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.


  1. Excellent recap as usual, thanks Joel!

    I'm glad that Daniel was not the one to go. I know you don't agree with me, but I think he's definitely a contender. He and Jaimee are my favorite contestants.

    Also, you know that horseshit they usually say about the contestants being able to go out with their head held high? I think this is the only time I've seen somebody actually do that. Good job, Francis. Hopefully you come back on the comeback episode.

    I just about douche-chilled out when Joe used the adjectives "super sexy" to describe Courtney's dish. We get it, she was a stripper and radiates sexual energy. Move the fuck on. I do wonder though, does the clapping post-examination reminds her of those nights at the strip club?

    I didn't know Graham blocked you on Twitter. You actually mention that kind of thing fairly often, why do people block you there? You seem like a perfectly pleasant person and your writing is hilarious.

    Anyway, I look forward to see what you have in store for us next week. Read you then!

    1. I can be a little mean and pestering some times.

  2. It isn't 'Stilton Caviar,' it's 'Stilton, and Caviar.'

    Stilton is a type of blue cheese from the northern UK. It's possibly the best cheese I've ever tasted, and you get try one of a few varieties at Whole Foods. It's kind of pricey ($20-$30 per LBS) but a little goes a long way. I recently used it in a bacon crumb I put atop a parsnip soup (which is what I would have made with that luxury box, assuming I could get a leek, an onion, and some stock).

    1. Ah. That makes sense. I've heard of Stilton blue cheese before, too.