The remaining six contestants take on the final mystery box challenge of the season. As usual, the contestants must cook and prepare a dish using only the ten ingredients inside the box within 60 minutes.
The final mystery box contains rack of venison, blueberries, bacon, striped beets, hazelnuts, Brussels sprouts, red cabbage, quail eggs, red wine, and red cabbage. Graham explains that there are lots of ways to prepare venison, but he also warns that the meat is easy to accidentally overcook.
As the contestants get going, Whitney reveals that she's very familiar with cooking venison since she's from the South. Sheetal says that she would really love to win her first mystery box contest, but she faces an extra challenge because she doesn't have a lot of experience cooking meat.
With the clock ticking, the judges walk around, grilling the contestants about their plans. David is going to roast the venison on the bone and wrap it in bacon. Gordon's a little confused about Sharone's idea of creating three sauces for one dish. Joe likes the way Whitney's roasted vegetables look, but Gordon tells his fellow judges that serving Wendy's idea of gravy with a "Rolls-Royce cut" of meat like venison may not be a great one. He also thinks that David has cut the venison too big to cook through in time.
After the six contestants scramble to finish up during the last few seconds of the challenge, it's time to present the dishes to the judges. Sheetal thinks her venison tastes good, but she doesn't actually know what it should taste like since she's never had it before.
The judges will only sample three of the contestants' dishes and will decide which ones to try based on the final presentation and their observations of the contestants' techniques during the challenge.
Sheetal is the first one chosen. The judges are blown away by her great-looking dish: pan-roasted tenderloin of venison with blueberry wine sauce and creamed Brussels sprouts. Once Gordon cuts into it, he also notes that the meat is cooked equally throughout. After tasting it, he calls the dish "a dream come true." Joe also loves it but suggests a drizzle of olive oil could make it even better.
Whitney is the next to land in the top three. She's cooked a pan-seared venison with Southern gravy, roasted Brussels sprouts, and potatoes. Gordon expresses his concerns about the gravy, but after a bite, he notes that it's cooked beautifully and that it "works better than it looks." Whitney has confirmed to the judges that, at age 22, she clearly knows how to cook venison, a rare feat.
The third and final dish selected is Sharone's seared venison with blueberry puree and venison tartare with borscht. Joe says that the plating is a disgrace and looks like "Salvador Dali on crack." The only reason Sharone is up here, says Gordon, is because the venison is cooked so perfectly on the bone. Gordon covers up the plate's quail egg, which he thinks looks like an eyeball, and digs in. He likes it but tells Sharone not to be so complex, while Graham reminds him that less is more.
After tasting all three dishes, the judges announce that the winner is Sheetal. That means she gets to choose the main ingredient that all the contestants must use in the next dessert-themed invention challenge.
After being given honey, berries, and vanilla as choices, Sheetal decides on vanilla. The contestants race to grab their ingredients, and they spend the next 90 minutes in the kitchen. With all that time, the judges are looking for some amazing creations. The contestant who makes the worst dish will be sent home, so there's a lot riding on this challenge.
Dave says he'll be making a vanilla crème brulee in the oven, one of two ways one can cook crème brulee - and it's the more dangerous way, according to Gordon. As Lee tries to explain his sponge cake and custard dish to Graham, he worries he's bitten off more than he can chew.
Later, with just ten minutes left, Sheetal panics when she realizes her cake is raw on the inside. She ends up having to make a dessert out of only her garnishes.
Meanwhile, a confident Dave decides the custard for his crème brulee is absolutely perfect and doesn't want to torch it too much.
Finally, it's time to present. First up, Sharone presents his Mille-feuille with mixed nuts and a vanilla zabaglione sauce. All three judges absolutely love the dish. Joe calls it a triumph, and Gordon says that it's "right on the money." Sharone is thrilled.
Next comes Dave and his vanilla crème brulee. It's good, but Gordon points out that the dessert isn't burnt on the top as the dish requires. That's a big component to leave out.
When it's time for Whitney to present her profiteroles, Gordon warns her that he's tried thousands of them over the years, so these better be good. He's impressed! Three down, three to go.
Sheetal, who thinks her dish looks like baby food, steps up to the plate and explains what happened. All three judges are disappointed. Next, an excited Lee presents his "pain perdu" (or French toast) with a walnut vanilla sauce. Not only does Joe think it's bad as a restaurant dessert, he says it's even "bad as breakfast."
A nervous Mike presents his poached pear trifle with vanilla-scented brandy. Gordon doesn't like the froth - which turns out to be egg whites - and spits it out. He finds the dish short on flavor, and Joe refuses to eat it because it contains raw eggs.
After tasting all six dishes the judges announce that Sharone, Whitney, and Dave are at the top of the heap, but Whitney and her profiteroles get the win.
As for the loser, though Sheetal, Mike, and Lee all disappointed, Mike is the one who will be going home. He's come a long way, but he's got to slow down. "When you do, you'll surprise yourself about the results," Gordon tells him.
With Mike out of the competition, just five contestants remain. For their next individual challenge they'll have to cook fish dishes for three big-time food critics. But the contestants aren't heading to their local fishmonger. Instead, they board a fishing boat and are instructed to try to catch their own ingredients.
After catching sculpin fish, they sail back to the kitchen of the nearby Marina del Rey Ritz Carlton hotel, where Gordon reveals the critics who will be judging their fish dishes: Jeffrey Steingarten, food editor, Vogue; Tanya Steel, editor, Epicurious.com; and Barbara Fairchild, editor-in-chief, Bon Appetit.
Since Whitney won the last invention test, she'll get an extra 15 minutes to prepare her fish. The other four contestants will only get an hour. As the home cooks get going, Lee explains that he wants to keep things simple, while Dave says his fish has a lobster-like consistency, so he's going to use a butter sauce as he would with lobster.
Whitney's giving her fish an Italian spin with a tomato sauce. With 15 minutes to go, Gordon implores them to taste their dishes. Sheetal realizes the curry powder she used for her cauliflower garnish had salt in it. Since she also salted the cauliflower, she's got to dump it. Meanwhile, Sharone shocks everyone by using the fish liver to create his masterpiece, a move that could surely backfire.
Gordon is impressed with what he sees, but now it's time to see what the critics think. Each critic can give each dish four stars, for a maximum of 12 stars, and the two lowest-scoring contestants will face off in a pressure test.
First up is Whitney, who presents her pan-seared sculpin with eggplant and zucchini in tomato sauce. The judges seem put off by the fact that Whitney used canned tomatoes, and all of them find the flavor overpowered by garlic.
Next up, Dave presents his saffron butter sculpin fish over Israeli couscous and roasted peppers. He's questioned by the critics about why he chose to make Israeli couscous for the first time with so much riding on today's challenge. They like the dish but aren't impressed by the peppers.
Lee arrives at the critics' table with his braised fish over fennel couscous alongside a bowl of braising broth. Barbara likes it, but Jeffrey complains that he can't taste the fish.
Sheetal's next, and she's worried that her tomato curry sculpin might be too salty. The salt's not an issue, but Barbara finds bones on her plate, a big no-no.
Finally, Sharone, confident as usual, presents his duo of grilled sculpin and seared sculpin liver with an explanation - a very loooooong explanation. The judges don't look happy with Sharone's creation.
It's time to hear the judges' verdict. The highest-scoring dish, with 11.5 points, belongs to Dave. He lets out a few excited whoops as Gordon reads the critics' accolades.
So who had the lowest-ranking dish that the critics called "under-seasoned" and "shockingly disgusting"? That honor, and a measly score of four, goes to Sharone. Gordon chastises him for taking the risk on the liver. Lee and Sheetal also land in the top four, which means that Whitney will be going up against Sharone in the pressure test, as the two try to fight for survival.
Later, back in the MasterChef kitchen, Gordon announces that it's going to be the toughest pressure test yet. Sharone and Whitney unveil a variety of baking ingredients - including chocolate, eggs, butter, and oranges - and they're told they'll have to create soufflés, one of the most technically difficult dishes in the world. The secret, says Gordon, is to get the soufflé from the oven to the table inside of 90 seconds.
The two contestants have 90 minutes to make as many soufflés as they'd like, but they can only present one each to the judges.
As Dave, Sheetal, and Lee watch from above, they point out mistakes to one another, but it's tough to tell which contestant will end up with a serviceable soufflé. With an hour left, Gordon urges them to get one in the oven to test it out. As time runs out, Whitney puts a batch of soufflés in the oven (without having done a dry run) and keeps her fingers crossed. She races to present her final product to the judges, though Gordon can't believe that she's handing it over without even trying one. Still, they dig in.
Whitney's smells delicious, notes Gordon, but the judges don't provide any more feedback. With just 90 seconds left, Gordon tells Sharone that if he doesn't present his soufflé soon, he'll be disqualified. He hands it over with just 18 seconds left. "The difference between going to the final four and going home is in this spoon," says Gordon.
And the spoon says ... Whitney! She will join Sheetal, Dave, and Lee in the final four. Sharone's soufflé, it turns out, was slightly undercooked. The judges admire Sharone's risk-taking and tell him he's going to go far. Joe even says he can have a job in his own restaurant kitchen.
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The sweet 16 endure culinary boot camp.
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