MasterChef S9E10: Rise or Fall


In this week’s MasterChef, the top fifteen face two diabolic challenges- one seemingly simple and one notoriously hard. Who will fall this week?

Our home cooks enter the MasterChef kitchen and learn they will be working in pairs today. A concerned “oooh” fills the room. The good news is they can choose their own partners. The camera cuts to Shanika but she has no problem finding a willing partner.

Bowen tells us he wants to work with Shanika because she has a lot of food knowledge and doesn’t sugar-coat things. Mark also has a partner in mind. Mark tells us he would be enamored to work with Cesar and approaches him with a respectful, “sir?” Soon everyone is paired up except for poor Ralph.

With fifteen contestants, one person was bound to be without a partner. The pairs are Chelsea and Samantha, Farhan and Emily, Cesar and Mark, Bowen and Shanika, Ashley and Taylor, SJ and Julia, and Ryan and Gerron. Ralph stands alone as the challenge is explained.

The cooks will have forty-five minutes to make something special out of five ingredients- whole chicken, carrots, onion, bacon, and cornmeal. Gordon, Aaron, and Joe have used the ingredients in their own way and present three very different dishes reflective of their styles.

MASTERCHEF: L-R: Host / judge Gordon Ramsay and judges Aaron Sanchez and Joe Bastianich in the “Rise or Fall” episode of MASTERCHEF airing Wednesday, July 25 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. © 2018 FOX Broadcasting.

My favorite is Aaron’s dish. He has used his New Orleans and Latin influences to make cornmeal crusted chicken thigh with bacon jam, carrot and chipotle puree, and fried onions. The carrot puree is a vivid orange, dotted perfectly around his crispy chicken. The bacon jam is deep red and his chicken lies atop something green. It is a visually stunning dish.

Joe has of course gone Italian with his chicken cacciatore with polenta and crispy pancetta. He delights in explaining it in the most Italian accent possible. Gordon has gone French with pan-seared chicken breast, spice roasted carrots, caramelized onion, and polenta cake.

The idea here, as seen in the judges’ dishes, is to elevate these simple, familiar ingredients and create something reflective of your style. As Gordon explains, he is looking for something “almost like two signature dishes combining on one plate.”

Poor Ralph now gets good news. He needs a partner so he will cook with Joe. As Joe dons his own white apron, the other contestants clap loudly, nod, and smile. Oh, and Ralph is also safe from elimination. The clapping becomes quieter, slower, and more forced, it seems, and the smiles turn to shocked faces. Ralph has hit the jackpot today!

The teams get to work. Some seem to be true collaborations. Farhan and Emily are making something that sounds fantastic to me and seems to be a perfect blend of their styles. They are making Indian-spiced fried chicken, a pakora waffle, and a hot chili lime maple syrup. In other teams, there seems to be a clear leader and a sous chef.

Cesar has clearly taken lead on his team. When asked about their dish, he is the only one to respond and it is his idea they are executing. The same is happening on Chelsea’s team. She tells us, “I’m taking the lead on this and Samantha is here to taste and make sure everything is executed correctly.” Will collaboration or a single vision be the key to this challenge?

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Fox renews MasterChef Junior for Season 9
Fox renews MasterChef Junior for Season 9 /

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  • The judges seem no more sure about the best strategy. They worry about Ashley and Taylor being too friendly and unwilling to disagree with each other or point out errors. And yet, they feel that Gerron and Ryan, as two Southern guys, will work harmoniously.

    Ashley and Taylor become our focus early on as their partnership disintegrates. Taylor looks at the chicken carcass in horror. Ashley removed the chicken breasts from the whole bird but it looks mangled. Taylor looks at the bird in panic as Gordon approaches to check on their progress. I swear I see her hide the bird under her station as he approaches.

    Gordon asks about their plan which includes cornbread and carrot puree. He spots roasted onions on their bench and asks about those. Ashley explains that she plans to put an onion petal full of gravy on the plate, “where you brulee the onion and then you peel…” She gets no further because Gordon is rubbing his face in that way he does when he is really disappointed in you.

    Gordon tells her that you would normally do such a thing with a small, tender onion. “Is it for visual or is it for flavor?” Ashley tells him she’s never done it before and wanted to taste it first.  And then Gordon sees the chicken, which apparently was not hidden under the bench. “Oh my Lord. Who mauled this?” he asks in horror, holding the chicken up by one dangling leg.

    He has to ask twice before Ashley admits that she did it. He tells her “I’ve seen better performances on Junior MasterChef with eight-year-olds.” They are clearly in trouble.

    Gordon moves on and after hearing about all the dishes, he is concerned about the two attempts at a roulade or stuffed chicken. Bowen is cooking a breast stuffed with pork and Cesar has made a mousse out of chicken breast to stuff into a chicken thigh. It would be easy to undercook the filling for both while overcooking the outside.

    The clock ticks down as Taylor and Ashley argue over how to slice their chicken. Taylor is cutting it first but Ashley disagrees so Taylor hands her the knife. Moments later, we hear Taylor wail, “why did you slice it that way?” Then we hear Taylor telling Ashley to “just throw it on! Just throw it on!”

    We begin the judging with Joe and Ralph’s dish. Ralph has had a wonderful day, learning from his mentor. They have produced a chicken Milanese with fried polenta and arugula salad. Ralph heads off to the balcony.

    Cesar and Mark bring up their dish, a chicken roulade stuffed with chicken mousse with bell peppers and jalapenos, and roasted carrots. Cesar is very proud of the dish and readily admits that he conceptualized it. Gordon replies that it looks terrible.

    I didn’t realize in the wide shot, but when Gordon lifts a slice of the roulade, it is comical. “Come on, guys! It’s like the size of a quarter!” The slice he is holding up is truly tiny, and the chicken skin has unraveled, hanging off in an unappetizing way. Honestly, it looks like airplane food- small and not delicious. They have a stunningly bad review and they both feel like they are up for their first ever elimination challenge.

    Next up are SJ and Julia. They have collaborated on a pan-seared and roasted chicken breast with chicken skin chicharron, polenta cake, baby carrot pickle salad, and a white wine reduction cream sauce. It sounds amazing and they are delighted to hear that their dish is restaurant quality.

    Farhan and Emily present the dish I would be most excited to try- Indian chicken and waffles. They get a mostly positive review, though their sauce has made the dish a bit too sweet.

    Bowen and Shanika’s pork stuffed chicken with sweet and spicy sauce and fried polenta gets rave reviews. The pork has kept the chicken breast moist and their sauce is well-balanced.

    Samantha and Chelsea’s crispy chicken breast with caramelized onion cream sauce, parmesan polenta cake, and carrots with lardons sounds somewhat unoriginal to me, but their rich sauce is a hit. Their polenta cake has a weird texture but tastes good.

    Ryan and Gerron were clearly inspired by Aaron’s chicken dish. They have made a cornmeal crusted fried chicken with a bourbon, bacon and onion jam and cabbage. Gordon tries the chicken and the crunch is pronounced, which I originally thought was a good thing. Who doesn’t love crispy fried chicken?

    MASTERCHEF: L-R: Contestant Ryan and judge Aaron Sanchez in the “Rise or Fall” episode of MASTERCHEF airing Wednesday, July 25 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. © 2018 FOX Broadcasting.

    After his third or forth loud crunch, Gordon says, “please don’t tell me you dredged this chicken with that whole cornmeal?” They admit that is exactly what they did, and they didn’t know you couldn’t do that. I admit, I am not clear on the differences between cornmeal and polenta, and a quick search for polenta-crusted fried chicken yielded plenty of results. Also, Aaron presented a cornmeal crusted chicken. Did he use different meal? Did he grind it in a food processor? In any case, it seems that the meal they presented must have been too coarse for their chicken which Joe calls a “travesty.”

    Ashley and Taylor are last to present. Taylor is unhappy with their performance and she revs up the bus that she will use to run over Ashley. True, it does seem that Ashley butchered their chicken, cutting it poorly both raw and cooked. Taylor presents their pan-seared chicken breast with sautéed carrots, bacon and cornbread in a defeated voice.

    Gordon tells them, “first of all, I have never ever seen such a dysfunctional 45 minutes in the history of this competition.” Taylor blurts out, “honestly, I didn’t really agree with our concept in the beginning but I asked are you going to nail this cornbread and I trusted Ashley in nailing a carrot puree and she said yes and we have nothing.”

    Gordon asks about the carrot puree as it is not plated. I imagine that was the reason for Taylor earlier yelling, “Just throw it on!” Gordon questions making a carrot puree out of baby carrots in the first place (note- Aaron’s dish also featured carrot puree) and Ashley responds, “That was Taylor’s idea.” They then argue over whose idea it was and the whole thing is just hard to watch given the mutual respect and friendship they displayed just forty-five minutes ago.

    Their cornbread is dry and crumbly, they have a little bit of bitter carrot on their plate, and their chicken is “cut like elephant toenails.” Gordon is clearly embarrassed as these are two of his selected mentees.

    Julia and SJ are pronounced the winners. Ashley and Taylor, Ryan and Gerron, and Cesar and Mark face elimination. All other teams are safe.

    Aaron introduces the elimination challenge. “Tonight you will be replicating a dish that strikes fear in the heart of every home cook. A dish that is just as frightening for seasoned chefs like us.” At this point I guess the challenge- souffles! The cooks have 40 minutes to present one perfect cheese souffle. They will present as soon as they are ready within that 40 minutes as souffles must be eaten immediately. They have three ramakins, though, so they can make three and select the best to present.

    Some cooks, like Mark, have made souffles before, and others are novices. All seem to be keeping on task except for Taylor. She is far behind everyone in getting hers in the oven. She jumps up and down as she waits for her mixer to whip her egg whites. She paces back and forth, hands on head. She at last gets her souffles in with just ten minutes remaining, and they take eleven minutes to cook.

    MASTERCHEF: Host / judge Gordon Ramsay in the “Rise or Fall” episode of MASTERCHEF airing Wednesday, July 25 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. © 2018 FOX Broadcasting.

    Gordon recommends that she raise her oven temperature but not too soon. He privately explains that you can only do that in the last sixty seconds of cooking. Otherwise, the souffle will eject itself from the ramakin.

    Mark takes a souffle out and then returns it to the oven- a big no-no. Cesar’s cheese sauce looks broken, and Ryan’s mixture is a pale white, seemingly devoid of cheese. Ashley is the first to present, then Ryan, and then the others one after another. Gerron is last up and nearly drops his souffle.

    The judges taste each as it is presented but say nothing. After deliberation, Mark is the winner with a nearly perfect souffle. Ashley, Gerron, and Taylor are safe. Ryan’s dish lacks cheese and tastes like an egg white omelet. Cesar’s sauce was indeed broken so the texture of his souffle is off.

    Ryan is sent home. He accepts it with grace and good nature. I hope that he continues to follow his passion.

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    Next week, MasterChef will open a restaurant…for kids! And former judge Christina Tosi will bring what appears to be a cupcake challenge.