Top 12. We started with 40, and now we are down to only 12. Each challenge has increased in pressure and expectations. I often wonder if the judges were thrown into these crazy situational challenges, would they sink or swim? But that’s neither here nor there. We contestants signed up for this madness, which means we are a special kind of crazy. An even number also means – you guessed it – a team challenge. We always look for clues when we walk into the kitchen, and today we see a stack of six different colored aprons. 12 people, six apron colors, we know we are about to perform a tag team challenge.
Tag team is arguably one of the hardest challenges that take place in the MasterChef kitchen. Not only are you depending on one other person to complete the challenge, but if your team lands in the bottom, you have a 50% chance of going home. Back in season 7, I escaped the dreaded tag team. The previous challenge had won me immunity. Heck, I even had the advantage of pairing the teams. Today was different. We would all be cooking, and we would be choosing our teams. Sounds like a positive…choosing our own teams. I’d rather be told who to cook with. Being able to choose your partner means that the responsibility of your team’s success falls directly on you and your partner’s shoulders. We can’t complain that we were given a bad partner; we consciously chose the person we are working with.
Honestly, I’m fine working with almost anyone. We are all skilled chefs. We should all be competent in whatever they throw at us. Communication and collaboration will be the key to success today. When he tells us we can choose our own partner, Christian looks at me and says, “Want to do this?” Now, some of you are thinking, “What is she doing? Christian yelled at her repeatedly during a previous team challenge.” You are correct; he did. But we also had a few conversations afterwards. Christian is a strong chef, and throughout our time here, we’ve learned how one another works. Christian knows for our team to be effective, there will be no screaming (I did point out to Christian that I don’t have the greatest hearing. He is going to have to yell to give me direction. So I told him to scream TO me…not AT me; there is a huge difference).
Traditionally, the tag team challenge consists of a huge appetizer tray. That’s tons of work in itself. But this season is Back to Win, and expectations have increased. We find out we aren’t making appetizers, but instead a three-course meal consisting of Gordon Ramsay’s signature dishes. Just having to construct a Beef Wellington in these time constraints would be challenging, but let’s also throw in truffle mash, roasted tomatoes and garlic, a mushroom risotto, and a pear tarte Tatin. Now, the challenge seems impossible. I can’t speak for everyone, but at this point I fear we will be performing a circus act (most likely the clowns) for the entire nation. But there’s no sense in panicking – this is the challenge that has been set before us.
The good thing is, I’ve studied two of these dishes. I’ve made many risottos, so I’m feeling confident about that one. I know every detail of a proper Beef Wellington, but I came to this competition with a rule: don’t make a Beef Wellington unless you are forced to. Why in the world would I try to recreate Gordon’s most famous dish and then SERVE it to him?! I wouldn’t…unless I was forced to…and I am. The dessert is the only thing I haven’t cooked before, but it seems pretty straight forward. Christian confides in me that he has not made a Beef Wellington, and I know I will have a lot of responsibility with the star dish. I formulate a game plan of the steps our team needs to take in order to finish on time, keeping in mind that I will need to do the bulk of the work on the Beef Wellington.
We start off strong with me cooking first. Christian is giving great direction, reminding me of things I need to have prepped and ready for when he enters after me. One thing our team does not have a problem with is vocalizing. As I’m trying to prep the wrapping area for the Wellington, I’m having major issues with the plastic wrap. I HATE plastic wrap and avoid it at all costs. I get those tubes in a hot mess every time I work with them. I’m struggling with the plastic and Christian is getting irritated. I tell him to chill and that he’s making it worse. He backs off, and the plastic finally starts to unwind.
At the first switch, we are doing great. I’ve prepped the ingredients for the risotto and he’s starting the potatoes for the mash. Things are going pretty smoothly from this switch to the next. I get the Wellington layered and into the fridge. Christian has to remove it later to get into the oven. We each have a label with our names on it in the fridge. Christian goes to locate our Beef Wellington from the fridge and starts to yell that it’s gone…someone has taken it. I’m standing on the sideline (not allowed to move) and I’m starting to panic. Who in the world would steal our food? No one…that’s who. Gordon asks me to leave my station and show him where I put the Wellington, and it’s exactly where I left it. Sounds like a crazy mistake on Christian’s part, but guys, we are under so much intense pressure that not being able to find something right in front of your face is pretty standard. It’s a simple mistake we could all have made, but I can tell it’s REALLY annoyed Gordon.
As I’m caramelizing the pears for the tarte Tatin, Gordon comes over and tells me I need to get it into the oven. I try to tell him that I can’t put the crust on and get it in the oven yet because the pears aren’t caramelized. He tells me again that I need to put the crust on NOW and get it in the oven….YES CHEF! I put the crust on the dessert and pop it in the oven, knowing good and well that the pears will not be caramelized…there is no arguing with Gordon Ramsay.
I’m also hearing a ton of screaming from Bowen and Shanika’s station…mostly from Shanika. Bowen seems frazzled, and Shanika seems annoyed. The team behind us seem to think Christian is screaming at me and vocalize that. This irritates Christian and begins to get him upset, causing him to lose focus on the challenge at hand. Christian is getting heated and distracted. I call his name three times, and he finally turns his attention to me. I tell him to ignore everyone else and to keep his head in OUR game. Yes, Christian was yelling TO me. He knows I can’t hear; he knows he needs to be loud. WE know that we are being loud to communicate. It doesn’t matter what the other contestants think.
I tried to plan the switches out to where I would wrap our Beef Wellington in the lattice layer of pastry. This layer is so important because it dictates what our star dish looks like from the outside. My plans went awry, and Christian is now wrapping the lattice around the Wellington. He can’t get the dough stretched, and I can already tell that it’s going to look like a loaf of bread. No sense crying over thick pastry – it’s got to get into the oven or it’s going to be raw.
As the time is down to the last few seconds, Christian is plating our dishes. I’m thankful in this moment that he is the one dumping a cast iron upside down on a plate for our dessert. Those skillets are heavy, and I fear I may have dumped the dessert into the floor by accident. Time is up, our dishes are plated, and I am so PROUD that we were able to recreate THREE of Gordon’s dishes under these bizarre circumstances. Christian and I collaborated and worked well as a team. I am proud of our performance. Now, it’s time for judging. It doesn’t matter how proud you are of a dish or your performance. These judges can tear you down in seconds. Willie and Amanda get a brutal critique, and I’m now dreading going to the front. However, when Joe tells us our risotto tastes like it came from his mother’s kitchen, I could cry. Yes, our Wellington looked like a loaf of bread, but inside it was cooked perfectly, and the layers are beautiful. As far as the dessert, the pears are…not caramelized. Surprise, surprise. But the layers of pastry are perfect, and the pears are cooked through.
Fred and Dara get a pretty rough critique. Both strong chefs on their own, I think their personalities may have been too similar. They are both incredibly nice and somewhat soft spoken. They were also good friends. I think they may have had problem providing direction for one another. Gabe and Emily also had a hard time; it seems like there was a lack of communication. When Emily argues with Joe about the cook on the steak, I hold my breath. As I’ve said before, there is no arguing with the judges. If they say the sky is orange and black striped like a tiger, then the sky is a tiger. Derrick and Michael killed it, and even though Shanika and Bowen screamed and fought the entire time, their dishes look great, and they came out on top.
I’m sad to see Gabriel go. He is an incredible chef with a heart of gold. There was never any conflict with Gabriel, and he was genuinely good to each and every one of us. We survived the dreaded tag team, and we are now the top 11. Smaller numbers and less room for errors, but only one challenge away from the top 10. And we are already guessing what’s next.