CHICAGO – Welcome to the “MasterChef” recaps! It’s the first half of Finals Week, as the remaining five chefs battle for the first time to survive the two-challenge “Semi-Finals” gauntlet, and the three finalists begin their culinary thesis statement in “Final – Part 1”. Missing a week? You can read our summaries and watch On Demand, on FOXNow, on Hulu and on Tubi, FOX’s free streaming service. This television station is owned by the FOX Corporation.
As a certain “Star Trek” theme song would say, it’s been a long road to get here. For this 12th season of “MasterChef,” we’ve seen 40 former contestants grow to 20, and eventually five, as this final week of culinary challenges awaits them. (Since we skipped last week, a little catch-up: Derrick and Amanda ended up getting cut after a back-to-back grueling challenge where the chefs had to coach each other through their dishes by voice alone, and a takeover of the restaurant in Spago sounded the death knell for Willie, who couldn’t keep his team together tight enough for Wolfgang Puck.)
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But in the semi-finals, the remaining five chefs – Dara, Christian, Emily, Shanika and Michael – enter a “MasterChef” kitchen filled with fake snow and flaming torches. It’s true; it’s a “fire and ice” challenge, as they will have to complete two cooking challenges, with the worst contestant in each challenge immediately cut off.
“MasterChef: Back to Win” recap: Alaska baked in my head
MASTERCHEF: Contestant Michael in the special 2-hour episode “Semi Final/Finale Pt. 1” of MASTERCHEF airing Wednesday, September 7 (8:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. © 2022 FOX MEDIA LLC. RC: FOX.
First, the chefs must prepare a Baked Alaska, one of the most complicated desserts you can make – a layer of sponge cake, topped with a dome of ice cream, surrounded by a textured meringue which is then toasted and soaring. Almost everyone is exhausted, except Dara, who is usually the more exhausted – but her experience at culinary school prepared her for this moment.
Still, it’s not easy, as they have to make their own ice cream and quickly freeze it with liquid nitrogen to meet the 60-minute deadline. Each take has unique flavors: Dara makes an Alaskan peach melba with a raspberry swirl; Shanika a strawberry lemon basil; Christian has (square!) Alaskan pecan praline; Emily goat cheese, cherry and chocolate cake; and Michael with a Bananas Foster Alaska.
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After an exhausting hour of cooking, the Alaskans are to be judged. Dara’s Alaska receives praise from Gordon Ramsay and others; it’s manual. Shanika’s looks a little flat, but the flavors are there; Aaron Sanchez, particularly likes the airy meringue. The southern flair of Christian Alaska’s pecan praline gets high marks from Joe Bastianich and Gordon (despite a dry sponge). Emily and Michael run into the most trouble; the former is a melting mess since his cream didn’t set well, and Michael’s tastes good but suffers from too little meringue. (Do two piping bags’ worth, MIke! Don’t just wipe the holes with a palette knife!) Still, a grainy meringue beats a melted ice cream, which kicks Emily out for this first challenge.
MASTERCHEF: LR: Contestants Emily and Gordon Ramsay in the special 2-hour episode “Semi Final/Finale Pt. 1” of MASTERCHEF airing Wednesday, Sept. 7 (8:00-10:00 p.m. ET/PT) on FOX. © 2022 FOX MEDIA LLC. RC: FOX.
The remaining four chefs then jump directly from the frying pan and into the fire: they must follow gordon (who slipped into “something cozier: a white chef’s jacket) as they prepare his signature lobster tortellini with tomato and basil purées. It’s a grueling, fast-paced challenge, with plenty of “yes, chief” as they struggle to keep up with Chief Ramsay’s blistering speed. Aaron and Joe watch from the sidelines, pointing out when Shanika or Michael fall behind, or when Christian gets upset over complicated folding tortellini. “What are we doing, a TikTok dance?” he complains in talking heads.
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Criticisms come fast and furious: Michael’s shapes aren’t great and there’s too much basil puree, but Joe notes that “it tastes as good as it looks bad”, in reference to his presentation of bad quality. Shanika’s dish just looks unfinished, with upside down tortellini and no lobster claw in the middle of the dish as it should. Dara’s tortellini, naturally, are textbooks, and she’s the only one of the four chefs to put on the lemon zest and juice in its filling. Christian is a little messy; they are big and look more like blintzes than tortellini. But the pasta is beautifully thin and the purees are delicious.
Michael’s mistakes were plenty, but they pale in comparison to an unfinished dish, meaning Shanika gets cut right before the finale. (Emily and Shanika are getting cut again one after the other!)
“MasterChef: Back to Win” recap: an appetizer for the finale
MASTERCHEF: LR: Gordon Ramsay, Aaron Sanchez and Joe Bastianich in the special 2-hour episode “Semi Final/Final Pt. 1” of MASTERCHEF airing Wednesday, September 7 (8:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. © 2022 FOX MEDIA LLC. RC: FOX.
From there, we go straight to “Finale – Part 1”, which sees the return of a large, cheering crowd, the three circular leader positions, and our contestant’s family members cheering them on. (We even get some of the season’s previous contestants, but not all of them.) Christian’s son, Caden, is adorable, as is Michael’s cute fiancé in his red turtleneck and chains. Dara’s mum, dressed in a stunning purple ensemble, is ‘so excited she can’t even speak’.
So the stage is set for their respective three-course meals, all drawn from their backgrounds and culinary experiences. Michael honors his Texas roots with a bold Tex-Mex meal; Dara mixes her Asian influence with the French culinary traditions she learned at school; and Christian stays true to his New Orleans roots and his late grandmother’s cooking.
After the first cook (filled with the typical tension-fueled moments of the judges circling the chefs, and Dara having a momentary flash of panic over a broken sauce), the judges get to taste their apps. Michael’s appetizer is cold smoked trout with a cucumber and pomelo aguachile, with a salsa macha. Gordon says it’s beautiful; “pop colors are glamorous.” The other judges love him too, and rightly so; it is a colorful dish. Unfortunately, the salt is a little low and Michael accidentally left some blood on the trout.
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Dara’s appetizer is crispy snapper with miso béarnaise, served with green and white asparagus and roasted leeks. A bearnaise miso is unheard of, although its results are a little confusing to Gordon; for him, it is somewhere between a cold béarnaise and a hot mayonnaise (he regrets the absence of sabayon). Joe doesn’t care, though, as the technicalities of the sauce pale in comparison to the story it tells with its food: “It’s all you, and it’s delicious.”
MASTERCHEF: Contestant Christian in the special 2-hour episode “Semi Final/Finale Pt. 1” of MASTERCHEF airing Wednesday, September 7 (8:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX. © 2022 FOX MEDIA LLC. RC: FOX.
Christian’s appetizer is a fried green tomato with a crayfish salad, remoulade sauce and caviar (!!). “This dish is screaming at you,” Gordon gushed, calling them “America’s most glamorous, posh green tomatoes,” especially with this breading. Aaron has a side note: maybe the fried green tomato isn’t tangy enough for this competition. Yet it’s his background on a plate, and they love it.
After that comes the entrance round, but not before another final “MasterChef” surprise: The return of season 1-6 judge Graham Elliot, that of the Kickin’ Rad Glasses (whom Willie, who has never met a brightly colored frame, he didn’t like, famous). Dara and Christian are happy to see him, since he was judging their seasons.
The entree cook proceeds quickly: Michael with chilli-rubbed lamb loin, Dara with short rib, and Christian with Cajun-spiced filet mignons. All large, delicate meats that require significantly different cooking methods and temperatures. Dara’s big dilemma is getting the short ribs tender in time with the pressure cooker; Christian is nailing four medium-rare filet mignons in such a risky situation.
Will they all have their meats cooked properly and on time? We will find out…. next week, as the “MasterChef: Back to Win” finale wraps up, showing us which of these returning contestants finally gets the crown for themselves.
About the writer: Clint Worthington is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association. He is the founder and editor of The Spool, and senior editor at Consequence. You can find his other work on Vulture, Nerdist, RogerEbert.com and elsewhere.
Mary Berry’s Absolute Favorites (2014): Great British Bake-Off icon Mary Berry whips up comfort food in her cozy kitchen, casually leading curious cooks to whip up Berry’s favorite recipes. (No, we won’t apologize for any of these alliterations.) One season, eight episodes.
EMBEDDED TRAILER: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o7xonMibbZw
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How to Watch “MasterChef”
“MasterChef” airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. EST on FOX. You can also watch on demand or stream online through FOXNow. All 12 seasons of the show, including the first six episodes of the current season, are streaming on Hulu. And there’s a whole world of “MasterChef” to stream for free on Tubi, including the beloved “MasterChef Junior” series and several international editions.
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