherry meringue with chocolate and almonds. It’s obvious that each plate is missing a meringue with the third pile of meringue-less sauce on there. Joe detects a saltiness beyond the salted chocolate, and the black cherries are the culprits. “After processing it in my mind, I have to say that I think—it’s brilliant,” says Joe, “…making me not only eat it with my palate in my mouth but also digest it with my brain.” Gordon looks at him like, WTF did you just say? Like everything else tonight, Graham likes it. Gordon likes the meringue but thinks Joe is out of his mind concerning the cherries. He calls it her clumsiest plate as Joe, under his breath says, “I don’t agree,” and shoves another bite of salty cherries into his brain.

Elizabeth presents her grapefruit and semolina cake with poached plums and pistachios. It looks bomb and objectively much better than Courtney’s dessert. Graham has nothing bad to say about it. Joe calls it a top-notch dish that fires on all cylinders. He particularly appreciates the Italian nature of the dish. Gordon compliments her quick thinking on using the outside of the cake, and overall, loves the dish. This is a solid win for Elizabeth in the dessert section of the challenge. Will it be enough?

Courtney and Elizabeth go back to the MasterChef Kitchen as the judges argue about salted cherries.

Elizabeth feels that she should win because her three dishes have more of a connective thread. Courtney feels that she should win because she took risks and was daring. I feel like I should win or at least have a major online blog site aggregate my #content. But hey, we don’t always get what we want.

The judges come to a consensus and return to the MasterChef Kitchen. Graham addresses them. “Elizabeth and Courtney, you came to this competition as Home Cooks with a burning passion for food.” Hold everything! We have a piper down! I repeat, a piper is down!

It’s a legitimately scary moment—that I am a huge ass for making fun of—as Ross, Elizabeth’s husband, faints under the bright stage lights and tremendous pressure of the moment. Gordon is always great in these situations, calmly taking charge, getting him some water, a chair, and most importantly, adding a little levity to an embarrassing moment for the poor guy. “We haven’t announced a winner yet, so thanks for staying with us,” he tells him.

“My husband loves me so much he passed out,” says a tear-stained Elizabeth. A little advice, Ross? Next time, flowers will suffice.

Ross gives the thumbs up, and we are ready to continue.

For the final time this season, Gordon delivers the news. “Tonight confirmed that you two are phenomenal chefs, and that’s why we’d like you both to come up here and switch places with us.” They switch places to thunderous applause. “Our decision wasn’t easy. It came down to the tiniest of details. That’s how close it was this evening. But as you know, there can only be one winner.”

Joe decides to get in on the action. “One of you is about to win a quarter of a million dollars,” he says, pulling the MasterChef Envelope from his jacket pocket.

Graham wants a piece of this, too. “One of you will go on to publish your very own cookbook, and one of you will claim this,” he says, pulling the MasterChef Trophy from you-don’t-want-to-know-where, “the most coveted title in the culinary world, the title of MasterChef.” Let the angels sing.

Gordon fishes the job. “America’s next great MasterChef—is—” Graham does NOT press the stem of his glasses to pursed lips. “—congratulations—” I pass out. I recover. “—Courtney!” 

Confetti falls. The crowd cheers. Courtney cries tears of joy. It’s beautiful.

“I’ve never given up,” Courtney tells us. “I’ve been through the ringer. I’ve made so many sacrifices, and this—validates—all of them.” She continues, “This trophy means no more student loans, my mom gets a kitchen, and I have a secure future in cooking.” 

The judges spray Courtney and her family with champagne as—oh hey, Kira

“Why didn’t I put the lamb in sooner?” Elizabeth asks herself. “I’d be $250,000 richer, but you know what?” There’s a very obvious dub as we cut to a different shot and hear her finish in a completely different tone, “Courtney deserves it.” Nice work, editor. Seamless.

“I did things that I didn’t think I was ever capable of doing. I’m really proud of myself,” she says, starting to get choked up.

It’s a tough moment for Elizabeth. She is probably the best chef from the season, and I can only imagine how awful it feels to come so close to winning, only to watch your biggest rival celebrate the title that you worked so hard to achieve. But she still has all of the talent that got her here, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Elizabeth come out on top in the long run.

Thank you for a great season, Elizabeth. I was a little nervous about having someone with so many mutual friends as me in the competition, but at least for me, it ended up being so much more enjoyable because of it. Keep cooking. Keep promoting yourself. And forget about those cookbooks for now. TV should be your thing. You have the skills and personality for it.

Now back to our newest MasterChef. “My mom looking at me winning this title means so much to me. I’ve had highs and lows. I’ve come so far, and I’ve made her and my father and my siblings so proud of me,” says Courtney with a big MasterChef smile.

It’s a powerful and motivating thing, the approval of one’s family. Warranted or not, Courtney carried their disappointment on her shoulders for a long time, and she worked hard to make them proud. Not only was she a great cook all season, she was the best strategist MasterChef has ever seen. To win this game, you have to have cooking skills but you also need to have personality, smarts, and the guts to not worry about people always liking you. And having a good story isn’t so bad either. Courtney has all of those things, and that’s why she can call herself MasterChef.

Thank you, Courtney. I’m glad you finally came around on these recaps, and I’m particularly happy that you kept my streak of flawless—flawless, I say!—MasterChef predictions intact. Good luck in the future. May it be filled with profitable culinary endeavors, brightly colored lipstick, and tube travel. That last one’s for me.


And thus ends another season of MasterChef Theatre. This was probably my last recap here. It’s been a lot of fun and a lot of hard work. What started off as just a simple writing project to keep my chops up turned into so much more, and I thank all of you, my readers, for slogging through these long, wordy entries. Every comment and every tweet from you guys mean so much to me. You made me feel good. I don’t know what I’m going to try next, but I’m sure I’ll tweet about it, whatever it is.

I learned a lot about myself writing these recaps, and I think I became not just a better writer but also a better person because of them. I hope so. Let us all try to remember that these characters we see on our televisions are real people. They put themselves out there and make themselves vulnerable in a way that most of us can hardly imagine. Even if you “don’t like” who you think they are, understand that you are still being entertained in these moments of irrational anger, and you should thank them for that.

Thank you to the creators of MasterChef for not shutting me down. Thank you to Gordon Ramsay, Graham Elliot, and Joe Bastianich. Thank you to the producers to whom I took such pleasure in giving a hard time. And a sincere and special thank you to the casts of seasons four and five.

We had fun. Didn’t we?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

S5E18: Restaurant-y! Chef-y! Recap-y!

Have we arrived at the end of the season already? It seems like only yesterday we were welcoming 22 new faces into our lives. We met two Francises, a woman who knew how to push denim to its limits, a colorful man in lensless glasses telling us how real this was all going to be, another smaller Gordon, and a whole lot more. But soon they all began to mean so much more to us, too. One Francis became Frankie, the other Francis became Scottish, the colorful man became the center of all that is good and lovable in the universe, the denim became chambray, and Little Gordon died. RIP.

Now we are down to three, the Top 3, if you will. We have Leslie, the stay-at-home dad from Malibu with incredible hair and a rapier wit to match. There’s Courtney, the struggling student turned struggling gentleman’s club performer turned surprisingly adept cook. And there’s Elizabeth, the advertising executive aka associate creative director aka screenshot gold aka the most consistently impressive chef on the show. Together, they come into the finals, each with an actual shot to win the title of MasterChef, $250,000, their very own cookbook, and a crystal phallus.

I made my predictions before watching the show: 

Here’s my reasoning. It’s really down to Elizabeth and Courtney. Leslie’s chances of winning are severely diminished by the fact that he has money. And while he has a loyal following of fans, the powers that be at MasterChef would prefer the winner to be someone who has to overcome adversity to rise to the top. This is also why I’m picking Courtney over Elizabeth, who had a successful career before the show and will be able to continue her career after it’s over. I could also see Elizabeth turning a 2nd or 3rd place finish into a successful culinary career in television or maybe writing. A lot of times, the more talented non-winner of a reality show ends up going on to greater things, because the general public likes to see underdogs win titles.

That’s enough preamble ramble. We have two hours of MasterChef to get through.

Our three finalists are shown what they really came here for, the coveted MasterChef trophy, and would you look at it shine! That sparkle wasn’t added in post. Inside the MasterChef trophy resides the souls of each defeated MasterChef contestant who upon losing is immediately slaughtered and ground into MasterChef brand sausage. Their spirit, however, is captured and trapped inside the crystal phallus for all of eternity—or until someone drops and breaks it. Whichever comes first.

“That trophy will change my life forever,” says Leslie, who plans on using the power held within the trophy for unspeakable evil. What kind of evil, you ask? I dare not speak of it!

Elizabeth plans on using the trophy to publish her own cookbook, separate from the one given to the winner, which he/she far from actually owns. She will take the trophy to the offices of Morris Press, “The Nation’s #1 Cookbook Publisher,” and begin bludgeoning every office worker she finds until they relent and give her a cookbook deal.

For their first challenge, each Home Cook will have to prepare an entrée for 50 professional chefs, one from each state in this great nation of mine (and maybe yours. I have a pretty substantial Canadian following.) But they won’t be cooking alone. Six of their former contestants who have yet to be damned and slaughtered are returning to lend a hand. Emerging from the MasterChef Shadows is Christian, Jaimee, Willie, Daniel, Ahran, and Victoria. Cutter, who went out in fourth place, is mysteriously absent. I’m stunned that he isn’t there. It is the most stunning thing that’s ever happened on this, the world’s largest culinary competition.

Each of the Top 3 selects two fortune cookies (goooong!) containing the names of their prospective helpers. They’re really dragging this out for some reason. Courtney gets Daniel and Willie. Leslie gets Ahran and Christian. Elizabeth gets Jaimee and Victoria. They have 90 minutes to prep and cook, and their time starts…now.

They all run to the MasterChef Pantry to get supplies. “If we think it’s hard getting anything past Chef Ramsay, Chef Elliot, and Joe,” says Courtney, “it’s going to be 50 times harder getting it past all of these chefs.” Hmm. Let me check her math real quick. Three goes into 50…carry the one…150 times. Yep, it checks out.

In the MasterChef Pantry, we hear what the Home Cooks are planning. Leslie wants to make a filet and gnocchi. Elizabeth is planning on making red snapper with cauliflower three ways. Courtney is making a ginger soy glazed halibut with some beet something or other. “Wow wow wow,” says Gordon as they return to the MasterChef Kitchen.

The judges are immediately worried about Courtney’s halibut. Apparently it’s a fish that likes to loiter around until becoming mush. They like Elizabeth’s snapper/cauliflower combo because it’s seasonal and purple cauliflower really pops on screen. However, they do not like Leslie’s combo of filet with gnocchi. If there’s one dish that doesn’t pop on television, it’s gnocchi.

The doors to the MasterChef Kitchen open, and in walks a line of the best chefs in America, some of whom are good enough to even have their names mentioned. There’s Cat Cora, Michael Voltaggio, Susan Feniger, Mary Sue Milliken, Herb Wilson, Chef Boyardee, and the chef from BurgerTime. Daniel kicks himself for not making the final over that last one.

Each of the professional chefs is wearing a patch of their state’s flag on their chef coat, and—holy shit. Really, Mississippi

Gordon visits Courtney’s station and advises her that halibut overcooks easily. “I know that,” she replies. She feels prepared for the task at hand and that “with good preparation comes good execution.” And with poor preparation comes this recap, weekly, often very late, and poorly executed.

Whoa! That’s awesome,” says Victoria after taking a bite of something Elizabeth is cooking. Joe visits Team Elizabeth and comments that her dish sounds restaurant-y. Elizabeth agrees, “Out of the three of us, I have the most restaurant-y, chef-y dish.” I couldn’t tell you much about that, but I trust Victoria’s assessment that things are tasting awesome-y.

Graham visits Team Leslie and says that he’s never seen filet and gnocchi served together. “Listen,” says Leslie, “you told me to reach for the stars. I’m reaching for the stars.” And from the heavens above he has pulled down filet and gnocchi. What’s he supposed to do? Argue with the stars? I mean, that would be a very Leslie thing to do, but he's not going to this time.

Cook, cook, cook.

The judges think Elizabeth is in complete control, but they’re worried about Courtney. “To do it in an Asian style for the first time ever in this competition,” says Joe, “I think she’s playing without a net.” Though, that doesn’t sound like much of a problem for a professional aerial dancer. Joe’s much more confident about Leslie, saying that if he had to hire any of these chefs for one of his restaurants, it would be him. “He’s on fire.” Leslie then proceeds to actually set himself on fire

Damn, damn, damn.

They begin plating. “Let’s whack it,” says Christian. Leslie whacks it. Elizabeth is plating. Leslie is plating. Courtney isn’t plating. Gordon yells at Courtney to start plating. Courtney yells at Daniel to start plating. They start plating.

“Guys, don’t forget,” Graham reminds them, "in the restaurant, we have a chef from every state in America.” Even New Hampshire?! Leslie is so screwed. New Hampshirites hate gnocchi.

As time begins to wind down, Team Courtney devolves into mayhem. Daniel is confused because he can’t engineer a mutiny, Willie doesn’t know what the fuck this shit is, and Courtney is even more exasperated than the exasperated kid

Stop. Hands in the air.

The servers come to take the dishes. Elizabeth instructs them to be "gentle like a lover." (NSFW)

The helper chefs get out of there, and the Top 3 present their dishes to the 50 chefs. Courtney’s experience as an aerial dancer performing in front of large crowds doesn’t come close to preparing her to face the gawking stares of all of these chefs. She nervously presents pan-seared halibut with beet dashi vermicelli.

Leslie presents his filet mignon and his best friend, Herb Gnocchi. Glad you could be here, Herb.

Elizabeth presents her pan-seared red snapper with cauliflower trio, because if there’s one thing people go crazy over, it’s cauliflower.

The chefs dig in while the Home Cooks chill in the MasterChef Lounge. Courtney compliments Elizabeth’s cauliflower couscous. Elizabeth calls Courtney’s Asian flavor profile “interesting” and Leslie’s combo of filet and gnocchi “insane.” You want insane? He’ll show you insane.

From the clips of the chefs the editor shows us, it looks like Elizabeth’s dish is the best received. After they finish chowing down, the 50 chefs from 50 states form two lines down the center of the MasterChef Kitchen. The Home Cooks step through the doors and stand before them. It’s all very regal.

Gordon announces the winner of the challenge. “Congratulations goes to—” He opens the envelope. “Wow. (commercial break) Elizabeth!” So, I was officially wrong about Elizabeth coming in third. I am awash with shame.

Now it’s down to a Dreaded Pressure Test—Leslie’s seventh—to see who makes it to the Grand Finale to face Elizabeth.

Some time passes. Children are born. The elderly pass on. The sun rises over MasterChef Mountain. It’s a new day, and it is time for the Most Dreaded of Dreaded Pressure Tests.

They’ll be making three desserts. “The United Cakes of America,” says Graham. The original plan was for them to make 50 cakes, but they couldn’t figure out what to do with New Hampshire. They hate cake over there.

Cake 1: NY Cheesecake with a strawberry coulis
Cake 2: Florida Key Lime Pie
Cake 3: Boston Cream Pie

Any last words? Leslie always has some, “If she wins fair and square, that’s fine with me. But I’m not going down sleeping. That’s for damn sure.” That is just Classic Leslie. Love it.

They have two hours to make all three cakes, and their time starts…now.

Courtney is the baker of the two, so she has the advantage going in. But Leslie has willpower and determination. If MasterChef was a movie, Tom Cruise would play Leslie. I would play Joe.

Elizabeth is almost killed by a rogue spoon from Courtney’s mixer. Meanwhile, Leslie can’t find a spoon of his own, so Elizabeth lets him borrow the one sticking out of her thigh.

Courtney and Leslie are talking to themselves while they work, and Elizabeth treats us to impressions of both. Meh, they’re okay, but mostly they make me wish Daniel was still here. His Leslie is fantastic.

Bake, bake, bake.

Joe visits Leslie, who is freaking out. His cheesecake still isn’t in the oven, and Courtney’s is already cooked. Joe tells Leslie that he might be out of time to finish it, so Leslie picks up the pace. “Slow down. Slow down. Slow down,” says Joe.

His cheesecake might be screwed, but Leslie’s Boston cream pie is coming together well. Courtney, however, is having some issues with the cream filling. Cream is everywhere. It’s beginning to fill the entire MasterChef Kitchen. Leslie slips in a puddle of cream and takes a tumble

Stop. Hands in the air.

Joe judges the cheesecakes, and it isn’t close. Courtney’s looks great and is great. How does Leslie’s look, Courtney? Sooo, not good? Courtney 1, Leslie 0.

Graham judges the key lime pies. Courtney really got into using the blowtorch on the meringue, and Graham says it looks more like key lime s’mores. He tastes it and declares it to be too sweet. He tries Leslie’s, and thinks it tastes awesome. Courtney 1, Leslie 1.

Isn’t it amazing how it’s always tied on MasterChef going into the third dish? Every single time. Just amazing. Totally believable, too.

So it comes down to Boston cream, and Leslie’s looks a lot better than Courtney’s. Gordon approaches for the judging. He calls Courtney’s filling “slurry” and for good measure “sludge.” He moves on to Leslie’s fine-looking pie and has a taste. Uh oh. Something seems amiss.

Gordon takes the other judges back to the MasterChef Restaurant for a whisper huddle. They come back out and Gordon has Leslie taste his sponge cake. “You know what’s wrong with that sponge,” Gordon says as Leslie nods. “You put the salt in place of the sugar.”

Leslie replies, “I may have. Yes.”

Gordon delivers the news, “The Home Cook who made the best—” Graham presses the stem of his glasses to pursed lips. “—Boston cream pie—and the person who will now—move—in—to the MasterChef Finale and face off against Elizabeth—that person is—Courtney.”

Leslie congratulates her, and she joins Elizabeth on the MasterChef Balcony.

“Leslie, you have been phenomenal,” says Gordon, “and for anybody out there that ever tells me again that cooking is a young man’s game, you’ve turned that around on its head.” Leslie gives each of the judges a warm hug before picking Elizabeth to win it all.

Leslie places his apron on his station and walks out the doors to the applause of the two remaining contestants. In his interview, he tells us, “Outside of getting married and having my children being born, this has to be one of those great things in my life that I will remember forever.”

What an unexpected powerhouse Leslie turned out to be. When I first saw him introduced as a stay-at-home dad from Malibu, I wrote him off as an easy joke, and sure, he provided us with some of the best laughs of the season, whether it was from his own cleverness or his mercurial leadership style. But when the dreaded pressure was on, there was no one better—at least, not for the first six times.

Good stuff, Leslie. You almost made it, but let’s be honest. You’ve already made it. This whole experience was just a yacht full of MasterChef gravy.

See you in Malibu.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

S5E17: Teeming with Disaster

And then there were four.

Leslie has dreams of opening a bistro casual restaurant in Malibu and winning MasterChef is the only way that dream is ever coming to fruition. I hope my personal dreams never come true, because last night I dreamt that Matt Damon and Ben Affleck were chasing me through my neighborhood, trying to kill me. I don’t even know why, but do Matt and Ben even need a reason? Those murderous psychopaths would end us all if they could.

Courtney’s dream is to become a food critic, specializing in hole in the wall establishments. It’s not exactly the kind of job one does when seeking glory. It’s more a niche occupation, much like being a reality food competition critic. It also pays just about as well.

The remaining four Home Cooks will be pairing up in teams of two. The losing team will then face against each other in a Dreaded Mystery Elimination of Death.

Since she won last episode, Courtney gets to pick her partner. She picks Elizabeth. “Mmm,” Graham says.

“I get Cutter, and boom—there goes my dream. It turns into a nightmare,” says Leslie as Matt Damon and Ben Affleck begin chasing him around the MasterChef Kitchen.

“In the MasterChef Equipment Room there are four boxes, one from each of the four states that you come from,” says Graham. The boxes are filled with ingredients from each state, and the teams will get to choose one of their two boxes. Half of the original cast was from Texas, so it certainly is convenient that only one Texan remains for this challenge. They have one hour to make an appetizer and entrée from their chosen box.

Cutter and Leslie have to decide between a California box and a Texas box. Leslie immediately acquiesces to Cutter’s Texas box in hopes of a harmonious relationship for the challenge. Choosing between New York and Pennsylvania, Elizabeth and Courtney go for the latter’s Pennsylvania box because the New York box is probably filled with rats.

“A (Dreaded) Pressure Test that is just comprised of me versus Courtney is basically my nightmare,” says Elizabeth who has never looked into the cold dead eyes of Matt Damon. “We need to win so that we don’t have to face each other.”

Their one hour starts…now. And the #HometownBox challenge is officially on.

When the Home Cooks on MasterChef get whittled down, the amount of actual cooking goes up. Many feel that this is good for the show, but it’s bad for these recaps. I mean, what is this? A cooking show? Puh-leaze.

Team Cutter & Leslie is making a spare ribs appetizer with a grapefruit and molasses barbecue topping and a corn salsa. Gordon thinks that is just lovely and then inquires if they’re going light for the entrée after such a hearty app. They aren’t. They’re preparing a ribeye. Gordon does not think this is as lovely and would love to talk more about their choices, but Leslie has no time, saying, “I’d love to chitchat, but I gotta go.” Leslie runs to the MasterChef Equipment Room with Ben Affleck hot on his tail.

Joe asks Courtney about their appetizer. “It’s two slices of the trout with poached pear with an apple butter, ginger beer sauce,” she tells him.

“You really have to nail that, or it’s going to be kind of amateurish and terrible,” Joe replies. Not much wiggle room there. Their entrée is venison medallions marinated in root beer. So they’re rocking ginger beer and root beer, but the lack of a sarsaparilla is what might ultimately get them.

Cook, cook, cook.

Medic! Mistaking it for an onion, Cutter cuts a chunk out of his thumb. All season long, everyone has been telling him he’s too clumsy in the kitchen, but he isn’t all thumbs anymore. After a few minutes of sticking his hand in a Philips Airfryer—that thing works miracles—he’s back at his station and ready to piss off Leslie.

Courtney makes a pear sauce that she tries to convince Elizabeth—and herself—is good. “It tastes weird,” Elizabeth tells her, and Courtney doesn’t fight it. They instead decide to quickly make an herb mash.

Courtney tells Elizabeth to hurry. Elizabeth says she is hurrying. Courtney apologizes. Elizabeth again says she is hurrying. Courtney tells Elizabeth to hurry. Elizabeth exhales. Serious fireworks going on here.

Cutter asks Leslie about possibly making biscuits, but Leslie is done with breastfeeding Cutter—too much teeth.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth is getting frustrated. “Courtney, sometimes the things that you tell me are (shit?) that I already know, and I just need you to tell me things that I don’t know,” she says just as Courtney is about to tell her that 15 minutes could save her 15% or more on car insurance—but thinks better of it.

Things are just not running smoothly for Team Courtney & Elizabeth. They each made a sauce for the same dish, making their reductions redundant.

Cutter can’t get his reduction to reduce. There’s too much fat in it, so he’s starting over with a red wine sauce.

Cook, cook, cook.

Plate, plate, plate.

Hands in the air. Well done.

Courtney and Elizabeth bring their appetizers forward. It’s a pan-seared rainbow trout with poached pear and cheddar cheese. “It looks like something left over from a finger buffet gone wrong,” says Gordon. He thinks that pear and trout is a weird combination. Graham thinks cheese and trout is a weird combination, dismissing the dish as fish sticks. Do these girls like fish sticks? It’s unclear.

Cutter and Leslie present ribs with molasses glaze and corn. “What the fuck is that?” asks Gordon. It’s just ribs on top of some corn. Gordon calls the corn the most depressing corn he’s ever seen but the ribs are delicious. But the corn. My god, the corn!

The girls present their entrée. It’s venison medallions with mashed potatoes and apple butter reduction. “Finally, some beauty,” declares Gordon. He thinks the venison and sauce are delicious, but the mash sucks. Joe agrees about the tasty meat but bemoans the lack of vegetables on the plate. So far, everything has been rather disastrous in this challenge.

Cutter and Leslie bring forward their ribeye steak with potato, turnip, and carrot purée. They took the bone off the ribeye, much to Graham’s chagrin. But then they put the bone in the pan to make the sauce, much to Graham’s delight. But then they screwed up the sauce and started over sans bone, potentially boning themselves.

Well, that was a horrible challenge! The two teams stand before the judges, and the girls are deemed the best of the worst and are sent upstairs to the MasterChef Balcony. I am so bored.

It’s time for the Dreaded Pressure Test, Leslie’s sixth. “The oil man versus the stay-at-home dad,” says Graham, and Cutter cracks up. These two are a polarizing pair, and during the airing of the episode, my Twitter feed was ablaze with fans taking sides and tossing insults toward either contestant. I don’t see why we can’t all just get along. We’re all Americans; aren’t we? Isn’t that what this show is all about? Bringing the best American Home Cooks together to compete and crown the best Italian in the bunch?

They’ll be cooking with ingredients from the previously discarded California box, but the three dishes they’ll be making have already been determined for them: sea urchin risotto, Jidori chicken teriyaki, and tuna nicoise.

They head to their stations and prepare to get cooking. Cutter has no last words for Leslie, who always has some last words, and they are, “I hope he likes Texas.” Shots fired.

They have 90 minutes, and they start…now.

Cook, cook, cook.

Cutter begins cooking his risotto way before he should. “This is the worst dish ever,” he says, starting to freak out. Graham tries to calm him down while Leslie giggles with evil delight at his station.

Courtney and Elizabeth do their best to help Cutter from the MasterChef Balcony. They obviously would rather see him in the Top 3 with them than Leslie, who would rather see Cutter lose on his own “and not with his mother up there.”

Leslie feels like the girls are nervous to face him, and they think Leslie should get over himself. But come on. He has a point. That is why they’re helping Cutter.

Gordon feels that Cutter is still too clumsy—even with only nine fingers—to properly prepare the tuna.

“This is a Pressure Test times three,” says Joe as Cutter and Leslie begin to plate their dishes. It appears that the judges did them a favor by preparing the sea urchin for them ahead of time as they only have to take slices and place them on top of their risotto. This is a Pressure Test times three minus one-half. This is acutally 2.5 Pressure Tests, which is still a lot of Pressure Tests.

Stop. Hands in air.

Leslie forgot his quail eggs for the nicoise salad, and he’s feeling concerned. Cutter is feeling awesome. He says he nailed all three dishes, but I’ll be the judge of that. Wait, no I won’t. I think I’m over MasterCheffed. These double episodes are just too much. I need a MasterSoak in a MasterSpa.

Joe judges the risotti. He tastes them both, saying that Cutter’s flavor is good and quizzing Leslie on the amount of wine he added. He then returns to the judges’ platform and declares Leslie’s risotto to be the winner. Moving on.

Graham judges the Jidori chicken teriyaki. Cutter’s looks a lot better than Leslie’s, whose chicken is missing sauce and on the wrong type of plate—a huge mistake. Both of them overcooked their chicken, but Cutter gets the win. It’s a good thing, too, because this would be pretty anticlimactic without a tie going into the final dish.

Gordon judges the tuna nicoise. Cutter’s tuna is poorly seared and too raw, but his plating and the rest of his salad are on point. In contrast, Leslie’s plating is sloppy. He’s missing his quail eggs, but his tuna is prepared beautifully.

It’s close. The judges have a quick whisper huddle to discuss which Home Cook is better for ratings before turning to face them.

Gordon delivers the news. “This—is—a—very difficult moment—for both of you and equally for us. The person with the winning nicoise salad—the person who is now—in the Top 3 of MasterChef—congratulations—”  Graham presses the stem of his glasses to pursed lips. “—Leslie.”

So it’s finally over for Cutter. “You have true grit. You have true determination,” says Gordon, “and you’ve done an amazing job.”

Graham asks Cutter how the journey has been. He responds, “I tell you what, man, it’s been a roller coaster. I came in here just knowing how to cook a few things really good, but I learned so much from you guys.” He begins to choke up as the emotion of the moment takes over. Fighting through tears, he continues, “I put my heart on the plate every time that—every time…I appreciate everything, man. Damn!” he says with a smile. “I appreciated Leslie! That was a good competition. That’s all I wanted.”

He shakes the hands of the judges, giving each of them a hug. Then he turns to Leslie in the MasterChef Balcony and says, “Hey, good luck to you, sir. My hat’s off to you. You are the better chef.” Leslie accepts the compliment with zero humility.

In his exit interview, Cutter tells us, “I came to MasterChef as a small fish in a big pond. And I grew.” He continues, “You learn from the past, you live for today, and you dream about tomorrow.”

Placing his apron on his station, he walks out the doors giving everyone a Hook’em Horns salute and shouting, “Cutter Brewer, baby!”

That’s the way to go out.

Was Cutter one of the strongest chefs this season? No. Was he one of the four best chefs? Probably not. But whether you think he earned it or not, he made it to the Top 4, and no one can take that from him. As a search-and-rescue diver, Cutter mastered the sea. As a petroleum landman, he mastered the land. What was left for him but to attempt to master MasterChef? And damn it, if he didn’t give it his best shot.

Thank you, Cutter. You were a joy to write about. You got a big heart, and you cooked it well.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

S5E16: If I Only Didn't Have Brains

This is it, guys. We’re down to the Top 5, and you know what that means. Two-hour episodes! Well, shit. Good thing these only take me about four hours to write. Let’s meet our remaining cheftestants!

We have Elizabeth, advertising executive and aspiring professional cookbook writer.

There's Leslie, stay-at-home Malibu dad and stepfather to the stars.

Don't forget about Courtney, aerial dancer and high-heel aficionado.

And everyone's favortite Home Cook, Cutter, former search-and-rescue diver turned petroleum landbear.

And last but not first, there's Christian, the most honest competitor in the history of the program and #YourNolaMasterChef #FFT (It means Food For Thought. I finally figured it out.)

“I’m in the Top 5,” Leslie tells us. “It doesn’t get any better than this except for number one.” That might be true, but let’s not discount how good a nice number two can feel, and number two is where I’ve had Leslie slated to finish for a while now.

Christian dreams of owning a food truck, and he’s doing this for his fiancée who is in constant need of a ride.

The judges stand in front of a giant Mystery Box almost large enough to contain a food truck, but before we see what’s under it, we get to see what’s under the regular-sized Mystery Boxes placed in front of each Home Cook. Nothing! You’re so stupid!

They raise the giant Mystery Box, and Courtney immediately breaks down in tears when she sees a bunch of feet—it’s more the shoes than the feet that get to her. Attached to these feet are the Home Cooks’ loved ones: Courtney’s six-year-old brother, Cooper; Christian’s smokin’ hot fiancée, Jasmine; Elizabeth’s fine young man of a husband, Ross; Cutter’s exquisitely mustachioed papa bear, Dave; and Leslie’s beautiful and fantastically amazing wife, Paula, who should seriously consider hiring me as a staff writer.

The Home Cooks will be preparing their #MCFamily’s favorite dishes.

Leslie: herb crusted rack of lamb

Cutter: just a good ol’ blackened red snapper steak (red snapper, very tasty)

Elizabeth: Italian meatballs and grits (Not bad, thinks Joe.) 

Christian: seafood gumbo

Courtney: Cheerios—wait, no. It’s mac & cheese.

Their 60 minutes starts…NOW. Everybody, #MCFamily included, run to the MasterChef Pantry to get ingredients.

Cutter was five when his father, Dave, married his mom and adopted him. The two of them seem to have a great relationship, and it hits me right in the feels to see Cutter tear up when talking about him. Being a single guy in his 30s who occasionally dates single mothers, I have nothing snarky to say about it.

Leslie’s wife, Paula, is the breadwinner of the family, and there’s no shame in that, you horrible internet people. “She’s a wonderful mother,” he says. “She’s my soul mate.” And if you were to follow them on Twitter, you’d find that she takes great umbrage at anything negative you might have to say about Leslie. These two have a unique and enviable relationship, and they should seriously consider hiring me as a staff writer.

The loved ones head upstairs to the MasterChef Balcony as the Home Cooks get cooking. Christian has to figure out how to make a two-hour gumbo in less than an hour, and Courtney has to figure out how to elevate mac & cheese. She figures some lobster and truffles should do the trick. Barf! Right, Cooper?

Cook, cook, cook.

Joe thinks Leslie has the advantage with his restaurant protein rack of lamb. Graham thinks Elizabeth has the disadvantage with her dumpster dining dish of meatballs and grits. The clock begins to wind down, and the crowd goes mild, counting down the last 10 seconds with the energy of a sloth on Ambien.

Hands in the air. Thumbs up, dude. 

It’s time for the top three dishes, and Courtney’s lobster mac & cheese with fried quail egg is first. She explains to Gordon how to cut into the egg before eating, and he manages to barely contain his rage over being instructed how to eat. Despite this, he loves the dish. So does Joe, who capitalizes on the opportunity to say, “fonduta.”

Second is Christian with his seafood gumbo with andouille sausage. “It’s like taking a big drink from the ocean,” says Graham. Well, that sounds pretty terrible, but he means it in a good way. Gordon would have preferred less rice, but overall, he likes it.

Last up is Elizabeth with her meatballs & grits with broccoli rabe. Italian Joe approves, calling it “a very strong dish.” Gordon tastes with a “wow” and an “mmm.” Despite his admiration for the Wow Girl, Leslie can’t help but clap with a hint of anger at not being called forward.

And the winner of the Mystery Box Challenge is (commercial break) Elizabeth. If she wasn’t before, she’s definitely the frontrunner in this competition now.

The Home Cooks say a goodbye to their loved ones, and Elizabeth follows the judges to the MasterChef Pantry. She is presented with four plates printed with the faces of her remaining competitors. She quickly smashes them to smithereens, thus ending the competition right then and there. No? Okay, let’s keep going then.

Elizabeth is presented with four proteins, each of which she will assign to someone. First up is something Gordon loves to cook: a gigantic ox heart. Or if you're a pregnant woman, consider eating it raw. If you can keep it down, your child will grow to be very strong.

Next, Graham presents veal brains. These brains are very delicate and have been extracted from one of the finest, dumbest calves in the world.

Then Joe pulls out a lamb’s tongue. He just rips it out of a sheep's mouth right then and there. It’s brutal and very metal.

Last is “a delicacy beyond belief,” describes Gordon as he pokes at two round lumps of meat on a cutting board. “Those are balls, chef,” declares Elizabeth with confidence. They’re buffalo testicles to be precise, and they appear to be inscribed with some sort of Hebrew writing. Holy balls!

“If you don’t have the proper technique,” says Gordon, “this can become a mouthful—nobody wants to eat.” Elizabeth will have to put a protein on each face. That’s right. Someone’s getting balls on their face.

Back in the MasterChef Kitchen, the judges show the other four Home Cooks the proteins that they will be cooking. “Are you excited?” asks Gordon, to which they all reply yes except for Honest Christian who gives an emphatic “No, Chef.”

They get one hour, and time begins as they rush to the MasterChef Pantry to discover which strange protein each of them will have to make.

Christian has the brains. Leslie has the tongue. Cutter has the giant heart. And Courtney? Yep. Courtney has the balls

“I’m taking this dish, and I’m going to flip this around,” says Courtney as every guy watching recoils in horror. “This is going to be the fanciest bull testicle anyone has ever seen in their life.” She immediately gets to work on making tiny top hats.

Gordon says that the brains are the most difficult of the four proteins. Christian has no experience working with brains, but he’s trying his best. He’s making a brain pasta with vegetables and no cheese. Joe is worried that Christian isn’t properly using his brains.

Leslie is working with his tongue like usual. He has a huge advantage, considering that his protein can not only taste itself but also tell him when it’s fully cooked.

Testicles don’t scare Courtney. She’s handling them like a seasoned veteran. When selecting the proteins, Elizabeth badly wanted to give Courtney the shaft, but it just wasn’t an option.

Cutter is working with a huge piece of meat, perhaps too large. Normally, it would take hours to do it proper justice, but he’s confident he can handle it in the time allotted.

Cook, cook, cook.

Joe thinks Christian is hitting an all-time low. He and Graham watch with dismay as Christian puts his pasta in a bowl of ice water.

Leslie says that if he doesn’t make the Top 4, then the judges don’t have taste buds. Well, they’re having taste buds regardless

Stop. Hands in the air.

Christian goes first, and he’s visibly upset with his veal brain pasta with tomato sauce. Joe is surprised to find the pasta to be not terrible, but he hates the tomato sauce. “The brains are delicious,” he says. “It’s everything else that pulled you down.” Graham calls it the worst dish he’s every presented. Not looking good for Christian.

Courtney presents fried buffalo testicles with mixed vegetables. It’s technically called a pot-au-feu, but let’s not get all technical with these balls. Gordon calls her balls glamorous despite the absence of a top hat. The entire time she’s up there, Gordon can’t stop shoving balls into his mouth. Graham smells her balls before taking a bite. He loves them. She’s safe.

Leslie brings forward his braised lamb tongue with spinach and bok choy. Gordon says it looks clumsy and notes that Leslie didn’t clean the back cartilage from the tongue. Despite that, he thinks it tastes good. Joe describes the dish as not great. Not looking great for Leslie.

Cutter presents his seared ox heart with stuffed poblano. “This is the first time I’ve ever truly seen you on a plate,” Graham tells him. He loves the dish. Joe can’t say enough good things about the dish: the cook, the rub, the contrast, the richness. It’s hella good, and Cutter—much to the chagrin of all of his haters—will be moving on to the Top 4.

Courtney gets the official win as she and Cutter are sent upstairs to join Elizabeth on the MasterChef Balcony. Hip bump. 

That leaves Christian and Leslie, and Joe delivers the news. “The person going home—is—” Hold everything! Gordon needs another whisper huddle before they finalize their decision. We hear them discussing how the protein is the hero, which would lead you to believe that Christian will be safe—if you’ve never watched this show before.

They break the whisper huddle, and Gordon addresses them. “This is the toughest decision that we’ve made so far. Christian and Leslie, whatever the result is tonight, it hurts us to say goodbye.” Graham presses the stem of his glasses to pursed lips. “The person leaving MasterChef tonight—not advancing to the final four—that person is—Christian.”

Leslie shakes Christian’s hand before hugging him and saying, “Good luck, bro man. I wish you the best.” He heads upstairs to join the others who are extremely disappointed with the results.

Graham tells Christian that he’s one of the best cooks they’ve ever had in the competition, and Gordon says that if Christian needs an investor for his food truck business (he does) to call him.

Christian predicts Elizabeth will win it all before shaking Gordon’s hand and placing his apron on his station.

In his exit interview he tells us. “I came into this competition with nothing, and I gave it everything that I got…I can’t wait to get that food truck. I can’t wait to follow the dream I came here to do.”

Christian doesn’t just walk out the doors. He dances. 

He was a pleasant surprise this season. If I can be honest with you, I thought Honest Christian was early episode cannon fodder. But he proved me wrong. It turns out that he was one of the strongest cooks in the competition, and if he had more experience with different types of food before going on the show, he might have been the one holding the trophy at the end.

So goodbye, Christian. I hope you get that food truck. I honestly do.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

S5E15: Look at Me When I'm Screaming at You

“Last week, we said an emotional goodbye,” the announcer tells us, “to one of the biggest Home Cooks in the MasterChef Kitchen.” What? I don’t usually mention the intros, but what the hell was that? He didn’t say that Willie had the biggest heart. He just said biggest. Why is his size important? So strange. Anyhow…

Welcome to the world famous Sunset Marquis, the favorite hotel of Guns N Roses’ lead guitarist, Slash. No joke. He’s always there. It’s also a popular destination for advertisers in Los Angeles for production, so I’m expecting Elizabeth to be very comfortable in this setting. Oh, and yes, I’ve been to the Sunset Marquis before, because I’m fancy as hell. I took the best shower of my life in one of their villas. I was a fancy man taking a fancy shower.

Jaimee would love to open her own bar and bakery someday. Is that a thing? If not, it certainly should be. Ooh! She could place a shot glass inside a donut. Or make lemoncello bars. Rum and Coke cake. 99 Bananas bread.

Today, we’re at the Cavatina Restaurant, located in the middle of the Sunset Marquis. Also, it’s Slash’s favorite restaurant. Also, I've eaten at Cavatina because, as I mentioned before, I be fancy. This is the MasterChef Restaurant Takeover!

Where’s Joe? “Joe isn’t here tonight, because he is taking care of critical restaurant business of his own as we speak,” Gordon says. What can be more critical than MasterChef?! Joe, sometimes I doubt your commitment to Sparkle Motion

Leslie and Jaimee are the team captains, and each time when they were captains before, it was a disaster. Jaimee tells us, “I do not want to be a team leader in this situation.” Or any situation. Ever. She picks Christian to be on her team in the hopes that he’ll take the leader responsibilities away from her. Leslie picks the Wow Girl, Elizabeth. Jaimee chooses Courtney because she isn’t Cutter, leaving him to join Leslie’s team. They’ll be feeding 50 paid extras in the dining room, but it will be Gordon and Graham deciding which team goes to the Dreaded Pressure Test, because who cares what a bunch of wannabe actors think? Regardless of how well they’re dressed.

To recap…

Red Team: Leslie, Elizabeth, Cutter

Blue Team: Jaimee, Christian, Courtney

Each team will be preparing two appetizers: Prince Edward Island mussels and a Parisian gnocchi, which the announcer can’t pronounce. He’s having his worst episode of the season. Next, they’ll make two entrées: Mediterranean sea bass and a New York strip steak.

Chef Michael Schlow gives the Home Cooks a quick lesson in how to make the dishes while they all take furious notes in the color-coordinated notebooks. “This is going to be hard,” says Courtney. “I am terrified,” says Elizabeth. Jaimee is so scared that her soul has left her body and is hanging out with Slash by the pool.

Knowing that he was too complacent last time that he was a team captain, Leslie immediately takes charge of his team. And immediately begins butting heads with Cutter who insists that he’s just trying to help things work smoothly. Meanwhile, Jaimee has assigned every dish to Christian and Courtney to cook and plans to spend the rest of the evening curled up in a ball in the walk-in freezer.

Things are getting more contentious between Cutter and Leslie. “He’s an ex-beautician house bitch that works for his wife,” Cutter tells us. Ex-beautician? Did we know this? It explains Leslie’s magnificent mane. I immediately search Craigslist for any job listings for house bitch.

Leslie pulls Cutter aside for little screaming. Last time Leslie was captain, it was talk to me! This time, it’s look at me! Cutter won’t look at him. “Talk to me,” says Cutter. “Look at me!” yells Leslie.

“He’s a loser, and he’s a sad excuse of a man,” says Cutter. Ouch. He shouldn’t be underestimating Leslie, though. Personally, I’m a loser and a sad excuse for a man, but I’m also the world’s best MasterChef recap writer. It’s amazing what we losers and sad excuses for men can do when we put our minds to it.

Despite being unable to look at each other, the Red Team starts off fast, getting their first apps out quickly. Meanwhile, things aren’t going so well on the Blue Team. She received her first apron with a gnocchi dish, but Courtney has since forgotten how to make it. She admits that her gnocchi looks like glue. “You’re being polite,” says Gordon. “It looks like shit.”

Jaimee thinks that this is the perfect opportunity to give Courtney the team captain armband—you know, when she’s at the top of her game getting yelled at by Gordon for making shitty gnocchi. “I’d rather just be here and cook than be team captain and sink our ship,” Jaimee tells us. Whatever chances she had of winning MasterChef just sank

Cutter and Leslie are actually working well together as the Red Team keeps on cookin' on. Over on the Blue Team, however, Courtney keeps on making mushy gnocchi. She decides to give the captaincy to Christian. Before this episode is over, I’ll be the captain of the Blue Team.

Cook, cook, cook.

C’mon, bro. Don’t be that guy wearing the t-shirt of the hotel you’re eating at. 

Cutter can’t handle someone else making steaks, and he and Leslie go at it again. Gordon has had enough. They’re embarrassing him in front of Chef Michael Schlow, so he pulls them out front to embarrass them in front of the diners—and whoever this guy is. 

Cook, cook, cook.

Service mercifully ends with both teams performing well. The paid extras give mixed reviews, but it doesn’t really matter because the winning team will be decided by Joe, who is taking a break from dealing with critical restaurant business to pick a team name out of a hat.

As the Home Cooks file into the MasterChef Kitchen, Elizabeth tells us that she has dreams of becoming a “full-time cookbook writer,” but I’m pretty sure that job doesn’t exist. And from what I’ve read, the winner of MasterChef actually gets a pretty raw deal on the cookbook profits. Season 2 winner, Jennifer Behm, didn’t even write one.

Alright, I’ll stop hating on cookbooks, because it’s time for the Dreaded Pressure Test. The judges give the win to the Red Team, so that means Jaimee, Christian, and Courtney will be cooking for their cookbook-writing lives.

They’ll each be making a stunning croquembouche. Yeah, Christian, I’d never heard of it either. Basically, it’s a tower of cream puffs.

Jaimee, can you do this? “Hell, yeah.”

Courtney, can you do this? “Yes, chef.”

Christian, can you do this? “Yeah, I guess.” Honest Christian is the best.

They get 90 minutes, and time starts—now.

This isn’t Jaimee’s first croquembouche rodeo, so she’s feeling confident. Uh oh. Each time Jaimee has told us she’s confident this season, it hasn’t worked out too well. Particularly during the Panna Cotta Heist of 2014 when Tyler saved her by snagging one of her goo-filled ramekins. Courtney is also feeling confident, though this is her first croquembouche rodeo.

And now Courtney isn’t so confident. She admits to Gordon that she might be the one to go home. “How’s that for honesty?” she asks. It’s fairly honest. Not Honest Christian honest but honest, nonetheless.

Jaimee and Courtney start building their towers while Christian waits for his sugar to brown. “I’m literally sweating in my pants right now,” he tells us, too honestly.

Time ends, and Courtney’s tower looks amazing. Jaimee’s looks okay. Christian’s—well, let’s be honest. It looks real bad.

“It’s time now to taste your cockenbush,” says Gordon. He approaches Courtney’s masterpiece. She’s the only one to apply the spun sugar, and the judges not only think it looks amazing, but it tastes perfect as well. Say what you want about Courtney; this girl can cook. You know what? Don’t say what you want about Courtney. You guys say some pretty terrible things.

Next is Christian. He’s not feeling too good for obvious reasons. His tower is uneven and two-toned. Gordon removes a puff and cuts it to reveal a pittance of cream inside. However, his profiteroles (puffs) taste good.

Last up is Jaimee. Even without the spun sugar, her tower looks decent. Gordon, however, is worried about the large amount of sugar she has used to glue the cream puffs together. He asks her to remove one for him, and she can’t do it, even after using her knife as a crowbar. She finally extracts one mangled ball, and Gordon is displeased with what he finds inside. He tells her, “It’s wet because of their undercookedness.” You know it’s bad news when the judges have to invent new words to describe your dish. Graham tries one of the cream puffs and says that the pastry cream is “kind of bland.” This is torture for Jaimee and for all of us who hate to see Jaimee cry.

The judges have a whisper huddle to decide who between Jaimee and Christian is going home. They come back out and give the win to Courtney.

And now it’s time for Gordon’s elimination speech.

“Christian and Jaimee, that was a tall order tonight. However, we can only judge you both on what you put forward.” Graham removes his glasses. “The person leaving MasterChef—and we are so sorry to see this individual go—the person leaving—,” Graham presses the stem of his glasses to pursed lips. “—MasterChef tonight—is—Jaimee Vitolo.”

“I’m so sad,” says Jaimee as she walks forward to hug the judges. Gordon offers her an opportunity to work at one of his restaurants, which Jaimee might take him up on, seeing as she has no current job. Do any of the past MasterChef contestants ever take the judges up on these offers? I doubt it. I’m not sure the rest of the kitchen staff would welcome them with open arms. Oh, you were on a reality show? I put myself in massive debt to go to culinary school. I bet you don’t even have a cocaine addiction.

We see her place her apron on her station to the sound of soft piano, and she tells us about the confidence she gained while being on the show. “I’ve overcome a lot of things that I didn’t think I’d ever be able to do.”

Jaimee isn’t the kind of reality television star we’re used to. Someone this shy and quiet usually won’t make it past the first round of auditions, but there’s just something about her. She’s just so damn likeable. Though she seems like someone who hates having the cameras pointed at her, once the challenges would begin, she’d forget they were even there and gave us some of the best reactions and honest (sorry, Christian) emotion of any of the other Home Cooks.

So this is goodbye, Jaimee. Thank you for being a part of our lives every Monday night for a few months. Here’s to your confidence continuing to grow. And here’s to me getting drunk at your future bakery.