MasterChef Canada Recap: Braaaaains

The competition is heating up as we’re down to only 11 home cooks. This week, we’re back to individual challenges (yay!). That’s the good news. The bad news is that it’s an emotional challenge. Here come the waterworks.

The Mystery Box challenge starts, and each cook has a box on their station. They lift the boxes to find… pictures of themselves as youngins.  Now, when I saw people looking at pictures and crying in this episode’s previews I assumed this challenge had something to do with their families, who they likely miss a lot. Crying over a picture of yourself as a child seems a mite self-indulgent (though a lot of them are super cute). The cooks bring up all kinds of things, missing their kids, fond memories from their childhoods, missing departed parents. The judges ask the cooks to present a dish that will show who they really are. “Give us yourself on a plate” – this phrase gets used in every cooking competition ever made. I love cooking and eating food, but does everything need to be a sentimental psych experiment?

Most of the cooks go the childhood memory route and cook something that they ate a lot as a kid. The judges walk around, asking questions and tasting as the food is prepped. Emotional responses are encouraged. I really wish the Demon Chef (who hasn’t done anything remotely demonic since the first couple episodes) would tell people to toughen up and cook instead of coddling them. The challenge goes smoothly and everyone seems to do well. Of course, since there are no losers in the Mystery Box challenge, only the best dishes are focused on. Three dishes are brought up to be tasted.

Pino is brought up first. He made breaded veal and gnocchi, a good Italian meal that he ate a lot of as a kid. The dish looks great and the judges really like it. Next is Marida, even though Chef Aprile had called her a one-trick pony for constantly serving spicy Trinidadian food. Marida made curry shrimp with roti. Last up is Eric, with BBQ pork and noodles, inspired by his grandfather. It looks delicious and Eric wins the Mystery Box challenge.

For winning, Eric gets immunity, meaning he’s the first person in the top 10. But that’s not all! He also gets to go into the pantry and see what’s in store for the other chefs. The theme of the elimination challenge is nose-to-tail. Ten different parts of cow are set out and Eric gets to assign each one to a cook. With a lot of options that won’t be everyday ingredients for most people (beef tongue, brains, sweetbreads), he’s got a lot of opportunities to hamstring people. Eric makes his choices, then goes up to the gallery to get a good view of all the horrified reactions.

The judges announce the challenge theme to the rest of the cooks, some of whom don’t even know what nose-to-tail means. Then they go into the pantry to see what they need to cook. Since Eric has some unexplainable vendetta against Kaila, she is cooking brains. Yum. Other people who get thrown under the bus include Danielle with tongue, Carly with sweetbreads, and Mike with liver. Eric throws other cooks a bone and gives Dale tomahawk steaks and Julie flank steak. A lot of the cooks look nervous.

Kaila says she’s never made brain before but then treats them like a pro, soaking them in buttermilk before lightly breading and frying them. “Brain nuggets! Mmmm.” I love that nothing seems to get Kaila down. Danielle isn’t sure what to do with the tongue, and decides to go with the pressure cooker. Close-ups of giant cow taste buds provide the most unappetizing moments of the show. She knows she needs to peel it, which is good news. Dora also goes with a pressure cooker to prepare her beef cheeks and make it into stew. Dale is very confident with the tomahawk steak, while Julie seems completely unsure about herself while making the flank steak. Mike is grossed out by the giant cow’s liver he has to cook and doesn’t seem to be taking the right approach.

Once time is up, Marida’s food is tasted first. She made a kidney masala. It’s very nicely presented and the judges like the taste of the kidneys, but she is dinged again for not going out of her spicy comfort zone. Dale’s steak is next, served with some multi-coloured shoestring fries. I think it looks great, but Bonacini says that it’s blue raw and does not look impressed. Leung chastises Dale for defending his dish and then tosses some french fries around for emphasis. Julie’s flank steak is up next, served with chimichurri and potato skins. She didn’t cut the meat properly and it’s a bit under-seasoned. Mike brings up his liver and onions and it’s… ugh. No bueno. Rather than cutting it thin it looks like he fried it as a steak and then cut it into thick slices. The outside texture looks weird and inside slices look green from oxidation. Aprile won’t even try it. This looks like bad news for Mike’s hope of making top 10. Kaila comes up and the judges love her crunchy brains. Danielle then serves her beef tongue, with a beet salad on the side. Aprile asks a completely fair question – why didn’t she integrate the meat into the salad? He finds the tongue delicious though. She needs to show some more confidence. Pino made a Jamaican oxtail stew, which the judges really enjoy. Dora is next with a beef cheek stew. The presentation is not good. I’d never say someone’s food looks like barf (Aprile would though), but it’s not appetizing at all. The beef cheek is cooked well, but underseasoned. I can’t help but feel like half of Dora’s problems could have been solved by a better choice of serving dish. Judging ends.

I’m a little disappointed that a couple of the chefs are not given any screen time. I have no idea what Tamarra did with her bone marrow or Carly with her sweetbreads. There are only 10 chefs we should get to see all of them in an elimination challenge, even if it’s just to find out what they’re making or see the finished dish.

After deliberation, the judges announce that they were particularly impressed with 2 dishes. First winner is Pino. The ultimate winner is Kaila. They’ll be the leaders for the next team challenge.

The judges were extremely unimpressed with three of the cooks – Mike, Dora and Dale. Surprisingly, Mike is almost immediately told that he’s safe. After seeing that liver, I thought he was a goner for sure. I’m glad he’s safe, but I think he got lucky. So it’s down to Dora’s underseasoned, unappetizing stew and Dale’s undercooked steak. Dale get chastised (again) for defending his dish. Get over yourselves, judges. However, the decision is based on skill rather than attitude and Dora is sent home. A number of the other cooks look really torn up to see her go, and I’m a little sad too.

And then there were 10.

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