MasterChef Round 5 – Don’t Mess with Culture

2015.May.19 Tuesday · 0 comments

in Books & Other Media, Life

Oh, I don’t even know where to go with this one. There was so much stereotyping of cultures and foods packed into this two hour block that my head was spinning. I’m going to go mostly for pictures. We head off, once again, outside the capitol, to Pilar, a not so small town of 300,000 people about 70 km northwest of here. But instead of homes and a huge factory, it seems Pilar is a lagoon, well, more of a pond, because that’s all we see of it, from the obligatory twenty angles. The judges arrive on the back of motorcycles trying to appear nonchalant behind a trio of bikers. And that’s the setup for the challenge – cook burgers for thirty bikers who belong to the local Pilar motorcycle “gang”. We are treated to a dozen sidebars about how dangerous all the contestants think bikers are and how afraid they are to even do this challenge, I mean, what if the bikers don’t like their burgers? Are they going to be pillaged and raped in the streets? Except Patricia, or “Pato” (which means “duck”), as we’re now calling her, who’s all “woohoo, yea, let me at some of them biker boys”. We also get sidebars where we learn that “anyone can cook a great burger”, it’s the easiest thing in the world. May I just point out that until recently, and mostly influenced from afar, burgers in Argentina sucked. Like, really sucked.

They’re cooking outside. Even grinding their own meat – one team beef, the other lamb.

The blue team assigns Francisco to start the grill fires because he’s good at it. He gets them going in about 10 minutes and then pitches in elsewhere. The red team assigns Loud Matias (I’m calling him that, kind of like Loud Howard, completely oblivious) because that way he won’t participate in the cooking and ruin things. 45 minutes into the hour challenge, he still hasn’t gotten the grills going. Christophe steps in. Patricia rethinks things and gets Sebastian and Jacinto on the grills – they take about 5 minutes to get it all working.

Both teams actually put up some pretty good looking burgers. Our bikers arrive – there are a few who sort of fit that muscular, grimy, long haired rebel image. Most of them look like dentists and cubicle dwellers out for the weekend.

Red team wins, despite Matias’ lack of effort – which actually appeared pretty intentional, he was pissed at being picked last, and being told to build the fires rather than cook. The voting is via bandana as the bikers pass by the teams. Sebastian makes sure we all know he’s da man.

Back in the MC kitchen, the day is going to be about gnocchi for the blue team’s elimination challenge. The 29th of each month here in Argentina (also Uruguay and Paraguay, and parts of Italy, but don’t tell the Argentines, they think it’s unique to them) gnocchi is the dish du jour. Everyone’s supposed to eat it, all the Argentine restaurants serve up one or another versions of it. The most common reasons given here have to do with the economy, no surprise. One is that it’s a sort of end of the month, only thing people could afford to make or buy, and there’s a tradition in some places of slipping a coin under one or another plate for a lucky winner of the day. Another relates to civil servants, who are sometimes referred to as gnocchi (“ñoquis” in Spanish) because they sit around like lumps of potato and do nothing to earn their salary, and something to do with their payday – but it’s more likely that the cause and effect on that are reversed. And then there’s some 8th century Italian legend honoring Saint Pantaleon (who at the time was just a traveling doctor looking for a bite to eat – it’s all quite involved). But (and I’m surprised it came from Donato, who’s Italian, he’s got to know better), it’s an “Argentine thing”! Under one of the seven bowls turns out to be a 100-peso note, which when the bowls are selected, goes to Alejo….

…who gets a nice little prize. After the contestants get their two minutes in the pantry to select their ingredients for making gnocchi, he gets to go around and examine everyone’s baskets (we don’t get to see anything of what’s inside), and then make two people swap. He picks Pato and Alan. So, the Duck (pato, remember?) isn’t happy, as all that’s in Alan’s basket is a pile of beets, a “million shallots”, and some cream. Alan on the other hand has a basket full of herbs, greens, and other produce, it looks like the Duck just grabbed one or two of everything and decided to sort it out later. He’s happy.

Loud Matias gets a long sidebar while he explains to us from the gallery that this would be a piece of cake for him, he knows “at least three or four” gnocchi recipes and so having to swap baskets wouldn’t phase him in the slightest. Oh, and all three or four recipes would win the whole competition, right there, on the spot.

Francisco takes a daring approach, making a fried gnocchi dessert. German and Christophe don’t think it’s a good idea and don’t think it’s in the spirit of gnocchi making. Donato disagrees, telling them that while it may not be Argentine, it is Italian. German returns a couple of times to Francisco’s bench to tell him it’s a bad idea and criticize the texture and taste, and the fact that Francisco finishes in about 40 minutes out of the hour and then stands around doing nothing. Christophe and German think he isn’t taking the challenge seriously.

These are the most common faces the three judges make while tasting contestants’ dishes. It’s like they’ve practiced these in the mirror. Together. Side by side.

Winner turns out to be Alan, who took great advantage of having a sudden cornucopia of ingredients and produced a pretty spectacular bacon and herb gnocchi dish that all three judges are scarfing down. Christophe lets us know that if either of them was “that sort of man, but we aren’t”, he’d give him a kiss on the lips. They make the Duck come up and taste the dish and ask if it’s anything like what she had in mind (before announcing that it’s the best dish of the day) – she says, no, not only isn’t it what she had in mind, but she doesn’t think it’s all that. The judges smirk at her and then announce it as the best and point out that her dish, while acceptable, was just a bunch of beet flavored gnocchi with shallot cream and why wasn’t there any acidity or herbs or other flavors in it? Ummm, because she didn’t pick the ingredients? She tries to point that out, and that she had all that stuff in her basket that Alan got to use. They tell her to stop making excuses and that she’s lucky she’s not being eliminated.

Alejo is pissed and gets a sidebar to let us know. First, he didn’t win, and he knows his dish was better than Alan’s and everyone else’s (hey, he got second best). Second, he made Alan and Pato swap baskets because he knew it would get one of them eliminated and the judges didn’t follow through with his plan. And third, when he presented his dish, he stuck the 100-peso note back under the bowl for them to accept as a bribe and vote him as the winner and they took the bill but didn’t give him the win, which was cheating on their part.

German has been itching to get rid of Sol ever since she embarrassed him on national television back in episode one, and he’s got Christophe on his side. It comes down to her or Francisco, who both of them also feel just didn’t make an effort. Now, I’ll admit, Sol’s dish looks like one of the least appetizing ones, but she’s made some effort – lime zest gnocchi, a fresh herb pesto, and a sun-dried tomato sauce – but, and admittedly it’s probably true in comparison to some of the others, it wasn’t overly creative or different from a plate of gnocchi you could get at most any restaurant (then again, neither were two or three others). Donato tries to stand up for both of them, but clearly gets voted down. After they announce that Sol is being eliminated she has to stand there while German delivers a several minute speech about how she cooked pretty well in making dishes that “weren’t from your culture” – a phrase he uses about a dozen times, like being Chinese is something to overcome, and clearly having forgotten that she may have Chinese ancestors, but she’s Argentine, grew up right here in Buenos Aires – her “culture” is the same as his. Christophe murmurs something about developing her own style based on “her culture”. She looks apoplectic. Donato hangs his head while they speak, looks all embarrassed again, and thanks her for being a great all around contestant and good person.

And now they’re 14.


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