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 are my #MasterChef Top Three predictions: 3rd - @MC5Elizabeth 2nd - @MC5Leslie 1st - @MC5CourtneyL
— MaestroChef (@joellugar) September 15, 2014
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.