MasterChef Recap: Champ Christine Ha on The Great Meatball Downfall
Curtis Stone and Hugh Acheson | Photo Credits: Bravo
This week, the MasterChef contestants arrive at their first-ever field challenge with instructions to cook a well-balanced meal for more than 300 finicky elementary school eaters. Since Jessie and Jordan had the top two dishes from the previous challenge, they are team captains. Jessie's red team decides to serve an entree of teriyaki chicken with rice and corn, while Jordan's blue team chooses meatballs with pasta and green beans. Both menus, in my opinion, have their pros and cons: pasta is more of a homey, American meal and thus likely to be a hit with the kids, but it may very well come down to execution—the moment I heard "meatballs," I thought to myself, "Oh no, meatballs take so long to shape and cook thoroughly!" One thing I've learned from all the field challenges is you need to keep it simple; those hours flash by in a frenzy, and no matter how well you think you planned something, it is always chaos during service. From the get-go, I would've forgone the meatballs and done a Bolognese sauce.
Despite Jordan's executive decision to switch from meatballs to meat sauce in the middle of the challenge, it is not enough to save his team. The red team's teriyaki chicken prevails. (You can find a simple but delicious recipe for teriyaki chicken and pineapple skewers in my new cookbook, Recipes from My Home Kitchen.)
Before the pressure test, Jordan gets to offer three team members immunity, and save three team members from having to cook. He selects Howard, James, and himself. Last season, after my team had lost the Marines challenge, Frank the team captain deferred his immunity, and while many fans praised him for his integrity, the judges claimed Frank's move was stupid rather than brave. "It's a competition," Gordon said. "It's not MasterChefs. It's MasterChef." Singular. So, while Jordan will undoubtedly catch some flak for saving himself, it was a smart move.
The pressure test is cheesecake. Every Thanksgiving, I make a pumpkin cheesecake, and this is what I would've done here. Many cooks get creative, however, and unfortunately for Adriana, her mango and guava cheesecake sends her home.
We return to the MasterChef kitchen in the second hour for another Mystery Box. This time, there is black cod and ingredients indigenous to Japanese cuisine: sesame seeds, miso paste, shitake mushrooms, and ginger, among others. The contestants are told they will be cooking alongside a famous chef. Last season, we cooked a Mystery Box with judge Graham Elliot. This time, it's Gordon Ramsay himself. The clock begins, and while all the contestants start cooking up a storm, Chef Ramsay sits down in the library, brews a cup of tea, and even flips through a book or two. It isn't until half the time has eked by that Chef approaches his station and begins his masterpiece.
With such beautiful ingredients, I would've attempted a pan-seared cod lightly crusted in sesame seeds and topped with shitake slivers and a ginger miso vinaigrette. On the side, I'd place a dollop of whipped cauliflower and beets.
Luca wins the Mystery Box with an impressive miso glaze. He receives immunity and chooses what everyone else will create in the elimination round: will it be two dozen cookies, one dozen cupcakes, or a single cake? Luca selects cupcakes and is allowed to—surprise!—remove a stand mixer from a contestant's station. It's Jordan that loses his mixer. Does Luca see Jordan as a fierce opponent? Or is Luca avenging Jordan's previous self-handed immunity?