Thirty-eight of the nation's best home cooks have earned a coveted apron and are progressing to the next stage in the competition to become a "MasterChef." Now they will face two culinary stress tests determining which 18 will move on.
The contestants prepare to face off in their first head-to-head challenge, which will test their basic kitchen skills. After a giant truck dumps bushels of green apples at their feet, head judge Gordon Ramsay tells them that they need to demonstrate their knife work by creating perfectly even slices. Joe Bastianich informs them that they are looking for "precision, accuracy, and focus." The contestants are to continue slicing until one of the judges stops them, at which point they will find out if they are going home or staying for the next round.
Each contestant finds a station and begins chopping. Shortly after the test begins, cries for the show's medic start, as one contestant after another cuts more than just the apples.
The first cook to be stopped by a judge is Seby, a student from McAllen, Texas, whose parents do not support his choice to become a chef. Gordon says that his slices are perfect, and he becomes the first competitor sent through.
Next to have her fate decided is Yi Lynne, a homemaker from Panama City, Florida, whose apple slices are inconsistent; she's sent home. Gordon then tells Christine, a single mom from Sopchoppy, Florida, that her cuts are perfect and asks her to stand with Seby on the winner's platform. Truck driver Albert joins her, followed by several more adept slicers.
One hour into the challenge 15 cooks are still chopping and awaiting their fate. Next Gordon stops Joseph, a construction foreman from St. Cloud, Florida, who began cooking to care for his sick wife. His inconsistent slices are not enough to keep him in the game.
Several other aprons are returned before Gordon tells unemployed architect Alejandra that she slices apples "like a pro." He puts her through to the next round.
After 90 minutes of continuous cutting, Ben impresses Gordon with his knife skills and joins the other winners. A full two hours later, just Dustin and Tracy remain. Gordon stops them and compares both cooks' slices. Sales consultant Tracy is allowed to stay, while Dustin, the pool boy, is sent home. In the end, 24 competitors are left after the first round.
For the second test of the day, they have one hour to cook an amazing chicken dish. If the judges like it, the cook stays. If not, it's time to go home. This challenge will test their "creativity, ingenuity, and their ability to think on their feet."
The competitors scramble to grab ingredients from the fully stocked pantry and plan a dish. Joe comments, "I think the competition was already won or lost in those five minutes of what they chose."
Throughout the hour the judges approach the cooks to get a sense of what they're preparing. Many mistakes are made. Trucker Albert tries to make a three-hour gumbo in 60 minutes. Tracy's chicken skin bursts into flames as she talks to Gordon. And Ben makes biscuits without any baking powder.
When the hour is up, the cooks present their dishes to the judges in groups of four. Max's Southwestern duo, Alvin's beer can chicken, Alejandra's tagine, Tony's brick chicken, and Angel's chicken and dumplings are all good enough to earn them a spot in the next round.
However, Kyle's chicken salad prompts Gordon to remark that the "dish did not highlight the prime piece of chicken, but instead seemed like a dish made from leftovers." Kyle has reached the end of the line and turns in his apron.
The next group's presentations include Suzy's butter chicken, Christian's chicken Oscar, and Jennifer's chicken with fruit. They are praised by Graham for presenting "three really solid dishes" and are sent to the winner's platform. Christine and Ben also join them. But Aaron's chicken roulade is deemed "not 'MasterChef' quality," and he's sent home.
Starting off the third set, Mark's chicken rollatini wins praise, but Gordon calls his pasta "baby vomit." Erryn presents BBQ chicken with roasted corn salad, and Adrien brings a chicken chili verde that Graham says is "pretty bad-ass." All three are moving forward. Rhonda's duo of chicken salads, Joey's chicken piccata, and Albert's gumbo are not up to "MasterChef" standards, and all three are eliminated.
The final six present their dishes, starting with Esther's pan-roasted mustard chicken with spinach and pancetta. Jennie gives them a prosciutto-wrapped chicken with couscous. Gordon says that neither dish is perfect, but he praises the fact that "the hero of the dish was the chicken." They both are saved for another round. Giuseppe's cacciatore with red wine sauce also earns a spot in the next challenge.
Seby's Indian-inspired pan-seared chicken does not pass muster with the judges. But all three judges urge him, despite misgivings from his parents, to keep cooking. "You have a future in food," Gordon says. "I guarantee it."
Contestants Derrick, who makes a chicken etouffee with dirty rice, and Tracy are the last to find out their fates. Tracy serves up a chicken pot pie that Gordon calls "chicken, not pie" because of the lack of pastry. And although he says they both could've done better, Tracy and Derrick also are put through.
The contestants have been whittled down to the final 18 who will face the next series of challenges on the road to becoming a "MasterChef." "The competition is on" Gordon proclaims. "Good luck!"
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