Tonight, the 14 remaining MasterChef contestants enter the show's fully stocked professional kitchen for the first time. The crown will be won or lost here, but Gordon reminds them that it's not the tools that will make America's first MasterChef; it's how they use them.
For the first challenge, the contestants are faced with a mystery box. The 14 hopeful home cooks must prepare, cook, and present one stunning dish, using nothing more than the ingredients hidden inside the box. They may use as many or as few ingredients as they wish, but they must present the dish in just 45 minutes. At the end of the challenge, the judges will select three stunning dishes to taste. The cook who prepared the winning dish will get to pick the main ingredient to use in the next test later today.
Inside the box, the contestants find 14 ingredients, including a double-cut pork chop, a "wonderful" bunch of flat-leaf parsley, some cabbage, breads, lemon, vine tomatoes, cognac, cinnamon, an apple, and chocolate.
Which ingredient should the contestants avoid? According to Joe, it's the chocolate. "The chocolate is the devil of the box; it will tempt you and take you down the wrong path," he explains.
Whitney is in trouble: she's never cooked pork in her life. Jenna appears to be making a "ham" sandwich, which doesn't impress Gordon. The judges will only taste the three most enticing dishes, so plating and presentation are crucial.
The contestants get to work, and before long, time is up! Sheena, a 27-year-old marketing executive, has been tempted by the devil, she prepared a brandy-infused chocolate mousse with candied lemon peel and skipped using the pork altogether. Gordon calls the texture "amazing."
"It's smooth, creamy, sumptuous, incredibly daring‚ it worked," he raves. "Good job." And Joe says that Sheena "followed the devil in the box and achieved redemption" and he'd be proud and happy to charge $10 for her dish.
The judges like how Jake, a 38-year-old construction worker, kept the pork in its natural state as a double pork chop. Graham calls Jake's rustic country pork chop with cabbage and apple compote "gorgeous."
"The bones are nice and clean, it's beautifully cooked, you can tell just by feeling it with the touch. The cabbage almost has a melting texture to it. You did it really well," he says. Gordon expected the portly construction worker to be "clumsy," but says he actually "glides about the kitchen like a [big] swan." He compliments Jake on his beautifully seasoned pork.
Whitney, a 22-year-old student, prepared a minimal Southern fried pork chop with coleslaw. She's never cooked pork before, but the judges say she "nailed it." Whitney wins the challenge. Everyone is impressed by young Whitney's success, but David thinks her youth and inexperience will "hurt her in the end." Is he right?
As the winner, Whitney gets to pick the ingredient for the next challenge: an "invention test." Whitney gets to spend five minutes in the pantry by herself; everyone else gets half that time. The judges, however, get to pick the theme; it's Chinese. Whitney is dejected.
"Growing up in south Mississippi, I don't make Chinese," she says. "I don't know what ingredients and oils to use." She's clearly lost.
The judges give her three choices: the "most amazing" Chinese mushrooms, mandarin oranges, and duck. Whitney hasn't even had a Chinese dish that had duck in it; she goes for the mandarin oranges.
The contestants have one hour to prepare a Chinese feast. Slim, 22, knows she has an advantage over the others who have only had fast-food Chinese. But Avis worries she doesn't know how to make the perfect Chinese dish.
Time is up. The judges begin to look for the bottom three. Gordon says Whitney's Mandarin orange chicken and vegetable stir fry tastes like a "TV dinner with bits of chicken that the dog didn't want to eat."
Gordon is disappointed with Slim's Chinese spiced chicken with Mandarin orange sauce. Avis also bombs, as Gordon says her Chinese orange chicken and vegetable stir fry looks like it's from a "gas station."
Joe says Tony's wok-fried chicken with stir-fried broccoli "looks like kid food." David, Sheetal, and Jenna (who was ready with 20 minutes to go) also fail to impress. Finally, Joe's had enough.
"This is the problem with this whole round; it's boring," he shouts, warning the contestants to "bring it 100 percent" or check their aprons and leave right now.
Things perk up with Tracy's dish, a "delicious" ginger Mandarin chicken with vegetables. Graham says that Sharone's crispy sesame chicken with bok choy and snow peas is "daring" and the chicken is cooked perfectly.
But Sheena, who did so well in the first challenge, totally flops with her warm Mandarin salad with pickled cabbage. Gordon says it looks like a fruit salad. Faruq also disappoints with his stuffed chicken with Chinese vegetables.
"That's about as Chinese as my mom, and she's from Glasgow," Gordon scolds. "You're definitely bottom three."
But Mike delights the judges with his nutty orange chicken with peppers. Gordon says it's "head and shoulders above the others." Mike wins the round.
As for the bottom three, Faruq is selected for his "dry as a desert" chicken. Sheena's dish was like a "salad gone bad," and Avis' dish "lacks authenticity."
So who's going home? Good-natured Avis is the first contestant to lose her apron. "I'm sorry, my darling," Gordon says. "Your time is done."
But wait! One more contestant is leaving. It's Sheena. "You're a shiny example to everyone else; your chocolate mousse was outstanding," Gordon says. "Keep cooking.
The judges spare Faruq, saying they all "see something inside of him." Emotionally exhausted, Faruq vows never to be so close to losing again.
They've competed against one another, but can America's finest home cooks work together as a team?
The remaining 12 "MasterChef" contestants are split into two teams for their first field challenge: feeding 400 hungry Marines and their families.
As the winner of yesterday's Chinese invention test, Mike gets to hand-pick his team. He chooses Jake, Lee, Tracy, Tony, and Sheetal, who become the blue team. That leaves Sharone, David, Whitney, Jenna, Faruq, and Slim for the underdog red team.
Each team must prepare one entrée, two sides, and the "most amazing dessert." The judges will be considering food, team performance in the commercial kitchen, and feedback from the Marines. They have until 15:00 and the race is on!
On the red team, Sharone quickly fills the leadership role. But as leader of the blue team, Mike is floundering, and battling in a power struggle with Jake.
The blue team is preparing apple raisin stuffed pork loin with natural jus; roasted corn salad; creamy garlic scalloped potatoes; and red, white, and blue Napoleon.
"Is puff pastry right for the Marines?" Gordon wonders.
The red team is making grilled skirt steak with savory barbecue sauce, potatoes and bacon au gratin, roasted vegetables with fresh herbs, and apple turnover.
Over on the blue team, Mike is worried that Jake's pork is going to come out dry. Gordon agrees, and he scolds Jake for taking off too much fat. Mike's also concerned that they won't have enough pork to feed the Marines and their families. He decides to cook three extra loins, his way.
The red team is coming together under Sharone's leadership. But the judges are concerned that no one is thinking about portions.
Before long, the first disaster occurs, when David drops 5,000 cuts of bacon! The red team is also concerned that Faruq didn't cook enough vegetables.
Finally, Gordon starts counting down, time is up!
It doesn't take long for everyone to see that the Marines prefer the skirt steak. The red team appears to have this in the bag. The steak, the sauce, and the all-American menu are a runaway success. But there's one problem: the red team is running out of potatoes and vegetables, because they only made three trays! Faruq apologizes on behalf of his team, but the Marines keep coming back for steak and apple pie, even without the sides.
Finally, the judges are ready to give their verdict. The blue team didn't run out of food, but the pork was the weak link in the chain. The red team made an "amazing, delicious steak," but they didn't have enough of it. It's 51-49, but the blue team wins!
Since the red team lost, they will have to test their skills in a "pressure test," and one person will be eliminated. In this challenge, the contestants must taste what's in a mystery pot. Gordon prepared the dish, a Texas-style chili. The contestants must guess the 20 ingredients he used in his concoction.
Southern-girl Whitney is up first, and she correctly guesses 12 of the ingredients, setting the bar very high for everyone else. Faruq follows her with 9 correct guesses. Jenna, who's actually from Texas, only guesses 7. Slim and David both give 8 correct answers. Sharone is the last one up, he must guess fewer than 7 or Jenna goes home. He gives 8 correct answers, and Jenna's MasterChef dream is over.
Jenna must give up her apron, but the 23-year-old stay-at-home mom is still grateful for her time on the show. "This experience was life-changing and amazing," she says, happy to go home to her family.
Next week, the contestants must attempt to prepare a dish better than "Iron Chef" Cat Cora can!
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