After the combination of a week off and what turned out to be a non-elimination challenge in the last episode left us in final five purgatory, I have a feeling we may see the first double elimination of the season tonight.
Beyond that prediction, a few themes that will be interesting to keep an eye on are whether or not Andrew can extend his impressive winning streak, if Christopher can continue to fly close to the sun without getting burned, and if Thea can finally secure her elusive first individual win of the competition.
The competitors enter the MasterChef Canada kitchen to find six empty podiums. Upon arrival, Christopher, who typically approaches each episode with a cheerful disposition, has a slightly dejected demeanour today. He confirms that he's feeling a little beat up after his dish was voted the worst in last week’s challenge, but he says he’s ready to show the competition what he’s got.
Here’s hoping he can bounce back.
The judges take the stage and as Claudio welcomes back the final five competitors, I can’t help but feel slightly taken aback by his outfit. I am about as far from a fashionista as it gets, but seeing bright red and white striped track pants with a black suit jacket took me by surprise. Comfortable formal wear sure has come a long way I guess.
The chefs are treated to a highlight reel of dessert dishes that former MasterChef Canada champions made for their respective finales. Claudio states that finale winners are often decided by the third and final course, which bodes well for Christopher in particular if he should make it that far.
As the video concludes, five of the six winning desserts are delivered by a team of servers to the empty podiums, followed by Season 3 champion Mary Berg herself, who sets her blueberry financier with brown butter crumb, kettle corn, blueberry sauce, and buttermilk corn ice cream down on the final podium.
As great as it is to see the acclaimed chef, best-selling author, and award-winning TV host return to the MCC kitchen, I can’t help but feel disheartened that her fellow Season 3 finalist Jeremy is no longer with us to complete the reunion.
Michael then proceeds to break down the upcoming challenge parameters. Instead of a replication challenge, he explains that the chefs must take inspiration from the ingredients or the concept of one of the winning dessert dishes to give them a personal spin.
Since Mai was the winner of last episode’s challenge, she has the luxury of choosing which dessert she wants to reinterpret first. With next to no hesitation and to the undeniable delight of today’s guest host, she chooses Mary’s blueberry financier.
Andrew is next and he chooses Trevor’s Season 4 fallen ice cream cone with mint chocolate gelato and a crème Fraiche whip. Thea selects the lemon curd parfait with graham sponge that her fellow Vancouverite David made in Season 2.
Andy has previously stated that desserts aren’t exactly his forte, but he says if he’s going to get to the finale he needs to face his demons and bravely chooses the dish that led to his elimination in the finale of Season 5; Beccy’s “Fallen Apple" panna cotta with apple gelee core on a soil of dried fruits and nuts.
Christopher is last to pick and of the two remaining options, he elects to go with what Season 1 champion Eric described as an Asian take on a banana split, composed of tempura-fried bananas with red bean and green tea ice cream.
Alvin tells the chefs that they will have 75 minutes to complete their reinterpretations.
As the final five race to the pantry to collect their ingredients, Andy explains that finale desserts usually offer the chefs free reign and they have time before the episode to conceptualize and think them through, but today’s challenge is tougher because it forces them to think on the fly.
Although a few of the chefs appear somewhat daunted by the task at hand, Thea looks considerably excited for a chance to flex her creative muscles. Her reinterpretation of David’s dish is going to be a B.C. summer-inspired chamomile panna cotta with lemon curd, lemon sponge cake, blackberry sorbet, and a graham cracker crumble.
Andrew explains that he chose Trevor’s fallen ice cream cone because his first job was selling mint to local businesses and he just loves the combination of mint and chocolate. He’s going to make a crème de menthe and peppermint extract-infused hot fudge brownie with baked meringue, tahini cream cheese ice cream, pomegranate molasses, mint gastrique, and munakka-soaked fruit.
Christopher says that for today’s challenge, he’s going back to his baking roots. He’s taking the idea of Eric’s Asian banana split and fusing it together with the French dessert, Gateau St. Honoré. He’s using a banana financier tart base and plans to top it with a variety of different-flavoured pastry cream profiteroles and choux pastry craquelins. He says it usually takes him half a day to make all the elements of a Gateau St. Honoré, but to mitigate the risk he’s going to reduce the size of each component.
Despite the judges initially granting the chefs 75 minutes, after 15 minutes Alvin tells them to stop what they’re doing and announces a new twist to today’s challenge. Michael explains that in addition to their dessert creations, they must now also make a palate cleanser to go along with it.
I realize they want to raise the bar this season but when multitasking master Mary Berg says they’ve gone too far, you can’t help but feel for the chefs.
Christopher explains that in order to execute his original concept, he’s going to need every minute of the allotted time frame and he’s worried that this added twist might wind up sending him home.
Andy is also rattled by the twist, but he pushes forward as each of the chefs have all season long. His reinterpretation of Beccy’s “Fallen Apple” will be a smoked caramel apple compote with vanilla bean panna cotta, breadcrumbs, and an apple cider-poached apple.
Much like Andy, Mai says that desserts are definitely not her strong suit, but since her partner back home in Edmonton has a seriously sweet tooth, she’s made her share of pastries and baked goods. Today, she’s making a cornmeal cake with blueberry mousse, brown butter almond crumble, and lemongrass buttermilk gel.
Thea was already making a blackberry sorbet, but to add an additional palate cleanser to her dish she’s going to do a tart lemon sorbet with a limoncello-splashed sponge cake as well. Despite the arduous nature of the challenge and the strain she went through last episode, she’s remained upbeat and lively throughout today’s competition.
As the clock continues to wind down, Andy decides to create a caramelized sugar glaze with red food colouring. He says he remembers that the judges told Beccy that her dessert could have gone the extra mile if she’d incorporated a red glaze on her panna cotta, but instead of using it on his own panna cotta, he pours it overtop his poached apple.
So far, Christopher has spent the entirety of his time on his main dish, and with 15 minutes to go he still has a lot to complete. He decides to begin working on his palate cleanser, which he describes as a play on one of his favourite childhood popsicles using blood orange, yuzu, and apple juice with limoncello cream.
Andrew is also lagging a bit behind, so he cranks the heat on his oven to speed things along. Unfortunately for him, that decision comes back to bite him because when he returns to check on his meringue it appears to be badly burnt beyond repair. He does, however, have some leftover uncooked meringue and quickly reconfigures his plan.
Mai and Christopher are also in the process of pivoting. Mai’s blueberry mousse didn’t have time to set, so instead of serving it quenelle-style she’s going to use a piping bag to ensure she gets it on the plate. Christopher’s sponge cake didn’t have time to cool and to reduce the likelihood that it will melt his cream, he races it over to the chiller and hopes for the best.
When the final countdown expires, the chefs raise their hands in collective relief, but I have a feeling we’re about to see a few unfinished dishes.
Before the judging process commences, Mary wishes the final five competitors luck and similarly to at least one of the remaining chefs today, exits the MCC kitchen for the second time.
Thea is the first to submit her dessert dish for judgement. Her apron is noticeably messy, but her plate looks immaculate. Alvin remarks on the extreme tartness of her limoncello sponge cake, but he seems very pleased overall. He does seem less enthused about Thea’s presentation than I was, but after digging in he states that aside from slightly lacking in the acidity department, the combined flavours and textures of her panna cotta, sponge cake, and sorbet are spot on. Michael generally seems to agree, but does have reservations about the firmness of the panna cotta.
Andy is next to bring his dessert to the Judges’ Table and after sampling his Granny Smith apple with lemon and ginger palate cleanser, Claudio tells him he has good news and bad news. The good news is that the flavours are fresh and it succeeds in cleansing the palate. The bad news is that the texture reminds him of baby food. Although the critique seems harsh, the bite-sized offering does bear a striking resemblance to Gerbers’ applesauce.
Claudio’s critique of Andy’s dessert presentation, however, goes a lot better for the East Coast chef. He compliments the rustic sophistication and says he’s impressed with Andy’s boldness in facing his culinary fears. But his impressedness turns to disappointment after struggling to cut through the apple’s skin. The flavours are well constructed and the concept pays ample homage to Beccy, but he made some critical missteps along the way.
Despite his struggles with the clock, it looks like Christopher managed to pull off his mini Gateau St. Honoré. He’s not only constructed a gorgeous looking dessert, it also seems like it would be a lot of fun to eat. Michael appears equally impressed and simply says, “Wow... and wow”. His palate cleanser may not be on the same level as the main dessert, but Michael says the flavours he’s achieved are amazing.
As expected, the Gateau St. Honoré is even better. Michael cuts off a slice and his awe of the fluffy and perfectly layered cake becomes even more elated. Every minute component is perfectly executed; the pastry is crispy, the cream is rich and smooth, and the caramelized banana is glorious. Claudio tells him it’s the best dessert in the history of MasterChef Canada, and I think it’s safe to say Christopher has bounced back beautifully.
Mai presents her plate to the judges and while it would be tough for any of the chefs to follow the masterpiece Christopher presented, her dessert does look a little heavy handed and lacking in the finesse department. Claudio is impressed by the freshness of the palate cleanser, but he says he can tell that she was second guessing herself while composing the main dish.
He’s more impressed by the flavours she’s developed and says she’s succeeded in honouring Mary’s original finale dessert. He notes that if she was able to finish her lemongrass buttermilk gel on time, it would have elevated the dish significantly. Alvin is happy with the flavour profile, but says it falls short of being legendary.
Andrew is the final chef to bring his plate to the podium. At first glance, I’d say Andy’s brownie is probably the second-most appealing offering of the challenge. Michael doesn’t seem overly impressed by the lemon granita palate cleanser, but says it's simple, solid, and straightforward.
Fortunately for Andrew, the renowned Toronto-based judge is far more complimentary of his main dessert. He loves the soft and tender texture of the mint chocolate brownie and the tahini ice cream is rich, creamy, and decadent. He says the two components are highly complementary, and Alvin appears to agree. The Demon Chef is impressed by the balance of richness and acidity, but follows his praise by pointing out that he feels Andrew might have played it too safely.
After a rather brief deliberation, the judges begin to deliver their verdict. Having already stated that Christopher’s Gateau St. Honoré was the best dessert in the seven-year history of the competition, it comes as no surprise that the Ontario pastry chef is crowned the undisputed winner of today’s challenge.
The next announcement, however, does come as a big shock to me. The judges declare Mai’s dessert to be the weakest of the five, and after offering the Edmonton chef some adulation for her growth since her last MCC run, she is eliminated from the competition.
Not only was my prediction regarding tonight’s possible double elimination wrong, but another one of my original picks to make it to the finale has now been eliminated. I really thought Andy’s missteps with his apple skin would see Mai spared, but since I’ve admittedly been rooting for her from the get-go, I likely allowed my bias to impact my assessment.
I sincerely hope that once the competition concludes, Christopher makes a shippable rendition of his Gateau St. Honoré. After witnessing his dejected demeanour at the onset of today’s challenge, it was great to see him bounce back to his jubilant self. I also loved how happy all of the chefs were to see Christopher rebound and receive such high praise from the judges. The camaraderie between the competitors this season is definitely on a different level than in previous years.
It’ll really be interesting to see what happens next week. Of the final four, Andrew and Christopher have had the most individual success, but Thea and Andy have each shined in their own rights while proving that they have what it takes to rise to even the most high-pressure of occasions.
Since there are now only two episodes remaining, we’re either going to see a double elimination next week, or this year’s finale will feature three chefs for the first time.
MasterChef Canada: Back To Win airs Sunday nights on CTV.