MasterChef Canada Recap: Half Baked (Alaska)

The competition is getting close to the end, with only 8 chefs left. We’re back to team challenges, and this week the cooks head to Toronto’s city hall to man food trucks in the courtyard. As the winners of the last challenge, Tamarra and Eric are the team leaders. Tamarra gets the advantage of picking which cuisine her team will serve – Italian or Mexican. She chooses Mexican, because she thinks it’s lighter and will be more appealing on a warm day. Tamarra chooses Marida, Mike and Pino for her team. Eric gets Danielle, Julie and Kaila. Kaila is the last pick (again) because everyone is crazy.

Each team must decide on their menu (they only need one dish), and the winning team will be the one that brings in the most money.

Tamarra’s team works well together, though Tamarra does overreach with her initial menu selection. Chef Bonacini talks her down and convinces her to simplify. They end up making flank steak tacos. Everything seems to go fairly smoothly during prep, except that Chef Leung needs to show Pino the proper way to slice a flank steak (across the grain). Eric, on the other hand, is all over the place. This seems to be a trend. He seems to spend more time running around in a panic (literally, running) than he does leading his team. Danielle seems to be the one doing the leading. They make meatball subs. Both of the dishes are to be topped with copious amounts of Kraft! cheese. Because Kraft! is the sponsor.

Prep time runs out and it’s time to start serving. Both trucks have big lines immediately. Eric’s team seems to be working well and getting orders out quickly. Tamarra’s team looks a little slower – Mike is spending too much time garnishing the taco for Marida’s tastes so she takes over that job while Mike takes the orders. Eventually, the line at the Italian truck winds down, while the line at the Mexican truck stays very large. I’m not totally sure if this is because Tamarra’s team is serving slower or if more people just want to eat tacos for lunch. Eric’s team gets industrious and sends Kaila over to try to poach some of the other team’s customers while they wait in line. Even after stealing a few customers, there seems to always be a line at the Mexican truck, while no one is waiting for Italian. Then, disaster strikes! One of Eric’s meatballs was undercooked! He takes the news hard feels like he’s let down the team.

When the service ends, the judges announce that only $15 separates the losing team from the winners. That’s 3 servings. The victory goes to Team Tamarra. I’m actually surprised that they won by so little considering how they always seemed to have a line of people waiting. Eric blames his raw meatball for the loss.

This means that Eric, Danielle, Kaila and Julie are headed into a pressure test. It’s nerve-wracking. Most of my favourites are on this team and I don’t want them to go home. To make things even worse, the challenge will be to create a perfect baked Alaska, and no one will get a free pass. On one hand, this is a good challenge because it’s a very technically demanding dessert – sponge cake, meringue, baking ice cream without melting it. But on the other hand, I agree with Julie:

I was also born in 1983, and though I know what a baked Alaska is (and have eaten one), I’ve only seen them served in lame steakhouses that haven’t updated their menus since the 80s. Or ever.

Danielle is the only contestant who even knows what a baked Alaska is, which doesn’t bode well. She seems confident, saying that she’s made sponge cake before, but somehow can’t pull off the cake part of the dish. She tries once, then throws it away and tries again. But her second try doesn’t come out much better. Uh oh.  Julie fails to properly mix her flour into her batter, and even though Chef Bonacini tells her that she should remix it, she pops it in the oven as-is. Kaila takes some risks (this is to be expected by now), and uses Neapolitan ice cream and makes a fudgey chocolate cake base. Eric’s constant downplaying of his abilities is starting to wear on me, as his efforts seem to be going smoothly. As the challenge winds down, we see that a few of the chefs are not happy with their desserts. Kaila takes a blow torch to her meringue to give it some colour rather than leaving it in the oven for very long and melting her ice cream.

Once the time is up, Eric is the first to get judged. His dessert looks pretty much ideal – nice layers, ice cream isn’t too soft, meringue is good. Next is Danielle. As she expected, her cake is disappointing, and poor execution of it also let the ice cream melt while it was cooking. Julie’s cake contains raw bits of flour because she didn’t mix it properly. The other elements seem well done though. Last is Kaila, whose flavours were good, but the texture of the cake was off.

The judges leave to deliberate. I’ve got a bad feeling about this. They throw around the idea of sending two people home, but ultimately decide on only one.

Eric is announced as the winner of the challenge. No surprise there. For those keeping track, that’s his third win with a dessert. In a more unexpected turn, Julie is told she is safe. That leaves my two favorite contestants in the bottom, and for the first time I’m truly sad that someone is going home. The eliminated chef is Danielle, who leaves with a lot of class. Kaila can’t hold back her tears. Is there some kind of rule that doesn’t allow the contestants to say goodbye? When Dale and Danielle were eliminated Kaila looked like she really wanted to give them a hug, but instead marched right up to the gallery.

With that, one of the strongest contestants is sent packing. I thought Danielle was better than most, maybe all, of the other cooks. There have been other iterations of MasterChef where an eliminated cook is brought back and given another chance, I’m hoping that will be the case with MasterChef Canada. If not, best of luck to Danielle, I’m sure she’ll do just fine.

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