MasterChef Season 9 premiere recap: Who’s competing?


MasterChef Season 9 offers a new twist on the food culinary competition- the judges compete! Which judge will choose wisely?

MasterChef is back with a new crop of hopeful home cooks and the favorite judges, Gordon Ramsey, Aaron Sanchez, and Joe Bastianich. While the cooks are still competing for a coveted white apron, the distribution of the aprons is a little different. This season, each judge has eight aprons to give. This will give them eight home cooks to mentor so they are effectively competing with each other to see who can bring forth the winner.

As usual, home cooks compete with a signature dish and then may be offered one or more white aprons. If offered an apron by more than one judge, the contestant gets to pick their mentor. The format leads to some fun exchanges between the judges. At times, they have to sell themselves to the contestants. Other times, they mock each other’s choices. It is also interesting to see what each judge values.

MASTERCHEF: L-R: Judge Aaron Sanchez, host / chef Gordon Ramsay and judge Joe Bastianich in the “The Judges Do Battle/The Judges Do Battle, Pt. 2” season premiere episode of MASTERCHEF airing Wednesday, May 30 (8:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. CR: FOX / FOX. © 2018 FOX Broadcasting.

Gordon states that he wants a cook with “discipline. Can they absorb like a sponge? Do they have the hunger to learn more and how much better can I make them across this journey?” Aaron wants someone with big, creative ideas and who is a risk taker. Joe wants someone who “shows confidence but is willing to take direction, willing to learn.”

The first group up all have beef signature dishes. The group includes Emily (28), a food research analyst from Wisconsin; Jannie (29), a cocktail server in Vegas, and Bowen (24), a pilot from China.

Bowen came to the US when he was 15. His father is a chef in China and Bowen calls him the “Chinese version of Gordon Ramsey.” About two years ago, Bowen was in a bad car accident and spent nearly a year in the hospital. While there, he would only watch Master Chef. He says “MasterChef got me through it,” so you can see how meaningful this is for him.

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Emily makes the mistake of using garlic and onion powder to flavor her filet mignon but her beef is well cooked. Jannie’s dish of Cambodian beef skewers with green papaya pickle and coconut rice has a high degree of difficulty but is too sweet. Bowen’s lion’s head meatball (seasoned beef wrapped around a soft cooked egg) is well-received as being perfectly seasoned, moist and tender.

Emily earns an apron from Joe after promising to “soak up everything you have to tell me.” His first words of advice are that powders are not the right way to do things. Both Gordon and Joe offer Bowen an apron and Bowen proudly picks Gordon.

Next up are two contestants who have chosen to bake. Cynthia (31) is an accounting assistant from California and the mom of 6. Shanika (34) is an event promoter from Miami. Shanika has a real presence with her incredibly long braid, tight cat suit and high heels. She explains that she cooks “how I look- bold, tough and daring.” Shanika has good reason for being tough. Her mom died when she was just 14 and she had to become a mom to her younger sister.

Cynthia creates a strawberry shortcake which unfortunately reads too homey for the judges. In contrast, Shanika’s dish looks sophisticated and required finesse to pull together perfectly cooked puff pastry with a goat cheese filling, balsamic reduction, and candied bacon. Aaron is impressed and offers her an apron.

Joe then ups the ante. He asks her, if he were to give her one of his aprons too, would she take it or Aaron’s? Shanika confidently states she would keep Aaron’s but he puts that to the test and in a twist, she takes his apron instead. As she leaves, Aaron has sour grapes and says, “I’m happy she’s not on my team” to which Joe teases him about not liking to lose. Shanika tells us with a braid flip that the “MasterChef kitchen better get ready because I’m bringing the heat, the flavor and the sass all up in that kitchen!” I believe her.

Our next group are the two youngest in the competition. Samantha (20) is a college student in Iowa. Mark (19) is a dishwasher in his mother’s restaurant in Maine. Mark is cocky. He proclaims, “ I’m an expert in flavor profiles. I’m well-schooled in the art of butchery. I’ve been in food my whole life.” Mark’s over-confidence leads to the most dramatic interactions in the episode.

MASTERCHEF: Home cooks compete to earn a spot in the Top 24 in the “The Judges Do Battle/The Judges Do Battle, Pt. 2” season premiere episode of MASTERCHEF airing Wednesday, May 30 (8:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. CR: FOX / FOX. © 2018 FOX Broadcasting.

While Mark moves with confidence in the kitchen, he rubs the judges the wrong way when he tells them he doesn’t need culinary school. “I find that I’ve learned enough in my own field personally, independently and just as well through my own experience. I’m one of the more talented people in this room.” Given that the only cooks in the room are Mark, his fellow contestant, and the three judges, this is a bold and foolhardy thing to say.

Unfortunately for Mark, his lamb is grossly undercooked and his pureed cauliflower only tastes of butter. Joe throws his previous swagger back in his face and tells him he needs to “bring a little bit more of true technique. You know where you learn that technique? Exactly the place you said you didn’t need to go-culinary school.”

Samantha’s chicken piccata is cooked very well, despite her mistake of not cooking out the wine in her sauce, and she earns an apron from Gordon. Mark is left in tears as Gordon tells him to come back next year. And then Joe steps forward. He tells Mark he is an entrepreneur who is used to making investments. He’s seen potential in Mark and is willing to make an investment in him but only if he promises to take direction. Mark of course accepts and earns a white apron. Time will tell if he can put aside his ego to learn. After seeing the dramatic offer, Aaron teases Joe that he must have gotten sick from eating raw lamb.

The Houston, Texas group takes their turn next. Ralph (29), an accountant and Chelsea (28), a sales specialist, are joined by Taylor (30), who is here for the third time. Apparently, the third time really is the charm because her tomatillo chicken tells Gordon she has potential, and he gives her an apron. Chelsea’s homemade pita showed Aaron she is a risk taker so she earned her apron from him. Ralph’s Filipino pancit with noodles showed the passion and confidence that Joe needed to offer him an apron.

MASTERCHEF: Home cooks compete to earn a spot in the Top 24 in the “The Judges Do Battle/The Judges Do Battle, Pt. 2” season premiere episode of MASTERCHEF airing Wednesday, May 30 (8:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. CR: FOX / FOX. © 2018 FOX Broadcasting.

Olusola (29), a bus driver from South Carolina, and Mark (31) a fire fighter from Louisiana, make up the service group. Olusola’s skill in free pouring and blending 15 spices for her jerk snapper impressed all three judges. In an unprecedented move, she is offered three aprons. She joyfully selects Joe as her mentor. Sadly, Mark’s buttermilk biscuits are undercooked and dense and he fails to earn an apron.

The final group of the night all had fish signature dishes. Matt (28), an optometrist from Iowa, has an eye for beautiful plating. He earns his apron from Joe. Ryan (33), a drummer and world traveler from Texas, earns an apron from Aaron for his risky baked catfish.

Cesar (33), a high school teacher from Texas, says he is “too American to be Mexican and too Mexican to be American” but when he cooks, it marries his “Mexican culture and American upbringing.” His red snapper dish earns him an offer from Gordon and Aaron. He happily accepts the offer from Aaron, a fitting pairing given their cooking styles.

SJ (21), a student in Louisiana, comes from a traditional Korean family. He cooks Korean with a modern flair. His panko-crusted cod has a beautiful brown crust. He impresses Gordon and Aaron and accepts his apron from Gordon due to his skill with global cuisine.

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So, if my math is correct, that leaves Gordon with 3 aprons to give, Aaron with 4, and Joe with 2. It seems any remaining groups have a tough road ahead of them to earn their spot on Master Chef! What did you think of the new format? Which judge has your vote to win?