Here we go, with part 2 of this week’s MasterChef!
Is it just me, or do the extensive recaps at the beginning of each episode (and even after each commercial break) come across as a bit excessive and unnecessary? Almost feels like cheap “filler” material to me, especially when the episodes play back to back like they did this week. I digress..
Random thing I noticed: In the “beauty shots” of the contestants at the beginning, everybody is showing off some sort of cooking skill except for Krissi, who just turns around and….stands there? Wonder why that was.
I’m actually somewhat looking forward to this episode, as I’m curious as to how the producers and editors portray Paula Deen (appearing for the 2nd season in a row…a bit weird), since the filming of the episode took place before all of the controversies tarnishing her reputation. She has largely stayed out of the public eye lately, so perhaps most of the public have forgotten the controversial events that unfolded earlier this year already.
Snorted upon hearing the Narrator call the event a “lunch party”. LOL.
Luca’s (slightly overly) dramatic reaction to seeing Paula Deen makes me smile. “I’m Italian, what do I know about SOW-thern food?” I actually find Southern food and Italian comfort food pretty similar, but maybe that’s just me. Maybe because I love them both so much…..
Each contestant has to cook for a table of 10 individually. They must each cook their assigned protein, along with two side. They are: Kentucky Chicken (I didn’t even know Kentucky had its own chicken, aside from KFC haha!), Alabama Pork Chops (…..), Georgia Shrimp (? not Florida?), Mississippi Catfish (makes sense..), and Gator Tail (No location given, though I guess Louisiana is presumed? I guess I don’t know enough about Southern food, because I had no idea that Kentucky was known for their chicken (aside from KFC), Alabama for their pork chops, or Georgia for their shrimp. Do y’all know those connections/associations?
Luca won last challenge and gets to pick who gets what protein. He picks pork chops for himself, an easy choice given its ties to both Southern and Italian cooking, and assigns catfish to Natasha, alligator to Jessie, shrimp to Krissi, and chicken to James. I forsee a lot of deep frying in the future of this challenge…
Luca starts off by pounding out the pork chop to tenderize it. It’s a very traditional Italian thing to do, but I don’t know if a pounded pork chop is very traditional in Southern cuisine. I personally like my pork chops unpounded. Juicy, firm, but tender. Krissi’s shrimp come already peeled with the tail on, which is disappointing because I would have loved to see her use the INTENSELY flavorful shells in her dish. James has a tasty looking marinade going on his chicken, which looks like it’s a skinless, but bone-in breast cut. Krissi is putting lime zest on her shrimp, which definitely sounds bright and delicious, but again is not something I typically associate with classic Southern food. Jessie is soaking her alligator tails in what looks like buttermilk, a smart move and exactly what I would have done. I’ve never cooked alligator in my life, but the only way I’ve ever had it is fried or in a sausage. The meat is like a cross between chicken, fish, and shrimp. Very delicate and flavorful but easy to overcook. Natasha is breaking down some huge, gorgeous catfish fillets, and is apparently breaking down some cabbage for coleslaw. I LOVE catfish fillets, because it’s mild, sweet, and delicate but is super rich and moist from being a fattier fish. Catfish nuggets though (from the belly)….blech.
The judges check in with Luca, and it looks like he is preparing a breadcrumb mixture to crust the pork chops in. A very European thing to do. Southern….perhaps not so much. However, there’s nothing WRONG with that technique, and the product may very well turn out to be delicious. He’s making a sweet potato puree by boiling the sweet potato in what looks like flavored milk, which may be a mistake. Milk shouldn’t really ever be boiled, since you risk curdling it (you can see some small clumps already as he stirs it). This applies to most dairy, except heavy cream, which has enough fat to stabilize it. The judges overlook that, however, for the time being. Lastly, he is also serving brussels sprouts with bacon (YUM!).
Natasha is still working on her catfish and coleslaw. Her second side is still a mystery for the time being.
Krissi is doing ENOURMOUS, gorgeous, steak-like fried green tomatoes. If executed properly, it could serve as a unique base for her dish. Classic ingredient, classic technique. It looks like she will serve them with her citrus marinated shrimp and some collard greens. Lime zest aside, looks like a classic and delicious combination.
Jessie is frying her alligator tails and serving it with Andouille sausage mac and cheese (drooooooool), and sauteed green beans. Another classic Southern combination of flavors and ingredients.
Everybody seems to think that James is going to do well, which instinctively makes me think that he will flunk this challenge. A lesson in the predictability of reality TV: whenever somebody is EXPECTED to do well, they will MOST likely fail.
James is doing a grilled bourbon barbecue-sauce glazed chicken, and immediately I’m a little concerned. Cooking chicken through on the grill takes a LONG time, and you do not want Gordon to catch a raw chicken breast (or an overcooked one either, for that matter). Furthermore, glazing something on the grill with a sugary sauce can cause the sauce to burn and the meat to stick. Lastly, most of the diners are probably expecting a delicious, old fashioned fried chicken, which is pretty darn hard to beat in the mind of a southerner, so if you are going to barbecue chicken instead of fry it, it’d better be some seriously tasty chicken. He’s serving it with some delicious looking black eyed peas and honey glazed carrots. Another classic combination, but I’m not sold on the barbecued chicken idea.
And of course, James all of a sudden is worried that his chicken isn’t going to cook in time. In a surprising twist, Natasha is actually grilling her catfish (???). Grilling fish with any marinade is extremely tricky, even with a well oiled grill, because the wet marinade tends to caramelize and stick, even buttermilk. The best way to grill a fish filet is to pat it extremely dry, season with salt and pepper, oil it generously, and place it onto a hot grill (or use a cedar plank). Putting a piece of fish with marinade onto a grill is a recipe for disaster, and it’s the second time it’s happened this season.
James continues to have trouble nailing the temperatures on the chicken. The time is called to serve.
Jessie serves her plate. The food all looks tasty, but the plate/portions seem a bit small. Luca serves his plates, and I’m curious as to how many of the words coming out of his mouth that the diners actually understood. His presentation is a little bit sloppy, but the plate looks tasty. I wonder what that sauce on the pork is? And the pork chop doesn’t actually look like it’s pounded out very much at all, so he must not have pounded it as hard as I had originally thought (get your mind out of the gutter!). Krissi’s plate is classic, presented well, but once again I feel like perhaps the portions are a bit small for a full meal, especially for southerners who are known to eat a lot. Natasha’s second side is potatoes au gratin, but on the sample plate there is only one round of (delicious looking) potato instead of the casserole that one might expect. The plate as a whole looks a bit boring and plain. Keep in mind that I’m passing judgements on these dishes by appearance only, since I can’t taste them. Take my opinions with a grain of salt, haha :).
I’m going to pause and do a very Ben-Starr-esque thing. The correct pronounciation for Andouille is anDUee, not andouLEE. Similar to rouille (ru-EE, a mayonnaise like sauce). Similar to Spanish when which the “ll” has a soft “y” sound.
James presents his dish, and to me it looks the least appetizing due to the weird shape of the chicken breasts and the complete lack of green on the plate. Even a simple sprinkle of parsley over the top would dramatically enhance the visual appeal of his plate in my opinion. Another thing to note is that his plate lacks textural contrast (everything can probably be characterized as “soft”). A great plate of food to me has 3 essential aspects: contrasting flavors (sweet balanced with salty, richness balanced with acidity, etc), contrasting colors, and contrasting textures. James is missing on 2 of the 3, but we will see what kind of feedback the diners give.
The diners enjoy Jessie’s gator and Krissi’s shrimp, and one diner raves about her perfectly executed green tomato. Luca’s plate is also well received, with one diner going as far as rating it a 11 out of 10. Ramsay finds an undercooked piece of chicken on James’s table, and I brace for inevitable “It’s RAWWWWWWR” tirade, which thankfully doesn’t come. It’s a huge setback though, which all but guarantees James’s place in the bottom 3. Natasha’s fish is also undercooked, and you can tell by how it doesn’t flake very easily when the diner prods at it. It’s not as much of a “deadly” mistake, so no dramatic return to the grill for Natasha, but it also cements her place in the bottom 3 of this challenge. It will be interesting to see who joins her and James, since the other 3 all seemed to be received so well.
The judges sit at the
round rectangular table, and Joe knocks James for serving such a large piece of chicken. I scoff at that reasoning, since it’s not like James had a pic on the product he was working with. He had no choice but to serve the chicken that was given to him, but he should have cooked it properly. They say Natasha’s catfish should have been fried, and based on the prep steps she took I would tend to agree. So the top two are down to Krissi, Jessie, and Luca, and based on appearance alone I would have chosen Krissi and Jessie. Of course I’m wrong, and Paula chooses Luca and Jessie. Two quick notes: I’m AMAZED that they didn’t try to do a cliffhanger over a commercial break, and I think the producers chose them to piss Krissi off and see what kind of reaction they can get out of her.
Krissi is surprisingly quiet after the decision, but you hear a quick quip from James “based on what I’m up against, I’m not too worried.” You can easily see how if the producers had wanted to cast James in a bad light, they could just take sound bites like that and feature it. One of these days, maybe I will try and demonstrate this by doing an interview with Ben and having it edited two different ways and seeing what y’all’s reactions are to each video. *makes mental note*.
Pressure test time, and for the first time ever, the top two contestants get to play a role in determining what the test is. It’s basically an elimination challenge at this point. Jessie and Luca must assign a dish to each of the contestants. The first dish is a seared scallop salad, with confit potatoes and truffles. He claims that the dish would cost $150, which even with the truffles seems to be a bit of a stretch. Some quick research turns up a similar dish on the flagship restaurant’s a la carte menu, which charges 95 GBP (approx $150) for THREE courses. The dish on the menu doesn’t mention truffle, but I highly doubt a few slices of truffle would command TRIPLE the price of the standard dish. Regardless, being able to sell any “appetizer” for $50 is already incredibly impressive, so kudos to Ramsay I guess.
The second dish is a Filet Rossini, which is a filet steak on top of a truffle polenta cake, foie gras, and Asian pear (?!?!). Bizarre choice for somebody that values tradition in Italian cuisine so much. I can just imagine a contestant putting Asian pear on a dish like that and Joe just going BERSERK, spit flying out of his mouth, eyes bulging, so furious that the insults can’t come out fast enough. Hahahaha.
Graham’s dish is from his flagship, Graham Elliot, and features a greek yogurt panna cotta (which for lack of a better description, is like creamy jello), with stewed rhubarb and “variations” on honey (probably some crystallized honey, honeycomb, and various assorted floral honeys.
….Wow. Definitely an intense challenge. Joe and Gordon’s dishes are RELATIVELY easy to execute, with the main challenge being the cook on the proteins and a judicious hand with the truffle to avoid overpowering the rest of the dish. Graham’s dessert is whimsical, “modernist”, and deceptively simple, although there are a lot of specific techniques involved with the execution and presentation that will definitely catch a home cook out of his or her comfort zone.
Natasha gets Gordon’s scallop dish, which is weird to me if she is the primary target. I still fail to see what is so difficult or tricky about this dish. Help me out? Krissi gets the Filet Rossini, which is probably the easiest for her to execute (steak and polenta she should be comfortable with, and searing the foie is really not very difficult). James gets the sno-globe, and instantly I think he’s in trouble. That to me is the dish I would have given to whomever I wanted to send home.
Everybody seems to be getting off to a good start. Natasha is focused, and Krissi and James are both doing the right things/taking the right steps towards executing their dishes properly. James however puts the panna cotta in the fridge, while Luca laments that he should have put it in the blast chiller. Now this confuses me a little bit, because in my season we did not have a blast chiller (I specifically asked). So either Luca is talking about the freezer, which would have been risky for James (if the outside of the panna cotta starts to freeze, the texture is ruined), or they somehow got a blast chiller this season, lucky bastards. For those of you unfamiliar, a blast chiller is like a fridge that constantly blasts the contents inside with cold air, which cools the food much quicker (think about standing in freezing weather with no wind vs howling wind and you get the idea).
The time whizzes by, and the judges are concerned about Krissi’s filet being overcooked and James’s panna cotta not being set. James seems to be happy with his panna cotta, deflecting Graham’s questions with confidence and is focusing on his plating. Natasha still seems focused and composed. Krissi’s polenta cake doesn’t look very well seared, and James’s looks like it’s lacking some garnishes.
Natasha is first up, and her plate looks beautiful (aside from a few missing sauce dots). The judges love everything.
Krissi goes up, and her plate looks almost identical (where did that magical sear on the polenta come from???). The big question is whether the steak is properly cooked, and it’s definitely more cooked on one side than the other. Gordon actually flat out disagreed with Joe (who said that at least one side of the steak was medium rare) and called it out for actually being closer to medium well (which I would tend to agree more with). Perhaps Ben’s speculation that Joe has a soft spot for Krissi is true after all. Still, rarely do you see the judges openly disagree with each other. I would LOVE to see the judges get in a real legitimate fight sometime over the merits/flaws of a dish, hahaha.
James is up last, and here I have a problem. What usually happens is this. After the completion of a challenge, the contestants usually leave set for a lunch break. Beauty shots are taken, and any dishes that need to be chilled or frozen are usually put back in the freezer/fridge (i.e., Christine’s coconut lime sorbet in the finale). I’m ASSUMING that’s what happened with James’s dish. However, since his dish was tasted last, then it still must have been sitting out for 10-15 minutes under the hot spotlights on set. Even a properly set panna cotta would have started to loosen up and melt by then. You can see James stand by his dish and start to protest when Graham criticizes the texture, but ultimately he is wise to save his breath, and probably knows in his head what the end result is going to be anyways. Hearing the judges complain about how the panna cotta tastes and is garnished perfectly but isn’t set properly makes my blood pressure spike. James is a talented cook, and there is no question in my mind that when James took the panna cotta out of the fridge and proclaimed his satisfaction that he knew it was set. The judges are supposed to take into consideration how long food has been sitting out when they taste it (i.e. not criticize bread for being stale if it’s been sitting out for 4 hours waiting to be tasted), but that clearly wasn’t the case with James’s panna cotta, and he is helpless to say or do anything to stop it. The look of resignation on his face tells him that he knows exactly what I already know, that the producers are ready to send him home, and there’s nothing he can do about it.
I’m glad the elimination was relatively quick and not all drawn out. Honestly, the fact that he was eliminated is not at all surprising to me. The show needs the villain (Krissi) to stay around for a few more episodes to make things interesting, and of the 3 remaining, James is probably the least marketable and connects with the smallest portion of the audience.
That doesn’t take anything away from him though. James leaves with dignity and respect of all of his fellow contestants who recognize what a strong competitor and incredible person he is. I almost had the privilege of meeting him the last time I was in Houston (it was actually HIM that played an integral role in getting the ChilantroHTX food truck to literally drive up to Christine’s door!). Unfortunately, he ended up being busy that night, but I look forward to seeing him and congratulating him the next time I’m in Houston. He has started his own Houston-based hot sauce company called Bravado Spice, and regularly does pop-ups/cooking classes via his spin-off, Brave Kitchen. Be sure to follow him on Facebook and Twitter! Can’t wait to see what this talented guy does next.
As always, let me know your thoughts down below. I’d love to hear what you have to say.