MasterChef Seaosn 10 episode 23 review: And then there were three


In this review of MasterChef, the top four have a battle royale for a spot in the finale in the most luxurious setting to date. Who will fall behind this close to the end and who moves on?

We open in Downton Abbey. Not really, but we do see Noah, Nick, Sarah and Dorian riding in a black, horse drawn carriage down in the English countryside. It is a little jarring to see big ol’ Noah in his coveralls and all-American headband sitting in the carriage. He tells everyone he feels like a princess going to the ball.

They trot up the long drive to the most beautiful estate. They are at Hatfield Manor House. Built in 1611 on the site of the former Royal Palace of Hatfield, it features forty-two acres of garden including an honest-to-goodness maze. The former palace housed people such as Queen Elizabeth I, King Edward VI and Queen Mary I.

Noah helps the ladies step down from the carriage in one of the many touches of gentle giant behavior that he has exhibited this season. From the front door emerge the MasterChef judges, all dressed in their country finery of vests, sweaters and tams. They let everyone know that this challenge will set the final three, with one person going home.

They don their black aprons as they are told they will cook for royalty. I remember seeing this on the previews and wondering what it meant. Gordon sneakily says, “culinary royalty” so we know not to expect Meghan Markle. Instead he introduces Nigella Lawson.

MASTERCHEF: Contestants in the “London Calling – Pt. 2” episode of MASTERCHEF airing Wednesday, Sept. 11 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. © 2019 FOX MEDIA LLC. CR: Matt Frost/FOX.

I watched Nigella Lawson when I was first learning to cook and to this day, I make her sticky gingerbread around Christmas. She has a relaxed persona in front of the camera and she clearly loves food. Her show often showed her sneaking into the kitchen for a late night snack. Sarah must have watched her too because she is nearly speechless to meet her.

Nigella explains that royalty has hunted at the estate for years, particularly the deer that roam the grounds. In honor of that tradition, everyone will cook a venison dish. Not only that, they will cook in the original Victorian kitchen of the estate. They have just one hour to create a finale worthy dish.

I fully expect a giant hearth and a spit but the kitchen has ranges and other modern amenities. It also has a wall of shiny copper tea kettles. I used to collect copper kitchen things, usually molds, and I am in love with this kitchen. The cooks have little time to admire their surroundings.

MASTERCHEF: Contestants in the “London Calling – Pt. 2” episode of MASTERCHEF airing Wednesday, Sept. 11 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. © 2019 FOX MEDIA LLC. CR: Matt Frost/FOX.

Sarah and Dorian have never cooked venison before while both men have. Venison is very lean and has a unique flavor, so it can be tricky to cook and hard to find the right sides and sauces to go with it. The judges call the meat sweet, so they aren’t looking for sweet sides. I recall it being kind of gamey, so I think you would need to keep that in mind.

The judges begin their rounds. Dorian is nervous due to her lack of experience. She reminds us that she has never eaten or worked with many of the ingredients used on MasterChef; she’s never had the money. She says she is making cocoa buttered rack of venison. I wonder if that means she is using cocoa butter, or if she is using butter and cocoa powder? I think it is the latter. She is also making a rhubarb and currant compote made in a cup of white wine.

MASTERCHEF: L-R: Contestant Dorian with host/chef Gordon Ramsay and special guest Nigella Lawson in the “London Calling – Pt. 2” episode of MASTERCHEF airing Wednesday, Sept. 11 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. © 2019 FOX MEDIA LLC. CR: Matt Frost/FOX.

Nigella is worried about the amount of wine in her compote. Between the wine and the liquid in the rhubarb, Nigella isn’t sure this will be a compote. It might end up more as a gravy. I imagine it could also be hard to cook out the raw wine flavor in that much wine.

Noah, as usual, is not nervous. He is giving his usual one hundred and ten percent and plans to make venison as well as a mushroom risotto. Gordon is concerned that he is really making two dishes and venison is meant to be the star. Joe thinks, if he is making risotto, he should at least make a venison one.

Nick is also fairly comfortable. He’s familiar with venison as his great grandmother lived in upstate New York where they hunted deer. He is making a bone marrow crusted venison which sounds fascinating and tricky. The judges are excited about his dish.

MASTERCHEF: L-R: Host / chef Gordon Ramsay , special guest Nigella Lawsonand contestant Nick in the “London Calling – Pt. 2” episode of MASTERCHEF airing Wednesday, Sept. 11 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. © 2019 FOX MEDIA LLC. CR: Matt Frost/FOX.

Sarah, like Dorian, has never made venison before so she is feeling unsure. She is working on a parsnip and apple puree when they visit. Nigella thinks it will be too sweet and wishes for celeriac instead.

In between visits, we spend a lot of time with Noah, a concerning amount of time. First, he starts his risotto with forty-five minutes left and all the judges agree it takes twenty-two. Then, he puts cold stock into the risotto, an egregious error per Aaron. At the halfway point, he is still working on risotto and has not touched his venison when Nigella “has an idea.”

She tells Gordon, “what would be really great is a proper English dessert. I’d go for a trifle.” Gordon calls for the clock to be stopped at thirty minutes left and tells everyone “there’s one more thing that we’ve just decided.” I am sure that Nigella conveniently craved dessert at exactly halfway through and that this was totally unplanned.

As Joe laughs evilly, Gordon explains they want a trifle too made of liqueur-soaked sponge, fruit, custard and cream. That’s a lot to make while also trying to perfect their venison dishes, all with just thirty minutes left.

Everyone seems a bit more panicked with more beeped out words as they get to work.  At twenty minutes left, Noah still hasn’t started his venison and now I am really worried about him. Nearly everyone struggles to keep an eye on their custard while also doing everything else, and Nick’s custard seems to be overcooked. He passes it through a sieve which Gordon says should still work OK.

MASTERCHEF: Contestant Nick in the “London Calling – Pt. 2” episode of MASTERCHEF airing Wednesday, Sept. 11 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. © 2019 FOX MEDIA LLC. CR: Matt Frost/FOX.

Near the end of time, Noah is still cooking risotto so he has been cooking a twenty minute dish for nearly an hour. Sarah, per usual, is plating in the last seconds. Noah’s pasty cream seems to be liquid. In a flurry, they finish their plates and place them on a silver tray. Time is called and everyone heads to the grand dining room. Noah is brimming with confidence while Dorian is in tears, overwhelmed by where she is and what she just did.

The four contestants head side by side down a corridor with a black and white checkered floor and suits of armor lining the walls. I have no frame of reference for this other than Disney World, so it feels like they are off to feed Belle.

Dorian is up first. She serves her cocoa butter basted rack of venison with bitter greens, herb roasted fingerling potatoes and rhubarb currant compote. The judges love the cook on her venison, saying it cuts like butter. They also mention liking the cocoa powder, so she must have worked with regular butter and cocoa powder. Nigella is not a fan of the potatoes. They are “neither one thing nor another,” lacking crispiness or any other special texture.

MASTERCHEF: L-R: Contestant Dorian with special guest Nigella Lawson in the “London Calling – Pt. 2” episode of MASTERCHEF airing Wednesday, Sept. 11 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. © 2019 FOX MEDIA LLC. CR: Matt Frost/FOX.

Dorian then presents her blueberry lemon trifle with sweet sherry, pecans and whipped cream. Gordon loves it. Nigella wants more texture but loves that she has brought America to an English dessert with pecans. Joe says he is not a big fan, saying the flavor is just ok.

Noah presents his pepper-crusted venison loin with a morel mushroom risotto, asparagus and a red wine reduction. Joe tells him he chose to make the most difficult, unforgiving carb to go with the most difficult, unforgiving protein and one of them has let him down. As expected, his risotto is overcooked, grainy and mushy. Everyone agrees that the other components are good but the rice is a total miss.

MASTERCHEF: L-R: Host / chef Gordon Ramsay with contestant Noah in the “London Calling – Pt. 2” episode of MASTERCHEF airing Wednesday, Sept. 11 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. © 2019 FOX MEDIA LLC. CR: Matt Frost/FOX.

They move on to his dessert, a raspberry and blackberry trifle with raspberry liqueur and toasted coconut. They like the flavor and texture but his liquid custard is non-existent, having melded with the cream.

Sarah delivers her venison rack with parsnip and apple puree, roasted Romanesco and port wine reduction. They love the plating, calling it restaurant quality. The venison is cooked to the correct temperature but Nigella wants more sear and Gordon wants more seasoning. They feel the Romanesco is boring. The puree is smooth but too sweet.

MASTERCHEF: Contestant Sarah in the “London Calling – Pt. 2” episode of MASTERCHEF airing Wednesday, Sept. 11 (8:00-9:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. © 2019 FOX MEDIA LLC. CR: Matt Frost/FOX.

Her raspberry trifle with raspberry liqueur and toasted almonds has a good balance of fresh, creamy and crunchy flavors and textures but her cake needed more of a soaking.

Nick is last to present. His bone marrow crusted venison with pomme puree, current and red wine reduction and assorted greens is plated in a modern style. Namely, he has taken his wine reduction, put a puddle in the center of the plate and then smacked it with a spoon so that it fans out in a big splat on the plate.

Joe finds the presentation artistic and enticing. Nigella disagrees. “I feel food is there to be eaten. Food shouldn’t be plate decoration and if it isn’t really good, then it becomes pretentious.” I admit I agree with her. To me, the splat looks messy and also seems to waste the sauce which is now in fine tendrils all over the plate that can’t really be used as sauce at all.

Horror of horrors, things get worse when Gordon finds the string still on Nick’s venison. His venison is well-cooked and they love the crust but Gordon feels he has presented way too much venison which throws off the balance of the dish. Now he wants more pomme puree. Also, Nigella is still not convinced by his presentation. She tells him it is great to be conceptual but “you’ve got to think like an eater as well.”

Nick’s trifle is the opposite of Sarah’s too dry version. His blackberry trifle with champagne and Sauternes is “a creamy cocktail rather than a dessert,” per Nigella. Gordon tells him he really didn’t need two alcohols in the dessert (champagne and Sauternes). Aaron jokes that the alcohol level is reflective of Nick’s young age. Joe isn’t laughing. He starts off with what sounds like the start of a joke, “you know who soaks a sponge cake in champagne?” He ends with a thudding, “nobody.”

The judges deliberate and return with a decision. Nick’s trifle was heavy-handed with booze, he served a “heavy clump” of venison and left string on his plate. Dorian had the best trifle but her potatoes were lackluster. Sarah needed to season her venison more but her pastry cream was the best. Noah made a good trifle but his risotto spoiled his main dish.

Clearly Nick and Noah are in the most trouble, and Noah gets the boot. A gentleman to the end, he tells Nigella, “thank you, miss” as he makes his goodbyes. Noah is such an all-around great and passionate guy, I can only wish for wonderful things in his future.

Gordon tells the remaining three that he has a special surprise. He takes them into a courtyard to enjoy champagne. As they stand there, a giant fireworks display lights the sky above the manor and I start to wonder all over again if they really are in Disney World.

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Congrats to the finalists! Has your favorite made it? Who do you want to win? We are just steps away from our newest MasterChef. Stay tuned!