Season 5 of "MasterChef" has seen its share of surprises so far: A seeming unified effort to get rid of Leslie Gilliams, an accusation that the judges are biased towards Courtney Lapresi, the sudden disappearance of Gordon Houston (for medical reasons), the youngest ever finalist in the "MasterChef" pantry (Ahran Cho), chefs putting mangoes in meat loaf, and home cooks eliminated and sent home before they could even finish their dishes. But Monday night's presented another first: One contestant offering up a dish they did not cook themselves.
But even though a panna cotta ramekin was taken, as Karen Fratti at Huffington Post recapped July 1, it wasn't as if Jaimee Vitolo was actually "robbed" of anything -- the panna cotta mold was a runny mess. But more on that in a few paragraphs...
Mystery Box Challenge
First up, it's the Mystery Box Challenge with a set of 22 tins in each for the remaining 16 finalists. No labels and the judges tell the contestants that they have 60 minutes to create whatever they like from the contents of the cans. At first, there's a bit of panic but then the can-openers come out and almost everybody settles down. Except for Jaimee, who opens all the cans and can't seem to decide what to prepare. But at the end of the challenge, the three finalists that seem to have risen to top in what Elizabeth Cauvel called a "doomsday prepper's dream" were Victoria Scroggins' potted meat fritters, which combined five types of canned meat and were served with spiced ketchup, artichoke hearts, and beets; Ahran's rolled sponge cake with fruit cocktail and whipped cream filling (she had only used one of the cans), and Elizabeth's borscht topped with chickpeas and diced canned ham. Although the judges found the use of the condensed milk something to be worked on, Elizabeth was chosen as the winner and received immunity for the upcoming Elimination Test.
Elizabeth got to accompany the three judges -- Chef Gordon Ramsay, Chef Graham Elliot, and restauranteur Joe Bastianich -- into the "MasterChef" pantry. There she got to meet last season's winner, Luca Manfe, and "MasterChef Junior" winner Alexander Weiss. So the rules of the coming Elimination Test was interspersed with a couple of plugs for Luca's new cookbook, My Italian Kitchen. Elizabeth was to choose which of the contestants would have to cook Luca's signature dish, a pancetta-wrapped veal with radicchio and apples, and Alexander's signature dish, a passion fruit panna cotta. Neither are dishes for the amateur cook.
Elizabeth's strategy: Those with unrefined palates or higher skill levels get Luca's complicated veal dish, while those who seem to be a bit ham-fisted or lack dessert skills get the panna cotta. Luca and Alexander watch from the balcony with Elizabeth as the home chefs get going.
Willie Mike is in troube from the onset, pan-searing his veal. He says he'll wrap the pancetta around it and cook it again, which raises flags for Chef Ramsay, who bluntly asks Willie if that was the way he saw Luca prepare the dish. Willie says no, so Chef Ramsay asks if he thinks he might be headed home. To dig a little deeper, Chef Ramsay asks Luca what he thought of Willie trying another way to make his signature dish. Luca says its alright if he thinks he can do better, but like he had been taught by the "MasterChef" judges, you have to crawl before you can walk. So it isn't looking good for Willie...
And Courtney, who is also cooking the veal dish, doesn't seemed bothered at all. Confidence oozing toward cockiness with this one, but she's been a roll in the "MasterChef" kitchen for the most part. So when it comes time to judge the dishes, hers looks very much like the Luca Manfe dish. Apparently it resembles it in taste as well.
During the cooking process, we found out that one of Jaimee's ramikens, the molds from which the panna cotta is contained and shaped, is missing. Someone had taken it. So when it was time to judge Jaimee's panna cotta, her runny offering left a bit to be desired and she said she might have done better (the judges liked the taste, just not the presentation) had she had her third ramiken.
So it came to pass that Tyler Viars was called to present his panna cotta. It looked just like Jaimee's (but that was no real indication that it was hers). And it was. The video footage of Tyler placing several ramikens in the cooler on the bottom shelf and then later taking a single ramiken from the top shelf was proof.
For his part, Tyler appeared surprised by it all. He quickly apologized to the judges, noting that he was in such a rush he just unthinkingly grabbed a ramiken. The judges suddenly stepped outside the "MasterChef" kitchen to confer about what should be done. And it came down to this: "MasterChef" is judged by a home cook's own dishes. Tyler had not brought a dish of his own making. Therefore, Tyler, being the only contestant to ever present a dish they had not made themselves, was eliminated.
Tyler accepted the judges decision calmly. He immediately turned and apologized to Jaimee for taking her ramiken. And then he left the kitchen.
Another first in the "MasterChef" competition...
"MasterChef" airs on Monday nights at 8 p.m. (EST) on Fox Television.