Tuesday, August 26, 2014

S5E14: You Dim Sum; You Lose Some

There’s a restaurant in Studio City, California, called Mexicali, serving only the finest in Mexican/Californian cuisine, and one afternoon a little over a decade ago, I decided to stop by. The hostess wasn’t at the front desk when I walked in by myself, so while I stood there waiting for her to return I looked around at the bar, the quaint Mexican/Californian décor, and the nearby tables and booths—and that’s when I saw her. The one. The only. Melissa Joan Hart. 

And that’s also when she saw me. It was one of those moments when two strangers happen to lock eyes at the same time—a moment that is often awkward and followed by immediately looking the other direction, but that didn’t happen this time. There was a connection, brief yet palpable. It was electric. It was almost telepathic. Time stopped, and for a few seconds there was only us, she in her booth, and me at the hostess stand. Could this be the one, we each thought? Might this stranger, here in this slightly better than average Mexican/Californian restaurant, be the person I’m destined to spend the rest of my life with? We never got the chance to find out as our trance was suddenly broken by the return of the hostess to her stand. I turned away from destiny to greet the hostess who was pleasantly smiling at me. She asked me if I needed a table. I did not. Instead, I asked her for a job application.

You see, I wasn’t ready for Melissa Joan Hart at that moment. Sure, I possessed all the faculties I have now: moderate intelligence, a decent wit, and an okay face. But I was missing the most important piece: experience. I hadn’t yet come into my own and discovered my unique voice, and MJH had long since found hers. It was easy to see that she was playing on another level than me, much like some of the remaining MasterChef contestants are more likely to win than others. Sure, all seven of these surviving Home Cooks have the basic chops to win it all, but which ones are truly ready? In these last few weeks, that is exactly what we will find out.

The Home Cooks enter the MasterChef Kitchen which, as Courtney notices, seems to being growing larger and more luxurious with each passing week. 

“I’m excited, because I’m still here,” says Willie, likely sealing his fate this episode. It would be sad to see him go, but it’s been hard to see everyone go for a while now. Let’s just do our best to enjoy the time we have remaining with our new friends before it’s all over.

Before the Mystery Box Challenge, Gordon has a surprise for everyone. He instructs them to reach inside their drawers and feel around a bit. Inside each Home Cook’s drawers is “something to remind you why you are here.” Stuffed inside everyone’s drawers are letters from home. Most of the cheftestants only have one letter, but Willie has dozens, because he is just that much more lovable than everyone else, including you and me.

It’s an emotional moment for many of them, especially Courtney, who received a touching letter from her mother, and Leslie, who received some song lyrics from Rihanna. Cutter’s father promises him a big bear hug when he returns, but if Cutter makes it too far in the competition, he may have to wait until his dad finishes his winter hibernation to receive it. Willie’s grandmother reminds him that “your attitude determines your altitude” which is great advice and perhaps evidence to why I’ve been stuck at sea level for most of my life.

Filled with sadness and motivation, the HCs are instructed to lift their Mystery Boxes, and dozens of apples come rolling out and onto the floor. Instantly, everyone’s minds fill with potential desserts that he/she could make. Willie makes a “mean-ass apple cookie.” It’s the only mean thing about Willie. But we won’t get to see that side of him, because the one rule of this Mystery Box Challenge is #NoDessert.

Even I know that apples pair well with pork, so I assume that everybody will be making a pork dish. But first, how about a little product placement? "I go and grab the Philips Airfryer,” says Courtney, instantly propelling her to the next round. “I’ve used it back at home, and I know that it’s going to cook my dish perfectly.” This could have been Courtney and you, Walmart, but you playin’.

Cook, cook, cook.

Willie’s grandmother only eats pork chops, so we have that in common. He’s making pork along with everyone else, except for Cutter who is making squab. Cutter also mentions the Philips Airfryer but doesn’t sell it nearly hard enough to get a free pass.

Elizabeth is making savory apple, pork, and cheddar hand pies, and Joe and Graham are insulted by the mere mention of hand pies. Meanwhile, Gordon visits Leslie and asks him about his wife. Leslie says, “She is an amazing lady. That’s why I married her. What woman has seven kids (one of whom might have shared a rich and rewarding life with me if it weren’t for my delayed ascension into manhood) let alone a dynamite husband like me?” His hype man, Christian, cheers him on from behind, not that Leslie needs him. He’s his own hype man.

Cook, cook, cook.

Pork, pork, pork.

Stop. Hands in the air.

It’s time for the top three, and first up is Christian. He has prepared an apple stuffed pork chop with bacon, Brussels sprouts, zucchini, and red apples. Gordon checks to see if his giant pork chop is fully cooked, cutting it open. “That looks moist,” says a smiling Christian. Gordon likes it, and so does Graham who says, “It shows the arc of your journey.” This is why these guys are the judges and not idiot slobs like you and me who can’t see arcs in pork chops.

Next up is Leslie. Willie declares him to be “someone to look at as far as winning the whole competition.” I’ve got him predestined for second place, but perhaps Willie’s right. Leslie presents his apple stuffed pork loin with bacon and Gruyère cheese. Graham tastes it, looking up and to the left. He says, “I think it shows a lot of technique and your journey so far.” Graham does it again! This guy is incredible.

Lastly, Courtney is called up. “If Courtney wins this Mystery Box Challenge,” says Elizabeth, “I’m going to stab kittens.” The fate of these kittens is riding on Courtney’s apple stuffed pork loin with apple and celeriac (what?) salad. Graham tries it and says, “This is you at your best right now.” It’s almost like the arc of her journey has taken her to this point and it is now being revealed on the plate.

Courtney wins again, and Elizabeth murders a litter of kittens, but it’s okay because kitten pairs excellently with apples.

In the MasterChef Pantry, the judges show Courtney what everyone will be cooking: #DimSum. I should say everyone else, because she has immunity. Not only will the other cooks have to prepare five difficult dim sum plates, but also they’ll have to do it in teams of two, selected by Courtney.

She pairs Willie with Christian, which is like pairing the tortoise with the hare. She pairs Elizabeth with Cutter, which is like pairing the Wow Girl with the bear. And that leaves Jaimee with Leslie, the baker with the silver fox.

“Tonight’s challenge,” says Gordon, “is the formidable Tag Team Challenge.” Only one cook from each team will be able to work at a time, switching when the judges say so.

Their 60 minutes starts—now

Immediately, Jaimee is confused as to what Leslie is doing at their station. He wants her to trust him, but she isn’t too comfortable with that idea. Predictably, Willie isn’t moving fast enough for Christian, but Cutter and Elizabeth seem to have instantly found their groove.


Jaimee starts working on the pork dumpling, which Leslie is pretty sure is supposed to only be a vegetable dumpling. “We’re screwed anyway,” says Jaimee.

“Stop pointing fingers. Just cut,” says Leslie. You know what they say. When you point a finger at someone, three other fingers point back at you and demand that you cut vegetables.

Elizabeth is now cooking, and things still seem groovy at their station.

“Push it, Christian,” encourages Willie. Christian pushes it.


Cutter hops on the frying pan while Elizabeth tells Graham their plans. It's all going very smoothly for them so far. “Working in advertising,” she says in a side interview, “helps me work really well under pressure, so I’m not worried about this challenge.” I also work in advertising, and it helps me work under pressure, too. Though it doesn’t do my liver any favors.

While Leslie works, Joe asks Jaimee if they’re going to make it. “No,” she replies.

Willie’s working on the pot stickers, declaring them to look good. Christian disagrees. He shouts a barrage of instructions at him, which only makes Willie more nervous. Which only makes Christian more frustrated


Christian takes over while Willie takes a break from all the yelling. Courtney tells us that she thinks this challenge is “too far outside his comfort zone,” and she’s right

Cutter and Elizabeth continue grooving, and Jaimee and Leslie continue arguing.


“There might be a chance that Jaimee and Leslie don’t get any food on the plate,” Joe says to Graham. There might be a chance that Jaimee stabs Leslie to death and serves him on the plate.

Meanwhile, Cutter is showing some surprising dexterity with his sausage fingers, and Willie appears to have bounced back from being yelled at.


Christian burns himself on a hot pan but gives a quick spin, nullifying the pain. 

Two minutes remain, and now everyone is yelling. Joe watches Graham do some aerobics. Leslie is still shouting, but instead of commands, now it’s words of encouragement. Christian bites it but pops right back up. Elizabeth bites it but pops right back up. More shouting. Lids on! Get it pretty! LIDS ON!! LOUD NOISES!!1!

Stop! Hands in the air!

Jaimee & Leslie are the first to present their dim sum. Their communication was a disaster from the get go, but their dim sum actually looks pretty good. “I am frickin’ amazed,” says a frickin’ amazed Gordon. Perhaps chaos is the key to good dim sum, because both Gordon and Joe love it. These two are safe.

Next up is Christian & Big Willie. Graham was getting inspired watching them work, but their finished product is depressing at best. Burnt pot stickers, doughy Har gow, no sauce, no garnish… “It’s just sad,” Graham tells them. Willie defends himself to Gordon, saying that he feels he performed tremendously, but Gordon isn’t having it. He says they’re both in trouble, but if this is the bottom team, I’m pretty sure it’s Willie that’s going to feel the blade of the ax.

“This is, without question, the worst thing I’ve brought to the judges,” Elizabeth tells us as she and Cutter bring forward their dim sum. All isn’t as groovy as it previously seemed. “It looks horrendous,” says Gordon. No, he did not say tremendous. “Those buns? It looks like a basket full of canned dog food,” he continues to Joe’s delight. It’s not looking good for them. They communicated just too damn well. Damn. Damn, damn, damn.

The winning team is, of course, Jaimee & Leslie

The other safe team, “by a fraction of a hair,” is Cutter & Elizabeth. They were bad, but Christian & Willie were worse, and Gordon calls them to the front.

Now for Gordon’s elimination speech. “Two of you, although as a team, both contributed heavily to the loss. At least one of you will be leaving this competition shortly. It’s a tough decision. Here we’ve got one vocal, ambitious, rough around the edges amateur cook—,” Graham presses the stem of his glasses to slightly open lips, “in Christian that gives it his all—against a passionate, kind-hearted gourmet that has a flavor profile beyond belief. This is very, very difficult.” Graham presses the stem of his glasses to pursed lips. “The person leaving MasterChef tonight—,” Joe purses his lips, “That person is—Willie. I’m sorry. Your journey ends tonight.”

Willie gives each of the judges a big bear hug and picks Christian to win it all before placing his apron on his station to the applause of his teary-eyed competitors in the MasterChef Balcony.

“America, yes, y’all are going to miss all of this,” Willie tells us in his exit interview. “Yes, it’s not going to be as bright in the kitchen, but I was able to do some amazing things.” Starting off strong, Willie impressed the judges and everyone else with his unrivaled desserts and lovability. He may have faltered in the past few weeks, having particular troubles with cooking non-American cuisine, but his attitude will always determine his altitude. I expect Willie to continue flying high from here on.

So this is goodbye, Willie. Thanks for bringing vibrancy and positivity to a competition known for its combativeness. You were a joy to watch. Good luck in your future endeavors, and if that includes your own television show some day, know that you always have a writer on standby.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

S5E13: The Adventures of Wow Girl and Mr. Submissive

Daniel quit his job in the video game industry to be on MasterChef, but he was always destined to be here—ever since he defeated BurgerTime as a child. What Daniel is to BurgerTime, Christian is to Domino Rally, telling us, “Once I knock one of them down, they all gonna fall.” It’s almost a perfect analogy, except in MasterChef, one domino is left standing at the end. Who will that person be? I just don’t know yet. However, I’m calling my shot right now that Leslie gets second place. I can’t explain why, but it feels like he’s being set up to lose in the finals to…Elizabeth? Courtney? Yeah, no idea.

Tonight they’re pairing the chefs up again, and the partner-choosing twist is that they are free to choose their own partners. Elizabeth immediately gets surrounded by Christian, Cutter, Leslie, and Willie, each wanting to team up with the Wow Girl. Though, perhaps Whoa Girl is a better name after seeing her reaction to their advances. Feeling a little snubbed, Courtney asks Daniel to be her partner. He’s looking for a way to tell her, “Never. Not in a million years,” which he accomplishes by immediately turning and asking Jaimee to be his partner. Jaimee quietly tells Daniel, “Never. Not in a million years,” but he can’t hear her, so they partner up.

Leslie gives Elizabeth the hard sell, telling her that he’s the “best working horse she’ll ever get.” He’s willing to give her complete creative control and quietly slips a few Benjamins in her apron to sweeten the deal. “Sold,” says Elizabeth. Personally, I would have held out for a guest spot on Melissa & Joey. Oh hey, I still haven’t told my Melissa Joan Hart story. I’ve made such a big deal about it that the actual story will surely be disappointing. I might as well save it for one more week, at least, because the teaming up of Elizabeth & Leslie sounds like a sure winner.

Cutter and Willie become a team, and that sounds like a wonderful disaster in the making. Courtney and Christian also team up. They’re supposed to hate each other, but I’m not buying it. They just seem like they should be friends to me. Don’t you think so? I can’t stand to see such a seemingly cohesive pair oppose each other, so I’m forcing them to be friends in my mind. They love each other.

Graham calls Leslie “Mr. Submissive,” but Leslie isn’t ready to admit to that.

Graham then presents a silver platter to the teams and tells them, “…to win this competition, you definitely cannot be—chicken.” He removes the lid, and would you believe that there’s a chicken under there? Leslie chuckles, Elizabeth goes, “hmm,” Courtney kind of smiles a little, and everyone is generally amused. Last season, that joke would have killed. It looks like Graham is finding out that comedy is a little easier with some extra weight on your frame.

While breaking down the chicken with ease, Gordon explains that each team is only going to prepare one cut: wing, drumstick, breast, or oyster. The oyster is that delicious part under the thigh that I totally knew existed and is called an oyster. Each cut is placed in a locked box, which the teams will be randomly selecting in the MasterChef Pantry. The twist is that they won’t be able to unlock their boxes until after they get everything they need from the MasterChef Pantry.

Wow Girl wants to do a curry, and Mr. Submissive is just fine with that. Cutter wants to make chicken & dumplings, but Willie thinks it’s a bad idea. “Cutter don’t listen,” says Willie. At home, Dan Wu silently nods in agreement.

They get back to their stations and unlock the boxes. Cutter & Willie get the “big ol’ chicken breast.” Wow Girl & Mr. Submissive get the oysters. BFFs Courtney & Christian get the legs while a disappointed Daniel & Jaimee get the wings.

They have 45 minutes to cook, and time begins.

The judges discuss the teams, and Gordon calls Leslie a “crafty old dog, the little schmuck.” He’s just racking up the titles today. The judges declare the wings to be the most difficult and the breast to be the easiest. That usually means that the breast is actually the hardest and the wings are the easiest.

Cutter is working on a hollandaise sauce, and Gordon voices his displeasure. A few weeks ago, Cutter would have kept on truckin’ with his hollandaise, but it looks like he might be taking their advice this time. Is he learning? Is he growing? Will he go on to win this whole thing? Yes, yes, and no.

Joe visits Daniel & Jaimee who are oven roasting fingerling potatoes and have their wings in the frying pan. According to Joe, keeping the wing meat on the bone doesn’t sound like a restaurant quality entrée. “That’s the hand we were dealt, so we better roll with it. Right?” asks Daniel. Joe stares at him in silence.

Gordon is not thrilled with Cutter & Willie’s plan to make chicken & dumplings. “You don’t put a breast in a broth,” he tells them, but there isn’t time for them to make something else. We could probably just skip ahead to the Dreaded Pressure Test where these two will face off against Daniel, Jaimee, and each other. We don’t even need to know what life partners Courtney & Christian are cooking.

Graham visits Courtney & Christian’s station, and after he leaves, I still can’t tell what they’re cooking. But like I said, it doesn’t matter. They’ll be fine.

“It’s like the MasterChef Love Boat out there,” says Gordon as Leslie feeds Elizabeth a bite from their dish. I think he means the MasterChef Cruise. By the way, where are my complementary tickets? Bri will be so disappointed if I’m not on that boat.

Cook, cook, cook.

I must have blacked out, because suddenly Wow Girl & Mr. Wow Girl are presenting their dish. It’s curried chicken oysters with roasted carrots. “Wow,” says Joe. “Wow,” says Gordon. They’re safe.

Next is Daniel & Jaimee. “I’m feeling pretty confident,” says Jaimee, unconvincingly. They present chicken wings with fingerling potatoes and carrots. Eating wings doesn’t make Graham feel sexy, but he likes their dish. Joe’s not blown away, but he likes their dish. They’re not safe? I have no idea after that. “That was weird,” Jaimee says to Daniel as they walk back to their station. It certainly was.

Cutter & Willie bring forward their roasted chicken breast with root vegetables and asparagus. “Wow,” says Gordon, “wow, wow, wow, wow, wow.” These are not good wows. And apparently Cutter didn’t learn and still made the hollandaise sauce. Fortunately for him, it broke, so they tossed it. The chicken is bland, though, and the asparagus has too much butt on it. He’s Gordon Ramsay, not Sir Mix-A-Lot, so they are not safe.

Hollywood power couple Courtney & Christian are next. They really do seem to be getting along, and it just feels right. They present their braised leg & thigh with beans, Brussels sprouts and tomatoes. Graham flips the thigh over and says, “That right there is the money shot.” He loves it, spraying them with spurts of compliments. However, Gordon doesn’t love the presentation. He loves the chicken and beans but hates the sprouts and tomatoes. Brussels sprouts and tomatoes don’t go together he tells them. “A bit like you two. You’re never going to get married, are you?” They say no, but come on. You can’t fight destiny.

The judges have a whisper huddle in the back while the Home Cooks have their own whisper huddles in the MasterChef Kitchen. Courtney wants to know how Elizabeth prepared the curry, but Leslie says, “Don’t share our secrets.” It turns out that Elizabeth is the one who should have signed a MasterChef Prenup before teaming up.

Team Wow Girl wins and is safe. Courtney & Christian are also safe, and I’m wondering what I just spent the past two hours doing.

It’s time for the Dreaded Pressure Test, and there’s dark magic at work. Check this out. Podium. And then a moment later, no podium. If that doesn’t give you chills, I don’t know what will.

I was right about the evil in the air. There isn’t going to be just one Dreaded Pressure Test tonight. Oh, no. Tonight, there will be three Dreaded Pressure Tests. After each Dreaded Pressure Test, one Home Cook will be safe, until one doomed chef remains. Brutal.

“What comes first,” Gordon asks, “the chicken or the egg?” As always, the answer to this riddle is that the chicken comes first. Now it’s time for the egg, and the Home Cooks will be cooking them up three different ways. First up is a poached egg, and they’ll only be getting one egg each. I don’t even know how to make a poached egg. You boil it somehow. Gordon says the secret is to add a drop of vinegar to the boiling water to keep the egg whites together. Meanwhile, Daniel pours a gallon of vinegar into his water. 

Willie has his own secret. “Sing ‘Amazing Grace’ three times, and you’ll have the perfect poached egg.” Jesus suddenly appears and blesses Willie’s egg before smiting the others.

Cutter nicks his egg on the plate, and “the yolk just goes pthbtbtbtbtbt.” 

Time ends, and Jaimee goes first. Gordon thinks it needs more seasoning, but other than that, he loves it.

Next is Willie, and Graham is worried he used too much vinegar and that’s what it will taste like. It doesn’t. It’s perfect. Thank you, Jesus. Praise Allah. High five, Flying Spaghetti Monster in the sky.

Daniel lost his yolk in Vietnam. 

Cutter’s poached egg might have been the winner if he hadn’t clobbered it with his big, clumsy bear paws.

Whisper huddle. Willie wins.

The next Dreaded Pressure Test is egg yolk ravioli. Holy shit. What? I was expecting scrambled eggs. They need to make a single ravioli (raviolo?) that contains only the egg yolk. #NoYolk

Time begins, and they start cooking. Much to everyone’s dismay, Cutter is using a fork to seal his yolk in the pasta. #NoFork

Time ends, and Jaimee goes first. Joe has a bite and says nothing.

Next is Daniel, and Graham can immediately tell that his pasta didn’t seal all the way, and water was able to get to the yolk. “That’s no bueno,” says Daniel, whose huevos are cooked—overcooked, rather.

Gordon cuts into Cutter’s ravioli and tastes it. Silence follows.

Whisper huddle. The judges announce the winner, and it’s…Cutter! #YesFork

That leaves Daniel and Jaimee, and after this next Dreaded Pressure Test, MasterChef will have a lot less tattoos on it. The final egg dish they’ll have to make is a stunning cheese soufflé. Oh, man. The infamous soufflé finally makes its first appearance this season, and considering Jaimee is a baker, it couldn’t come at a worse time for Daniel.

Despite that, Daniel is feeling confident. Perhaps he has reason to, because Jaimee’s béchamel is too cold and her cheese is not dissolving properly. But then again, maybe he shouldn’t be too confident. His béchamel is runny, and Gordon doesn’t think his soufflé will rise. They might both be going home.

With 30 seconds remaining, they pull their soufflés out of the oven, and they both look perfect. This will be a close call.

The judges try both of their soufflés without comment and have their twenty-third whisper huddle of the evening. They break the huddle without giving any real hint of what they’re thinking.

Gordon addresses the Home Cooks, “Two very gallant attempts. Jaimee, your soufflé, great crust on the outside, beautiful seasoning. On the whole, it tasted good. But—insufficient béchamel and too much egg white. Could have done with a bit more cheese. Daniel, beautiful crust, little bit of nutmeg in there. Good flavor, the béchamel beyond belief. The issue we had? Too salty. Both of you did an amazing job. One person is leaving this competition.” Graham presses the stem of his glasses to pursed lips. “And one is joining everybody else in the balcony.”

“The person that made the best soufflé—,” Daniel closes his eyes. Jaimee looks at the floor. “—Jaimee Vitolo. Well done.”

Daniel's huevos are officially cooked, and Jaimee gives him a long hug before heading upstairs.

He quit his job to be on MasterChef, but Daniel isn’t planning on going directly back to the video game industry. “I’m going to open a little bar that serves really awesome plates, has some amazing beer on tap, and has some of the best Japanese arcade games in the world.” Including a BurgerTime machine, I’m assuming.

Daniel tears up a little during his exit interview as he tells us that he’s proud for taking a chance, and he should be. Most people don’t take enough chances in life. I like Daniel a lot. I know he gets a lot of unwarranted flak online for being a “hipster,” but hipster hate is pathetic. Calling someone a hipster as an insult only exposes both your own discomfort with your personal eccentricities and your fear of standing out from the crowd. If you insult people by calling them hipsters, then I’m guessing that you’re one of the people who are afraid to take chances. Daniel’s a real dude, and he’s out there living his life like it’s the only one he has. Gotta respect that.

Goodbye, Daniel. Thanks for taking my jokes in stride. Thanks for participating with the fans by hosting your trivia giveaways and making the designer aprons. And a big thank you for not only retweeting compliments.

Let’s play some video games next time I’m in LA. I’ve got some mad Tekken skills I’d like to show off.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

S5E12: Thousand Oaks Sauce. Pff. Hilarious.

The Illustrious Top Ten walk onto the Thousand Oaks high school football field under threatening skies, but they ignore the doom the overhead clouds portend. And why wouldn't they? All but one of them will eventually have to lose, so why not enjoy themselves while they’re here?

Cutter flashes back to his glory days, those Friday nights underneath the bright lights with the rabid fans cheering from the stands as he lines up between the hash marks, tightly gripping his clarinet.

“It doesn’t get any more American that this,” says Graham about the football field, but really summing up MasterChef itself. It’s another Team Challenge, and the Home Cooks will be splitting into two teams of five and cooking concessions for all of the fans.

Courtney comes from a long line of concessioners, so she feels that she has an advantage in this challenge. She’ll be one of the team captains along with Jaimee, who isn’t someone I’d peg as the leader type. “My biggest concern is being able to be loud,” she quietly tells us. You don’t need to be loud to be a good leader, Jaimee. In fact, you only need to ever say three words: Talk. To. Me. 

As an added twist, Jaimee and Courtney get to pick who is on each other’s teams. Jaimee begins by giving Leslie to Courtney, who devises a counter strategy: keep everyone who can’t get along with Leslie off of her team. It seems to work out that way, and I have to say that I’m shocked that Jaimee not only didn’t put Daniel with Leslie, but she did put Leslie's bestie Ahran with him. So far this season, Courtney has been the best pregame strategist, but MasterChef is decided out on the field—or in the concessions stand.

Blue Team: Courtney (Captain), Leslie, Christian, Ahran, and Victoria

Red Team: Jaimee (Captain), Cutter, Daniel, Willie, and Elizabeth

The teams will be making turkey burgers and fish tacos. Ugh. Turkey burgers. Let’s take the driest meat there is, grind it up and grill it so it dries it out even more, and then slap two pieces of dry bread on either side. Why do you guys order these things? Yes, you guys. I know you order turkey burgers. You order them, you eat them, and then you regret your decision. But then you turn around and do it all over again. What is it about turkey burgers that makes people forget how terrible they are? Like, right now, you’re probably thinking to yourself, “Turkey burgers aren’t terrible.” See what I mean?

“It’s time to meet the players,” says Gordon as a giant wave of screaming, privileged children come crashing through a MasterChef banner and onto the field. Victoria and Courtney completely lose their shit.

Hey, it’s football legend Eric Dickerson! The former running back joins the judges in the middle of the field. “He’s one of my football idols. What kid did not grow up and want to be him?” asks Leslie. Well, all of the kids kneeling on the field for starters. They just see another old guy. Eric’s here to fight childhood obesity, which explains the turkey burgers. If we all work to make food taste worse, together we can conquer childhood obesity.

They have one hour to prep and time begins.

Jaimee wants to put coleslaw on the burger, and her team hates the idea. Daniel wants to do “Thousand Island, grilled onions, and simple lettuce.” And then he makes this humongous blunder and says “Thousand Oaks” sauce instead of Thousand Island. He’s probably at home thinking that no one caught his massive mistake, but I did. Busted, Daniel. Meanwhile, Jaimee just got mutinied faster than anyone in the history of the show.

Courtney has control of her team. Her plan is to mask the terrible flavor of the turkey burger with guacamole.

Prep, prep, prep.

Christian is hyper aware of the horrible dryness of ground turkey but overcorrects by adding too many eggs to the meat. Now the turkey meat is too wet. Too moist. Too juicy. Too delicious.

Over on the Red Team, Cutter is destroying their fish with his spatula. His bear claws weren’t made to gently flip fish with a spatula; they were made to drink beer and catch fish as they attempt to spawn upstream.

At some point a bunch of screaming teenagers came and filled the bleachers. I’ve been ignoring them. Now there’s a marching band. And cheerleaders. The teenagers won’t stop screaming. Now the Blue Team is screaming. God, please make everyone stop screaming. The football players take the field. The announcer makes an announcement. The game begins. The teenagers line up for food. The teams serve food. I begin screaming.

Courtney is excited about how her team is working together. Everyone has a job and is doing it well. “Victoria’s got buns coming for me,” she tells us.

The Red Team is pure chaos. They’re losing customers, and I’m losing concentration. Team Challenges just suck the life out of me. 

Daniel tells Cutter, “Just smile and be happy," before greeting a teen, "Hey! A burger?” (This is my new mantra.) Cutter insists that Daniel tell him where he needs him, and Daniel gives us his best impression on the season yet: the Mayor of Halloween Town. “I need you on the grill! The whole time, I’ve needed you on the grill!”

The gods also voice their displeasure with Team Challenges as rain begins to pour.

Mercifully the challenge ends, and the Home Cooks line up in the rain to hear the results. Leslie is hoping to hear that he’s no longer a freakin’ loser. It’s the closest result in the history of MasterChef. With 51% of the votes, the winning team is the Red Team, and Leslie is still a freakin’ loser.


The Blue Team files into the MasterChef Kitchen for the Dreaded Pressure Test, and Victoria is “pretty worried.” Courtney is given the opportunity to save herself, which she wisely does, and don't talk to me about honor. The judges then choose to save Christian for his wonderful wet turkey burgers.

This is Leslie’s fifth Dreaded Pressure Test, and Graham tells him that no one has ever survived five before. “Well,” says Leslie, “you haven’t met me yet.” We cut to a montage of Leslie cooking and defeating past cheftestants with sweet karate moves as “You’re the Best” plays in the background. 

Graham pulls a large aquarium out of his pants. Inside are a bunch of still alive prawns, and Graham tells Leslie, Ahran, and Victoria that they will have to make a prawn ceviche. They head to their stations to start cooking—but wait. Joe wants them to also cook tempura-fried prawns. And even Gordon has a way that he’d like them to prepare prawns. Butterflied prawns stuffed and broiled. Can you believe it? They have one hour to cook all three. This Pressure Test is legitimately Dreaded.

As if that isn't enough, Gordon drops another bombshell. After this challenge, two people are going home. Victoria is sick to her stomach. I’m somewhat of an expert on reading her emotions, and this is the most upset I’ve ever seen Victoria. She might explode at any moment. Ahran looks to the MasterChef Balcony for someone to tell her that everything will be okay, but no one does because everything will not be okay. Leslie takes a deep, determined breath.

As bored as I was during the Team Challenge, I am just as amped right now. What a monster of a challenge. Live prawns. Three preparations. Two chefs go home. One hour. Is there time for stroganoff? No.

Time begins.

Ahran is cooking for her dreams of opening a Korean fusion restaurant. Mmm. Fusion.

25 minutes fly by. Joe visits Leslie who is buzzing around his station, chopping this and murdering that. Joe asks him if he feels that living in Malibu gives him an advantage. Leslie says that he does rent out his boathouse to a family of spot prawns but that doesn’t really mean he knows how to cook them.

Ahran is stressed out. She doesn’t know how to make ceviche, and she barely survives a Dreaded Prawn Attack. Everyone in the MasterChef Balcony is sure of two things: that they are lucky to not be cooking in this challenge and that Ahran is going home.

Gordon visits her station while she guts a prawn. He sees that Ahran is upset and gives her a #MCPepTalk. Gordon kind of phones it in, but it energizes her anyhow. She bites the heads off of her remaining prawns and then dives into Victoria’s tank for more.

Hands in the air. The three cheftestants bring their nine dishes to the front.

Graham tastes Leslie’s ceviche. It’s good. He moves on to Ahran, who says that she felt more stress tonight than when she took the SATs. Her ceviche is too liquidy, but she nails the verbal. Graham then inspects Victoria’s ceviche, which has the same problem as Ahran's. 

Joe tries Leslie’s tempura. He likes Leslie’s light batter. Joe moves on to Ahran, who says that she thinks the color of her tempura is too dark for a Japanese restaurant, but Joe thinks they taste like they belong at a Japanese restaurant. He inspects Victoria's “very white” tempura. He likes hers, too. Maybe even better than the others.

Lastly, Gordon judges the stuffed prawns. He likes everything about Leslie’s except for the sauce he put in the breadcrumbs, making them soggy. It’s all about wetness on this episode of MoistureChef. Gordon tries Ahran’s stuffed prawns. He likes everything about them except for the lack of salt. He attempts to move on to Victoria, but he’s unable to locate her. She’s hiding somewhere inside a mountain of breadcrumbs. He does find her prawns, however, and they’re raw. Damn, damn, damn. Damn.

The judges have a whisper huddle in the back before lining the three Home Cooks up for final judgment.

This time it’s Joe who gets to crush someone’s dream. He says, “The first Home Cook that we are sorry to see leave the MasterChef Kitchen—,” Graham removes his glasses. “Please step forward and say goodbye—Victoria.” Her stuffed prawns were just too raw. Damn.

“It’s hard to say goodbye, but I’m excited to move on to what’s next,” Victoria tells us in her interview. “I’m ready to hit the ground running and burn it down.” Well, that sounds terrifying. Best of luck, Victoria. Thank you for all the denim and excitement.

She exits the MasterChef Kitchen, and Gordon continues, “Tough. Umm…” Somewhere a piano begins softly playing, and the gravity of the moment begins to sink in for Leslie. “Tonight, this is a tale of eldest…” Graham presses the stem of his glasses to pursed lips. “…Versus our youngest. And how ironic is that? When I think back on the battles and the arguments you two have had, and yet you’ve both grown to put your head down and respect each other. Leslie, give us an insight to the journey. Is it everything you could’ve imagined it?”

“And more,” replies Leslie, fighting back tears. “I did not expect to meet as talented of people as I have, I did not expect to grow the way I have been growing, and to work out my differences with this young lady—‘cause she’s not a girl. She’s a young lady.”

“Ahran,” Gordon asks, “how’s the journey been for you?”

She replies, “You know, to really be able to achieve my dream and get coaching from you amazing mentors is such an honor.” Her voice begins to crack with emotion near the end of her sentence.

Gordon finishes, “Leslie and Ahran, it hurts all three of us to say this, more than you’ll ever know. The person leaving tonight is—,” Graham presses the stem of his glasses to pursed lips. “Ahran.”

Leslie gives her a big hug before heading upstairs, and he cries while talking about Ahran in his interview. They formed a bond that will never be broken nor properly pronounced.

And so it ends for the youngest competitor this season. Ahran had quite the journey on MasterChef. She went from not getting any screen time at all to getting screen time for all the wrong reasons to eventually getting screen time for all the right reasons. Ultimately, her character arc was tied to Leslie, and once they became friends, it was only a matter of time before she had to leave.

Farewell, Ahran. You were a joy. I’m glad you’re back on social media, but please watch out for all the weirdoes. Like bloggers.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

S5E11: Who Doesn't Enjoy Stroganoff?

Why does making the top ten in MasterChef mean so much? I’m determined to find out. So far, it's only clear that making the top ten is much more meaningful than simply making the top eleven. Eleven isn't important. It's a terrible, silly number. It's like, here's a one, and now here's another one. Two ones. So dumb.

Scottish Francis has a plan to make the top ten, and that plan is to stay true to his style of cooking. This means plenty of crazy colors, mysterious powders, and explosions of flavor—and maybe a few regular explosions.

Joe once again emphasizes the importance of the Top Ten, which I’m realizing should be capitalized, however he still doesn’t explain why the Top Ten is such a big deal. It’s apparently common knowledge, and I’m apparently a huge idiot. There’s no time to delve further into this, though, as it’s time for another Mystery Box Challenge.

Each Home Cook has two Mystery Boxes in front of him/her. They lift the boxes on their right to discover everyday ingredients that can be found in the kitchens of poor people across America. Inside are items like pickles, iceberg lettuce, mustard, nacho cheese dip, and—salmon roe?

In the box on the left are all of the things that Courtney would buy at the grocery store but can’t afford, and all of the things that Leslie would buy at the grocery store if he were ever to disgrace himself by stepping foot inside one. “There you have the elevated, luxury version of the ingredients in the first box,” explains Joe. “You have Kobe beef, a Berkshire pork chop, ahi tuna steak, Stilton caviar (and not that cheap salmon roe you normally find in shit everyday American kitchens), fresh peas, and beautiful black truffles.” Look, I know truffles are expensive and delicious, but one thing they are not is beautiful. I’ve never actually seen dinosaur poop before, but I'm pretty sure that’s what dinosaur poop looks like. 

They each get to decide which box to cook with, and if you’ve ever watched MasterChef before, you should know that the correct box is the everyday poor people box. This is a show about the best Home Cooks in America, so the judges want to see the cheftestants take ordinary ingredients and elevate them. Here is the opportunity to do just that. “As far as we are concerned,” Gordon lies, “there isn’t a right or wrong box.”

Victoria sees the trap of the luxury box right away, but it’s a difficult decision for many of the others. Elizabeth chooses the luxury box because she doesn’t want to disrespect the expensive ingredients while feeling no guilt over discarding the poor, downtrodden ingredients. Daniel goes with the everyday box and immediately begins weaving a bacon sweater for the upcoming winter.

The judges discuss what they would do with these Mystery Boxes. Gordon thinks the Kobe beef is going to trip someone up since it dries out so quickly. Meanwhile, Graham has a lot of ideas for the everyday box. One thing he particularly loves is stroganoff. I’m with him on this one. When I was younger, I used to really be into stroganoff. When I first discovered stroganoff, it was like a new world opened up for me. Soon, stroganoff was all I could think about. I’d come home from school, and it would be stroganoff time immediately. I’d wake up in the mornings thinking about stroganoff. At my peak, I was enjoying stroganoff two or three times a day, easily. As I’ve gotten older, however, I’ve learned to control my stroganoff urges better. Stroganoff is no longer an every single day thing for me, but some days—well, some days just call for a ton of stroganoff. You know what I mean?

Joe tells Victoria that he thinks she is the right person for the everyday box. “That’s flattering,” she replies, with the perfect measurement of sarcasm. “Thank you, Joe.”

Gordon visits Elizabeth who is cooking every item from the luxury box. He asks her who she thinks isn’t going to make the Luxury Top Ten, and she says, “Leslie,” wisely whispering it this time so that he doesn’t show her ugly again. She does not want to see ugly.

Courtney is using the luxury box because she’s drawn to shiny things. Leslie is also using ingredients from the luxury box, only he thought it was the everyday box. He’s making a trio of the proteins and some unseasoned pea puree and unseasoned parsnips with truffles. Joe tells Leslie that he didn’t put salt in anything, but Leslie insists he did. Joe says he didn’t. Leslie says he did. It’s such an intense and riveting discussion that we get to watch it all again after the commercial break.

The luxury box also caught Francis’s eye. He didn’t get to make his chessboard in the earlier Team Challenge with Elise, so he’s making one now. Tuna cubes and Kobe beef cubes will make up the board, and I’m guessing that cutting Kobe beef into individual cubes will only dry it out faster. But maybe not, because let’s remember that I don’t know shit about cooking. Or chess, really. “I want to be the face and the voice of gastronomy,” Francis tells us. Are his dreams written in the stars? I couldn’t tell you that either. I don’t know shit about gastrology.

Elizabeth is the first called forward. She used the luxury, high-end ingredients and smashed them right in my stupid face. Gordon loves her pork chop with mustard cream sauce and calls her a serious contender. Joe not only gives her the “firing on all cylinders” compliment, he follows it up with a “one to watch.” High praise, indeed.

Victoria and her poor people Pu-Pu platter are next. These are the ingredients she has in her own home, and she has elevated them. She presents a tilapia & ham steak with potato chips, and there’s nacho cheese in there somewhere, too. Victoria is extremely excited to hear what the judges have to say about her dish. Graham says it’s good.

The third top dish is also from the luxury box, so I guess I was wrong again. It’s Leslie and his trio of protein and duo of puree. Gordon calls it brilliant. Apparently, (more) salt was added, because Joe declares it to be seasoned perfectly. Leslie opens his mouth and begins pulling his foot toward it when Joe suggests he say nothing and leave it at that. Leslie wisely does.

Congratulations (commercial break), Leslie! “Finally,” proclaims the stay-at-home Malibu dad. “Finally, I’m a winner.”

The theme for tonight’s Elimination Challenge is stuffed pasta. Back in the MasterChef Pantry, Leslie is presented with three silver platters—or as he calls them—plates. Joe presents sophisticated tortellini. Graham presents caramelle, which Leslie has never heard of before, which Christine made earlier this season, who Leslie has never heard of before. Gordon presents raviolacci, which is just like regular ravioli only I have to Google how it's spelled. Gordon warns Leslie, “One small thing out of place, and this stuffed pasta can become a distast-a.” I need to type fast-a.

Leslie doesn’t have to cook, so all of Gordon’s warnings are for naught. He chooses the beautiful caramelle for everyone else to cook. Willie has also never heard of caramelle before, but he’s at least pretty sure it doesn’t come in a can.

They get one hour to cook after five minutes in the MasterChef Pantry. Time begins, and just in case the giant clock fails, Graham and Joe have synchronized their Swatches

Francis looks at all of the normal ingredients and decides, “Bugger it.” I guess this means he’s planning to penetrate his dish anally? Let’s hope he’s kind enough to include a friendly stroganoff.

The Home Cooks return to their stations, but before they can begin cooking, Leslie gets another advantage, propelling him to do this. He gets to replace one of his competitors' pasta machine with a rolling pin. Whoever gets it will be safe. (Not really, but come on. We’ve been over this. No chef given a disadvantage ever goes home.) After teasing everyone, he finally gives it to Daniel, which isn’t a bad choice actually. Though Leslie thinks he’s making it more likely that Daniel’s going home after this move, that’s really not what’s best for him. No offense to Daniel, but I don’t think he’s a serious contender to win MasterChef, so keeping him around for another week is good for him. “I am so happy right now,” says Leslie. “Just the look on his face was worth a million dollars.” So about one thousand of our dollars.

“Leslie is a petty man who holds grudges, and this is exactly the type of behavior I expect from him,” says Daniel who I honestly hope stays around as long as possible because he says stuff like this.

They start the giant clock for the final hour of cooking, and this time Gordon is also unsure of its working condition. Can we get someone in here to look at the clock, please?

The Home Cooks get cooking. “We know that this caramelle pasta is something that they’re not familiar with,” says Graham. “Now times that by a hundred.” I’m pretty sure he means “multiply,” but I’ll let it slide because I desperately want Graham to unblock me on Twitter. I’m sick about it. Imagine how you’d feel if Graham blocked you, and now times that by a hundred.

Joe says that if you put too much water in the mozzarella, it will burst the filling. I didn’t know you were supposed to put any water in the mozzarella. This whole pasta making process looks very difficult to me. If I were in this challenge, I guess the first thing I’d do is peel the breading off of the mozzarella sticks to get the cheese out and then slide each exposed mozzarella piece into a bottle of Arrowhead and give it a good shake. Next, I would steal someone else’s pasta.

Daniel loves baseball and the Babe, so he holds his rolling pin behind his head, points to Leslie in the MasterChef Balcony, and calls his shot. I think he’s saying that he is going to go up there and bludgeon him with the pin.

Cook, cook, cook.

Courtney is third generation Italian, so she’s in her comfort zone. Willie is not third generation Italian, so he decides to sneak a peek at his Italian neighbor's station.

Francis has dyed his pasta with beet juice. Gordon asks him if he ever thinks about playing it safe. He says he does and he is, but he doesn’t and he isn’t.

Big Willie is doing a dessert caramellini. “That’s just crazy town,” Graham gently tells him. That’s just Willieburg, U.S.A.

They were instructed to make a delicate red sauce, so Cutter is making a mascarpone asiago vodka cream sauce. Almost everyone is doing their own thing, it appears, as Daniel has short ribs and kimchi cooking.

Jaimee is actually keeping it traditional, and her last name is Vitolo which sounds like it might be Italian, so I’m going to assume that she is Italian, and assuming that she’s Italian—which, like I said, I am assuming—she probably knows how to make a decent pasta dish. Sorry about all of the assumptions.

Joe wonders why so many are taking such huge risks when the Illustrious Top Ten is on the line.

Disadvantaged Daniel goes first. He’s very proud of his short rib caramelle with tamarind habanero curry. The pasta has a strange color to it in Graham’s opinion. It’s also the exact color that Daniel was aiming for: strange. Graham takes a bite as Leslie eagerly watches from the MasterChef Balcony. “It just doesn’t make a lot of sense,” Graham says to Daniel, “and it’s so out of line with what we showed and what we were asking.” Joe takes a bite and almost dies. Gordon shares a bite with Daniel and then immediately shares a towel with his tongue.

Jaimee is next with her traditional caramelle with a touch of pork. Her dish is inspired by her father Michael. He’s worked in the sanitation department for the past thirteen years, and I’ve seen The Sopranos, so I know what that really means (nudge nudge, wink wink). In other words, I’m expecting some damn good pasta. Joe tries it, and it’s as expected. He loves it, and Jaimee happily prances back to her station. 

Francis presents his short rib caramelle with cauliflower and pepper puree. “I was trying to create some summer and some vibrancy,” he tells Graham.

“That doesn’t go together,” says Graham, disgusted by the idea of summer and vibrancy commingling. Graham has a bite and really does not like it one bit. It’s rare to see him this harsh with his analysis. “It’s just not good,” he says, which is equivalent to Gordon spitting in your food. “It has to taste good. It just doesn’t.” Oh wow. Holy shit. Jaimee, your thoughts

Cutter and his short rib caramelle with vodka white sauce are next. The pieces look gigantic but Gordon doesn’t seem to have a problem with them, so once again, what do I know? He likes it and even compliments Cutter's decision to make a cream sauce.

Courtney presents her traditional caramelle with tomato sauce. “A super sexy simple dish,” says Joe to Courtney—about her pasta. Just want to be clear that Joe was only making a reference to Courtney’s super sexy dish.

Last is Big William. He brings Gordon his squash & apple caramelle with crème anglaise. “Why a dessert?” Gordon wants to know.

“It just came to me,” replies Willie, possibly influenced by every previous Elimination Challenge being desserts. Gordon dreads tasting it due mostly to its similar appearance to “regurgitated dog vomit.” He tries it anyhow and immediately spits it out. It was too sweet. Way sweeter than Gordon normally likes his regurgitated dog vomit.

Jaimee and Courtney have the two winning dishes, with Jaimee getting the win win.

The three worst dishes are obviously Daniel, Francis, and Bill. It could really be any of them going home here—except for Daniel who had the disadvantage advantage.

Gordon has Daniel and Willie step forward. Gordon begins, “Tonight you both performed badly. In fact, you were galaxies away from where we were hoping this was going,” Joe sucks on his upper lip as Gordon continues, “and tonight, Daniel and Willie—,” Graham presses the stem of his glasses to pursed lips. “—you—are both—so lucky that you dodged that bullet.”

It’s Scottish Francis from New York. He keeps it together as he takes another round of the judges' critique in stride and calmly shakes their hands before placing his apron on his station to the applause of the other Home Cooks.

All season long, Francis had a flamboyant flair to his cooking and his fashion. Ultimately, it was his eagerness to experiment that got him sent home. Though, he was always going to have to go home at some point. He’s a highlander, so he understands that there can be only one—winner of MasterChef to have a foreign accent every so often, and Luca won last year.

Outside the studio, Gordon meets up with Francis one last time to tell him he did a good job and then swiftly cuts off his head with one swipe of a samurai sword. Somewhere in New York, lightning strikes Luca.

Goodbye, Francis. You were a lot of fun. I’ll miss your chemicals. I’ll miss your powders. I’ll miss your crazy knockout gas. I’ll miss your tears. I’ll miss your animal prints. I’ll miss your chessboards. I’ll miss your TWEETS. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’ll miss you. I’ll miss you, Francis.

Are you crying? I’m trying to make you cry. We were promised a bigger, uglier cry.