MasterChef Season 9 winner: The Finale


In this recap of MasterChef, the final three cook the meal of their lives and a new MasterChef Season 9 winner is crowned!

Who will be the MasterChef Season 9 winner? Since we were last in the MasterChef kitchen, the top three have gone home to plan and practice their finale dishes. The mentors go for a visit to their hometowns to check in with them. Gordon goes to visit with Ashley at her parent’s home in Opa-Locka, Florida. Joe goes to visit Gerron at school in Nashville, Tennessee. Aaron attempts to visit Cesar in Houston, Texas. Supposedly he is prone to getting lost, so we see him with his map unfurled, trying to find his way.

The home visits are a good opportunity to get to see the influences on the final cooks and to see what is driving them in the finale. For Ashley, she wants to win for her parents and to validate her career change. She gave up her teaching career and moved home to pursue her culinary dream. Though concerned at first, her parents are very supportive and proud. She also takes Gordon to her local farmer’s market so he can experience her inspiration. The market is piled high with fresh citrus and locally caught fish.

Joe arrives at Gerron’s classroom and he asks the students how Gerron has impacted them. They talk about his connection to students and his willingness to go above and beyond. He attends their games and has an open door policy and many of the students see him as a role model. Gerron is hoping to win and start a culinary program for his students. He is driven by his care for his students, and his influences are distinctly southern. Joe does express concern that he needs to elevate anything he is making and also needs to be sure to plate with finesse. It can be a real challenge to elevate southern comfort food and make it pretty on the plate.

MASTERCHEF: L-R: Contestants Gerron, Ashley and Cesar in the “Finale Pt. 1/Finale Pt. 2” two-hour season finale episode of MASTERCHEF airing Wednesday, Sept. 19 (8:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX.

Aaron eventually finds his way to Cesar’s home where a large family meal is in progress. He hears the story of Cesar’s mother who left her teaching career in Mexico, essentially gave up everything, to bring her young family to the States for a better future. She is Cesar’s driving motivation and his Mexican heritage is his inspiration.

Interestingly, all the final contestants are teachers or former teachers.

At last it is time for the final challenge. Each of the cooks enter the arena in a white chef coat. The balcony is full of their family and the eliminated contestants cheering them on. They will need to create a three course meal- an appetizer, entrée, and dessert. They have just ten minutes in the pantry to collect all their ingredients for the three courses, and they have one hour per round.

Right away, the central concern of the episode surfaces. Ashley and Cesar are certainly being influenced by their home, childhood, and family favorites but they seem to be trying new things, adding twists in flavor or technique. Gerron’s appetizer is a variation on the dish that won his apron. He is making Nashville hot quail with fingerling potato salad and poached quail eggs. This feels like a simple dish dressed up with fancier names, like a restaurant serving something basic but calling it something fancy and charging double.

Being in the South myself (I live in Georgia), I love Southern food. It is homey, comforting, and hardy. And I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with making that cuisine your basis, any more than Ashley using coastal cuisine or Cesar using Mexican. The fine line seems to be what you do with that basis. Do you introduce new techniques and flavors, or do you stay true to that baseline and just do the best version you can of classic dishes?

Each cook has challenges in the ingredients they have chosen, and Gerron has not taken the easy way out. His quail will be hard to cook properly and he has to take the time to peel his tiny quail eggs. Ashley is cooking red snapper and a conch salad, both of which are hard to nail in terms of cook. Cesar is attempting an infladita which is a homemade corn tortilla that he partially cooks on the griddle. He then puts it in the deep fryer and spoons hot oil over it. After a few tense moments, the tortilla inflates like a balloon.

MASTERCHEF: L-R: Contestants Gerron, Ashley and Cesar in the “Finale Pt. 1/Finale Pt. 2” two-hour season finale episode of MASTERCHEF airing Wednesday, Sept. 19 (8:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX.

The cooks move with purpose and finish their sixty minutes with no catastrophes. Their first dishes go to the judges. Ashley is critiqued first. She has made a pan-seared red snapper with conch salad, Malanga fritters, and aji coconut sauce. Unfortunately, she has some issues. Joe’s fish is overcooked. Joe also finds the scotch bonnet in her fritters to be too aggressive. Finally, the heat of her fish has broken her coconut sauce.

Cesar presents a squid ink infladita with lobster, dragon fruit salsa, caviar and roasted poblano sauce. In general, the judges are very impressed. Gordon tells him, “I think MasterChef has just had their first UFL landing- unidentified flying lobster. I mean it looks like a spaceship. A very posh spaceship.” His lobster is perfectly cooked and they like the squid ink in the tortilla, but Aaron thinks the dragon fruit was a mistake and Gordon doesn’t like the caviar on his hot dish.

Gerron’s plating has greatly improved and he has made his Nashville hot quail look very sophisticated. The judges really enjoy his dish but here begins the conversation he has with Joe in each round. Joe tells him “not everything has to be a strict reference to where you come from. It’s time for you to fly.”

As we move into entrees, it is clear that Ashley has fallen behind. Each has chosen an ambitious dish, with Cesar perhaps being the most adventurous. He is attempting to make a mole in just one hour- a complex sauce that typically takes hours, even days, to cook. Gerron is sticking to his history and is making a version of shrimp and grits, the last meal he shared with his mother before she passed.

MASTERCHEF: Contestant Ashley in the “Finale Pt. 1/Finale Pt. 2” two-hour season finale episode of MASTERCHEF airing Wednesday, Sept. 19 (8:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX.

For the most part, the cook moves smoothly. Ashley’s old nemesis of time management creeps up when her collard greens burn and she must restart them with just four minutes to go. At two minutes she has not yet plated. She pulls it out in the end, and all the cooks plate the planned elements of their dish.

Ashley is first to present her pan-seared guinea hen with black eyed pea and collard green ragout and a quince cognac sauce. She redeems herself fully in this round with Gordon telling her he can die happy after eating her dish. She earns nothing but praise for her dish.

Cesar is next with his pan-seared duck breast with charcoal roasted vegetables and almond mole. He insists that the mole is the star of his dish and the duck is a supporting flavor, but the judges still mark him down for overcooked duck.

Gerron’s carabinero prawns with heirloom grits, shellfish au jus and crispy shallots is plated beautifully and is clearly delicious. My only concern in looking at it is that it seemed to have the prawn to grits ration off a bit, with too little prawn. Joe continues to voice his concerns over Gerron’s menu choices.

Joe asks him, “was tonight your opportunity to leave your past behind and dive into the unknown to show us how far you’ve really come?” Gerron responds, “absolutely not. Tonight was about showcasing skill but also staying true to my family and my story.” Joe comes back with, “I know, but you cooking a French-inspired dish is not about abandoning your story. It’s opening the chapter in the book of Gerron and at some point when you make such progress in your journey, you have to end one chapter and begin another. It’s very, very difficult for me to decide what I feel right now.”

MASTERCHEF: Contestant Gerron in the “Finale Pt. 1/Finale Pt. 2” two-hour season finale episode of MASTERCHEF airing Wednesday, Sept. 19 (8:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX.

I feel the same way, Joe. Many talented chefs have made their name in restaurants that celebrate their heritage. I just feel like Gerron has not pushed himself out of his comfort zone enough. On the other hand, he may be wiser to cook what he knows in this final challenge, to ensure that he can execute it perfectly.

The cooks only have dessert left. Unlike the other rounds, we do have some drama in dessert. With just five minutes left and a million things to do, Cesar cuts himself badly while working with a slippery mango. He must frantically finish plating in a blood-stained jacket. As he is doing that, Gerron is trying to plate his coulis and it drips and splatters everywhere. The juxtaposition of Cesar’s cut and the coulis mess is stomach turning. In the end, they all finish, though it is tight for all of them.

In this round, I feel that Gerron has really managed to tweak a classic to make it his own. He has made amaretto chess pie with raspberry coulis and popped sorghum. Unfortunately, the coulis explosion has left errant drops on his plate and his pie, spoiling his presentation. Regardless, the dish is delicious.

Joe tells him, “you know, if in the beginning you came on my journey, now I feel like I’m on your journey. I was completely wrong in thinking that you should venture out into doing other cuisines and other techniques that don’t pertain to you. You stuck to your roots and you know what? You were right and I was wrong. I don’t say that very often.”

MASTERCHEF: Contestant Cesar in the “Finale Pt. 1/Finale Pt. 2” two-hour season finale episode of MASTERCHEF airing Wednesday, Sept. 19 (8:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX.

After this emotional revelation, Cesar presents his flourless chocolate cake with tamarind caramel and spicy pepita brittle. These are all his favorite childhood sweets. Everyone loves his dish, especially the unique caramel.

Ashley presents this season’s last dish, an orange genoise with smoked chocolate ganache and glazed cherries. She has also created a chocolate soil for the plate and has surrounded her cake with delicate chocolate shards. She has managed to blend many different flavors to create a complex, elegant dessert.

This is clearly a close race. Cesar only seems to have stumbled with his overcooked duck. Ashley’s only flaw seems to be her snapper. Gerron’s dishes were all delicious and the only issue was his sloppy raspberry coulis. Given that the other two overcooked a protein, it seems that Gerron had the more perfect evening, and Gerron is named America’s next MasterChef!

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Congrats to Gerron, MasterChef Season 9 winner,  and to his students, who will benefit! I wish the best for Ashley and Cesar, and I have no doubt they will make their culinary dreams come true.