MasterChef episode recap S9E16: American Heroes


In this week’s on MasterChef episode recap, an old rivalry plays out and the cooks must master a pasta feast. The cook sent home might shock you!

A lovely scene sets this MasterChef episode recap. This episode opens with the top eight MasterChef contestants strolling down a palm-tree lined boulevard. They are surrounded by mountains and orchards. They climb a tall hill to find a lawn with an elegant table set for twenty-five. It is amazingly beautiful.

The judges arrive in a firetruck. They are clearly fulfilling as many boyhood dreams as possible this season. They welcome the home cooks to Peterson Ranch and explain that this Eden was recently threatened by the Thomas Fire. The fire burned for five weeks. 281,000 acres burned in the fire, with smoke visible from space. Today, they will honor twenty-five fire fighters who dealt with the blaze.

Bowen and Cesar, having won the tag team challenge, are named team captains. In case you don’t recall, Bowen doesn’t like Cesar and happily told him that three times last episode. Today Bowen says, “my strategy is simple. Just kick his ass.”

The remaining cooks are told to divide into two teams of three. Farhan, Julia, and Gerron are standing near each other when this is announced and they simply close ranks around Farhan. It is really interesting to watch. Julia and Gerron both turn in so that their backs face out to anyone outside their team. Meanwhile, the other three shuffle indecisively but can go nowhere, seeing the other team is clearly formed. Shanika says, “Y’all really gonna huddle up like that?”

MASTERCHEF: Contestant Samantha in the “American Heroes/Waste Not Want Not” two-hour episode of MASTERCHEF airing Wednesday, Aug. 29 (8:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. © 2018 FOX

Joe flips a coin and Bowen wins the toss. He can now either pick his protein or pick his team. The protein choices are rack of lamb and sea bass. Bowen opts for protein and selects sea bass. “It’s top eight,” he explains. “Everybody can cook. So the protein is more important than the team.”

Cesar is now given first pick of team, and he selects Gerron, Farhan, and Julia. He is excited to have Farhan’s expertise in spice. He and Julia have worked together on two team challenges before and won both. Gerron is “a fellow educator who works from the heart.”

The teams will have sixty minutes to plate twenty-five plates. At thirty minutes, the judges want a completed plate to taste and critique.

Cesar collects his team and announces his vision which includes roasted rack of lamb and couscous. Farhan proves even more invaluable when he reminds us that his father is a Halal butcher who “slaughters 200 lambs a week.” Sounds rather extreme when put that way, but the point is that Farhan knows lamb. He volunteers to be in charge of cooking the star of the plate.

Bowen tells his team he wants to do a pan-seared sea bass, roasted baby carrots and cauliflower puree. When first paired with Bowen after Cesar picked the other team, Ashley had voiced her concern over having Bowen as captain as he gets frazzled and “loses his mind.” But as he goes to each station checking quality and asserting his expectations, Ashley is relieved. Bowen is calm and in control.

The judges watch and discuss if it is better to select protein or team. Joe believes it is more important to select your team as they will affect the quality of your dish. Gordon disagrees. “Depends on how strong a captain you are. If you delegate strong enough, your team will follow.” I don’t know. I have seen enough of Hell’s Kitchen to know that even Gordon struggles to get quality out of the misfits who start the show.

Time for the judges to taste a sample dish! Bowen is up first. He is in charge of cooking the bass and he has not done that properly. Gordon advises him to cook it skin-side down until it is 90 percent cooked, and then flip it for the last two minutes of cooking. Also, he should add butter right at the end for flavor, but so as to not allow the butter to burn.

In general, the judges like his dish and their critiques are really mild. He needs to tweak his cook of the fish to ensure a crispy skin and he needs to add more of his sides. And yet, Bowen seems to lose his brief confidence and cool in that small critique.

Cesar’s taste test, on the other hand, is a disaster. He presents a roasted rack of lamb with minted mushy peas, couscous with mushrooms and roasted vegetables, and a red wine demi. I assume the red wine demi accounts for what appears to be a ring of blood around the plate, but the lamb is woefully underdone. Raw fat rings the red, undercooked meat. The judges refuse to even taste it.

Farhan had been trying to render the fat caps but it just takes too much time, so he cuts them off instead. Meanwhile, Bowen starts to spiral out of control. He is still planning to handle all the fish cookery himself, but Gordon finds he is still all out of order in how he is planning to cook. He yells at him to get a grip, which I’m sure helps calm him down. Shanika, seeing that he is shutting down, steps in and offers to cook fish at his side.

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  • Even this is not enough though, as Gordon returns to check on Shanika’s beautifully cooking, crisp fish and then sees Bowen’s which are swimming in oil and dark, burnt butter. He has added the butter too soon. Gordon has had enough. He insists that Shanika take over all fish cooking and that Bowen go plate.

    In the frantic final moments, both teams must compose twenty-five perfect plates simultaneously, as all the plates will be served at once. Farhan seems to have gotten a perfect medium rare on all his lamb. Shanika has gotten all her fish cooked and moves on to help plate.

    The fire fighters will enjoy a pan-seared sea bass with carrots and cauliflower puree as well as a citrus herb vinaigrette. They will compare that to roasted rack of lamb with pea mint puree, couscous, and a red wine demi sauce. I am amused that the mushy peas have been upgraded to a pea puree. It looks no different from their previous mushy pea offering, still being rather chunky.

    Both dishes look wonderful, and the fire fighters vote by ringing a blue or red bell. Once the votes are in, the judges stand with fire extinguishers and reveal the winners by releasing blue smoke. Cesar’s team has won!

    As they return to their stations to clean up, Ashley loses it. She attacks Bowen who becomes immediately defensive. Meanwhile, in an odd turn of events, Shanika comforts Bowen and tries to get them both to remain calm. Shanika carried the team on this challenge. She was never combative or resistant and instead was a steadying force throughout. It seems to be a complete about-face for her, honestly. But she and Bowen have a mutual softness for each other. He has expressed it before and often chooses to work with her, and the feeling is clearly mutual.

    The team enters the kitchen the next day for their pressure test. Shanika very reasonably says, “I’m disappointed. We lost because we just lack communication, Bowen shut down, but if there is anybody that can handle a pressure test, it’s me.” At this point, I am hoping the judges will point her out as MVP and send her to the balcony, or offer Bowen a chance to save someone, but it is not to be.

    Their test is a real challenge. They will have to make three pasta dishes- all with different shapes of pasta and different sauces- in sixty minutes. Dish one is pappardelle in a sauce of San Marzano tomatoes, prosciutto and onions. Next, they must create a mezzaluna pasta stuffed with swiss chard and ricotta in a sauce of burnt butter and sage. Finally, they must make garganelli pasta with funghi trifolati (mushrooms).

    Joe demonstrates making the pasta shapes. The cooks will make one dough and roll it into sheets and then use the same sheets for all three shapes. This is good for time but if your pasta texture is off, all three dishes will suffer.

    He cuts the sheets into one-inch-wide, six to eight-inch-long pieces for pappardelle. For the mezzaluna, he uses a cutter, fills them with a piping bag, and then uses egg wash and pinches them closed. The garganelli was most interesting to me as I have never had it before. He cuts squares of dough and then rolls the square around a dowel while pressing it over a ribbed board. The result is a ribbed tube of dough.

    As the team gets to work, Shanika and Bowen seem to fall behind. Shanika’s dough is dry and crumbly. It won’t come together as she kneads it. Bowen, meanwhile, has yet to even start his sauces with less than half the time left. With just fifteen minutes left, Shanika is still struggling to get her dough to form enough to roll. She finally gets it to a point that she can start to form her shapes, but she has very little time left to assemble her dishes. She and Bowen both have to race to the judging table, Bowen balancing multiple plates like a frazzled waiter.

    Shanika is up first. All her dishes suffer from a lack of pasta. While she has a few bits in each dish, there is not enough for a serving. Also, the butter for her mezzaluna is not browned. Instead, they sit in a pool of golden, just melted butter. Joe says it’s like movie popcorn. Funny how brown butter can look so appetizing and simply melted butter can look pretty gross. Joe tells her that her lack of pasta overall makes her dishes look like a waiter just cleared a table.

    Samantha is up next and gets nothing but rave reviews. Her pasta has perfect texture and her fillings and sauces are basically perfect. Ashley does a little less well. Her pasta is too thick and rough. Her mezzaluna has no sauce and instead has a few mushrooms meant for the garganelli. Also, she was supposed to sauté her swiss chard filling with garlic and olive oil but instead she simply blanched it.

    As Joe approaches Bowen’s plates, you can see things didn’t go as planned. Large balls of fried prosciutto sit on top of his pappardelle. Bowen quickly confesses that he has never eaten pasta before. Joe is horrified that he would come to MasterChef without ever even trying pasta. Granted, until this season, Joe Bastianich had not been a judge on MasterChef for a number of seasons, but Italian food is such a restaurant staple that you should be familiar with it in case it comes up. Also, noodles have an ancient tradition in China. Sure, they can be a bit different in texture, shape, and flour, but you have at least a baseline idea of how to work with noodle dough.

    Unfortunately, he has rolled all his dough far too thin. Joe says it’s like eating a tissue. It doesn’t hold its shape and the texture is wrong. His garganelli is so thin that it has gone flat, collapsing on itself. Joe seems disgusted, saying this isn’t pasta. It’s “boiled noodles with condiments.” The other judges are quick to point out that his sauces and fillings are really good. His main error is the thin pasta.

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    Samantha heads to the balcony first. Joe tells her she cooks pasta like an old Italian lady and Julia congratulates her with “right on, Nona!” Ashley is also safe, so Bowen and Shanika, both having struggled with their pasta, are left on the floor. Apparently Bowen’s sauces and fillings saved him because Shanika is sent home.

    Joe calls her a lioness and regrets that his challenge has sent one of his own mentees home. Shanika, still displaying her affection for Bowen, tells everyone he will be next MasterChef. Though it did seem that Shanika had more problems with her dish overall, I would have preferred to see Bowen go home. Shanika carried her team through the challenge while Bowen nearly sank them.

    Bowen’s nerves, which surface regularly, will be his downfall. It kind of freaks me out to see him so instantly dissolve under pressure and to know that outside of MasterChef he is a pilot. I am also saddened by his lack of preparation. He really needs to expand his culinary horizons. The next MasterChef should be cool under pressure, a leader, and also a well-rounded cook. I just can’t agree with Shanika on this one.

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    On the next part of this two-hour episode MasterChef episode recap, Bowen has another panic attack. Will it be his last?