It only takes seconds to ruin a dish and anyone that cooks doesn't need a show like "MasterChef" to show them, but when you're given a traditional dish that you've never cooked -- or even heard of -- one would think that sticking as close to the original item might work in one's favor. For some reason, that did not seem to occur to many of the remaining eleven finalists on Monday night's episode of the cooking show. And, in going for creativity, elimination was what they faced.
Karen Fratti at Huffington Post recapped the "Top 11 Compete" episode, noting that Judge Joe Bastianich's tirade against amateur cook Leslie Gilliams for his lack of seasoning was the "highlight of her week," it must be noted that Judge Joe later apologized to Leslie for being a bit premature in his assessment. Because it turned out to be dead wrong. And, as strange as it may seem, Leslie, the most hated and gunned after guy in the Season 5 "MasterChef" kitchen, became the first finalist to make the Top 10.
So how did that happen?
Mystery Box Challenge
For the first time in "MasterChef" history, the Mystery Box Challenge provided the contestants with two choices: one with regular, cheaper items and one with similar items, only more expensive. Cheap versus fancy. Viewers were given a run-down of the contestants' choices and why, but Leslie's may have been the most memorable: He says he's eaten poor and eaten rich -- and rich was a lot better. So...
While they're cooking, the judges do their usual pass-throughs and taste tests. Stopping in at Leslie's station, Joe Bastianich noticed a lack of salt in Leslie's items. Although Leslie tried to tell him that he had put seasoning in them (and would continue to do so), Judge Joe went off, asking the amateur cook the rhetorical question of how many times did they have to be told to season their dishes.
But at the end of 60 minutes, the Top 3 consisted of Elizabeth Cauvel (fancy box), who made a Pan Roasted Pork Chop with Herb Biscuits and Pea Salad; Victoria (cheap box) Scroggins, who made Tilapia and a Ham Steak with Iceberg Salad; and Leslie, who made a triple protein dish consisting of Kobe Beef, Pork Chop, and Ahi Tuna with Truffle-Infused Parsnip Purèe. And despite Judge Joe's earlier problems with Leslie's seasoning, it was seasoned perfectly when it needed to be and, most surprising of all, it was chosen as the winning dish for the challenge -- automatically lifting Leslie into the Top 10 for Seasson 5.
It was Leslie's first time back in the "MasterChef" pantry. Not only would he not have to face elimination, but Leslie also got a couple more advantages for winning the Mystery Box Challenge. The first, of course, was getting to choose a dish for his competitors. Choosing between three stuffed pastas, he chose the candy-wrapper-shaped caramelle, which is traditionally pasta wrapped around a mozzarella-based filling. The second was getting to choose one of his competitors to work with the disadvantage of not having a pasta machine. Instead, they would have to roll and flatten their dough the old-fashioned way -- with a pin roller. When Leslie chooses Daniel McGuffey (because, he says, Daniel has cosistently made it difficult for Leslie in the "MasterChef" kitchen), Daniel appears to be somewhat angry and says Leslie has a grudge against him. Leslie just laughs, safe up on the balcony.
Daniel produced a Short Rib Red Wine Caramelle with a Tamarind Habanero Curry, too spicy for Judge Joe's palate. The other judges -- Chef Gordon Ramsay and Chef Graham Elliot -- do not like it either. But when Joe asked why so experimental, Daniel asked why give him something he had had hundreds of times. Joe's answer was priceless: "Because that's what I asked for." Daniel was silenced.
And he might have been eliminated for his creativity had it not been for "Scottish" Francis Legge, who got a little too creative, and Willie Mike, whose creativity went to a dessert-oriented dish that Chef Gordon called "lazy."
Francis makes a Short Rib Beetroot Caramelle with Yellow Cauliflower and Bell Pepper Purée. Chef Graham lets him know that his dish, although creative and eye-catching, was not pleasant to taste. Willie makes an Apple and Squash Caramelle, earning him harsh criticism from Chef Gordeon Ramsay, who not only labeled the big guy "lazy" in his preparation and execution of the dish but described the dish as "regurgitated dog vomit." (Willie is heard breathing out, "Oh, my!")
The two best dishes were the two amateur cooks who took the traditional route with their dishes. Jaimee Vitolo, who won over Judge Joe with her perfect pasta but also her story of how she makes her dish for her dad back in Queens, New York, all the time. She creates a Creamy Tomato and Pork Sauce Caramelle. Courtney Lapresi makes a simple Tomato Sauce Caramelle, which won over all three judges as well. The two will be team captains in the next Team Challenge.
Not a bit surprisingly, Daniel, Francis, and Willie are in the bottom three at the end of judging. Then Daniel is given reprieve, much to Leslie's chagrin. This left "Scottish" Francis and Willie to stand before the judges.
In the end, Willie is safe and Francis is eliminated.
"MasterChef" airs on Mondays at 8 p.m. (EST) on Fox Television.