There are seven lucky cooks left on MasterChef. Another humongous mystery box sits on the stage. When it rises, we see the families of the remaining cooks. Even I get misty-eyed at the reunions. It's hard to be at MasterChef—you get up at different times every morning, not knowing what's going to happen that day, what you'll be challenged to do, who'll be going home. You film long hours, and the whole time, you're sequestered without communication with your family and friends back home. So I know it must've been wonderful yet painful to see mom, dad, son, partner underneath that box, with the knowledge that they'll be whisked away again at the end of the challenge.
I feel terrible that Krissi's son could not make it because of standardized tests (I'm shaking my fist at you, standardized test!). What a touching moment, perhaps the most tender so far this season. Even Joe Bastianich has tears in his eyes. (Missing Mamma Lidia, Joe?)
And so today's mystery box challenge is to cook a dish inspired by home and family. If I were in this challenge, I would make a Vietnamese chicken curry served with slices of baguette, a dish I was planning to make in a similar challenge during my season. It's a dish I grew up eating, and one that's executable in 60 minutes. (You can find the recipe for the chicken curry in my New York Times best-selling cookbook, Recipes from My Home Kitchen: Asian and American Comfort Food from the Winner of MasterChef Season 3 on FOX.)
I am excited to learn what everyone's making—it's challenges like these, where contestants are given free range, that you really get a glimpse into their character and cooking style. I love the diversity of America's home cooks.
Natasha is making a Thai green curry, corn flavored with shrimp paste (fascinating!), and long-grained rice with coconut milk and shredded coconut. Luca is making his wife's favorite dish, halibut over a white asparagus risotto—this sounds heavenly. (I've met Luca's wife before, and the sweet gal deserves every bit of that scrumptious dish.) Jessie's parents critique her cooking from above; she is making a duck breast topped with blackberry red wine reduction and Brussels sprouts with pancetta. She throws in some pecans for Georgia's sake. (I want to be all over that dish!) Krissi spins out her absent son's favorite meal, pasta e fagioli—pasta and beans, an Italian classic comfort.
The three top dishes belong to Natasha, Jessie, and Luca. And Luca takes the win, his second mystery box victory. In the pantry, Luca learns the judges have already selected what everyone will be preparing: sushi. But Luca gets to employ some strategy: he will put together three teams of two for another tag-team cooking challenge. If you recall from my season, this was the worst (meaning, most difficult) challenge. It's hard enough making sushi—sushi masters train for a decade on just how to make the rice—and now it has to be done in an hour and tag-team fashion?! Get outta here. During my season, I was paired with Stacey, and though we were deemed as a strong team (what with my love for sushi and Stacey's recent highly praised maki), my not being able to see made it impossible to know what's going on from the sidelines. I had Stacey shouting to me from the station, Cindy my aid talking to me in one ear, and Chef Ramsay yelling at me to get it together in my other ear. It was an overload of the auditory sense, to say the least. Stacey and I ended up as the bottom two, and Stacey was sent packing. It was easily the lowest point for me during my entire season—I'd felt like I'd let my teammate down.
Luca pairs James with Jordan, Natasha with Krissi, and Jessie with Eddie. Together, the couples must work together to prepare shrimp and vegetable tempura, an Alaskan king crab roll, and pieces of nigiri (including uni, tuna, and mackerel). Krissi exclaims sushi is disgusting—really, Krissi?!
I felt everyone's pain as I watched (er, listened) to the tag team sushi challenge. I could feel their frazzle grow. It was as though I was reliving the bewilderment: teammates screaming, fingers flying, fish flinging.
Natasha and Krissi end up performing the best out of all three duos, making them safe from elimination. James and Jordan have raw shrimp. Jessie and Eddie have poorly filleted fish, rice that's too tart, and unappetizing uni. Jessie and Eddie are the bottom two, and Eddie is asked to leave MasterChef. I was surprised as I thought Eddie was just beginning to shine as an exemplary cook. Lesson learned? Sushi may mostly be a raw preparation, but it takes a whole lot of technique.
When asked who will win MasterChef, Eddie gives Natasha's name. Do you agree? How do you feel about Eddie going home today? Tune in next week to FOX at 9/8c to see who makes it to the top five. And for all things MasterChef visit www.fox.com/MasterChef