Tuesday, May 27, 2014

S5E1: That Lump on the Plate is Me

Welcome back to the fifth season of MasterChef and the second season of MasterChef Theatre. Each week, I’ll be recapping the culinary twists and turns taken by the best Home Cooks in America. Since last season, Graham has lost the weight of a full MasterChef, thus proving that almost anything could happen this year. A woman might win. A man might win. Anyone with a foreign accent probably won’t win. Yes, almost anything could happen. And when almost anything does happen, I’ll be here to point and say, “Hey, look! Almost anything!” thus fulfilling the base minimum requirement for being a MasterChef recapper.

A warning to those of you unfamiliar with me and/or these recaps: I know nothing about food or cooking. I barely know how to eat. If you’re looking for an insightful discussion about the recipes you’ve seen on the program, you will have to look elsewhere. If you’re looking for detailed summaries of your favorite Walmart-sponsored cooking competition mixed with—as my mother describes it—toilet humor, you’re in the right place.

I watch these episodes and recap in real time, if that’s important to you. Ok, let's get on with it.

Which dishes will have that wow factor? Which Home Cook will put him or herself on the plate? Who will be crowned America’s next MasterChef? And most importantly—which contestants will follow me on Twitter? Let’s find out right now on an exciting new season of MasterChef!

This is the biggest cooking show on the planet. They’ve searched the whole country for the greatest Home Cooks in America and managed to find a whole bunch of people; they were already walking down every street in this great nation, arms outstretched, singing songs of praise to the past winners, extolling them with chants of, “MasterChef! MasterChef!” Crying out to their gods, “Luca! Christine! Whitney! ...the other one! Please look down upon my miserable existence and bless me with but a pinch of salt from the MasterChef Pantry. For in that brief moment of seasoning, I might forget this horrible life of struggle and longing for fame and instead bathe in the glory of being momentarily acknowledged by someone with their very own cookbook!”

Each contestant is bringing his or her own story, and these stories better be good. “I’m a Marine, I’m a waiter, I’m a real estate agent…I’m a stay-at-home mom, I’m a stay-at-home dad.” Uh oh. Let’s hope these guys have some dead relatives to cook for, because they’ll need them to impress three of the toughest critics around: Gordon Nice-Guy Ramsay, Joe Not-as-Nice-Guy Bastianich, and Graham Half-the-Nice-Guy-He-was-Last-Season Elliot.

They’ve already whittled down the Home Cooks to 30, so it looks like they’re dispensing with the horribly boring opening auditions this year. Instead, we dive right in and meet…oh dear. A large, colorful black man with no lenses in his quirky glasses tells us that, “This is real.” So let's all crank our suspension of disbelief up a few notches before settling in.

We meet some forgettable faces and a woman daring to test the limits of how far denim can take her. The judges come out, and the Home Cooks go wild; one guy cries. Another guy is wearing a wooden bowtie in lieu of a personality.

Blah blah…quarter-of-a-million dollars…blah blah…very own cookbook…blah bl—HOLY SHIT, IS THAT THE MASTERCHEF TROPHY?? OMG!! I MUST HAVE IT INSIDE ME!

I found Waldo.

“We care about one thing, and one thing only,” Graham lies. “And that is what you put on the plate.”

Dude is still crying.

Gordon instructs everyone to turn over their chopping boards, and on the other side they find mirrors. Some like what they see. “I look good,” says Waldo, finding himself to be quite the looker. Meanwhile, Wooden Bowtie sees nothing but shame.

Signature Dish time! Gordon wants them to put themselves on the plate. He’s looking for dishes piled high with denim, lens-less glasses, and false confidence.

We meet Tyler, and he’s a hunter. I can tell because he’s wearing camouflage. Last year, camo was a bad look as none of the auditioning contestants wearing it were able to stand out from the rest.

Gordon tells them to look around the MasterChef Pantry, the best pantry in the world. No one hears him, though, as they are all still locked in a gaze with their own reflections.

They get one hour to cook and maybe not even that much time, as the judges will be giving people the boot while they’re still cooking. Everyone rushes to the MasterChef Pantry, grabbing ingredients. There, the Crying Man is delighted to find chemicals. His name is Francis L. and he has a foreign accent and loves molecular gastronomy. He’ll be cooking in memory of all the people who died while making his outfit. At least, let’s hope they’re dead.

Cook, cook, cook.

Elise has a shitty office job as an e-learning administrator. Tyler has made a shitty chimichurri sauce. Francis has broken his syringe with which he was planning on using to pump his spaghetti? He might be an actual Bond villain.

Stop. Knives down. Wooden Bowtie is gone. Sure, he didn’t taste his food, but what really killed him was being boring, a death kiss on MasterChef.

Courtney tell us, “I was taking 18 credits, I had five jobs, and I still couldn’t pay my rent. So I had to make the decision to go work in a gentleman’s club.” Five jobs? Yeah, okay. I haven’t heard embellishment like that since someone tried to show me the most incredible potato.

Stop. Knives down. Someone named Natanya gets the boot for bad sauce. You had one job, Natanya! Not five, like some people have before being forced into becoming strippers.

Time’s up!

The judges walk around, tasting the dishes. Each contestant attempts to explain how their dish is them on the plate, which is such an abstract notion. “Mmm, I can really taste the heritage in your dish, but I was looking for a little more personal journey. Better luck next time.”

They begin handing out white aprons, and the first one goes to “Aerial Dancer” Courtney. The next winner is Big Willie, bars and tone personified.

Aprons are handed off rapid-fire, going to assorted contestants including Tyler who breaks the Camouflage Curse. Some of the uncalled Home Cooks whom we met earlier begin to sweat, namely Francis, Elise, and a woman named Elizabeth who will be fine—and I’ll mention why I know this in a bit.

Waldo makes it. And so does a boy who must have been barely too old for MasterChef Junior. His new white apron conveniently hides his second erection ever.

One apron left! Elise wants it with ever fiber of her being, but she’ll have to settle with going back to her terrible job and living the rest of her years in misery. That’s MasterChef for you.

The apron goes to Elizabeth. In full disclosure, I’m Facebook friends (the closest kind of friends) with Elizabeth. I don’t think we’ve ever met, but we have a lot of mutual friends. So if I’m soft on her, it’s because I’m a gigantic pussy.

The rejects line up in front of the judges. Elise’s life is essentially over. Francis is crying over syringes that could have been. Another nameless contestant is realizing he shouldn’t have worn a bowtie, which is Graham’s thing. But wait! They all have one more chance to become the next MasterChef!

They each get a refrigerator with the same basic American ingredients. Gordon will be cooking alongside them just so America can watch at least one person who knows what he's doing. They have one hour to cook, and I’m not sure how many get to move on. All I know is that it’s coming down to Elise and Francis at the end. (And at least Elise will be moving on.)

Elise is making a chicken potpie, her second attempt at pies after her dessert hand pies from earlier. If MasterChef is about putting your personal journey on the plate, I don’t see how Francis can compete with all of Elise’s struggles and disappointment stuffed inside that delicate pastry.

Let’s meet Leslie, a stay-at-home dad from Malibu. Actually, let’s not.

Astrid is a dirty pig, and dirty pigs aren’t tolerated at MasterChef. Or maybe they are, because Joe lets her off with a warning.

Chandis is a beautiful farm girl whom we sadly won’t be seeing more of.

Time ends, and Gordon brings his chicken dumplings to the front. It’s terrible. The other judges hate it. Gordon apologizes to everyone and leaves the MasterChef Kitchen forever.

The dishes that do matter are brought to the front, three-at-a-time.

Other Gordon gets an apron. Bowtie doesn’t. Leslie gets one, so I guess we’ll have to meet him after all.

Filthy Astrid moves on. Two people that might as well have never existed do not.

The last three are Beautiful Chandis and the two expected cooks: Francis and Elise.

Francis has made “Shrimp Fleeing Seaweed,” himself on the plate.

Chandis has made a Rosti Stack. “A rusty stack?” asks Joe. “Essentially potato pancakes,” apologizes Chandis. Her potatoes are raw, and she’s lucky it’s Joe telling her and not Gordon. Gordon stabs bitches for that shit.

Wrapped in pastry, Elise is wheeled to the front. Gordon likes everything about her dish except for the fact that it’s a pie—which is everything about it.

Judgment begins. Chandis is beautiful, but while beauty can get you far in this competition, it can’t get you the title of MasterChef. You’re also going to have to be able to cook a potato. She’s gone.

That leaves us with Francis the Mad Professor and Elise the Sad e-Administrator.

Francis moves on and sobs again. Now it’s time for Gordon to give his first closing speech of the season. Cue the soft piano.

“Elise, I know how much this means to you, but my frustration—I wasn’t convinced by the pies…” There were just so many pies.

Elise erupts into a blubbering pile of snot and tears. “I want to prove my worth—to myself and to you.”

Gordon exhales. “Ah, young lady, I’m sorry…”

Elise exhales.

“…You are not—going upstairs to the balcony…”

She flies through the stages of grief like a zephyr, coming to a sudden halt at acceptance. “Yes, chef.”

He continues, “…Because they are coming down to congratulate you.”

It’s all too much for Elise. Her outer shell flakes away as pieces of sweet pastry fall to the floor around her. From inside that crumbling crust, a new person emerges, one no longer stuffed with a bland life of e-administration—but, instead filled with the wonderful flavors of joy and hope and even sprinkled with that ultimate dream: that she might one day soon become America’s next MasterChef.