MasterChef Recap: I’ve Never Baked Before

The fifth season of MasterChef US premiered last week. I wasn’t planning on writing a recap of the premiere since I find the early audition episodes quite boring – they are super melodramatic and way too full of tears and schlocky sentiment. More time is eaten up by previews of what just happened before the commercials, and teasers of what will happen after the next commercials than actual cooking. Fox sorta pulled the rug out from under me as they completely skipped this part and went right into the competition, albeit with 30 home cooks competing for aprons. The 30 cooks were given the task of “putting themselves on a plate” (really, when can we ban this phrase from cooking competitions?). As they were preparing their meals, the judges walked around, tasting and asking questions. Two contestants were eliminated before they even got to finish. Not tasting your food as you cook seems to put a giant, Gordon Ramsay ire-attracting target on your back. Once prep time was over, the judges gave out 19 aprons to the cooks who stood out the most. But all was not lost for the 9 left at their stations. They were given another cooking challenge, this time with Ramsay taking part as well (not sure what the point of this was other than to make the contestants feel woefully inadequate). After this challenge, 3 more cooks were given an apron, which meant that 22 people were headed into the competition.

On to episode 2!

The competition really begins in episode 2 with the first Mystery Box challenge. The contestants lift the boxes to reveal … a whole bunch of sweet ingredients. They’ll be making desserts.  Part of me cackles with evil glee, while the another part is already exhausted in anticipation of all the cooks who will soon proclaim “I don’t really bake.” Ugh. Would you apply for MasterChef if you could only bake and not cook savoury dishes? No. So why do so many people think it’s acceptable to only be able to make mains and not desserts? Learning is apparently not a thing in a lot of places.

This part of the episode focuses a lot on Willie, the teddy bear-like church music director, who is an easy fan favourite. He loves to bake and is confident in his abilities. We also see some focus on Cutter, who did search and rescue in the military, who is not so comfortable with desserts. However, since he’s a former man in uniform who used to jump out of helicopters and can cook, I develop a soft spot for him and forgive him. Not deserving of forgiveness, however, is Astrid who has never baked before. Sigh. Astrid was a whisper away from getting cut in the first episode after she made a huge mess of her cooking station. We also see a scuffle between ad exec Elizabeth and stay-at-home dad Leslie which seems to come from nowhere and has nothing to do with food, so who cares.

Soon their 90 minutes is up and the judges start calling people up to the front. Gordon calls up Cutter and Astrid, while Graham calls Courtney and Willie. They announce that the people standing in front of them have the two worst dishes and the two best. Insert dramatic tension and a commercial break here. Cutter and Astrid have the worst dishes. Cutter has made a cappuccino pudding with whipped cream and something he calls biscotti, but doesn’t resemble it in any way. He has also drawn the MasterChef logo on top of the pudding with caramel, which is apparently a grave affront and probably grounds for copyright infringement litigation. Gordon is not impressed. Astrid has made lemon bars with lavender, but overlooked the fact that baked goods need to be cooked, as they are completely raw. Astrid is eliminated.

The judges move on to the top dishes. Courtney made a honey cake with a coulis. Graham is particularly impressed with her use of salt in the dish, which balances the sweetness of the honey. Willie made mini gingerbread cakes with spicy berry compote. The dish looks gorgeous and the judges love it, though Joe finds some of the flavours a little jarring. The winner is Courtney, the aerial dancer, who I will henceforth think of as Rachel Berry, as she reminded me of the annoying Glee overachiever from the first time she opened her mouth.

MasterChef season 5 - Courtney and Willie
Courtney and Willie – this season’s villain and hero. Image via fox.com

She is taken into the pantry, where she will get to choose the theme for the elimination challenge. The focus is America! And ground beef. The choices are meatballs, meatloaf, and hamburgers. Not only does Courtney/Rachel get to pick the dish, she also gets to pick which 10 cooks will be competing, and which get to safely sit this challenge out. She chooses meatloaf for the challenge. As far as who will be participating, her strategy is to save all the cooks she considers weakest and make the strong cooks compete so one of them goes home. Her secondary strategy is to become this season’s villain as she directly tells people “I’m saving you because I think you suck and I can beat you later” as she calls out their names. Willie is peeved that she didn’t save him since he came 2nd in the challenge, but that’s not how the game is played.

The meatloaf cooking happens without much incident. The judges question a few decisions, but it doesn’t look like anyone’s completely lost or trying to make meatloaf out of tofu or anything. Once time is up, Francis, the server, is called up first. He put burrata in his meatloaf, which the judges considered crazy, but it worked and they end up fawning over it. Next up is Stephani, who is also a server. She made lamb meatloaf with couscous and (this is where she loses everyone) blue cheese sauce. Consensus: yuck. Whitney presents a Caribbean meatloaf with mangos, lemongrass and soy sauce. Not only is it way too sweet, it’s also the most pedestrian looking dish of the challenge and gets compared to a tv dinner. The next few cooks don’t stand out as either great or terrible, then comes Willie. He made pork and beef meatloaf with mashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts and bacon. As expected, the judges love it. Then comes Dan, who talks a big game, whose meatloaf gets called disgusting and too wet (blech).

Francis wins the challenge, with Willie coming in second again. The three worst dishes belong to Stepani, Dan, and Whitney.  Dan is asked to step forward, berated a bit, then told the other two dishes were worse than his, so he’s safe (even though Gordon claimed his was the worst meatloaf he’d ever tasted). Gordon then asks Courtney who she thinks will be going home, since she clearly hasn’t had enough screen time or opportunity to establish herself as an obnoxious know-it-all.  Courtney says that Whitney lacks passion and love of food so she will be going home. She turns out to be right. Whitney is sent home, and 20 cooks remain.

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