After time off for the 2012 Olympics, it was back to the Top 6 on "MasterChef" as the new line-up of half a dozen home cooks -- as Josh Marks replaces Stacey Amagrande -- were tasked with running Hatfield's, a Michelin star restaurant in Los Angeles. The losing team will face a pressure test that will decide who will be eliminated and reduce the number of finalists to five amateur chefs.
"MasterChef" Team Challenge
Becky Reams and Frank Mirando, having finished as the top cooks in the last competition, choose teams and, as it turns out, the Red Team ends up being all female, the Blue, all male. With the home chefs watching (and Christine Ha being guided by Becky's remarkably accurate descriptions), the owners -- and head chefs -- of Hatfield's instruct the teams on how to prepare the restaurant's signature dishes -- two appetizers and two entrees. Becky's team is at a slight disadvantage due to Christine's blindness, something later noted by judge Joe Bastianich (who said Christine was simply a stumbling block and should be relegated to the coat check room) and joked about by Christine herself (who announced her sympathy for Becky, who was leading Monti Carlo -- with poor hearing -- and herself -- a person visually impaired -- and laughingly referred to the collective as "Team Helen Keller"). And as if having only a few minutes of instruction and cooking in a Michelin star restaurant would not be pressure enough, judge Gordon Ramsay would act as expediter for the kitchen.
But the team with the biggest disadvantage gets off to a great start. And although neither team has a problem with the House-made Ricotta, the Blue Team hits a roadblock when Josh can't seem to fry the bread needed for Croque Madame. As the Red Team steadily pushes out plates (with Becky acting as the eyes for one and the ears for the other), the Blue Team gets further and further behind -- until Frank finally switches out with Josh and gets the appetizers rolling out of the kitchen.
About halfway through the entree service, Chef Ramsay announces that the two teams will have to work in unison on the VIP table, an added test where Hatfield's owners will sit in judgment on the dishes themselves. Although the women get their dishes done, they have to wait on Frank, who has a problem with his entree. But when Frank takes his plated set to the window for expediting, he fails to tell Becky and leaves the Blue Team scrambling to plate their dishes.
The owners are not altogether pleased with the teams' performances, but along with the 22 customers' critiques and the "MasterChef" judges themselves, they will decide the winning team. Both teams hustle and complete service at the same time.
(An aside: It should be noted that these amateur chefs, having no experience in a kitchen usually full of trained chefs (some even Cordon Bleu), did an excellent job of getting their dishes cooked -- save for the Blue Team's original stumble -- and plated and completing the service in the time required. It is something that Chef Ramsay might want to bring up in a future episode of "Hell's Kitchen," his other culinary competition show, where mistakes and incomplete dinner services are quite common. He could chastise the trained chefs on that show by noting that a half-dozen home cooks, including one being blind, not only completed a dinner service on time but also made only a few mistakes while cooking dishes they had never prepared before. In short, the "MasterChef" home chefs made many of the professionals competing on "Hell's Kitchen" look pretty bad.)
Chef Ramsay, Joe Bastianich, and Graham Elliott then give their review. Judge Bastianich admits to Christine that he thought she was a liability at first but says that she had surprised him by rising to the challenge. Judge Ramsay tells the six that, overall, the Blue Team had been favored by the comment cards. However, they stress that you never keep customers waiting for an hour before the first table is served. The win goes to the Red Team.
"MasterChef" Pressure Test
The Blue Team assembles and the judges tell them their next test, which will result in the elimination of one of them. They are to cook three steaks. They judges do a great Walmart commercial -- which provided the steaks and is the show's sponsor for their cooking pantry as well -- while explaining they want the steaks cooked rare, medium rare, and well done.
The judges then ask Frank, if he could, who on his team would he say did the best job and would deserve to not be competing in the pressure test. Frank immediately says Josh was the best team player. When asked about himself and Josh's taking forever, then having to be relieved of his station to start the service, Frank says he takes responsibility -- as Blue Team captain -- for not taking the station sooner.
The judges then tell him that he does have a choice to save one of the three -- himself, Josh, and David Martinez. Faced with reality instead of a hypothetical, Frank wisely chooses to save himself, which only angers Josh (who, in confessional, says he's now gunning for Frank).
During the pressure test, both guys seem to do alright, except that David decides to cook his well done steak on the stove instead of finishing it off in the oven. But in the judging, not only do they have to get the cooking times correct, they're expected to season the steak perfectly as well.
In the end, it comes down to the last steak. Chef Ramsay announces that touch alone he can tell neither contestant has produced a well done steak. And when he cuts into them, he's correct. So who wins when, overall, the steaks aren't cooked correctly, nor are they seasoned as well as they should be?
The judges confer and they decide to send David Martinez home. Finally, after three shows, including what amounts to a half-hour Walmart steak commercial, there are five finalists left to continue the journey to the finale.
But that's not the end of it. Chef Graham Elliott, who owns restaurants in Chicago (where David is from), tells him he's not going home empty-handed. He's got a job at one of Chef Graham's restaurants.
David is stunned. As he hugs the judges and thanks Graham for the opportunity he's given him, he's asked who he thinks will win "MasterChef" Season 3. Without hesitation, he says he can't wait to read Frank's Italian cookbook. And while Josh is being congratulated by the remaining female contestants, Frank is overcome by emotion at David's confidence in him.
But will it be Frank's cookbook we'll read at season's end? Will he be able to withstand Josh's enmity and competitive drive? Or will Becky take the win after proving what a strong leader she can be in the kitchen, not to mention her constant placing in the top three during Mystery Box challenges? Or will it be the woman with the improbable name -- Monti Carlo? Or perhaps the young woman who has proven being visually impaired is no reason to retreat from the kitchen?
The Top 5 amateur chefs will return to their "MasterChef" stations next week on Tuesday at 9:00 p.m. (EST) on Fox Television.
(photo credit: Allan Warren, Creative Commons)