MasterChef 4 recap: Weddings and Macarons (NOT Macaroons!) S4E12

(PLEASE NOTE: This blog is not endorsed or approved by Fox or MasterChef, and you probably shouldn’t read it. What follows are the crazed ramblings of a MasterChef season 2 survivor who has no knowledge of the production of this season.)

It’s group challenge time, and the contestants are introduced to Aaron, a “flavor scientist” and his foodie fiancee Anya, who are to be married the next day, and who have agreed to allow the MasterChef contestants to cater their reception.  I’m really interested in how Aaron and Anya got hooked up with MasterChef.  Perhaps a casting call went out in the LA area looking for pending weddings of people who were willing to turn over their big day to a bunch of home cooks and a VAST film crew, in exchange for free catering?  While that would certainly free up one of the most expensive parts of a wedding budget, you gotta wonder what type of people would allow that to happen.  Even the RATIONAL people I know become completely and utterly bonkers when it comes to their weddings.  (I’m guessing they are friends of the production company.)  Luckily, their contract with the show specifies that Graham Elliot, the country’s youngest Michelin starred chef, will be offering an appetizer, and Gordon Ramsay will be making the dessert.  And there are very few budgets that could afford such a splurge.  So I’m guessing they don’t really care what the rest of the food is like…how many people can claim that Graham Elliot and Gordon Ramsay catered their wedding?!?

This “foodie” Anya pulls out a list of everything she doesn’t like, and for a foodie, it’s a pretty long list.  She demands a complete avoidance of peanuts, beets, radishes, celery root, fennel, Indian food, bell peppers, dill, cilantro, olives…and that’s only just the beginning.

“Guess we’re gonna be making lettuce wraps and water for this wedding,” says Eddie.

At the venue, the contestants learn that they’re serving over 100 guests (including 15 vegetarians).  Natasha and James are team captains, and it’s the first time for both of them.  (I think?!?)

James, having won the crab challenge, gets to pick first, and his choice is…of course…Lynn.  Lynn is always picked first, and while we’ve been seeing a little more of him the past few episodes (thank you, producers!), we still don’t know enough about this handsome, strapping man with the rich voice who churns out plates that look like they just came out the serving window from Noma…the “world’s best restaurant.”  The team is rounded out with Jessie, Jonny, Bri, and Luca.

Natasha says she needs a co-captain and chooses Eddie first.  Her team is completed with Jordan, Bethy, Savannah, and Krissi.

Of course, this season the producers LOVE psychology games and delight in excusing people from having to cook in this COOKING COMPETITION, so each team leader gets to pick one person to “sit out” the challenge.  Natasha bumps Krissi and James bumps Bri…a VERY strange choice, since Bri is the only vegetarian and would give his team a competitive advantage over those 15 votes from the veggie diners.

The contestants then get a peek at the courses that Graham and Gordon have created, so they can appropriately plan their entrees.  Graham has a VERY Graham dish…a chilled soup of spring pea “essence” with whipped creme fraiche, pink peppercorn, and lavender “infusion” with edible flowers.  For those of you not familiar with Graham’s cooking style, while he MAY look like the kinda guy that makes epic food truck and diner-style food (I would imagine a Kobe burger with dry-cured bacon and foie gras, with grilled gruyere sandwiches instead of buns)…he is actually famous for VERY whimsical, delicate presentations of Modernist cuisine, and this soup just looks EXACTLY like Graham on a plate.  (For those who aren’t that familiar with creme fraiche, it’s a tangy French condiment made from heavy cream that’s been cultured, like yogurt or buttermilk, and since it’s cream, it whips up just like whipping cream, so next time you need to serve whipped cream on something, try whipping creme fraiche instead!)  Gordon is serving a signature dessert of his…sticky toffee pudding with “brown bread ice cream” and caramel sauce.  Brown bread ice cream hails from the UK (Ireland, in particular), where bits of crusty brown bread are churned into a vanilla ice cream.  Gordon’s doesn’t appear to have any bread crumbs in it (and that texture is what makes brown bread ice cream really shine), so he has probably just steeped the bread in the custard base and strained it out.

The contestants have 2 hours to conceive and cook the 100 entrees.  James’s Blue Team is going with a rack of lamb with parsnip puree.  This is a really smart choice.  Lamb is considered a very elegant protein in this country (whereas it’s more akin to “chicken” everywhere else in the world) and I LOVE lamb with parsnips.  (Not a very summery entree, though.)  And for the vegetarians, they’ll serve grilled mushrooms over goat cheese creme fraiche.  Natasha’s team is trying to convince her to do short ribs, and if I were Natasha, I’d be resisting that, too.  She’s pushing for halibut with miso beurre blanc and baby carrots, and eventually mandates that choice.  I personally think that’s a far wiser choice for a California summer wedding, sandwiched between courses by Gordon Ramsay and Graham Elliot.  Don’t get me wrong…if I’m gonna eat beef, short rib is my favorite cut.  It’s decadent.  We serve it at FRANK all the time.  But it’s rustic.  And rich and heavy.  And not elegant in the least.  So I’m gonna go out on a limb and say she made the right choice.  And for her veggie dish, her Red Team is doing a tomato and eggplant “stack”…probably something like a ratatouille.

Cooking begins, and the edit makes it appear that Natasha’s team is scattered and chaotic.  (The edit can make ANY team challenge look like this, because they are ALL scattered and chaotic.)  Gordon goes over and demands that they all stop to regroup.  This was my BIGGEST pet peeve with group challenges on the show…when Gordon thinks it’s a good idea to STOP everyone from working in order to deliver a message like “get a grip, get it together.”  That actually does absolutely NO GOOD and simply stops people from being productive and causes carrots to burn in the oven because the contestants are busy listening to Gordon dole out abstract advice.  Natasha wisely decides to multitask while she listens to Gordon demand that she “be a stronger team captain,” and then he calls her out for being “f–king arrogant” because she’s actually still COOKING…during a cooking challenge where she’s supposed to cater a wedding of 100 people in 2 hours.  (Perhaps she’s smart enough to know that 2 hours is an impossible window in which to do this, and she’s making smart use of her time, rather than listen to Gordon dole out advice that’s too abstract to actually implement.)

Graham’s pea soup is served, and lucky Bri and Krissi get to dine with the other guests.  What a treat for Bri to enjoy a vegetarian dish from Graham!!!  Main course service begins, and James’s Blue Team is lagging behind.  In true Gordon Ramsay fashion, he believes that screaming at everyone will help things move faster, and he does so.  Then he jumps all over Lynn, calling him a “sweat box” because he’s perspiring so heavily and trashes several of his plates, and then Joe screams at them for not having plates ready.  The narrator says “The stress has got to Lynn and he’s making unforgivable mistakes.”  I doubt anyone reading this blog would be performing with calm, collected perfection with Gordon Ramsay screaming “Hey Sweat Box” at you over and over.  In the rush and confusion, he reportedly wipes a plate with a towel that he had used to wipe his face…certainly a no-no in a professional kitchen, but in the chaos of a reality TV Ramsay kitchen, a home cook without the instincts and practice of a veteran line cook is understandably likely to make a mistake like that.  (And to be perfectly honest, it happens in restaurant kitchens all the time, too.)

And while Joe and Gordon are busy causing the very delays that are keeping Blue Team from serving, while at the same time screaming at them for slow service, Graham steps in and actually performs the role of a judge, which is to help GUIDE them in the right direction.  FANCY THAT!?!  A judge providing constructive criticism and assistance, rather than just screaming bloody murder.

The bride and groom prefer the presentation of James’s Blue Team and their lamb, but they both prefer the flavor of Natasha’s Red Team and their halibut.  But of course, the actual results are (theoretically) from the votes from the diners.  And the diners (theoretically) voted in favor of the Red Team.  (While I do love halibut, I’ll take rare lamb over it any day of the week, but Californians DO seem to favor lighter fare in general.)

Back on the MasterChef set, the Blue Team (minus Bri, of course, who doesn’t have to compete) spars with each other on the patio.  The MasterChef studio is actually a grimy warehouse in Culver City (or at least it was when my season filmed) so I’m puzzled about the stunning view of green mountains behind the patio.  Green screen?  Or did the venue get moved to the Hollywood Hills?  We didn’t have a patio during my season…it was added in season 3.  Our “patio” was an old moldy tent with folding chairs that was freezing in the morning and at night, and broiling during the day.  And we had to walk barefoot in the snow to get from the hotel to the set…uphill…both ways.  You guys got it SO easy.

Following this season’s baffling norm, not everyone will compete in the pressure test.  Joe saves Jessie because she’s hot and blon…oh, sorry, because her performance warranted it.  (That’s NOT a knock on you, Jessie, it’s a jab at Joe for oft being swayed by lovely ladies!  On my season, Tracy Kontos could do no wrong in his eyes, and even when she literally burnt her fish, Joe gleefully reminisced about how it reminded him fondly of his grandmother’s fish because she always burnt it.)  Graham saves Luca because he was being vocal about each plate not being perfect before it was sent out.  And Gordon saves James, the team captain, for being totally engaged the entire time.

So now we’ve got a weird one-on-one pressure test, similar to what happened after the second group challenge on my season when, after losing the biker-beach-BBQ-sausage-challenge, all my team’s contestants were excused from the pressure test except for Christine Corley and Max Kramer.  (Though I believe that was a last-minute decision by the story producers because the two of them had been fighting that morning and Max told us that he had poisoned Christine and she was going to die.  What fun!  Let’s immediately pit the two of them against each other in a pressure test!)  Please keep in mind if you go back and read ANY blog from my season, those blogs were censored and edited by MasterChef.

The subject of the pressure test is, as Joe specifies: “macaroons.”  Here we must pause and discuss what in the hell a “macaroon” is, and why Joe is calling a display of French “macarons” a “macaroon.”  Macaroons are an American cookie consisting of coconut flakes folded into meringue and baked until just set.  Macarons are a fancy French cookie sandwich with the “bread” being almond meringue cookies and the filling being pastry cream or icing or jam.  Oftentimes these cookies are horrifically coloured through the liberal use of artificial colorings…(remember them crucifying Kathy for JUST such a use in the cupcake challenge?!?)…and the samples the judges present are no different.  You could give me a box of those and offer me $200 to eat them, and I’d sooner vomit.  Maracons are disgusting to me.  I literally have nightmares about them.  And this pressure test is about macarons.  NOT macaroons.  They are two TOTALLY different things.  (Though Gordon, an expert on classic French cuisine, also pronounces these macarons “macaroons” so this may have been a production choice by the producers.  Sorry, Joe, if they forced you to pronounce it that way and I attacked you for it.)

Jonny announces his confidence in baking and has made macarons before, so I’m immediately predicting his elimination.  That just seems to be how it works the majority of the time.

I’m really grossed out by macarons so it’s hard for me to watch this challenge. The judges say that the most difficult part of this challenge is making sure that all 12 macarons fit inside the dainty little box.  (Weird.  Maybe portioning for packaging is super critical in a professional bakery, but why not focus on the FOOD rather than the packaging?)  And in the process of closing his box, Jonny damages his macarons.

Lynn’s macarons are tasty, according to Gordon, but Lynn has broken what is apparently the “golden rule of macarons” by putting fresh fruit inside.  Tell that to Dean and Deluca, Gordon, who proudly serve fruit-filled macarons at all their locations and are happy to ship them around the world.  I just scream at the TV any time any of the judges hand down these “golden rules” and “unbreakable laws” that are, in fact, complete and utter bullsh-t.  Gordon’s beef with the raspberry seeds detracting from the texture of the macaron, however, is probably legit.

Jonny’s macarons have “MAR-sca-pown” in them, and I’m about to tweet Gordon and ask him why he continues to permit contestants to mispronounce this Italian cheese.  (I can’t do that with Joe because he pronounces espresso “expresso”…or at least he did last season.)  This is the third time this season (at least) that I’ve blogged about this.  And I hope it’s the last.  Look at this word right now…every one of you.


Where is the “R?”  Before the “S?”  No.  The ONLY acceptable pronunciation for this Italian cream cheese is “mas-car-POWN-eh.”  I think I’ll go stark raving mad if I hear it pronounced marscapown one more time, so please, each and everyone one of you solemnly swear to me that you’ll never mispronounce it again.  Pronouncing it loudly and proudly when you’re called upon to say it.  If people look at you funny, THEY are the idiots.

Regardless of the mispronunciation, Jonny’s macarons are good…but there’s that little issue of the packaging.  And inside the box, Jonny’s macarons are all destroyed from his forceful closing of the box after cramming too many inside.  To be fair, sometimes the rules of challenges aren’t completely clear to a contestant, and Jonny probably thought the judges wouldn’t even taste his macarons if they weren’t all in the box.

So Jonny’s macarons taste better than Lynn’s, but his are destroyed.  The judges decide to send Jonny packing.  This carpenter has produced some really stunning stuff so far this season, and I’m curious if he’ll return to his trade or jump the fence into the kitchen.  Follow Jonny on Facebook and Twitter, and leave your comments on this episode below!

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