MasterChef – Recap & Review – Top 9 Compete

photo: fox

Top 9 Compete

Original Air Date: Sep 1, 2010

JD – Staff Writer

This season seems to be flying! We are already down to nine competitors, and by the end of this episode, that nine drops to six. And I still don’t know who I want to win! Everyone I had an initial liking for has failed me, and every time a new person steps up their game, they keep falling right back down. Last night, two of the three people eliminated were people that at one point I thought had a chance at winning. And yet I can’t see any fault in the judges sending them home.

So again, we have three challenges, same format, and some surprising highs and lows, from Sheetal wrestling with her faith, to new rivalries forming, to Lee finally becoming a real competitor.

The Mystery Box:
As usual, the mystery box comes first. This time, there’s a twist, though. All but one of the ingredients are outside of the box: cucumber, apple, tomato, prosciutto, peanuts, and asparagus. Inside the box, is a live Dungeness crab. Some chefs are excited; some chefs are surprised; Sheetal is freaked out.

I had a feeling the fact that Sheetal is Hindu would come into play during the competition after she had trouble in the egg challenge. In her faith, every living thing has a soul, and she doesn’t believe in taking a life. She even grew up in a vegetarian household, and is now asked to kill a crab.

So she starts to break down, and Gordon’s reaction just made me warm and fuzzy. He notices she’s upset and he pulls her aside to find out what’s going on. Then he offers to help. He says he’ll put the crab in the water for her. She steels herself and says she’ll do it, and he gives her a hug and some encouraging words. I dare anyone who thinks all Gordon Ramsay is is a cluster of curse words and a foul temper to watch this episode and see if their opinion isn’t changed.

Anyway, everyone gets cooking. Sharone starts making a crab roll, wrapped with cucumber and prosciutto, while Mike works on an east-meets-west fusion dish. Lee is making a gazpacho. Meanwhile, Slim starts pulling apart her crab live, which Gordon is quick to point out will not only make the crab tasteless, but is inhumanely torturing the crab. On top of that, she doesn’t even finish her dish once time is called. She describes it as looking like “a pile of crap on bread”, and I would have to agree.

Which three crab dishes did the judges pick to taste?

Sharone, who made a crab cucumber roll – Gordon said it was clever and creative and he wanted more.

Lee, who made a crab salad with gazpacho Andalouse sauce – Graham said Lee knocked the challenge out of the park.

Sheetal, who made tomato and crab curry – Joe said it excelled in its simplicity and that the crab was probably happy to give its life for the dish. Of course. I would be happy for someone to cook and eat me, as long as the food was good! This is the sound of my eyes rolling.

I also can’t help thinking the judges chose Sheetal because of her struggle on this challenge. It would have been awful for her to do something so against her faith, then not even make something worthy of tasting. I think it was a pity vote.

Who won the challenge? Lee, who the judges said made one of the best dishes in MasterChef history. Sharone is less than happy, but now it’s Lee’s turn to have the advantage going into the next challenge, like Sharone did last week.

The Romance Challenge:
Lee gets to choose from three ingredients for him and the other chefs to cook a romantic meal from. The choices are chocolate, passion fruit, and Burrata cheese. He chooses the passion fruit. If only Tony had lasted one more week, he would have seen first hand that a star fruit is not a passion fruit!

Whitney is worried that she won’t know what to do since she’s never had a boyfriend or cooked for a guy. Slim flat out says she sucks at romance. She starts to make a strange little fondue, while Sharone decided to do a sous vide, which he’s never done before. Gordon says it’s a move on the verge of stupidity. Tracy burns her collard greens, David makes everything on his plate heart-shaped, and Sheetal says she doesn’t know how to plate love. And then it’s down to tasting.

Graham says Sharone’s meat was sublime. Jake missed the point by using the passion fruit as an accompaniment only, according to Gordon. Mike’s raw beef in his tataki turned into a success and David’s dish “nailed it”, in Joe’s words.

Who won? Lee! Two wins in a row! Joe called all the chefs up to taste his tenderloin and prawns, saying it had really propelled him to Master Chef level.

Sharone? Refused to taste Lee’s dish out of what I can only call pride. The alpha male clashing is delicious, isn’t it?

Who landed in the bottom three? Four people, surprisingly. All the ladies.

Whitney, who made passion fruit glazed shrimp and frissee salad – Graham said it was amateurish.

Tracy, who made a beef tenderloin over fingerling potatoes – Gordon said it looked like something out of a sci-fi movie, and was 90% inedible.

Sheetal, who made cayenne shrimp with a sweet and savory sauce – Joe said the only good thing he could say was that she chose a nice plate to put it in.

Slim, who made a passion fruit fondue – Joe said it was a buffet gone bad, and refused to eat her food for the second week in a row. In fact, he dumped it right in the trash.

Who went home? Slim. When the judges asked what she would have done differently if she could cook it again, she said she’d do the same thing with less ginger. Absolutely ridiculous answer.

I liked Slim from the start, but every week she just kept getting worse and worse. Once she started to slide, she never picked herself up again. I pretty much knew she was on her way out, if not in this episode, then very soon.

The Wedding Challenge:
In this challenge, the remaining eight chefs split into teams of four to cook for a wedding, each making 115 portions of Caesar salad and goat cheese tartlet appetizers, and surf and turf entrees. Since Lee won the last challenge, he gets to pick his team. Lee’s team, the blue team, becomes Lee, Jake, Tracy and Mike. Graham calls him on not picking Sharone, and Lee gives him a pathetic excuse that basically says ‘I don’t like the guy’ without actually saying it. By default then, the red team is Sharone, Whitney, David and Sheetal, and they quickly elect Sharone as the leader.

On the red side of the kitchen, Sharone quickly butchers the salmon badly, Sheetal gets upset because she thinks Sharone is yelling at her, and David has no clue what he’s supposed to be doing. Sharone gives them a little pep talk, though, and they shape up, David taking responsibility for tasting everything.

The blue team get a quick start, but Gordon is quick to point out the poor job Tracy did on the lettuce, and she breaks down. Graham does his best to pull her together, and she makes a come back just in time for both teams to go into panic and chaos mode.

Gordon and Graham put on their chefs jackets and step in. As appetizers are sent out on the red side, the blue side is still struggling with their salad and tarts, which Tracy is responsible for. And then she’s back in break down mode, and Mike is slopping dressing all over the plates. They get it together by entree time, though, which is when the blue side breaks down, not knowing where their salmon is. At this point, I have no idea who’s doing the better job, but I’m laughing anyway.

The judges have to discuss the results, and the next morning they have a winner: the red team, and the judges put the win down to David’s quality control on the seasonings. Rewatching this today on Hulu, it makes sense that the blue team was the weakest, but watching it last night, it seemed like anyone’s game. The blue team is sent to the pressure test, though, and I was very pleased that we actually had an interesting pressure test this time, not just a game of ‘guess what this is’.

Each member of the blue team has to create a pasta dish from scratch, and this time two chefs are going home, not just one. My first thought was that I hoped it would be Lee and Mike staying. Lee had just jumped into the spotlight, and while Mike hasn’t been a favorite of mine, he’s consistent.

Everyone starts making their pasta first thing, except for Tracy, who starts on a sauce. Jake is clearly practicing angry cooking. Lee ignores Gordon’s warnings about too much garlic in his pasta filling. And Mike has no concept in his head; he’s just winging it. As it gets down to the wire, Jake plates his pasta without stirring in the sauce, Mike forgets to flour his pasta and it all sticks together, and Tracy changes up her game plan from lasagna to ravioli. It seems like it’s just started when Joe starts counting down the last few seconds in Italian, then it’s time for tasting.

Tracy made a ravioli bolognese. Gordon complimented the sauce, but said her pasta was very thick. Joe said the sauce wasn’t a true bolognese, but it was possibly the best sloppy joe he’d ever had.

Jake made stuffed calamari over fettuccine with marinara. Joe thought the pasta was good and if Jake had just done rings of calamari, it would have been a winner. Graham pointed out that there was a clump of stuck together pasta from him not tossing it in the sauce, though, and Gordon said it was clumsy.

Mike made fettuccine with peppers. Gordon said it was greasy and confused, but Joe said it was the first complete pasta dish they were served. Graham agreed with Gordon’s assessment, but Joe still disagreed, saying it was restaurant quality.

Lee made roasted eggplant ravioli, and shot himself in the foot by telling the judges that the garlic in the filling was raw. Gordon said the dish stunk of garlic, but Joe said it had its merits.

Who went home? Tracy and Jake.

My Two Cents:
Well, I liked Adeliz, and she left before the competition started. I liked Faruq, and he went downhill and left last week. I liked Slim, and she also went downhill and got eliminated. Jake was starting to look like a competitor to me, and he’s gone now too. I’m really having terrible luck here. I almost hate to pick someone I’m cheering for now, because I might just jinx them!

But I’ll pick a couple anyway. Sharone is still doing very well, and while Lee was floating in the middle of the pack before last night, he jumped to the top. I definitely have my eye on those two, and I’m loving the tension building, I have to admit. We’re starting to see a little budding rivalry between Sharone and Lee. Obviously, even if the judges and I felt Lee had been just getting by, Sharone has had his eyes on Lee for some time.

Mike is always good, but he’s not wowing me, and just when I start to come around to Whitney, she starts falling down (see? Every time I say someone’s good, bad things happen!). I think Sheetal really showed she was in it to win it last night on the crab challenge, but I also have mixed feelings about it. How much of herself did she lose when she put that crab in the pot? I know this isn’t a philosophical show, or anything, but I can’t help but think about it.

So next week, the chefs go up against some of the toughest food critics in the country, including Jeffrey Steingarten, AKA one of the toughest and most outspoken judges on Iron Chef. I’m interested to see what comes of it. But what did you guys think of last night’s episode? Give me your two cents!

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