MasterChef Season 10 episode 18 review- Mind Blowing Food


In this review of MasterChef, the cooks are tasked with creating a plate as exciting to look at as it is to taste. Who has the imagination to earn immunity?

The top nine enter the MasterChef kitchen to find a rave. Not really, although the kitchen does now feature laser lights and fog. Bri dubs it Club MasterChef. Gordon gathers them to the front and tells them great food is all about surprise.

I beg to differ. Great food, for me, is about amazing taste, satisfaction, multiple textures and balanced flavors. It is also often about memory. I have food memories for many important parts of my life, and eating that food again takes me right back to that happy place.

Gordon is very excited to introduce a very special guest judge. He teases that he is a creative food genius, with one of the best restaurants on the planet. Out of the smoke emerges Grant Achatz. At this point, I am back to thinking we are at a rave because the cooks all lose their minds.

I can’t blame them. Grant is legendary, but also seems wonderfully humble. His restaurant, Alinea, features progressive, modern cuisine. Often, I am not impressed by modern cuisine or molecular gastronomy. Some techniques result in delicious food, such as spherification or the use of liquid nitrogen. I’ve had plenty of little popping balls full of tart liquid that are a true delight.

But so often, these modern techniques mean a sacrifice of flavor and the soul-satisfying nature of a good meal. However, some chefs don’t use a technique here and there. Instead, they embrace modern cuisine for the theater. I’m thinking of Heston Blumenthal, Adriano Zumbo, and yes, Grant Achatz. Eating their food is meant to invoke memories and to tell stories. They are like edible home movies.

The cooks are going to have their work cut out for them today, and I really miss Fred. He was always telling stories and he would have nailed this challenge.

MASTERCHEF: L-R: Guest chef Grant Achatz, host/judge Gordon Ramsay, Judge Aarón Sánchez and judge Joe Bastianich in the all-new “Mind Blowing Food” episode of MASTERCHEF airing Wednesday, Aug. 14 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. Cr: Greg Gayne / FOX. © 2019 FOX MEDIA LLC.

Bri, the plating queen of the season, is especially thrilled to meet Grant, but so are Micah, Noah and Nick. Everyone watches in awe as Grant delivers three balloons to our judges. These are green apple helium balloons. This is one of the things Alinea is famous for, a true Willy Wonka experience. Gordon sucks at the side of the balloon which dissolves, and inhales the helium. He then delights everyone by speaking in a munchkin voice.

Grant tells everyone “the food needs to taste amazing but you also have to tell a story with the way the food looks.” To demonstrate, he will plate another famous dessert from his restaurant. It uses an entire table for presentation. He calls it simply chocolate, pumpkin pie.

He begins with a chocolate shell filled with a frozen mousse of cranberry and dehydrated pumpkin pie. He pours liquid nitrogen into this chocolate bowl. He then makes a large swoosh of vanilla scented crème fraiche. This is followed by little pools of sauce- a coffee reduction, passionfruit, raspberry coulis. As he continues to work, the pools magically turn square.

MASTERCHEF: L-R: Guest chef Grant Achatz and host/judge Gordon Ramsay in the all-new “Mind Blowing Food” episode of MASTERCHEF airing Wednesday, Aug. 14 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. Cr: Greg Gayne / FOX. © 2019 FOX MEDIA LLC.

I asked my husband how the heck he made them do that, and he thinks maybe the table is laid with a grid where some areas are hydrophobic, forcing the liquid into the square shapes. It honestly looks like some kind of sorcery.

He continues by adding maple syrup and butter spheres, strawberry scented cheesecake, coconut and turmeric spheres, and citrus marigold petals dusted in edible silver. That last bit may be the weirdest thing I have written to date. For a finale, he shatters the chocolate bowl. The whole thing is beautiful and sounds really tasty, but how do you eat it? Is it acceptable to lick the table?

Obviously, the challenge today is about plating. The judges don’t want a sacrifice of flavor, but a lot of emphasis will be on the presentation. And I can tell you, this is all in the eye of the beholder which makes this so very tricky.

Joe tells them they have an array of unconventional plating possibilities to select from, and suddenly we have veered into the hipster restaurant meme. I spot some things that are not too weird- glass sheets, shells, boards. But then I also see a clock, hammer, saw blade, measuring tape, police caution tape, hub cap, “smile you’re on camera” sign, dustpan, beakers. I often play hidden object puzzles and this looks like one come to life.

Grant asks everyone to try to tell their story through their food. They can make anything they want and have sixty minutes to invent a mind-blowing display. I am disappointed that no one grabs the “smile you’re on camera” sign or the clock as a reference to being on MasterChef.

MASTERCHEF: Contestant Dorian in the all-new “Mind Blowing Food” episode of MASTERCHEF airing Wednesday, Aug. 14 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. Cr: Greg Gayne / FOX. © 2019 FOX MEDIA LLC.

Dorian is immediately worried. She cooks Southern food, which she calls an ugly duckling. I also worry about Subha for the same reason. It’s hard to make Indian or Cajun food look modern and innovative. But Subha embraces the challenge completely, bless him. He is inspired by the test tubes as he is a chemical engineer outside the kitchen.

The cooking goes smoothly, for the most part, with just a touch of last-minute plating drama. So let’s skip to the judging.

MASTERCHEF: Contestants in the all-new “Mind Blowing Food” episode of MASTERCHEF airing Wednesday, Aug. 14 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. Cr: Greg Gayne / FOX. © 2019 FOX MEDIA LLC.

Micah is up first. Micah calls his dish coffee in the morning. He says his inspiration is waking up to the sound of his mother’s coffee grinder and the smell of her coffee. He presents a bete noire cake with espresso ganache, fleur de sel caramel, vanilla bean crème fraiche, and roasted coffee beans.

To me, his plate looks nearly identical to Grant’s dessert demo. Not only that, but his dish features coffee and vanilla crème fraiche, also to be found on Grant’s. I am personally disappointed because it feels like a copycat but the judges love it. Grant especially likes the coffee powder with sea salt which “electrified everything for me.”

Noah comes up next. When Joe and Aaron visit him during the cook, Joe asks if Noah is a fan of Grant. Noah says he is a huge fan, so Aaron asks, “what the hell about me and Joe then, Noah?” Noah says, “I watched you go against Morimoto on TV live fifteen years ago. You were a little bit skinnier, little bit better looking but still the same style and pizzazz.” Aaron replies, “I don’t know how to interpret that.” Joe helpfully tells him, “badly.”

MASTERCHEF: L-R: Contestant Noah, guest chef Grant Achatz and host/judge Gordon Ramsay in the all-new “Mind Blowing Food” episode of MASTERCHEF airing Wednesday, Aug. 14 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. Cr: Greg Gayne / FOX. © 2019 FOX MEDIA LLC.

Noah is the first to present a buzzword- deconstructed apple pie with anglaise mousse and pickled apple peel. He has plated this on a board sitting on moss in a copper pan. His inspiration is the apple pie his Gram used to make him. Noah has fallen into the trap of plating a very small amount, which does seem to be a modern cuisine trick.

Gordon tells him he is begging for more apple and wants more crumble but finds what is there to be delicious. Grant tells him when he gets all the components in just the right ratio, it is immediate comfort. That is my complaint about most deconstructed food. It is only if you reconstruct it correctly that you get the pleasure of the original dish so why not just serve the original dish?

Shari is up next. She is not happy with her plating. She has decided to take the risk of going fully vegetarian. She presents her beet “tartare” with fennel cashew puree, goat cheese mousse, and fennel scented lemon air. It is plated on a slate plate which is sitting on a slab of wood. I am always suspicious of food in quotes or anything described as air.

They question her plating. She has really just plated as normal, except she has a plate on a plate. She claims the black slate reminds her of black licorice which ties into the fennel. She mentions a cabin in the woods her family has and long car trips to get there, with black licorice for the ride. I sort of feel like she is just making things up. Also, the memory of the plating doesn’t seem to tie into the dish at all. In fact, she gives no story for her dish.

Joe finds her plate to be visually underwhelming, but it tastes better than it looks. Grant wishes for a higher ratio of cheese to make it a really good cheese course.

MASTERCHEF: Contestant Bri in the all-new “Mind Blowing Food” episode of MASTERCHEF airing Wednesday, Aug. 14 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. Cr: Greg Gayne / FOX. © 2019 FOX MEDIA LLC.

Bri is excited to bring up her dish. Since she is known for plating, she feels this is her challenge to rocket back to the top. Her dish is inspired by family beach vacations, and it feels a little on the nose for me, but it is pretty. She presents butter poached sea scallops with uni, caviar she has made out of ponzu and soy, purple cauliflower puree, and basil and coconut milk foam.

She has plated the scallops in two scallop shells which sit on a black slate. In front of the shells, she has made purple cauliflower waves which includes the foam. Grant loves the dish, saying it is very satisfying. Aaron feels her dish is the best use of molecular gastronomy and is in fact her best dish so far.

Poor Sarah is up next. Her story is great. She grew up in a large family as one of five children. They didn’t have a lot of resources. In the summers, the kids would go help their dad paint houses and he would pay them in moon pies. For this reason, she has attempted to plate on a paint tray with a brush laid across it.

She unhappily brings up her deconstructed cobbler and moon pie. She tried to put her sauces on the tray, only to have them run down and mingle into a mess. Joe tells her, “it kind of reminds me of like human remains. Like a decomposing corpse.” To me it looks more like the end of Family Double Dare.

Grant is kind and tells her he likes her flavor but she could have done better with plating. Gordon suggests a paint canvas and you can see the light bulb go off for Sarah, too late.

Dorian is next up and is very proud of her dish. She is not at all comfortable with this modern plating challenge, and to me, it shows. Her story is lovely. She tells us her parents were ministers who gave each child a bottle of blessed olive oil for their home when they moved out. So, she has made a lime olive oil cake with whipped cream essence and tuile.

I have no idea what whipped cream essence is, nor can I tell you what it looks like because Dorian plated in a frosted fishbowl. To me, this is the opposite of the challenge. It hides the entire dish rather than being a spectacle. Not only that, but the fishbowl seems to have nothing to do with her story.

Like I said, presentation is in the eye of the beholder. The judges love it. Grant tells her it looks like something from his restaurant and everyone loves the flavor and the fishbowl.

Jamie struggled with this challenge. He tells us, “plating, next to baking, is the least likely thing I’m going to succeed at.”

He presents the three seasons of South Carolina. “In winter, we hunt hogs. In fall, we hunt ducks. In summer, we fish and eat blue crab.” This is represented by hoecakes three ways with lemony blue crab, duck, and smoked pork belly.

He presents this on a wooden board sitting on raffia in a metal tub with dry ice. It is meant to represent the woods on a foggy fall morning. Grant loves his story and everyone loves his food.

MASTERCHEF: Contestant Nick in the all-new “Mind Blowing Food” episode of MASTERCHEF airing Wednesday, Aug. 14 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. Cr: Greg Gayne / FOX. © 2019 FOX MEDIA LLC.

Nick, who was universally panned last week for making a powder, is now Gordon’s favorite to win. Gordon tells Grant he expects something magical from Nick. Nick tells us Grant is everything he aspires to be and do someday. Nick tells the judges that his mom wouldn’t buy him sweets, but he could request a long list of ingredients and make his own dessert. This one is the first he ever baked on his own.

Nick’s presentation would be a massive mistake that would send you home on any other day. He brings up his entire mixer with dough hook still attached. On the hook hangs a little pail full of lemon juice and dry ice for the smell. His lemon meringue pie with gingerbread crumb and blueberry coulis is haphazardly splashed in the bowl and really looks like my KitchenAid before cleaning. The judges love it.

Subha is up last and I think he embraced the challenge most of all. Everyone keeps saying me on a plate, but some of the stories are sparse at best. Subha is inspired by the lunch his mom made him to take to school every day. Not only that, but his colors reference the flag of India (saffron, white and green). He has also been inspired by his job as a chemical engineer and his first US home of New Orleans.

Subha presents deconstructed kati rolls with chickpeas and andouille sausage. The whole thing sits on a tray with the sauces in test tubes. As usual, the judges love his flavors but they say his presentation is clumsy. I don’t see how test tubes are more clumsy than a mixer with hook attachment, and I love that every part of his dish speaks to his journey in life.

The judges determine the top three cooks are Nick, Bri, and Dorian. Nick is declared the winner and earns not only a spot in the top eight but dinner for two at Alinea. Everyone else will face elimination in tomorrow’s challenge.

I have to say, this was one of the most interesting episodes I have ever seen. Watching people try to tell their stories through food was really fascinating and added a welcome twist to the cooking portion as frankly, these folks can all cook really well so watching them can be a bit dull.

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So, have you tried molecular gastronomy or progressive cuisine? Any recommendations for restaurants that excel in this cuisine? Having watched this, I really have to add Alinea to my bucket list.