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I’m starting a bit late with this. Luca just picked Natasha as his teammate for tonight’s first ever team mystery box challenge. Three dishes from 50 ingredients; one from each state, and 60 minutes to do it in.

It doesn’t sound like either member of either team is listening to the other one, especially when Krissi comes up with an ingredient Jessie wasn’t aware of. Luca’s idea doesn’t sound like it’s going over well with the judges, either.

Krissi continues screwing up everything she touches, which pisses Jessie off. She gave up on the lobster salad, so Jessie takes over and asks her to do the lamb and dessert. But the crust Jessie gives her hasn’t been chilled or anything, so she asks about making a crepe. Except she doesn’t know how to make crepes, so while Jessie tries to talk her through it, she says she’s not comfortable. Which makes Jessie retort, “Babe, you abandoned me on the lobster, so you gotta pick something you can cook.” Best line of the night! Of course, it sets Krissi off in her usual threats of physical harm, and she stomps off in a huff. Oh, please, eliminate her for that! Especially because she left the lamb too rare, and Jessie has to sear them to finish them with two minutes left. About then, Krissi grabs a mixer and whips up a dessert. It’s not a bad idea: Chantilly cream, toasted macadamia nuts, and chopped, cooked apples.

Blue team presents a seafood trio for their appetizer. It’s a lobster tail, a scanty piece of trout, and a fried oyster, with avocado puree and mango sauce. It looks like crap, and Joe calls them on it. He says it tastes good, but could’ve been great. The entrée is rack of lamb with parsnip puree and roasted beets. Gordon says the lamb is delicious and the puree is also good. Presentation and the beets, not so much. Their dessert is a deconstructed strawberry tart with vanilla pastry cream. As Graham says, it looks interesting. Since their crust wasn’t working and they were running short on time, that’s what they wound up with. Like their appetizer, it didn’t really work, though.

Red team brings up a cold lobster salad with citrus vinaigrette. There are no green beans on the plate. Krissi tells Joe what it is, but it turns out that Jessie redid the vinaigrette. Joe thinks it’s good, but could use something like a bit of mango or some more citrus. Their main dish is also rack of lamb, with Swiss chard, a red wine jus, and roasted beets. Jessie didn’t have time to cook the lamb, and when Gordon asks about it, she admits it. Krissi butts in with, “The lamb was not cooked properly, in my opinion.” FINALLY, Gordon calls her on it. “Krissi, why do you always let other members in your team take over and then say nothing, but then throw them under the bus when it comes to taking responsibility?” Yes! She claims it reflects on her, and that she had to go take five minutes to calm down. Jessie says she had to finish the lamb. Krissi claims she thought it was in the oven. I wish the losing team didn’t have to do a pressure test to determine who gets to go home, because it needs to be Krissi. She shouldn’t have even gotten this far.

Luckily, Jessie saved the lamb. Graham asks Krissi to walk him through her dessert. The chryon says it’s an apple tart with Chantilly cream, but we know there’s no crust. It’s not the restaurant quality dessert the judges were looking for, but he says it’s a good effort. They like how the blue team worked together, but Jessie almost saved the red team entirely on her own. But the blue team won, and Gordon compliments them on working well together and not giving up at any point. As usual, Krissi doesn’t take the blame for contributing to her team’s loss. Jessie goes upstairs to vent to Luca and Natasha, and Krissi comes up to confront them. We cut to commercial after plenty of producer pushed posturing.

The pressure test is a chocolate mousse, according to Graham, which puts a smile on Krissi’s face, and Jessie also feels quite confident. Until Joe steps forward, and reveals he wants a chocolate molten lava cake. Krissi still looks happy. Jessie still looks confident. Gordon’s dessert is a chocolate soufflé. The girls still look happy. They have 75 minutes to make all three desserts, which must be presented at the same time. The ingredients are at their stations, and after some minor insults, the girls get to work. Jessie even takes her shoes off to run around better. Natasha knows Krissi’s a baker, and can probably do this, but she notes Krissi’s mousse is a bit thick as the ladies put them in the fridge.

The judges think it’s going to be too close to call, but it looks like Krissi’s falling behind in time for the soufflés. Or at least, that’s what we’re supposed to think, as we cut to commercial with less than 15 minutes left as she puts them in the oven. Soon after we come back, it’s less than 5, and then there’s about two and she takes them out. The judges don’t think it’s done, but she’s confident. I’m pretty sure soufflés take longer than ten minutes, but they’ve got to do the lava cakes, and with one second left, she gets the lava cake down, which upsets me, Natasha, and Jessie.

Graham tries both soufflés, and says nothing. He tells the other judges Krissi’s was raw, then turns around and gives it to Jessie. Graham’s chocolate mousse is up next. I misunderstood the earlier comments; Jessie has the denser mousse, so it goes to Krissi. Now it’s up to Joe, and if I wasn’t eating, I’d hold my breath. Both lava cakes have fallen, but Jessie’s looks worse, and Joe calls it more raw than molten. We hear Joe tell the others that Jessie’s crust was just a bit better. He comes back out and says the decision was based on the most minute details, so I’d cross my fingers if I a) wasn’t busy typing and b) know a commercial break is coming up. Of course I fast forward, but have to stop and watch the trailer for MasterChef Junior. I’ll be watching that online.

When Joe talks about one having the crispiness and chewiness they were looking for, I’m very happy. After he says the person going to the semi-finals is Jessie, he claims it was the most difficult decision he’s made in his life. Gordon tells Krissi she has the right to her attitude, and Joe invites her and her son to dinner with him and his mother. She thinks Luca’s going to win. Ding dong!

I fast forward through the three remaining chefs’ journeys, and manage to catch up with the show. The judges show off the prizes under mystery boxes. Tonight’s final mystery box is interesting: they each have to make an elevated version of the dish that got them their apron. Of course, the winner gets, as Gordon calls it, “a life-changing” advantage.

Jessie says she’s elevating her plating. Luca thinks Graham will finally say yes to his dish. Natasha’s trying to enhance her flavors. Gordon tells Luca his sauce is off, and he has to start over. Luca’s panicking, as there’s less than ten minutes to go, and his freakish inability to make his national food under pressure is kicking in yet again. Natasha’s up first. Her audition dish was empanadas with skirt steak and what I can now recognize as a chimichurri sauce. The presentation on her final is gorgeous, and she also has a roasted corn puree. Gordon’s very happy with it. She tells Graham she put a little lard in the crust this time for flakiness, but it’s still a little thick. Joe tells her it was a smart dish, and he thinks she can win.

Graham calls Luca up. His broccoli rabe ravioli presentation also looks better, and Graham really likes it, but the sauce didn’t quite make it. Gordon asks him why cheese sauce? He says with the toasted pine nuts a brown butter sauce would’ve been better, but he knows Luca comes back from every knock he’s given. Jessie’s presentation of her sea bass en croute is also incredible, and she did a great job as well, according to Joe. Graham has a minor criticism on her presentation.

They’re ranking the dishes, and I’m not surprised to find Luca’s third. As usual, we have a commercial break before we find out who wins. It’s Jessie, but all three get to go into the pantry. Jessie will get to pick from three ingredients and Natasha gets to pick from the remaining two, which means she also picks for Luca. The three ingredients are a wheel of Grana Padano cheese, Kobe beef, and King crab. Crab is not a good ingredient for Luca, and both Jessie and Natasha know that. Jessie picks the beef, even tho she’s never worked with it. Gordon tells her it *is* similar to filet mignon, but more unforgiving. Joe asks Luca which of the two he’s most afraid of, and Luca asks Brer Fox not to throw him in that briar patch.

Natasha claims she knows what Jessie wants her to do but she’s got her own strategy. We have the obligatory commercial break before she reveals it, of course, and she hands Luca what he wanted, the Italian cheese. They have five minutes to pick out additional ingredients. I have no clue what I’d do with cheese. The judges tell us it’s very salty. Luca’s stuffing a veal cutlet with the cheese, and he’s also making a cheese and onion tart that Joe’s quite familiar with. That sounds good. Turns out Jessie’s forgotten to get butter. I know Luca would give it to her, but Gordon suggests Natasha, and she asks Natasha for a tablespoon. Natasha looks at her three sticks and back at Jessie before we cut to commercial. After, Natasha smirks and shakes her head. As Jessie heads back to her station, Luca throws her a stick. The judges make the obligatory comments about maybe he just threw away a quarter of a million dollars, but my respect for his chivalry has not diminished.

He’s up first. He presents Joe with pancetta wrapped veal with Grana Padano and sage and Frico (the cheese and onion dish). Joe tells him the Frico is exactly what it should be, but it’s very rich, and he should’ve added some acidity to cut through the fat. Gordon asks him if he seasoned the veal, but Luca knows the cheese was enough. Gordon says he bounced back after being knocked down. Graham commends him on showing a technique that he hasn’t done before, but isn’t thrilled with the presentation.

Gordon calls Natasha up with her King crab cold yakisoba salad with vegetables. She even has pickled radishes on the side. As she lists the ingredients, I wonder if she’s overpowered the crab meat, but Gordon says it’s incredible and bursts with flavor. He thinks it tastes even better than it looks, and if it weren’t for Joe and Graham having to have a taste, he’d just keep eating. Joe tells her she showcased the crab in a very, very smart way. Graham loves that she used Serrano peppers.

Jessie brings Joe her dish. He takes us out to commercial by asking her if she’s insane for picking an ingredient she’s never used before. When we come back, she describes her seared Kobe beef with ponzu butter and noodles. A quick Google search shows me ponzu sauce is a Japanese citrus sauce. And then Graham asks her to explain it to him, and she says she melted the butter with the ponzu in it, so I Google ponzu. Soy sauce, lime juice, vinegar, and fish flakes. Yeah, I wouldn’t put that on beef, and Graham agrees with me. She also made a papaya salad with those flavors, but chose to leave it off the plate. Gordon persuades her to let them try it, and tell her that choice was not a good one. I think it might be Luca and Natasha.  Gordon names Natasha first, and now I’m more certain than ever that Luca’s going through, and I’m right. The judges praise Jessie, and Joe offers her a job.

So, not only has my episode count been off (mainly because I was counting the two hour episodes as one, like tonight), but I’ve been unable to live blog for the past month. In that time, Bri came back and went home again, but not before Jordan finally walked out of the MasterChef kitchen for good.

The judges’ sons will be filling the mystery box. Joe’s sons are 13 and 11, Gordon’s is 13, and Graham’s is two-and-a-half. I’m not sure what he’s going to contribute, but he seems to know what he wants to do. So do the others. White chips, chocolate hazelnut spread, ketchup, a coconut, peanut-butter, rainbow marshmallows, passion fruit, baby pineapple, bacon, cheese slices, bananas, blueberries, strawberries, and puff pastry. It looks like there’s a jar of sprinkles there, too. I’d make a fruit pastry type thing – I saw a technique once where you did something to the middle of the puff pastry so it stayed flat; I recall scoring around the edges, and I think poking holes in the center with a fork. Probably the bananas, blueberries, and strawberries, with marshmallow cream topping. Another option would be to go tropical with the coconut, passion fruit, pineapple, and banana. I’d probably use the white chocolate with that, although I don’t consider white chocolate chocolate, since it’s not made with cocoa beans.

As time is called and we go to commercial, the judges have been worrying over Krissi’s problems, and she’s bleeped as they call time. It looks like she wasn’t able to finish. Fingers crossed! When we come back, the boys are sent off, which I’m a bit bummed by. I would’ve liked to have heard their commentary, too. Luca’s up first, with a pineapple napoleon with white chocolate. Gordon says it’s beautiful, and he loves the filling. Graham asks him about the passion fruit, and Luca says it was too sour. Graham congratulates him on editing. Joe likes it, as well.

Next is Jessie, presenting vanilla cream puffs with coconut and fruit. I forgot the mystery box challenge won’t send anyone home, so if Luca wins, I know he’ll target Krissi. Joe calls James forward, and he brings up a passion fruit turnover with blueberry mint puree. Hmm. I wonder if his passion fruit wasn’t as sour as Luca’s? I could see if the blueberries were very sweet, they’d offset it, and I think I could even see them with mint, but the three together? I just don’t know. But I haven’t been tasting these as they went along, either. He also has a whip of cinnamon sugar on the side. Bizarre. Joe likes it, though. He asks James who the best bakers in the competition are, and he says Krissi and Natasha. Joe points out they’re not up there. James is all happy about the judges’ comments until Krissi snarks, “You used pre-made puff pastry. Congratulations.” OK, if he wins, she’ll *definitely* have a target on her back, and I hope it goes better than it did when Luca tried last week. I don’t know about Jessie.

Krissi claims she’s offended because she made something from scratch. Well, you didn’t finish it, so no, you didn’t. Shut up, Krissi. Of course, we must go to commercial before Gordon announces James as the winner. It’s his first mystery box win. As they’ve been doing all season, the winner doesn’t have to take part in the elimination challenge. I like this new rule. The theme is the greatest dishes the three judges have ever eaten. Joe’s is marinated Botan shrimp with sea urchin and caviar. Oooh, give that one to Krissi, that looks difficult. Luca might have problems with it, too. Graham’s dish was taught to him by his grandfather. It’s a soft-shelled crab sandwich. That could be difficult to reproduce exactly. Gordon’s dish, while served on a boat, is not seafood. It’s a Vietnamese noodle soup with slow cooked pork. That will be extremely difficult to pull off in an hour, but I suspect Krissi could do it, so I hope he doesn’t give it to her. Then it occurs to me that he may only get to pick one dish, so I’m going to stop typing now and hit play. He gets to taste all three dishes before choosing one. Turns out Luca’s his prime target, so I suspect he’ll pick either the soup or the sea urchin.

I’m right; he picked the soup. I’m not surprised, because his comments about the broth led me to suspect that it was simmered as long as the pork was cooked. The remaining contestants get to taste the dish before heading into the pantry. It sounds like they only have to recreate the broth. Both Luca and Krissi express concern. Natasha says she’ll use her palate. They only have five minutes in the pantry, though. Krissi hangs back enough to copy off the others just like she did in high school. As Gordon talks about not seasoning it all at once, we see everyone putting various seasonings in. I see star anise and what looks like coriander seeds. I also see vegetables being chopped, including what look like a green Serrano pepper. I can also see carrots and parsley in someone’s broth. Natasha reveals she forgot to grab garlic, which she feels is a requirement for this dish. Since it’s Vietnamese, probably. I hope Krissi copied off her.

She asks Luca for some, and the producers have told her to say he’s her biggest rival, and try to build up the tension with shots of people looking concerned before cutting to commercial. Luca gives her some, and I’m not surprised. He says that’s not how he wants to win, but Gordon thinks he might live to regret it. I doubt it. Luca’s pretty chivalrous, Gordon, maybe that’s something you should think about. Now we get to listen to Krissi whine, but I’m going to fast-forward as usual. James says he wants to see Luca leave “professionally” because he’s the best competitor, and Natasha “personally”. Joe tells Luca to salt his broth, and asks him about giving Natasha the garlic. Luca says if he goes home tonight, it’s not because he gave her the garlic. Gordon tries to boost Krissi’s ego, and Graham goes to critique Jessie, who’s just added some lime.

Jessie’s roasting cardamom and cinnamon and her ship experience is showing. The judges ask James to comment, and he says Luca’s looking the best. The countdown begins, and when it’s over, Natasha’s up first. Graham likes the color on the pork, but says the broth is a little sweet. Gordon says the pork is delicious, but she should’ve added more of the pork juices to it. He says it’s very good. Joe says it has good depth, but he thinks it’s under-salted, and that’s why it’s so sweet. Well, the pork stock would’ve been salty, so I can see that.

Luca brings his bowl up. Again, Graham likes the color. He says it’s perfect. He tells Luca he’s in the zone. Gordon tells him it’s so close, it takes him back and it’s mind-blowing. They high five. Joe calls Jessie up, and tells her it looks beautiful. He says it’s complex and has depth. He thinks it’s very close to Gordon’s dish. Gordon catches the too-soon addition of lime, but says it’s delicious. Last, and hopefully least, is Krissi.

As usual, she’s whinging in a voice over. Joe looks at it and says she got it all in there. He says the flavors are also all there, but it’s a bit over-spiced and not concentrated enough. He calls it a valiant effort. With two near perfect dishes, I’m not sure I see her going home over Jessie. Joe also says the broth is flavorful and says it’s an impressive effort. Gordon, of course, is the one who starts to point out all the flaws. He tells her the foundation’s there, though. He also says it’s a good effort. He also claims they’re all so good, it’s going to be a difficult decision. Since we hear the judges discussing technique before we go to commercial break, the only one I’m confident of is Luca.

When we come back, they’re discussing his technique. Graham calls him an alchemist. Jessie and Luca step forward first, and Luca is the winner. I won’t miss either Natasha or Krissi, but I’d rather Krissi went home first. Alas, it is not to be, and I don’t really understand. They just said Natasha’s techniques were worthy of a professional chef, and I thought from their comments her dish was better. As she breaks down in tears, Gordon tells her that yes, she did a very good job. Such a good job, that they decided it was too close to call, so she, too, is safe. Guess that explains the two hour special tonight.

In an attempt to catch up, I fast forward until I see everyone walking around a ranch that the narrator says is just outside of Los Angeles, and it kinda reminds me of the farm that the celebrity chefs on the Guy vs. Rachel cook off had to gather their own food from. A mystery guest is hosting a huge party, and they’ll be cooking. Very soon, Paula Dean rides up on a tractor, and I’m glad to see her. Luca’s concerned and Jessie is thrilled.

This is not a team challenge. Each one will be cooking one meal for ten guests. Paula picked five Southern proteins, and they’ll have to serve it with two sides. Now Natasha’s concerned. Kentucky chicken, Alabama pork chops, Georgia shrimp, Mississippi catfish, and alligator. I’m not surprised by the last two, though I only know one way to cook either of them, but frying is Southern.

As winner of the elimination challenge, Luca gets to assign the proteins. I’m not surprised that he picks pork chops for himself, but I don’t think he’ll be able to go Southern with it, unless he goes for Cajun blackened. His biggest targets are Natasha and Jessie, so I suspect Krissi will escape once again. I hope he doesn’t underestimate Jessie again. Remember, she’s from Paula’s home state, Luca! He knows that catfish and alligator are the two most problematic, and luckily, he hands Jessie the latter. Out of the remaining proteins, that was probably the best one he could’ve made, and it turns out she’s not familiar with it. Natasha, of course, gets the catfish, Krissi gets shrimp, which she’s happy about, and James gets the chicken. Paula will pick the two top chefs, and they’ll be safe. They have 90 minutes.

Gordon voices my thoughts about Luca underestimating James by giving him chicken. He tells the judges he picked the pork chop because he doesn’t want to play it safe. His side dishes are sweet potatoes and roasted Brussels sprouts with bacon. Jessie’s got coleslaw, and Krissi has fried green tomatoes. The guests start to show up as James shows off his dishes. They must be free-range chickens, because the chicken breasts are huge. Gordon cautions him to make sure they’re cooked through. After the break, he advises Natasha to take her fish off the grill and finish it in a pan on the stove, then checks one of James’ extra breasts. It’s not done, so James has to hope they can finish in the less than five minutes remaining. Both Luca and Krissi are confident in their plates.

Jessie deep-fried her alligator, which is exactly what I would’ve done with it. But I would’ve timed it like I’d time calamari. She’s serving it with Andouille mac and cheese, and garlic-buttered green beans. She says her alligator is Cajun, so I’m guessing she put a whole lot of red pepper in the coating.

Luca’s dish makes me hungry. It’s a spiced pork chop with Brussels sprouts and creamy mashed sweet potatoes. Krissi’s looks good, too. It’s citrus grilled shrimp with collard greens and fried green tomato. Natasha also went the “Cajun” route, and I can see the red pepper on the catfish. I admit, I would’ve done the cornmeal fry for that, although I guess one of the reasons they were sticking to the grill was buttermilk. It looks like she’s got a biscuit on the plate, but the chryon says it’s potato au gratin. Her second side is cabbage slaw. She also put Andouille sausage in her starch.

I’d try James bourbon BBQ chicken, but I don’t care for legumes or cooked carrots, so I wouldn’t touch the black-eyed peas and honey glazed carrots. Otherwise, I’d like to try all five dishes, even including Krissi’s fried green tomato. There’re a couple sides I wouldn’t have thought of, either. When James describes his chicken breast, he says it’s bone-in, which explains a lot. You always have to cook chicken with the bone in longer than you would normally think to. I hope he got them all finished okay.

The judges circulate. Gordon notices one of James’ breasts is underdone. He has to cut it apart and put it back on the grill, and when he does so, Joe says it’s raw. It turns out that Natasha’s fish was uniformly undercooked. I’m not surprised, what with her having to change heat sources. The judges sit down with Paula to discuss the dishes, and agree with me that some things (Natasha’s catfish) just have to be fried.

My guess for the top two is Luca and Jessie, and I’m right. They get a glass of champagne. The next day, they also get to go in the pantry with the judges, where they get to decide who has to cook one of the judges’ top dishes from one of their restaurants. Gordon’s dish is an appetizer, a sea scallop salad with confit potatoes and a truffle vinaigrette. Joe’s is a filet Rossini. Graham’s is a dessert, which got him his second Michelin star. It’s a Greek yogurt panna cotta. They are both targeting Natasha, so I’m kinda bummed.  Natasha gets the salad, of course, and Krissi gets Joe’s, so even though she claims she’s out of her element, I think she’ll manage it just like she did the soup. James, of course, is way out of his element. They get to taste the dish and are given 45 minutes.

The judges talk about the intricacies of each dish, most of which involve timing. Natasha’s confident with 30 minutes remaining. James puts the panna cotta in the fridge, not the blast chiller, which upsets Luca, because that’s a huge mistake, and he wants Natasha to go home. Krissi also makes what Jessie thinks is a mistake. Although James tells Graham he put the panna cotta in the fridge, Graham doesn’t tell him of his error, which is fair. It looks like it set, though. They agree with Jessie that Krissi might’ve overdone her filet, and worry about Natasha’s timing on the scallops, but she seems to do what they were hoping she would. Gordon likes her sear, and the uniformity of the sizes. He says it’s not perfect, but a bloody good effort. Graham tells her the scallops are perfect, and says it’s a good effort. Joe calls her out for not quite looking the same, which is the other thing they want in a duplication effort.

Joe is proud of Krissi’s presentation, but when he cuts into the meat, there’s a definite line where she cooked it on one side too long. She also left the skin on the pear, but Joe’s still impressed. Gordon likes the polenta, but thinks the filet is overcooked. James’ presentation doesn’t really look like Graham’s dish, and when Graham puts his spoon in, you can see the panna cotta has not set. Gordon says it tastes nice, but it’s not set properly. He calls it a shame. Krissi thinks James is going home and she’s safe, and I’m afraid I think so, too. Although I shouldn’t, I notice she’s wearing a different outfit in her interview, and he isn’t. To no-one’s real surprise, James is sent home. Gordon tells James to go marry his fiancée and get into a kitchen. James thinks Luca’s recent roll will take him to the end.

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