MasterChef Season 10 episode 17 review: Mystery Box Times Three


In this review of MasterChef, the losing team from the Speedway challenge will have the opportunity to cook with some of the world’s most prized ingredients. Which front runner will stumble and lose their place in the kitchen?

This MasterChef episode was especially interesting for me. It began with no voices and ended with tears. For the first four minutes, Fox had the sound mix backwards so the voice volume was in the distant background.

I basically could only hear dramatic music, which was actually very amusing. There is enough drama this season (it’s season 10!) that I actually thought this was intentional for a few moments. It was also weird because I couldn’t hear the inflection of the words that I saw typed up in closed captions.

So for the dramatic reveal of Micah’s choice, I couldn’t hear the emotion of the words spoken. Micah is given the opportunity to send one member of his winning team to the elimination challenge.

He says, “I’m not gonna be the type of person to punish somebody because they excel in this competition. If you can’t take direction and if you can’t step up to the plate and be part of a team, then I can’t count you as safe.” He then chooses Subha to face elimination.

This is the second time this has happened to Subha. Subha tells us that he always sees the glass as half full and that he will show Micah that he belongs here, but I can’t hear how Subha makes this announcement. Knowing his calm and happy-go-lucky nature, I assume I can take that at face value and that he displayed no anger.

MASTERCHEF: Contestant Subha in the “Box in a Box in a Box” episode of MASTERCHEF airing Thursday, Aug. 8 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. © 2019 FOX MEDIA LLC. CR: Greg Gayne/ FOX.

Fred tells us he is nervous going into the challenge as they specifically picked to be on a team with a large number of undefeated cooks. That strong team has now become a set of strong competitors. They all approach their mystery box, ready to see what lies in store and to get cooking.

They lift their box to find langoustines sitting atop another box. They lift that second box to find a filet mignon sitting on an even smaller box. They lift the final box to find a whole black truffle, five hundred dollars’ worth, per the judges.

Noah reminds us of his shellfish allergy and says he feels like someone is pulling his chain at this point. There have been a lot of shellfish challenges this season.

Gordon calls everyone forward for a demo of what he would do with these ingredients. His dish seems very traditional to me. He bastes the steak in butter and thyme. He makes a red wine jus.

He tells the cooks they will have forty-five minutes to create a “surf, earth, and turf” dish and warns them not to replicate his plate. They can use his cooking methods but need to create their own dish.

So often, the challenge is to elevate humble ingredients or to be really creative. Here the challenge seems to be to honor the ingredients and highlight them, so it feels like there is a lot less room for creativity. There aren’t many ways to properly cook filet mignon and langoustines, so it seems there will be a lot of similar plates brought forth.

MASTERCHEF: Host/judge Gordon Ramsay in the “Box in a Box in a Box” episode of MASTERCHEF airing Thursday, Aug. 8 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. © 2019 FOX MEDIA LLC. CR: Greg Gayne/ FOX.

But as the judges begin to circulate, I am actually impressed with the differences for each cook. They are all using truffles differently. Fred is infusing truffle flavor into a broth. Bri is making truffle infused pomme puree. Nick is encrusting his filet in truffles, and Shari is putting truffles into an herb butter. They are all being pretty creative with their side dishes too.

Fred continues his story telling through food as he plans to make a play on a noodle dish that his mom makes, and the steak is inspired by his dad, who taught him how to cook steak. He is making his noodles from scratch, which worries the judges given the timeframe.

Nick is planning a little molecular gastronomy. He intends to create a brown butter dust. He’s also using fennel and pear. The judges worry he will get in his own way with too many flavors and techniques taking away from the three star ingredients.

Subha plans to use ras el hanout spice on his steak. Joe flat-out tells him not to do this. He worries the spice will drown out the delicate flavors of the other ingredients. They also comment that they have never heard of using ras el hanout with truffle, and wonder if the flavors will clash.

Gordon visits Shari right after she sets up two pressure cookers. One holds wild rice, an homage to her home of Minnesota. The other holds baby carrots that she’s cut in half. Dorian, from the balcony, expresses concern about why you would put such little carrots into a pressure cooker.

Shari says she hopes to make a caramelized carrot puree. She’s done this technique at home so is not worried, but she is concerned about cooking the beef. Her husband is Hindu so they don’t eat beef. The last time she cooked it was ten years ago and her family loves it cooked to a “hockey puck.”

Before leaving her station, Gordon says, “out of interest, I’ve been dying to ask you, why wouldn’t you hand that captaincy badge over to somebody else yesterday? It doesn’t show a sign of weakness…that’s smart.” She replies, “I know. I should have and I’ve learned my lesson, chef.”

I feel like the judges are looking for leaders, though, and refusing to lead would surely be viewed as weakness no matter what he says. I think her reply should have been that she wanted the chance to prove herself and that she has learned from the experience, not to admit defeat.

Joe and Aaron go over to visit Noah. As he explains his dish, he mentions his fear of the langoustines due to his allergy. They tell him they will help him out and direct him to drop them into his boiling water. Joe then points out when it is time to remove them, and Aaron begins to peel them for Noah. I really don’t remember contestants getting this much help in past seasons. Are these kinder, gentler judges this season?

The best part of their visit is when Joe asks if Noah has worked with truffles. He has not even seen or tasted one before, so Joe tells him to try it. Noah makes a little face as he tries. “It’s earthy. Like it’s almost…” Joe interrupts, “it’s like eating dirt.” Real appetizing description there, Joe. In all honesty, I’m not a big truffle fan and have to agree. But I do like beets, and those taste like dirt too, so to each their own. At least my beets don’t cost five hundred dollars.

As time winds down, Fred and Bri are running behind. Fred has spent too much time on his noodles and has neglected his steak. Worse, he puts it into a cold pan to cook. Bri, in her frazzled state, throws her puree in the bus tub as a dirty pan and has to fetch it out again. Meanwhile, Shari has burned her carrot puree, but she just moves on to a different veg.

MASTERCHEF: Contestant Fred in the “Box in a Box in a Box” episode of MASTERCHEF airing Thursday, Aug. 8 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. © 2019 FOX MEDIA LLC. CR: Greg Gayne/ FOX.

In the final moments, literally everyone is yelling at Subha to plate. Dorian, in a total 180, yells, “come on, Subha! You gotta get it on the plate, sweetie!” When he finishes plating in time, she cheers, “way to go, Subha!” It’s nice to see.

Fred comes up first for judging. He has made a ginger and butter basted filet mignon with Taiwanese noodles, langoustines in yuzu truffle butter, and shaved black truffle. Personally, I think a ginger-flavored filet sounds weird, and I never would have thought to mix earthy truffles with citrusy yuzu. The judges seem to like everything, finding his noodles to be delicious, but his steak looks boiled. Having cooked it in a cold pan did him no favors. It not only lacks a sear, it is raw.

Shari next delivers her porcini crusted filet mignon with wild rice and langoustines with herb truffle butter. She had hoped the butter would melt over her steak for a sauce but it sits on top as a pat.

The judges love her rice but say it is the star of her dish. They want the three given ingredients to shine. It seems that the judges were really looking for a plate with little more on it than the filet, langoustines and truffle.

MASTERCHEF: Contestant Nick in the “Box in a Box in a Box” episode of MASTERCHEF airing Thursday, Aug. 8 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. © 2019 FOX MEDIA LLC. CR: Greg Gayne/ FOX.

Nick brings up his filet mignon with langoustines, fennel braised in pear juice, fennel and langoustine emulsion and brown butter dust. It seems Nick has gotten too fancy for his own good. The judges dislike his powder, saying it takes center stage and yet tastes of nothing.

I personally am not impressed by molecular gastronomy, which is so often style over substance. Locally, we have an awesome restaurant where the chefs can indulge in anything they want, with a constantly changing dim sum style menu.

One time, I tried this deconstructed baked potato thing that had an unknown, unidentifiable dust on the plate. After asking, I was told it was bacon dust. It too tasted of nothing. At this same restaurant, I don’t go for the ultra-modern desserts but the incredible hot banana pudding.

Noah is next with his butter crusted filet mignon with tarragon poached langoustines and truffle soubise. The judges love the dish and they can only resort to minor nitpicks. Aaron would like some herbs and a little acid. Gordon wants “a touch” harder sear and maybe a bit more truffle. Noah has clearly nailed this challenge, allergy be damned.

Bri delivers her filet mignon with red wine reduction, truffle infused pomme puree, butter-poached langoustines, and pea puree. I personally wouldn’t want two purees on my dish, but this is not mentioned as a critique. What the judges don’t like is the lack of truffle flavor in her dish. To infuse the truffles, she steeped them in the cream for her pomme puree. Joe can’t understand why she wouldn’t put truffle directly into the potatoes.

Subha comes up last. His filet mignon with balsalmic reduction, white asparagus and green beans with truffles, and langoustine with rosemary butter is plated far better than his usual fare. He has employed two tried and true MasterChef techniques- height and dots of sauce artfully arranged. The plating is so much better that Gordon makes him solemnly swear that Bri didn’t help.

The judges don’t think the asparagus and green beans as a combo make sense. He has nixed the ras el hanout but has used jalapeno, which even Aaron finds to be too much. But he has clearly done well overall. Joe finds the dish interesting and exotic.

As the judges deliberate, it is clear that Noah and Subha are on top and that Fred, Bri and Nick are in the most trouble. The judges don’t declare a top dish. Instead, they send all but Bri and Fred to the balcony.

Subha tells us adorably that Micah better watch out; “Subaru is coming for you!” Bri tells us that Fred is her best friend in the competition and that this is the worst case scenario. They wanted to go to the finale together, and now one is going home.

As Fred and Bri hold hands, Gordon tells Bri to take off her apron. Fred whispers, “go up to the balcony. Please go up to the balcony.” His sweet wish to see his friend safe at his own expense brings tears to my eyes. He gets his wish as Bri is declared safe. Hugging her, he says, “kick ass in the finale.”

Gordon tells Fred he is super talented and “tonight, after we finish, I’m going to personally call Christina Tosi and see if I can get you in there to go and work with her to spend a week, a month, however long she can give you inside her bakery.” I really hope this happens for Fred, but I wonder if it will as Christina is now off the MasterChef franchise and I don’t know how she feels about the show.

I hope nothing but the best for sweet, talented Fred. He was wracked with doubt but he won five immunity challenges. He won a seat at any Morimoto restaurant in the world. Candace Nelson, an idol of his, loved his macarons and said she would happily sell them. He has had a hell of a run and I really hope his food dream comes true.

Next week seems to be all about the drama, plating drama, that is. Grant Achatz will be the guest judge. I think it is pretty funny that they panned Nick for his molecular gastronomy and for his plate being “overindulged” only to have Grant in next week. He is specifically known for molecular gastronomy and conceptual cuisine.

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So, do you think the right person went home? Fred has rarely stumbled but Bri has been on the bottom for the last five challenges. It will be interesting to see how far she can go as continued time at the bottom will surely eliminate her at some point.