First of all, if you are visiting from Ben Starr’s blog, Welcome! I hope you will stick around and check this place out for a bit :). On to the recap!
Once again, we are back at 6 contestants (I almost clicked on the wrong episode on Hulu when I tried to watch it!). This time, it’s another team challenge, one that is notorious for driving contestants up the wall. I foresee a lot of Gordon Ramsay screaming at the contestants to get a grip, which as Ben has mentioned in previous blogs, is the WORST way that you can get a kitchen back on track. From my experience working and staging in many excellent, busy restaurants, the best kitchens run off of quiet, efficient communication. Any amount of screaming just frazzles everybody and causes chaos, rather than accomplishing its purpose of getting a station back on track.
So we get to the intro, and see a shot of poor Krissi on the verge of hyperventilating and throwing up at the thought of being up on top of a skyscraper. The judges arrive on a helicopter (WTF is with helicopters and reality TV? Such an overused gimmick), and inform the contestants that today is they are going to take over
WD-40 WP24 (seriously though, did anybody elase instinctively think about the magical lubricant/solvent?). While not personally familiar with the restaurant, Wolfgang Puck is one of the most well known chefs in the country, so it will be a challenge for the contestants to produce food that is worthy of his enormous reputation.
It cracks me up to hear Bri talk about Krissi, knowing the kind of sisterly love-hate relationship they have in real life.
This challenge is right up my alley. I’m very familiar with traditional Chinese food, and the techniques used to prepare the dishes. how many Western cuisines intentionally “cook” eggs into a sauce to form little egg drop ribbons? Just the sight of that brings back many food memories from growing up.
Shumai are a variant of Chinese dumplings. They have an exposed top, and are always steamed. The skin more closely resembles a thin, delicate wonton skin than a sturdy, slightly chewy dumpling skin. The shumai looks like the most difficult dish to execute, because the contestants have to make the sauce (which can be delicate with the starch slurry and the egg), prep and wrap the shumai into the proper shape (which required finger dexterity), and keep track of the orders in the steamer, making sure each shumai stays in for precisely 7 minutes (overcooking will lead to a mushy wrapper, undercooking will lead to Ramsay’s favorite word: RAAAAAAAWWWWWRR).
The lobster lettuce wraps look like a breeze. Toss lobster in flour, shake off excess, fry for the proper amount of time, and the rest is just cold salad ingredients and sauce.
As for the Chili Shrimp, it looks like the sauce is premade already. It’s apparent like a lot of the kitchen prep has already been done for the contestants, which certainly makes things easier for them. There are a few keys to stir frying: A sizzling hot wok to actually sear and stir fry the food rather than boiling it, a good coating of oil on the bottom/sides of the wok to prevent sticking, even knife cuts to ensure even cooking times (add ingredients in order from longest to shortest cook time), and constant motion (whether via tossing or a spatula) to ensure all the stuff in the wok gets cooked evenly. It’s really not that difficult ;).
The stir fry beef uses the same technique, but I notice one of my favorite ingredients in the wok: Garlic Chive Stalks! These are the central flowering stalks of the Garlic Chive, and if picked before they get tough and stringy, are DELICIOUS. Sweet, chivey, oniony, garlicky, tender and juicy. Saute some of that with bacon and garlic and you have one of my favorite things on the planet. I just wiped some drool from my mouth. If you have a well stocked Asian grocery store around, you may be able to find them for $3-4 a pound. WELL worth it.
From the beginning, it seems like the blue team is at a disadvantage, with the previously mentioned vegetarian issue and the fact that this kind of food is probably as far away from Krissi’s cooking style as possible. Which just makes me further convinced that they are going to win.
Sure enough, an undercooked shumai gets sent back. I have a beef with the mention of a “raw scallop shumai”. Pretty much every single properly cooked seared scallop you have ever had was probably raw (barely warm) in the middle. Cooking them through leads to another favorite phrase of Ramsay’s (“They’s RUBBER!!”). As long as the rest of the filling (which looks like it might be precooked anyways) and wrapper are cooked and warm, there is nothing wrong with that dish. I could be completely wrong, and the filling could have been stone cold in the center, but I smell bullshit, a gimmick to frazzle the red team, and Joe’s overly dramatic acting (oh my GOD it’s COMPLETELY raw) doesn’t help matters.
I don’t know if any of the rest of you caught this, but Krissi is the only only contestant that doesn’t have a wok to cook with. She’s using a regular pan on an regular burner, so no wonder she’s having trouble cooking the prawns properly. A heavy bottomed stainless steel saute pan handles and cooks way differently than a wok (and the flames under the wok seem to be MUCH more powerful than a regular burner too), so it’s unsurprising that she is having difficulty replicating the example that she was shown. Completely understandable. I wonder if they intentionally put Krissi in that position (it looks like there are only 3 true wok-stations), knowing that she was least familiar with Chinese food, just to induce a meltdown).
Now if you rewatch the episode, notice something. Pause right after Ramsay’s tirade of “what do you mean the whole round????” and you will notice a female with short blond hair coming up and adding some garnish to the window. Who’s that? That’s not somebody on the Red OR the Blue team. That amazing woman’s name is Sandee, and she is the culinary director of MasterChef. She and her team do ALL of the cooking behind the scenes, from the example plates in the MasterChef kitchen, to stocking the MasterChef pantry, etc. It looks like the culinary team is helping the contestants with this challenge also, which again, makes it that much easier for the contestants ;).
Naturally, Krissi is falling further behind because her cooking setup can’t compete with the wok station’s. The smart thing for Bri to do would be to move her onto a station with an actual wok, but at this point Krissi is morally dejected and about ready to go home. Say this about her: she at least has the humility to know when she truly is making mistakes and dragging the team down.
So Graham finally comes to save the day, and WHAT DO YOU KNOW. HE’S TEACHING HER ON AN ACTUAL WOK OVER AN ACTUAL HIGH FLAME. Amazing how that makes things SO much easier! To be fair, you can stir fry in just about any conditions (I use a dinky little frying pan and electric stove in my apartment!), but for somebody like Krissi that has no experience doing that and was relying on watching the demonstration to base her technique (which used the full setup), spending all that time trying to turn out an identical product with a completely different set of tools must have been frustrating and pretty much impossible for somebody that has no experience. It would almost be as if I was teaching somebody how to make aioli (emulsion of egg yolks and oil) in a blender, and then handing them a bowl and a whisk and telling them to replicate it. Can somebody that is familiar with how to make aioli do it with a bowl and a whisk? Absolutely. Is it a tall task to ask somebody who just saw aioli being made in the first time (with the vitamix) to replicate with a bowl an whisk, over and over again, throughout the course of a dinner service? You betcha. Granted, my analogy is far from perfect, but I don’t envy her at all. And the sad thing is, most people watching probably didn’t even notice that difference (did you???), and instinctively bash on Krissi for being a terrible cook.
So the challenge finishes, and the blue team limps to the finish line. It’s not looking good for them at that point. Cooking in a professional kitchen is stressful for any home cook. If you compare this year’s restaurant takeover with previous seasons (Patina, with from Season 2 and Hatfields, from Season 3), it seems like this challenge was a little bit easier in terms of the scope and the menu. Season 4 contestants, feel free to comment down below and roast me, but that’s just something I noticed. Or maybe it’s just my familiarity with Asian food, haha!
Back to the challenge, at least based on how this was edited, it seemed like Natasha did a much better job leader her team, and Bri seemed much more passive. One of the rare moments of weakness that Bri has shown (or the producers have allowed to be shown) thus far this season.
The contestants file into the MasterChef kitchen to learn their fate. Joe gives a shpiel about how “we talked to EVERY customer, and tasted EVERYTHING you made.” Raise your hand if you believe that! *looks around*. Anyways, the red team wins, unsurprising considering their only hiccup was a shumai that got sent back, and even that is somewhat questionable. So it’s up to the blue team to try and save themselves from elimination. After some more attempts at injecting drama by the producers, it’s revealed that their pressure test challenge is to produce a perfect plate of…crispy fried calamari.
I F&(*^#$ LOVE CALAMARI. It’s my absolute favorite appetizer to order at any restaurant that offers it. When I was filming season 3 of MasterChef, one of the best items that the hotel restaurant offered was a plate of fried calamari and rock shrimp (well executed, too!). At 10 bucks, it was pretty cheap, and I would get it EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. I love the light, crispy batter, the tender, sweet, savory squid (ESPECIALLY the tentacles, haha! Extra crunch!), the light squeeze of bright lemon on top, and the zesty, tart, chunky tomato sauce to balance it all out. SO GOOD. I’m sorry, USGS. That 9.0 magnitude vibration you registered was NOT a devastating earthquake, it was just my stomach rumbling while I was typing out that paragraph.
Krissi instantly looks happy, and for good reason. I’m sure she is VERY familiar with calamari, and makes it at home all the time. She will probably be successful, although familiarity with a dish has been the downfall of many a contestant in the past. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. It’s interesting to see Bri’s quick and nonchalant “yes” to answer Graham’s question of whether they have had it before.
The most difficult part of this challenge is probably cleaning the squid. I’ve never actually cleaned squid before, but I know it involves separating the head from the body, removing the “quill”, ink sac, skin, and other internal organs, and scraping the mucus off the meat. The breading and the marinara sauce are pretty hard to screw up, and as long as the squid isn’t overcooked, it’s smooth sailing.
Everybody seems to do a good job starting off. Krissi is apparently clueless as to how to clean her squid, and it looks like she is tempted to cut it open to remove the guts (rather than using her fingers or utensils to scrape them out. There is nothing inherently wrong with that, but the calamari can no longer be sliced into the classic rings, which is more aesthetic than technical but you can bet the judges will knock her for that if that’s what ends up happening.
Ramsay comes over for his usual interrogation, and again, the focus is on Bri’s vegetarianism. All of a sudden, Bri doesn’t eat calamari again. Do they expect us to forget the fact that 30 seconds ago Bri gave a loud and confident yes to having eaten calamari, and looks completely comfortable cleaning and preparing the squid? Some people may say that she might have had it before she turned into a vegetarian (which was when, right when the show started filming? Ha ha), but I find the whole Bri is a vegetarian thing way overused and less believable every time I hear it.
Some of the contestants are having trouble maintaining the proper oil temperature on the stove, which can definitely be a challenge. You have to bring the oil up to temperature, lower the heat to maintain that temperature, and raise it again when you add food to compensate for the drop in temperature, and then lower it again when the correct temperature is once again achieved. Look away, or be occupied with something else for a few moments, and you may have smoking, overheated oil (EXTREMELY dangerous), or oil that isn’t hot enough to cook food properly, leaving you with a soggy, greasy mess.
Bri’s calamari have too much breading. Breading acts like an insulator to protect the food it coats from the aggressive heat of the oil and prevent it from overcooking, but too much will insulate the food too much and prevent it from cooking thoroughly, which apparently was the case. Adding the lemon to the marinara is a little bit unusual, but by no means a cardinal sin (perhaps she tasted the sauce and felt like it needed more acidity? who knows?).
Krissi’s calamari is notable because the breading is smooth and shiny. This happens when the outer layer of the breading is a liquid batter (think corn dog, or beer battered fish). The exception is tempura batter, which is such a thin, light, and airy batter that it still fries up extremely crispy If the outer layer is something dry, whether it be breadcrumbs, cornmeal, or just plain old flour (like old fashioned fried chicken), the breading tends to look more rippled or even “grainy”. I personally like most breaded and fried savory foods to have the second kind of breading, because it usually is lighter and crispier. The exceptions of course are a nice beer battered fish and corn dogs. Batter fried foods can be really heavy, bready, and greasy. Not characteristics I typically want in my food. Unfortunately that is how Krissi’s calamari comes out. Remember what I said earlier? Maybe her son doesn’t like calamari. She nails her marinara though, of course.
James’s calamari looks the most delicious, but apparently he has a bland marinara sauce. His tomatoes shouldn’t taste any more like the can than anybody else’s (unless there was something different about his can), but No olive oil, no herbs certainly doesn’t help things.
In the judges’ words, it’s too close to call. Ramsay threatens to send them all home (which of course won’t ever happen), but Luca smiles and lets out a “wouldn’t that be nice!”. Now is it just me, or is Luca getting a little bit sassier and cockier now? He’s too likeable of a character for the audience to knock him for it, but it’s interesting whether the producers let that aspect show through more in the upcoming episodes. He’s definitely a VERY strong contender to win.
James’s calamari is the best (I agree), so he’s safe. It’s left to Bri and Krissi, and Bri gets the axe for the second time. She is surprisingly level headed during her elimination, with no tears or any real negative emotion (didn’t she say that she would never forgive herself just seconds ago? odd). But we catch a glimpse of the friendship between Bri and Krissi again at the end.
I didn’t actually watch the “redemption” episode, but just seeing from tweets and Ben’s previous blog posts, I knew exactly what happened. During the redemption from my season, everybody that actually used their brains while watching that episode could see that it was a huge scheme by the producers to bring Josh back (everybody that participated in the “redemption” agreed). This year seems more of the same, with the picking of the contestants even more arbitrary with three seemingly random contestants. Raise your hand if you think that each judge actually realistically selected “their favorite contestant”. *looks around*. So to me it seemed like Bri was brought back with a specific purpose, which is why I’m a little bit surprised to see her eliminated. Perhaps the producers FINALLY saw that this vegetarianism thing was really becoming a big liability to the credibility of the show? (As if things like Walmart and all the strategic drama didn’t do a good enough job already).
All the controversy about the legitimacy of her as a contestant and her vegetarianism aside, Bri is definitely one of the most talented cooks to ever be on the show, and obviously she has gone far, having received numerous job offers at Michelin starred restaurants all over the country, and accepting one in New York (which shall remain unnamed at her employer’s request). I want to make it clear that Bri doesn’t deserve ANY hate for her role this season. If you should be upset at anybody, it should be at the producers for allowing this show to become this scripted, drama-filled game of culinary Survivor rather than a true cooking competition. I have nothing for respect for Bri and her talent and skills in the kitchen, and look forward to trying her food someday. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter!
Please discuss and let me know what your reactions are down below! I’d love to know your thoughts, and always respond to every comment that is posted.