Hello! I’m back with my blog for the first part of the show from this Wednesday. Part two will be up soon! I hope you pour yourself a drink and enjoy this post, all 3600 words of it! Haha.
Right as this episode starts, the special guests are revealed to us: the judges’ kids! Apparently they get to pick the ingredients that go into the first mystery box. It will be interesting to see how their personalities are, and how closely they resemble the on camera personalities of their respective parents. Kids are much more honest about their emotions and personalities, and through them we might get a glimpse at how the judges are around their families, away from the cameras, where they can truly be themselves.
One quip in the intro reel catches me slightly off guard, and that is the Ramsay’s son Jack asking Jessie if she has a boyfriend, followed by an encouraging high-five from Ramsay himself. MasterChef does not have a great record when it comes to treating women with respect, and with the ongoing allegations of sexual harassment going on, I’m a bit shocked that something like this (which comes across as being patronizing to me) made it to the final edit. Am I making a big deal out of nothing? Regardless, it would be interesting to me if MasterChef took one of the less compelling judges (I’m looking at you, Joe Bastianich) and replaced him with a female judge. Which female chef would you like to see join the show as a judge? It would be interesting to hear what y’all think :).
And of course, for an added injection of drama from Ramsay: “In the history of this competition, this is the most difficult decision that we have ever had to make”. How many times have you hear that or some variant of that before? To me, it’s so overused that it makes me roll me eyes every time I hear it.
I have to giggle once again at how hard Joe is trying to act. His face looks so strained. And those pauses between words? That is him pausing to receive the lines he has (either via earpiece or cue cards) and regurgitate each word out. Seriously, nothing against his character or his palate, but his acting skills are so horrible that MasterChef is just digging itself deeper into a hole credibility wise each time he opens his mouth.
I have to pause for a second when they finally show the staple pantry box with some sort of clarity. From what I can tell, it includes eggs, lemon, flour, rosemary, basil, mint, thyme, sage, a vial with what looks like a vanilla bean, a small mason jar of sugar (?), a small pitcher of cream or milk (?), an unidentifiable container with a metal lid of something, and eight vials of herbs and spices, which include red pepper, cinnamon, bay leaves, smoked paprika, and four more other items that weren’t shown. Of course, there is also kosher salt, telicherry peppercorns, and olive oil on each station. I’ve always been curious as to what the staple pantry included. Ours season didn’t have nearly as many flavoring agents (none of the herbs and spices), but a pretty similar stash otherwise (flour, eggs, butter [maybe that's what's in the little metal thing?], lemons, sugar, and maybe a few other things that I forgot). But Ben I believe said that on season 2, they didn’t even HAVE a staple pantry. So perhaps they are expanding the staple pantry season by season to give the contestants more options. Either way, it’s an interesting development. The staple pantry itself is almost enough stuff to cook a meal with!
Graham’s son (Conrad?) is SO adorable. I love how he just stays by the candy section. Hahahahahaha. Jack walks a lot like Gordon, but speaks in a heavier accent. Gordon spends so much time in America that I guess he’s picked up more of an American accent.
The list of ingredients: white chocolate chips, chocolate spread (aka “greeked” nutella), ketchup, peanut butter, coconut, mini marshmallows, baby pineapple, candy sprinkles (looks like Ramsay didn’t announce those), passionfruit (YUM!), bacon, American cheese slices (LOL……blech), maple syrup, bananas, blueberries, strawberries, and puff pastry. I guess the reason the sprinkles weren’t announced was because the kids were only supposed to grab 15 ingredients but there are 16 on the table. Regardless, I wonder who will be gutsy enough to go beyond the obvious and do something savory with the OVERLOAD of sweet stuff on the table.
If I had to think quickly, I would definitely candy the bacon in the maple syrup, and make a peanut butter custard with freshly made coconut milk (blitz the meat in a blender with some water, strain through fine cloth). I would caramelize the bananas with some sugar and spices in the staple pantry, and perhaps do a white chocolate mousse with the egg whites. Arrange it all in a puff pastry shell in a sort of “tart”. It’s tempting to try and incorporate the nutella, or some of the other fruits, but to me that would overcomplicate the dish and they don’t really go well with the peanut butter, banana, white chocolate, coconut, maple, and bacon, which I feel like complement each other in some way. What do y’all think? Would you eat a tart with peanut butter coconut custard, white chocolate mousse, topped with caramelized bananas and maple candied bacon? I would ;).
Natasha is doing a pancake trio layered with passionfruit. I’m nervous about the coconut pancake, because while the flavor sounds delicious, I’m not so sure about the somewhat gritty texture the raw coconut might impart. The appearance/presentation could be somewhat problematic as well. It will be interesting to see how she pulls it together.
Krissi is making banana cupcakes with peanut butter buttercream and a white chocolate sauce. I HATE buttercream with a passion. Way too cloyingly sweet and overwhelming for me. Give me a good, light whipped cream frosting or mousse anyday, but if there is enough peanut butter in the buttercream for the flavor to come through, then I might like it. The challenge for her is to not make everything too overwhelmingly sweet. Banana cakes/breads are usually really sweet on their own, and adding buttercream and a white chocolate sauce might push it too far. If the sugar use is judicious though, it sounds like it would be really delicious.
Jessie is making little tropical fruit tarts with vanilla cream. That to me sounds like a safe choice, with little to no creativity needed, and not much thinking outside of the box. If executed correctly though, fruit tart is one of my favorite desserts. I’m not sure about the chocolate drizzle on the edge of the plate to “elevate” it though. If it’s just kinda put on the plate without a real intention to incorporate it into the dish, I feel like it doesn’t serve a purpose.
Luca is making a white chocolate and pineapple napolean, with a passionfruit sauce. A solid sounding dish. It’s interesting to see him strain the pulp out of passionfruit, leaving the seeds behind. Passionfruit pulp is usually served whole, little crunchy seeds and all (remember Graham’s dish from last season that the contestants had to replicate?), but some people don’t like that texture so it might work in his favor. I laughed out loud at this: “As soon as I WIN the show, I’m going to start making kids.” He is so unintentionally hilarious. I picture him using the prize money to open a shop that cranks out kids, as if they were some sort of baked good. “Hot and fresh out of the oven!”
James is making white chocolate passionfruit turnovers with coconut whipped cream. Sounds tasty, but not sure if the presentation will be compelling enough to make it a “MasterChef level dish.” His turnovers look rather small and flat.
The kids start spouting some producer fed lines. Their acting is almost more compelling than Joe’s, ha ha. Jack seems to be the most composed kid, but as one of the oldest, and with a dad like Gordon, that’s hardly a surprise.
Apparently Jessie has changed her dish now to mini Napoleans. James has the oven open and seems to be checking on his turnovers (which look tasty). However, if they weren’t fully done, then opening the oven to check on them would be a BIG mistake since any opening or closing of the oven door during the making of puff pastry can drop the temperature and prevent the pastry from puffing up all the way. Krissi’s buttercream is melting, which is always a challenge when you have to bake, cool, frost, and decorate a cake in a strict time limit. Her cakes have also risen to giant pyramid peaks (which she trimmed down), which makes me worry that the texture of the cakes will not be uniform.
So Krissi is clearly out of the running. Natasha’s pancakes look delicious, and the appearance reminds me of Josh Marks’ carimanolas in the “Legs” challenge (Final 3). I’m a bit concerned the the judges might criticize her for doing 3 separate dishes rather than incorporating the ingredients into one spectacular dish. James’s turnovers look delicious, and the presentation is up to restaurant standards, but his whipped cream looks like it might have been overbeaten, or might have just sat too long before the “beauty shots” were taken. Luca’s Napolean looks okay at best, but the saucing at the bottom of the plate looks messy, and the filling doesn’t look particularly appetizing. Jessie’s Napoleans look pretty, but there seems to be a lot more of the puff pastry than the actual “filling”, so the balance might be off, unless she somehow hollowed out the puff pastry cylinders and was able to stuff more cream in.
The judges clearly disagree with me and think Luca’s looks spectacular (What about you guys?). The puff pastry is nicely puffed, and the amount of filling to pastry looks appropriate. It’s not a bad dish by any means. I think the judges are trying to drum up his successes and prepare him and the audience for a run to the final, and even the title. he is definitely the most marketable of the bunch, along with Jessie.
Jessie is clearly being in a more sexual light this episode, first with the singleness question from Jack, and the COMPLETELY RANDOM shot of her legs in heels as she approaches the podium. Blink and you missed it, but those that watch her for her looks (and I’m sure there are many), certainly appreciated it. She is definitely extremely attractive, but are moments like that really necessary? Anyways, the judges love her dish, and her position in the top is cemented, along with Luca.
James gets chosen as the third dish, and depending on how he incorporated the white chocolate, I’m not sure his use of it in the filling is a good idea. White chocolate is another one of those delicate ingredients where if it gets heated up too much, it will start to separate and develop an unpleasant, grainy texture. That can easily happen, and from the beauty shots it looks like that may have happened around the edges, where the filling got exposed from the turnovers not being sealed tight. The plate as a whole looks beautiful though, and the judges rave about how the mint-blueberry puree helps elevate the dish. I completely agree. It’s interesting to note that Jessie left off her chocolate drizzle, which was probably for the better. James’s admission that the best bakers in this competition were Krissi and Natasha, who didn’t get their dishes chosen, is an interesting revelation.
Along with hyping up Luca and Jessie, the producers and editors are showing Krissi making weird faces in between the judges comments, to get people to dislike her more and make her eventual elimination that much more satisfying for the audience (and believe me, there is no chance in hell that she is winning). Keep in mind though guys, that those faces could have been made at ANY time during the filming of this challenge. Krissi is not a dumb woman, and she knows damn well that she flopped miserably in this challenge and that the 3 top dishes all clearly deserved to be up there more than her half-finished cake did. It’s entirely possible that those bewildered faces were probably made when the mystery box ingredients were being announced one by one, and just edited and spliced in to look like reactions to the praise the other contestants received. I could be completely wrong, but I like to think optimistically about people until I’m proven wrong. Her comment about the puff pastry was a little bit weird, but again, we don’t know the context and the judges COULD have provoked her by asking her a question first (and then having that part conveniently edited out). All speculation, of course. That’s one of the sad things about this show, that I can’t trust the messages the show is trying to send anymore, always second-guessing what is being shown. They ALWAYS have a way for you to believe ANYTHING about ANYBODY.
James wins the mystery box, and heads back into the pantry. He doesn’t have to cook, and automatically makes it to the final 4. The challenge for the rest of the contestants is to replicate the FINEST dishes each of the judges has ever tasted. Joe presents an extravagant seafood dish of shrimp, sea urchin (uni) custard, and caviar. Is it just me or does using a sea urchin as a serving bowl seem to be kinda dangerous?? haha.
Graham presents a softshell crab sandwich, and the earthquake monitors around the world must be going off again. That sandwich looks DIVINE. Interesting to see that’s Graham’s choice, considering how many different foods he must have eaten in his life, but the emotional aspect of certain foods should not be underestimated. It seems like it would be a much easier and more familiar dish for the contestants to execute.
Gordon’s favorite dish is a simple, humble, but exceptional Vietnamese pork noodle soup. I LOVE noodle soups of all kinds, from ramen, pho, and the assorted noodle soups that I ate in my childhood (tomato egg, fried scallion, meatball, always topped with plenty of chili oil). There comes another rumble from my stomach….
The most difficult dish to execute would definitely be the pork noodle soup, because to develop the deep, complex, “assault of flavor” (as James puts it) in the broth, you need TIME. And since I doubt the contestants will have more than an hour to 90 minutes for this challenge, that will be exceptionally difficult. The one that would be most unfamiliar to the contestants of course will be the seafood dish filled with exotic ingredients. I would be splitting hairs to choose between those two, but James picks the noodle soup. The contestants have 75 minutes to complete the challenge, which is darn near impossible.
I would run straight into the pantry and grab lots of lemongrass, basil, mint, star anise, garlic, onions, ginger, galangal, thai chilies, sugar, cilantro, coriander seed, fennel seed even, scallions, limes, kaffir lime leaves, carrot, fish sauce, cinnamon sticks, some dried mushrooms, whatever cut of bone in pork I can find, and anything else my palate picked up in the broth. I notice that some of the contestants have premade containers of broth/stock (those plastic containers you see in the baskets, which to be fair is probably the only way to turn out an acceptable product in 75 minutes. I would try and go the more traditional and less “cheat” route and use a pressure cooker to hopefully extract as much flavor as possible and speed things up.
Some of the contestants seem to be using lean cuts of pork, which is a big mistake. The pork in the soup looks moist and falling apart tender, and the only real way to do that in 75 minutes is to use a fatty cut with lots of connective tissue (like the shoulder) and pressure cook it for 30-45 minutes. I also catch Krissi adding powdered spices to her broth, which is also a big mistake since it can cloud the broth, make it gritty, and overwhelm the palate. ALWAYS use whole spices that can be strained out later when making Asian-style noodle broths.
Good for Luca for giving Natasha some garlic. Ben has talked this point to death already so I won’t dwell on it for much longer, but I’m happy that he did the right thing. Natasha (and later Jessie) however is also using powdered spices, which just makes me cringe a little. Perhaps there isn’t enough time to extract enough flavor from whole spices in the given amount of time, so the powdered spices are being used to pack more of a punch? Perhaps powdered versions of certain spices were all that were available? I would still stick with using my pressure cooker technique though.
I notice some of the contestants searing the meat. While not a bad idea by any means, I have NEVER seen a traditional Vietnamese noodle soup with seared meat by any means. I’m trying to think of one, but every single meat that I can recall is always poached or braised. From MasterChef Christine Ha herself, my ultimate authority on Vietnamese food, “The only time I ever sear meat for noodle soup is chicken for curry chicken.” Again, not necessarily a bad idea per se, but definitely not “traditional”, although without an Asian version of Joe Bastianich I doubt any of them will care.
I laughed again at Gordon talking about Krissi’s broth. “She’s got no garnish in there, and she has no pork in there, but it has a nice base to it.” That’s because her broth at that point is just the premade pork stock that the culinary team (Led by Sandy, whom I mentioned last time) whipped up! Just needed something to say, I guess.
Time is called, and all contestants finish this time. Natasha is up first, and her bowl looks nice. Interesting to hear Graham comment positively on the sear on the meat. The judges say the broth is a bit too sweet. Believe it or not, some sugar is used in most Vietnamese broths, just to add a tinge of sweetness and to mellow it out somewhat. Be too heavy-handed though and that sweetness can definitely become too noticeable.
Luca’s dish also looks great at first glance, perhaps even a bit better than Natasha’s. The judges rave about it (again mentioning the sear), and Ramsay and Luca both almost look like they are about to cry.
Jessie’s also looks great. I’m starting to think that the appearance of each soup is really unimportant, because realistically, each contestant could just take the premade pork stock, heat it up, dump it over the noodles, and as long as the garnishes on top are correct (not difficult if you pay attention), then the final product is going to look like a convincingly good replication of the initial dish. The flavor, smells, and textures are what is important, but that is something that none of the audience can experience or appreciate, so the judges are free to criticize or compliment each dish however they like and there is no real way for us at home to challenge the assumption that they are right.
Krissi is up last, and just based on the judges feedback hers seems to be the weakest. The judges are all surprising positive, complementing the “base” (beating a dead horse here!), and applaud her effort. Gordon shares a sincere moment of encouragement with Krissi, telling her that if she truly is bold and steps outside of her comfort zone rather than being intimidated from the start, then she has every chance of being as successful as everybody else.
If this competition were based purely on food, then Krissi should be going home. Not because her dish was bad necessarily, but it clearly wasn’t at Luca and Jessie’s level, and was probably below Natasha’s level (based on the judges’ feedback, of course). However, Krissi gets to be safe, and we see a heartwarming moment between Krissi and Natasha as they hug goodbye and Krissi tells Natasha to give her son a hug. Still think they hate each other’s guts now? Just like Bri hated Krissi too, right?
And of course, they don’t send Natasha home either. Nobody is going home. Even if I didn’t see the spoilers on twitter and facebook, I would have guessed it already by this point. Krissi’s facial expression looks like mine at this point. I HATE having my emotions played with. That was the part I hate MOST about being on the show, having my emotions being treated like a pawn in the producer’s hands, to stir up drama and entertain the audience and put money into their pockets. Was that long, drawn out moment, filled with dramatic, sad music, the long monologue by Ramsay, and the roller coaster of emotions that Krissi and Natasha got put through, really necessary? Natasha is understandably EXTREMELY relieved, but from my position I feel furious at what the producers put her and Krissi through. It makes me sick. And poor James too. All of that effort, the thought that he was one step closer to the prize, for what? To be back in the exact same position he was in before the episode even started. It all just makes me a bit sick to my stomach.
And that wraps up the episode. A bizarre one for sure. Not a pleasant one for me to sit through and write about, so I hope that those of you that read it enjoyed it and had your thoughts provoked! Let me know what your thoughts are for this somewhat controversial episode down below.