Quick recap to cover last week’s episode of MasterChef. I’ll try not to go too much into the drama, because that takes up too much of my time and I’m really over it at this point. I’ve had enough, am sick and tired of it, and probably won’t ever watch MasterChef again after this season unless I’m extremely drunk or bored.
So we start off with another mystery box, and more sensationalist stuff about the prizes and how important they are. I wonder if the money that they display is actually real money, or “monopoly money”.
The challenge is to recreate their initial audition dish that won them the apron in the first place. Natasha made Hanger steak with chimichurri and empanadas. Luca has his broccoli rabe ravioli with parmigiano-reggiano sauce, and Jessie made the sea bass en croute. It seems like an odd challenge to me that has more of a novelty factor than anything else. If the initial dishes were already so good and “masterchef quality”, how much can they do to really make it better?
Indeed, to me, none of the finished dishes are particularly impressive. Luca tried to elevate his dish by improving on the cheese sauce (which ends up failing) and garnishing with some tomato concasse (fancy named basically peeled and diced tomato flesh) and microgreens. Not really that impressive of an effort in terms of an “improvement”, but since the dish was solid to start with the judges still like it. When Gordon first went up to his station, tasted his cheese sauce, and said it tasted “weird”, that caused me to raise my eyebrows because vague feedback like that is usually prime fuel for the artificial drama engine. However, if Luca did end up simmering his cheese sauce, then that is a cause for concern. Cheese sauces should never really be brought above 170 degrees, especially a delicate cheese sauce like one that would be used to dress a ravioli. Cheese is full of proteins, and if you cook it at too high of a temperature, the proteins coagulate and press out all of the other stuff like moisture and fat. That is why you often see a shiny film of grease on top of a cheesy pizza. The sauce can become extremely grainy, greasy, and unpleasant to eat. Gordon raises a good point that if Luca really wanted to make a cheese sauce, folding it in to the sauce at the last minute until the cheese just barely melts is a good method.
Small but interesting sidenote that the judges’ feedback has been getting much more genuine. That tends to be the case in the later stages of the competition, as the “gimmicks” get weeded out. I find myself agreeing more and more with the actual feedback the judges are giving, for the most part at least.
Natasha’s dish for me looks the most impressive. I LOVE the plating. It’s extremely artistic, and takes you on a journey that guides you on how you should eat the dish, with the use of sauces as interludes. She did a pretty phenomenal job of tying two oddly paired components (skirt steak and empanadas), with one component leading to another. It makes sense, it’s beautiful to look at, and I think her dish truly showed the most improvement.
Jessie did her sea bass en croute again, and this time sliced it open to show off the (hopefully) perfectly cooked layers in the interior. It’s a smart but risky move, as if the knife wasn’t sharp enough it may have completely destroyed the delicate fish. She serves it with some mushrooms to help enhance the dish. A good effort, and the judges praise the dish, but it just didn’t seem like the changes that she (and the other contestants) made were all that difficult to execute. I’m not impressed.
Jessie is chosen as the winner, with Natasha in second and Luca in last. She gets the pick of three “king” ingredients to choose from: grana padano cheese, kobe beef tenderloin, or king crab. She picks an ingredient that she’s never worked with before (kobe beef) in hopes that Natasha will pick the cheese and leave Luca with the crab, which he has struggled with before. But Natasha plays to her own strength, picking the crab as the ingredient she wants to work for and leaving Luca with the easiest ingredient to work with.
Luca is making a veal cutlet stuffed with Grana Padano, braised radicchio, and frico. Frico sounds like a cheese lover’s dream. I want it in my mouthhole right now.
Natasha makes a chilled soba noodle salad with fresh vegetables and the king crab. It’s really a phenomenally easy dish to make as long as you cook the noodles and crab properly, cut the vegetables with the proper knife skills, and make a delicious vinaigrette. It’s a dish that can definitely show off the sweetness and savoriness of the crab. I wonder if she uses the “roe”, which to me is definitely the most flavorful part of the crab.
Jessie is marinating the kobe beef in an Asian marinade and serving it with some glass noodles and assorted Asian vegetables. She forgets the butter, and Natasha is in full on competition mode and doesn’t give her any. Jessies sounds like she got confused and expected there to be butter on her station, which would probably be the case with the staple pantry in a mystery box, but this isn’t a Mystery Box. Luca plays the nice guy and throws her a stick of butter, and Jessie is able to finish her dish. She leaves off the papaya salad.
Judges love Natasha’s dish. I’m sure it was a delicious dish that showed off the crab, but again as with the mystery box I’m not impressed with the technique or creativity behind the dish. From a culinary mind filled with as many incredible ideas as Natasha’s, I expected something a little more outside of the box.
Luca’s dish earns rave reviews. Graham mentions that there is a little bit too much cheese in the filling, and I agree. Grana padano is a rich and powerful cheese, and in the mini-roulade it looks like there is almost as much cheese as meat. Joe mentions that some acidity would be a nice contrast to the dish (though I don’t think a slaw is really the right answer). I agree with that sentiment (rich veal, rich stuffing, rich frico), though I wonder if the braised radicchio might have done the trick. Can’t taste though, so don’t know.
Jessie’s dish gets rave reviews, until Gordon steps up to the plate. He starts off positively, then as if flipping a switch, criticizes the noodles for being greasy (always a risk with glass noodles which absorb oil like a sponge), and asks to taste the salad. The judges apparently think the salad is the best thing since blast chillers were invented (which I don’t buy, judging by the less than convincing acting of Graham and Joe) then rip into her for leaving the salad off the plate.
Personally, I don’t think the salad should have been on the plate, ESPECIALLY with the noodles. The flavors that Jessie put on the plate were a pretty classic blend of Chinese and Japanese flavors, and the salad is a distinctly Thai dish with thai flavors that don’t really meld with what she already has on the plate. Even if she took the noodles off and used the salad instead, the kobe beef with ponzu butter doesn’t really sound like it would pair well with a classic green papaya salad. She could have completely changed the marinade on the beef and gone with some thai chili, lemongrass, and fish sauce in a Vietnamese “shaking beef” style, but even then I think the judges would have criticized her dish for other reasons. I think Jessie had an idea of what she wanted her dish to be, and the green papaya salad, delicious as it may be, just didn’t fit into that idea. I completely support her decision to leave it off, though of course this is reality TV and they had to find something to knock her for and this was the ammunition that they needed.
Unsurprisingly, Jessie gets sent home. Ever since that last episode with the tiff with Krissi, her likability has plummeted and the producers have been setting her up for elimination. While a Luca-Jessie final was anticipated by many, it wasn’t really an option, especially if they had maintained Jessie’s goddess-like aura of do-no-wrong. The audience would be torn over who to root for, and no matter who wins a significant chunk of the viewers would be heavily disappointed. Now, it’s easier to achieve a satisfactory result, and if you have any sense about how reality TV works at this point it should be obvious who wins even with out actually watching the finale. Predictable, as always.
Though she wasn’t a character that I connected or identified with strongly, I still felt a strong twinge of compassion at seeing her tearful departure. Having been in that position myself, and gone through those emotions, I can’t help but feel sympathy. Despite the aura of perfection that has surrounded her much of the competition, Jessie is human after all and her disappointment at making it this far but falling short is understandable. I have nothing but the utmost respect for her and know that she will definitely have a bright future (perhaps as Paula Deen’s successor???).