MasterChef Recap S9E9: “The Big Not Easy”


In MasterChef Episode 9, a special person presents the mystery box challenge! It’s a sink or swim test and more than one chef may go home!

For this week’s MasterChef Episode 9, the home cooks get a personalized challenge from a judge. Who will fail to meet standards and go home? Did the big twist cause chaos in the kitchen?

We open in the MasterChef kitchen with a mystery box challenge. The home cooks will get ingredients curated by someone special- Aaron Sanchez! They lift their boxes to reveal a net full of fresh seafood- live crawfish, oysters, catfish, shrimp, and redfish. Aaron explains this is bounty from his own backyard, but unless I missed it, that seemed to be the only reference to New Orleans. You see, Aaron Sanchez has a restaurant in New Orleans called Johnny Sanchez.

Though the episode title seems to imply the contestants should make New Orleans style food, the cooks are only told that they have sixty minutes and need to make a dish featuring at least two of the seafood ingredients from their net. Indeed, the final dishes did not seem very Louisiana inspired to me, save for one. Aaron himself dons a white apron (with his name on it, of course) and cooks alongside the contestants. He makes a shrimp and crawfish etouffee.

MASTERCHEF: L-R: Judge Aaron Sanchez and contestant Mark in the “Big Not Easy” episode of MASTERCHEF airing Wednesday, July 18 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. © 2018 FOX Broadcasting.

As Aaron and the home cooks begin cooking, Gordon and Joe discuss possible pitfalls. The crawfish is easy to overcook. The redfish has a tough skin and is currently whole. If they want to use it, the cooks need to filet, descale, and debone it. Right away, you can see that the cooks from land-locked states are at a disadvantage. Many of them have never seen a crawfish and have never worked with such fresh product.

I was also interested to note that Shanika’s terrible shellfish allergy from the crab challenge goes unmentioned. If you recall, she trembled through the crab challenge and said that she “literally risked my life today.” Out of curiosity, I did a little research. According to, shellfish falls into two groups- crustaceans like crab and shrimp (and crawfish, I presume) and mollusks like oysters. “Most people who are allergic to one group of shellfish are allergic to other types…Steer clear of seafood restaurants, where there is a high risk of food cross-contact. You should also avoid touching shellfish and going to fish markets. Being in any area where shellfish are being cooked can put you at risk, as shellfish protein could be in the steam.”

Given all that, I wonder how she made it through a challenge with a bag full of allergens. The camera cuts to Shanika shucking an oyster with her bare hands.

Gordon and Joe wander over to Aaron’s bench to mess with him. Joe throws salt in his pot, and Gordon tells him it “would be nice if you worked a bit tidier.” When they’ve had their fill of teasing him, they check on the contestants. Gerron has decided to make scalloped potatoes with shrimp so he is putting cooked shrimp with raw potatoes in the oven. Matt has big plans, but with twenty-five minutes to go, has nothing cooked. He has just started frying oysters which are the quickest ingredient he has to cook.

Their sixty minutes up, it is time for judging. The cooks are stunned to learn that the worst dish will immediately go home. Aaron is up first, and I am amused to think that maybe Aaron will be sent home. Of course, his etouffee is delicious and beautifully presented with shrimp heads standing at attention in his bowl.

Now for the bad news. Taylor is called up for using pasta “but not in a good way.” She has made a redfish and spicy shrimp with fettuccine and tomato sauce. Her sauce is soupy and undeveloped. Her shrimp and fish seem to be unrelated to her pasta dish.

Gerron, who admits he does not get fresh fish in Kentucky, is up next. He is called up as he featured shrimp but “totally failed on multiple levels to showcase it.” Gerron has made a pan-seared redfish with shrimp au gratin potato, sugar snap peas and carrots, all in a white wine sauce. Unfortunately, his lack of experience with seafood shows.

His shrimp is not cleaned, leaving the intestinal tract intact. His fish is skin-side down, so the skin has turned flabby, and it has too much pepper. Finally, as the judges suspected, placing cooked shrimp in a raw potato au gratin has yielded a “golf ball.”

Up last is Matt. Matt earned his apron on presentation and he is hoping his plating will save him. He presents pan-seared redfish with fried oysters, braised leeks, carrot puree, and roasted romanesco. Joe feels that the dish has no real thought, no unifying theme or idea.

Taylor is declared safe and Aaron offers Joe the chance to decide between his two mentees, Gerron and Matt. Matt is sent home. Though Gerron’s critique sounded worse, I think that the judges see more heart in his cooking. Matt enjoys a sort of clinical, presentation-forward style. Matt reminds us he has only been cooking for two years, so he has done remarkably well with little experience.

MASTERCHEF: L-R: Judge / host Gordon Ramsay, judge Aaron Sanchez and judge Joe Bastianich in the “Big Not Easy” episode of MASTERCHEF airing Wednesday, July 18 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. © 2018 FOX Broadcasting.

Before the pressure test, each judge will select two cooks who will not need to compete due to their showing in the mystery box challenge. Aaron selects two mentees with drive and an understanding of ingredients- Farhan and Cesar. Joe selects cooks who got the theme and use “big, bold flavors,” Ralph and Mark. Gordon simply says he is picking dishes that were amazing- Samantha and Bowen.

Gordon introduces the pressure test. “Many Americans don’t have time, energy, or interest to cook every day, right?” Aaron gleefully drops a collection of frozen dinners on the table: country fried steak, mac and cheese, enchiladas, fettuccine alfredo, lasagna, Salisbury steak, and pepperoni pizza. Of all the choices, the cooks will have to recreate “one of America’s most popular frozen dinners,” Salisbury steak.

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  • Gordon describes it: “You have a frozen salisbury steak covered in mushroom gravy served with roasted red bliss potatoes, finished with some green beans….from 2004.”  These are the elements they will need to recreate. And there’s an added twist.

    The frozen dinner takes 45 minutes to heat in the oven, so seven will have 45 minutes to cook. One cook will have 40 minutes, one will have 35, and one will have just 30 minutes. The six safe cooks will get the chance to decide who cooks for each timeframe.

    With just three minutes to decide, the safe cooks dash to the equipment room and begin to shout out their ideas for who should get the shorter cook times. In the end, Cesar explains that “we are targeting the people we feel are the strongest or that rub the other contestants the wrong way, like Shanika.” They have given Shanika 40 minutes, Emily 35, and poor Julia 30. Clearly, it seems that people see Julia as a big threat, followed by Emily.

    When asked how they feel about their time limit, Julia smiles, Emily grins with confidence, and Shanika shakes her head and rolls her eyes. Will her anger again get in her way? In general, all three seem to use their time to strategize, though Shanika does seem more aggravated that the others.

    The judges turn the knife and seem to be looking for a reaction when they say to Shanika, “they had three bullets to give so they shot one at you. I need to understand why they would target you.” Shanika tells the judges, “I honestly believe they know that I’m the next MasterChef.”

    Emily tells Gordon that she works best under pressure, and Julia remains focused to make the best use of her very short time. SJ, with the full 45 minutes to cook, seems to be struggling more than Julia. He is mumbling to himself, spinning in circles. Gordon notes that he has cooked nothing and the camera cuts to the clock with just 15 minutes left. “Hey, young man, it would help immensely if you turned the gas on!”

    Shanika is the first up for judging. When asked again why she was targeted, this time she says “I just seem to keep rubbing people the wrong way. I might be too outspoken.” Her steak and gravy are great, but everything else on her plate is a failure.

    Emily is worried about her plating but her dish sounds delicious. She has used dried porcini mushrooms, shallots, and Worcestershire sauce in her meat patty. Her gravy includes mushrooms and brandy, and her green beans are flavored with almonds and lemon. Though she is correct that her plating needs work, her dish is a hit.

    Julia worries that she hasn’t had time to develop flavor in her Italian-inspired Salisbury steak with garlic, shallots, oregano and bread crumbs. She has also sliced her steak, much to Joe’s disapproval. However, in just 30 minutes, she has made “one of the best flavored dishes I’ve tried so far” with a “profound” gravy.

    MASTERCHEF: L-R: Contestant Chelsea and judge Joe Bastianich in the “Big Not Easy” episode of MASTERCHEF airing Wednesday, July 18 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. © 2018 FOX Broadcasting.

    Having reviewed the cooks with less than 45 minutes, they move on to Lindsay. Gordon tells her, “that meat is disgusting…when the best thing on your dish is a green bean salad, that upsets me.” SJ fares better. The only complaint is that he has too many fondant potatoes for the amount of meat served.

    Gerron serves a steak stuffed with bacon and cheddar and topped with fried onions, along with green beans cooked in bacon fat. I was worried it would be too heavy, but the judges love it. Ashley serves meat that is a little bland but all her other components are on point.

    Chelsea is last to be judged and tells us that she has never eaten a frozen dinner as she grew up in various international locations. Gordon tells her he can’t tell which plate looks better, hers or the frozen dinner in its plastic dish. Her meat is rare and mealy and the best she gets is that her potatoes taste better than they look.

    With their short cook times, Emily and Julia prove the safe home cooks right. They are strong and are safe, along with SJ and Gerron. Chelsea, Lindsay, and Shanika are up for elimination. Lindsay is told that she “overthought and under-delivered” and she is sent home. Hopefully she will still achieve her bed and breakfast dream!

    Next: Tara Lipiniski talks Wedding Cake Championship and her sweet tooth

    All the judges are tied again with each now having five mentees left. It looks like next week the cooks will pair up and I can only imagine the struggles for some people to find a teammate! I’m sure there will be some unhappy pairs!