MasterChef Season 10 review: Finally the finale


In this review of MasterChef, the top three cook their final dishes and confetti falls, crowning a new winner. Who will be the latest MasterChef champ?

We open in the MasterChef arena, full of family, friends, the rest of season ten, and former MasterChef winners. Enter our finalists. Dorian has made innumerable sacrifices for her family and came into the competition as a factory worker. You could tell as she spoke of the job that it has been soul-crushing for her.

She came in with a dream that she could barely believe, but she has grown throughout the competition, often surprising herself. She feels like she is a totally different person, but she still plans to pay homage to her roots. In particular, her menu will serve as a tribute to her mom who passed two years ago.

Nick, our young Harvard student, admits he has had many big successes in life but he counts earning his white apron as a top achievement. He is proud of the risks he has taken all competition in terms of conceptual dishes and plans to keep with that theme. He will draw inspiration from the college life which he has put on hold.

I find it interesting to compare Nick and Dorian. Given Nick’s financial security, high level of education, and what are sure to be family connections, he seems to me to have less at stake than Dorian. Does that safety afford him the chance to be more “out there” in his concepts and less safe? Is it fair to compare a contestant who can safely experiment to one who needs this win to have a shot at her dreams?

Gordon takes the time to point out that Dorian is the oldest contestant to ever be in the finale at forty-five, while Nick is the youngest at twenty-two. Perhaps his experimentation is more a factor of his youth than the safety afforded by his life outside MasterChef.

Anyway, on to Sarah, the former Army interrogator. As hardcore as that job sounds, Sarah reminds us she grew up in a poor family. The way ahead was through scholarships or the military. Sarah hopes to one day open a food and wine pairing restaurant with her husband, who is a sommelier. Her dishes will all feature wine.

The judges remind everyone what is at stake- the title, the trophy, a quarter million dollars, a Viking kitchen, and the ability to train in a kitchen owned by each judge. An hour goes on the clock, and the appetizer round begins.

MASTERCHEF: L-R: Host/judge Gordon Ramsay and contestant Dorian in the “The Finale, Parts 1 and 2” special two-hour season finale episode of MASTERCHEF airing Wednesday, Sept. 18 (8:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. © 2019 FOX MEDIA LLC. CR: Greg Gayne/FOX.

Dorian is making a dish that reminds her of things her mom would cook, a theme for the night for her. I am particularly intrigued by the cornmeal tuille she is making in remembrance of her mom’s cornmeal crusted fried fish. I think it is a clever and modern way to recall a downhome texture.

Nick, planning to tell college stories, is using beer pong as his inspiration for his first course. As he describes a technical, complex, multi-piece dish, I am struck again with the differences between him and Dorian. Dorian is cooking flavors of her childhood and elevating them through technique and presentation. Nick is making very complex, conceptual food and molding it to a playful, decidedly unsophisticated theme. Dorian is trying to bring familiar flavors up to restaurant level while Nick is trying to apply restaurant level technique to some of the least glamorous parts of college life.

Sarah is making a chorizo and octopus dish. She is inspired by a flash-fried octopus she had at a restaurant. The judges worry about her homemade chorizo and if it will be as good as what you can buy. They are also worried about her octopus technique. She’s braising and then frying it. They would all prefer she grilled it, as is more traditional.

The judges are also worried about Nick. His dish hinges on the story so if any elements don’t work, the story fails. For his ping pong balls, he is making pomme souffle. These little potato disks need to puff in the fryer to become round balls or he will have no pong for his beer pong. All of that was really weird to type, by the way, but it gets weirder with Nick’s next course; just you wait.

Meanwhile, Dorian starts cooking her scallops with twenty-five minutes remaining and the judges panic. Joe rushes over but she explains that her plating takes time so she can’t cook the scallops last minute. She will give them a hard sear on just one side but wants a really golden sear, which takes some time.

In general, the cooking goes pretty smoothly, despite some worries about Nick’s potato puffs. Everyone gets plated and Nick is up first for judging. He presents “beer pong,” soft shelled crab with tomato and caper relish, pomme souffle, and a tomato “party cup.” The dish is beautiful, with the crab and sauce appearing to spill out of the cup as it lays on its side.

Joe questions the red cup which appears to be made of toasted bread. Will he really want to eat dry toast with his crab? It reminds me of Joe’s horror over Dorian’s garlic bread and I wonder what Joe has against bread, although in this case I kind of agree. They all dive in. Gordon tells him he has to remove all the gimmicks to get to the heart of the dish but that the crab is great. It is crisp and delicious, as is the relish. He is impressed that Nick pulled off the pomme souffle but he really isn’t sure it or the party cup belong on the dish.

Aaron says basically the same thing. The techniques he has used are challenging and he’s pulled it off, but it isn’t necessarily all delicious and cohesive. Joe disagrees and finds the texture of the cup appealing. His only concern is that Nick has set the bar for creativity and execution so high for himself.

Dorian is up next with her seared scallops with cornmeal tuille, sweet corn puree and pickled swiss chard. Gordon finds the dish delicious and, cooked early or not, he loves the cook on her scallops. Everyone agrees that the food is delicious and reflects Dorian’s history, but has she risked enough? They worry it is all too safe.

MASTERCHEF: Contestant Sarah in the “The Finale, Parts 1 and 2” special two-hour season finale episode of MASTERCHEF airing Wednesday, Sept. 18 (8:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. © 2019 FOX MEDIA LLC. CR: Greg Gayne/FOX.

Sarah presents her braised octopus with chorizo ragu, piquillo pepper puree and assyrtiko-chili vinaigrette. The judges’ concerns about her cooking technique for the octopus prove unfounded. It is sweet and tender. They like her pepper puree as well. However, Gordon thinks the serving is far too large for an appetizer. Also, they all universally dislike her chorizo. It lacks the “spicy authenticity” of chorizo as it has had not time to mature.

Time for entrees! Dorian is keeping with her mom theme, remembering her mom’s Sunday roasts with a short rib dish. Nick is making a tribute to all-nighters and is attempting to replicate the taste and smell of old books as well as plating on a book. I told you it would get weirder. Sarah is making a lamb dish reminiscent of the dish that won her apron.

Dorian is planning to make a smoked braised short rib in an hour, a very challenging trick to pull off. She is using the pressure cooker as her secret weapon, but she gets her meat in the cooker about fifteen minutes into the hour so I am concerned. I think she is too because she has, as the poster at my dermatologist’s office calls it, the “elevens.” Those are the two little worry lines that show up right between the eyes.

Sarah’s lamb is the birthday dish she made her husband before he proposed, so she is feeling like it is a pretty award-winning plate. Her husband yells continuous encouragement to Sarah from the sidelines as she cooks, but she is deeply focused and doesn’t respond. Sarah’s mom is there too and she says to the husband, “she’ll hear your voice if she hears any” which I think is the sweetest, most romantic thing.

Suddenly, at twenty-eight minutes and twenty-three seconds, the judges stop the clock. They announce that, after the entrées, one person is being eliminated. The whole audience gasps collectively so perfectly that it made me chuckle. Dorian says some choice things that require blurring her mouth and bleeping her words.

Everyone gets back to work with renewed terror. As time winds down, Sarah’s sauce has clearly not reduced sufficiently. She plates it, wipes it off, and continues to simmer until the last second. In the end, they plate all elements and prepare for judging.

Dorian presents a glass pyramid of sorts. Under it, she has trapped smoke as well as her dish. She serves applewood smoked short rib with potato and horseradish gratin, pea puree, baby radishes and snow peas. Gordon is impressed with her ribs which are flavorful and melt in the mouth. He does not appreciate the radishes and peas as he thinks they are to frou-frou. He would prefer mushrooms and lardons. I wonder if she did that if he would complain about a lack of color.

Aaron disagrees and thinks the vegetables have lightened the plate. Joe likes the pea puree too but objects to her bright yellow plate.

MASTERCHEF: Contestant Nick in the “The Finale, Parts 1 and 2” special two-hour season finale episode of MASTERCHEF airing Wednesday, Sept. 18 (8:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. © 2019 FOX MEDIA LLC. CR: Greg Gayne/FOX.

As Nick delivers his dish, the balcony yells, “looks textbook, Nick!” He presents his food directly on an open book. On the book is a steamed striped bass with squid ink and celery root puree and black truffle and white asparagus salad. Onto his fish he has painted “old book flavor” made from wheat grass, bourbon and hickory. He has gone back to his splat technique of smacking his sauce with a spoon, but here it really effectively resembles a big black ink splash.

Gordon calls it the most intriguing presentation of ten seasons. The fish is steamed perfectly but Gordon can’t quite get behind all the flavors. Aaron likes the squid ink puree but his fish is grossly underdone. Joe loves the conceptual nature of the dish, saying this kind of storytelling is the highest from of cooking. However, Joe is not sure if he pulled it off.

Sarah presents her herb-crusted rack of lamb with spring vegetable fricassee, fava bean puree and burgundy sauce. Her lamb is perfectly cooked, buttery soft and flavorful. However, her sauce is underdeveloped and her vegetables lack interest.

After deliberation, the judges eliminate Nick. I feel terrible for him as elimination with just one dish left to go must be heart-wrenching. Nick is also by far the most interesting person to watch cook as his dishes are fascinating. However, his pong dish featured elements, not because they belonged on a cohesive plate, but because they fit his story. Also, I think Nick suffers from “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” It’s so interesting that he made a dish that looks, smells and tastes like old book, but do you want to eat it?

I think with age, he will be able to find the balance between concept and delicious, satisfying food. Joe thinks so too, because he offers to take him under his wing at one of his restaurants or even in Italy.

Time for the final hour and the final dish. Dorian is rounding out her meal with another nod to her mom and the things she would bake. Her plates are also very special, featuring her mom’s hands. Gordon says, “the hands that give, that serve” and as he finishes with “that feed,” Dorian says “that pop you in the head when you’re bad.” She’s making a frankendessert– a tart with a cake inside.

Sarah is making one of her husband’s favorite desserts which includes port and chocolate in keeping with her wine and food pairings. As she frantically works on ganache and tuilles and all manner of things, Dorian finishes early. Everyone worries about her early finish and if she has done enough. For instance, she didn’t pipe her merengue but spooned it on.

MASTERCHEF: L-R: Contestant Sarah and judge Joe Bastianich in the “The Finale, Parts 1 and 2” special two-hour season finale episode of MASTERCHEF airing Wednesday, Sept. 18 (8:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. © 2019 FOX MEDIA LLC. CR: Greg Gayne/FOX.

Dorian is up first with her lemon and blueberry tart with a pound cake round tucked inside as well as cream cheese filling, blueberry compote, and toasted meringue topping. The tart sits perfectly positioned on the outstretched hands on the plate so they appear to be offering the dessert.

Gordon loves it through and through. Aaron finds it a little too sweet. Joe thinks it is one of the best homemade desserts he’s ever eaten, but of course they are looking for more than homemade.

Sarah presents the last plate of season ten- chocolate torte with orange zest ganache, cocoa nib tuille, and blackberry port reduction. They all love her restaurant style plating. Gordon finds it delicious, dense and rich. Aaron thinks it is rich too but too much so. He wants something to lighten it up. Joe disagrees and says it is balanced with the fruits and the salt and he could eat the whole thing.

The judges head off to deliberate, considering the whole meal of each contestant. Interestingly, they say they feel Sarah created a greatest hits collection- her favorite things she has seen in restaurants. They feel Dorian has cooked from her soul and has created some new things they haven’t seen.

MASTERCHEF: Contestant Dorian in the “The Finale, Parts 1 and 2” special two-hour season finale episode of MASTERCHEF airing Wednesday, Sept. 18 (8:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. © 2019 FOX MEDIA LLC. CR: Greg Gayne/FOX.

Both ladies are awarded a Viking kitchen but Dorian takes home the grand prize. Her heart-felt, personal menu proved to be comforting, delicious, and elevated enough to take it all. The cutest thing was seeing Gordon hold her little girl, asking for her reaction to mommy winning it all.

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Congratulations Dorian! I’m in Georgia too so I’m hoping for a restaurant!