MasterChef S9E14: Sky’s the Limit


On MasterChef S9E14, Sky’s the Limit, a team challenge ultimately sends a very strong competitor home, but not before things get personal.

MasterChef S9E14 opens at March Air Reserve Base in Riverside, California. The judges are clearly enjoying themselves and go full Top Gun. Joe stands in the air traffic control tower, communicating with a fighter jet. In the jet, Gordon Ramsay responds. As the top ten home cooks watch, Joe and Aaron arrive in a hummer, both wearing flight suits. The jet lands and out steps Gordon. He removes his helmet, fixes his hair, and dons his aviator sunglasses, as do Aaron and Joe. Having fulfilled some boyhood dreams, they get on with explaining the challenge.

This is the 100th anniversary of the base. To celebrate, the cooks will split into two teams and serve 100 airmen a special meal. The two captains are Emily and Cesar based on their expert fish fileting last episode. The twist is that the remaining cooks will pick their captain, rather than the other way around. Cesar is worried no one will pick him, but the cooks divide evenly into two teams almost instantly and with no fuss.

MASTERCHEF: L-R: Judges Joe Bastianich and Aaron Sanchez and host / judge Gordon Ramsay in the “Sky’s the Limit/Tag Team” two-hour time period premiere episode of MASTERCHEF airing Wednesday, Aug. 22 (8:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. © 2018 FOX Broadcasting.

Cesar’s red team includes Bowen, Julia, Samantha and Taylor. Emily’s blue team has Gerron, Shanika, Farhan, and Ashley. The teams have seventy-five minutes to prep and sixty minutes to cook.

Cesar’s team collaborates on their menu, and it at least appears that Cesar rarely puts his foot down. They are going to make hanger steak (since they are at a hangar) with chimichurri sauce, asparagus, polenta cake with goat cheese, and red jalapeno and peach salsa. Cesar does insist that they pan-sear the steak rather than grilling them, much to Bowen’s disapproval. Cesar worries that the wind will keep the grills from being hot enough. He also insists that Samantha cut the asparagus down to just the tip. She also disagrees as it seems so wasteful, but she follows his lead.

Emily, on the other hand, seems to be a bit more controlling. She does ask for input on the menu but then insists on cooking pork chops instead of salmon. This choice becomes an argument that arises throughout the entire episode. Shanika is the most forceful advocate for salmon as she thinks it will be faster to cook for 100. Emily feels that pork is better because you can mark it on the grill and finish in the oven.

Frankly, I agree with Emily here. Pork, if done right, should allow them to do a lot of the cook in prep, and then they can have the pork finish and stay at temperature in the oven. You can’t really hold salmon as well, and I think it would be a disaster to try to cook salmon a la minute when you have a long line. Pork just seems like a smarter choice for the cafeteria-style service.

They continue to discuss. The team agrees on peach chutney and then Emily recommends a balsamic glaze. Shanika again strongly disagrees and insists that balsamic doesn’t go with peaches. I completely disagree. Balsamic vinegar is great with sweet-tart fruit. In fact, we make a peach/balsamic pizza at home and it is awesome. Shanika tells Emily they need a plan B (as she is sure the balsamic will fail). Interestingly, it never comes up again. Did they ultimately use the balsamic at all?

MASTERCHEF: L-R: Contestant Cesar and host / judge Gordon Ramsay in the “Sky’s the Limit/Tag Team” two-hour time period premiere episode of MASTERCHEF airing Wednesday, Aug. 22 (8:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. © 2018 FOX Broadcasting.

Gordon checks in on Cesar’s team. He is shocked that they don’t plan to grill the steak and horrified to see Samantha cutting off nearly all of the asparagus. The team quickly course-corrects. In checking up on Emily’s team, they find that Ashley and Gerron have managed to both burn and under-cook the pork chops. They are going to need to race to get more pork cooked correctly.

Time is called and the guests arrive on foot and, dramatically, by parachute. This is how I want to arrive for dinner from now on.

As the guests queue up, Shanika starts a diatribe that never stops for the entire service and beyond. She is infuriated about the burnt, under-cooked pork and she says, “I told you I didn’t want to do this damn pork.” She continues to say something to the same effect about once for every airman served. Emily asks if she wants to help cook the pork and Shanika refuses. She would rather be on plating, which as far as I could tell, involves a lot of pointing out every chop that is not perfect and complaining loudly. I thought this was particularly unprofessional to do during service when the guests can hear and see you.

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  • During service, one pork chop is sent back for being under-cooked. Meanwhile, a steak is returned to Cesar’s team for having a hair on the plate. Other than that, the dishes seem to be well-received. Regardless, when service ends, Shanika’s body language screams anger. She shakes her head, her mouth is tight, she throws her tongs. “I told y’all we should have done the damn salmon” she says for the 100th time. Gerron reminds her that just one chop came back and she says, “you got a point.”

    The teams await the verdict. An airman with a parachute will decide their fate, landing on a red or blue MasterChef target. After many tense moments, the parachute lands on blue. Instantly, Shanika’s mood alters. “We frickin’ pulled it off. Alright Emily. I ain’t mad no more.” But wait! There is another airman! As they all watch in confusion, the airman lands on red.

    For the first time in MasterChef history, there is a tie. The judges will break the tie the next day.

    As the cooks enter the kitchen the next day, Emily hopes that Shanika will go home as soon as possible. Clearly their temporary celebration has done nothing to mend their relationship. The judges declare the winning team to be Cesar’s steak. Emily’s team will face elimination.

    Emily is now offered a terrible choice. She can either go head-to-head against one other cook and send the rest of her team to the balcony, or she can go to the balcony herself and watch her team battle it out. The challenge is to make a perfect black forest cake. Emily has time and again discussed her love of baking. She is precise, a perfectionist, which tends to make for a good baker. I am not surprised when she elects to go head-to-head against Shanika.

    This entire challenge is the perfect storm for high drama. Shanika claims she is not the best baker and that she is David to Emily’s Goliath. I don’t know that I buy that attempt at being the underdog. Shanika won her apron essentially through baking. Her winning dish was a puff pastry filled with goat cheese and dates, a balsamic reduction, and candied bacon. Imagine that-balsamic with fruit.

    As the cooks begin their seventy-five minute bake, the judges ratchet up the drama in their interviews. They ask Shanika why she has been targeted. “I guess that’s what you get for being opinionated and speaking your mind.” She also says she would have made the same decision that Emily made for this elimination challenge because Emily is “a nasty girl.” Shanika also mentions that she is allergic to chocolate to underscore her underdog status.

    MASTERCHEF: L-R: Judge Aaron Sanchez and contestant Shanika in the “Sky’s the Limit/Tag Team” two-hour time period premiere episode of MASTERCHEF airing Wednesday, Aug. 22 (8:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. © 2018 FOX Broadcasting.

    Emily fires back saying “I think Shanika has maybe over-stayed her welcome.” As Shanika grumbles in the background, the judges push for more, asking if this is personal. “It’s personal and professional. Professional…she was not in the challenge and this is the punishment.”

    As they bake, they each take some risks. Emily puts extra cocoa in her batter. Shanika doesn’t measure her batter into the tins and so could have uneven layers. Emily makes the fatal error, though. She tries to assemble her cake hot. She rushes it to the blast chiller to try to save it, but it collapses in the chiller.

    In the end, they have both made a very respectable cake. Emily’s extra cocoa pays off but the cream between her layers is uneven or missing due to the mishap. Shanika’s cake looks better but apparently does not taste as good, based on the judges’ comments. Still, it is a delicious, well-made cake and Shanika wins the day.

    Now I’m going to play arm-chair psychologist. Emily certainly can be too strict and controlling, and I was disappointed that she took it to a personal level. However, Shanika’s M.O. seems to be to loudly voice complaints during team challenges so that she can distance herself if things go badly. It’s fine to be opinionated, but there is a difference between stating your opinion and being consistently negative when you don’t get your way.

    Shanika should have stated her reasons for wanting to do salmon and then when voted down, she should have worked to make sure her team had the best pork chop possible. When given the chance to step in to cook the pork, she refused. She seemed to be more content to sit back and say I told you so than to help.

    I personally think the MasterChef should exhibit a few things- skill in many different cuisines and techniques, communication, leadership, and teamwork. I can’t say for certain that Emily had all these qualities, but I don’t see them at this time in Shanika either. Just my two cents, sitting on my couch where it is easy to judge.

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    Stay tuned for part two of this two-hour episode when I get my wish to see more of Bowen and Julia but with near-disastrous results.