'MasterChef' recap: Eat where the truckers eat

gordon-ramsay-320.jpg gordon-ramsay-320.jpgIn this episode, the would-be chefs have been transported a hundred miles away from the "MasterChef" kitchen to a particularly barren hellscape in the California desert. Or perhaps this is what a preview of what all of California will look like if our present budget woes continue. "Who knows what's going to happen?" David wonders aloud. Well, considering they dropped you cats down next to a burnt-out husk of a diner, I would think that cooking is in your immediate future. But before the contestants are required to think to hard about that concept, a semi-truck pulls up and Gordon, Joe, and Graham pop out of the cab. The contestants shriek and applaud. I dearly hope that the producers have ordered them to applaud enthusiastically anytime Gordon emerges from a motorized vehicle, because otherwise, they are giving the impression that America's first MasterChef is easily enthralled by motor vehicles.

Gordon has brought them out to this arid wasteland to cook for "the people who are the backbone of this country." What, call center workers in Bangalore? No, stupid -- truckers. One hundred truckers, as a matter of fact, who will be served what Graham calls the ultimate truck stop dish -- hamburgers. Better luck next challenge, vegetarian truck drivers of America.

Because we have an even number of contestants remaining, this will be a team competition -- red versus blue. There's a truck full of ingredients behind them, including meat that they shall have to grind themselves. As the winner of the halibut challenge from the last show, Jake gets to select his team. He picks Tracy, Whitney, Lee and Tony -- they'll form Team Blue. By the process of elimination, Sharone, Sheetal, Slim, David, and Mike (and his hat) will make up Team Red. Each trucker will have a burger from both teams. The losing team will then face a pressure challenge in which someone gets eliminated. You may recognize this as a repeat of last week's challenge, with truckers replacing U.S. Marines. The teams will have 30 minutes of prep time, which I suggest the teams use wisely. Those truckers will stomp a mud hole in you if you run out of food again.

The Blue team decides to grind up short rib and short loin for a 100-percent beef burger. It'll have your standard lettuce, tomato, onion accoutrements, and apparently coleslaw will be involved. Jake calls it a "Route 66 burger," which, hopefully, is evocative of the burger's style and not a handy way to identify the roadside where they found all the meat. The Red Team is also going for an all-beef burger, but taking a different tack with the accompaniments. There will be a chipotle barbecue sauce, and blue cheese is being worked into the beef, along with a host of spices. Oh, and Sharone is using bacon. I hate to prejudge these things long before the competition begins, but bacon wins. Always. Joe is unconvinced: "I think the Red Team is definitely falling prey to the Celebrity Chef Burger Syndrome." Joe, up until now we have had a very cordial relationship, but if you are speaking ill of both blue cheese and bacon, please accept my cordial invitation to go to hell.

Either we're in a remake of Maximum Overdrive or the truckers are approaching. Team Blue seems well organized under Jake's benevolent dictatorship. Meanwhile, the Goofus to Blue's Gallant is Team Red. Their burgers are leaking fat and causing smoke and flare-ups on the grill; more to the point, the burgers look like they've been charred beyond salvation. Ixnay on the Blue Heesechay, please. Sadly, the Red Team has just two minutes to prep a whole new batch of burgers. Hopefully, there's an In 'n Out within sprinting distance.

With the truckers now lining up for their grub, the Blue Team serves up their traditional burger. Their ruthless organization and efficiency is marred only by the fact that they are using Swiss cheese on the burger. Friends, unless you've got some mushrooms you're putting on the burger to go with that Swiss, you'd best go with cheddar instead. Then again, I'm the fellow who thought blue cheese sounded like a hell of an idea, and where has that left the Red Team? Spiraling into chaos, is where. No one seems to know what anyone else is doing, and the simplest tasks -- someone calls for butter lettuce, and poor, out-of-her depth Slim screams "Butter? What the hell are you asking for?" -- are requiring a Broadway production number to carry out. Good Lord, they're burning the buns. I hear Mayor McCheese wants to bring them up before a tribunal at The Hague for crimes against burger humanity.

Time for the votes to start rolling in from the first trucker who, for lack of a better phrase, was lucky enough to taste burgers from both teams. Trucker No. 1 pulls the Red Team's lever. Either that chipotle barbecue sauce is tastier than anything we can possibly imagine, or we're seeing the first instances of voter fraud so massive that it would make a banana republic dictator blush. One of the truckers calls the Red Team's burger "electric chair food." As in, they should be given the chair for what they've done to your food? Nah, man -- it's the kind of food you'd want to eat as your last meal before getting the electric chair. Presumably for all those drifters you killed during those many, many miles of trucking. But perhaps I've said too much.

Anyway, the votes are knotted up at 17, and Sharone decides to gamble -- let's douse the buns in bacon grease! Apparently, it produces nicely toasted buns. And if the truckers happen to be felled by massive coronaries after casting their votes for the Red Team, well, them's the breaks. At any rate, it's helped the Red Team surge to a lead, trucker arteries be damned. Gordon brings over a bacon for the Blue Team to taste to see if they want to maybe rethink the way they're doing things. "That burger I just tasted was gross," sniffs Jake, who thinks that the whole thing is oversauced and that the bacon is overcooked. His palate must not match that of the truckers, then, because the Red Team is just seven votes from victory. "There is no way that the Red Team had a better burger than the Blue Team," Jake insists. I got a scoreboard that says you're mistaken, friend.

So yeah, the Red Team overcomes its horrible organization and middling teamwork to win the burger cook-off. Credit their adaptability, their secret sauce, and, of course, the all-healing power of bacon. "Our burger was the better burger," Jake continues to say. "The weaker burger won today." Perhaps that mantra will help you in tomorrow's Pressure Test.

Speaking of which, we've left behind that depressing desert for the slightly less depressing confines of the MasterChef kitchen. The Blue Team stands hang-doggedly in front of the judges -- in between them, there's a table covered by one of those black curtains the show's producers apparently bought in bulk. [ Or they keep using the same one. Hope they wash it regularly. - Zach] Underneath that curtain: 25 ingredients -- some of which the contestants may recognize, some of which they may not. They'll have to guess as many as they can until they miss; lowest score loses the apron. Clear? OK, Jake, start us off, while the rest of the Blue Team cowers for safety in a soundproof booth.

Joe and Graham pull back the curtain to reveal... well a lot of stuff, actually. Jake takes a look around -- "I'm shooting for 20," he voice-overs -- and starts guessing. He's got to grab an ingredient, carry it over to the table, and tell the judges exactly what it is. That takes up a fair amount of camera time, so let me just cut to the chase here -- he identifies golden raisins, tomatillos, butternut squash, macadamia nuts, rosemary, plantains, lemongrass, filet, smoked salmon, okra and rhubarb. He is finally undone by watercress, which he mistakenly IDs as sorrel. Nevertheless, it's an impressive performance -- even Gordon seemed wowed -- and he's set a high enough bar at 11 that it seems unlikely the five remaining humps will all top him. Jake is feeling less confident: "You blew it, you're done," he huffs. Since the opposite of what everyone says on MasterChef always happens, I'm going to assume he'll be joining us next week.

Tony goes next. He's also shocked that Jake only got 11, and thinks he has a shot at getting a dozen. He gets rosemary, nectarines, catfish, macadamia nuts, tomatillos, okra, blue cheese, filet and plantains. Then he mistakes star fruit for passion fruit. Suddenly getting 11 right doesn't seem like such a meager accomplishment, huh? Jake's safe; Tony replaces him on the hot seat. "I shot myself in the foot," Tony sighs. That's the problem with star fruit -- so delicious. So deadly.

Lee comes along next and bangs out nine ingredients easily -- including the accursed star fruit. Smoked salmon puts him over the top. Now it's Whitney's turn -- surely, a 22-year-old can't identify 10 ingredients! Surely, we should stop giving her stick about her age -- she rattles off her 10 and joins the others in the safe zone.

Which brings us to Tracy. "I feel like it's getting late early around here," Tony says when Gordon asks how he's feeling. Tracy is even more incredulous that Tony only got nine ingredients right. And she quickly knocks off black-eyed peas, okra, plantain, catfish, golden raisins, smoked salmon, rosemary, and rhubarb. That's eight, and Tony is reduced to spouting tortured baseball metaphors. He's right to be concerned -- Tracy's just tied him by correctly identifying a nectarine. "This next ingredient is either going to be my favorite ingredient, or the ingredient that will haunt me the rest of my life, other than a cupcake," Tracy says. After wondering if she's about to fall victim to a cruel MasterChef trick, she grabs the filet and heads back to the table. Gordon asks her to identify it. And she's about to... when we cut to commercial. Are you shitting me? We've got to suffer through a Glee-esque Kmart ad just to find out if Tracy knows what the hell a filet is?

She does, by the way. There. Was that so goddamn difficult?

Anyhow, Tony is gone. Farewell, guy who was hardly on this show. I shall miss you and your non-Mike-like hats. "You took us all by surprise," Gordon says. As in "it's surprising that guy is still a contestant, what on account of him never really factoring into any of the competitions." Anyhow, we shall remember you forever... Bob, was it? I'm terrible with names.

Next time on MasterChef, some unfortunately newlyweds are entrusting amateur chefs from a reality show to cater their wedding. Well... the marriage can only trend upward after that.

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