‘MasterChef’: Portland cook tries to avoid Gordon Ramsay’s wrath in two tough challenges (2023)

“MasterChef” served up two courses on Wednesday, with a pair of back-to-back episodes, both of which presented difficult challenges for the remaining home cooks. Portland’s James Barfield, who took plenty of heat in last week’s Dodger Stadium challenge, was among the cooks trying to impress host/judge Gordon Ramsay, and his fellow judges, Aarón Sánchez and Joe Bastianich.

(Did you miss this week’s “MasterChef?” Stream the episode on Fubo, which offers a free trial; or watch on Hulu, which streams episodes the day after they air.)

Did James make it through both episodes? Here’s a rundown of what happened in the kitchen. In the first of the two episodes, Ramsay announced that, despite the contestants having previously been divided into regional teams, they were now competing as individuals. This means that a weak cook on, say, the Midwest team could no longer win safety because a Midwest team member prepared the judges’ favorite dish.

The extremely muscular chef Andre Rush, a military veteran whose culinary achievements including working as a White House executive chef, arrived to help introduce the first challenge. The 13 remaining home cooks were asked to prepare a gourmet dish using Army rations, aka Meals Ready to Eat (MREs), which, as Rush reminded the contestants, were prepared with nutrient value, not taste, in mind and were loaded with sodium so they can last for years.

Despite James getting pushback last week about how he led a team that competed in the challenge to prepare lunch for kids at Dodger Stadium, his Red Team was ultimately victorious. So, this week, James and his fellow Red Team members got first choice of proteins. The cooks had to use a minimum of three items from the rations -- which included things like hash browns, crackers, lentil stew, and peanuts -- and had an hour to whip up an elevated dish, using the protein they chose and some other items from the pantry.

This episode featured so few moments with James we never even found out what he cooked, exactly. But the good news is, that while he didn’t finish in the top, he escaped the bottom.

The best dish, according to the judges, was Grant’s cracker-crusted amberjack with lentil and spinach puree and pan-fried gnocchi.

Not so fortunate was Nina, who got the bad news that she was out after making an underwhelming chicken Tikka Masala with lentil dahl, pickled onions and lemon and cilantro salsa. (But they, at least the judges didn’t tell her a bean puree on his dish looked like a turd emoji, as Bastianich said when scolding Wayne.)

‘MasterChef’: Portland cook tries to avoid Gordon Ramsay’s wrath in two tough challenges (1)

On to the next episode! This featured the tag team challenge, when pairs of cooks traded off duties as they scrambled to prepare an appetizer, an entree and a dessert. As the winner of the previous challenge, Grant was able to choose the cooking duos, and he set out to try and set the other cooks up for trouble as he said of himself, the “nice guy’s gone.”

Grant paired James with Kennedy, and they and their fellow cooks then begin making a three-course meal consisting of fresh tagliatelle with sautéed shrimp, lemon cream sauce and caviar; pepper-crusted filet mignon with truffle mashed potato; broccolini and steak au poivre sauce; and sticky toffee pudding with pistachio mascarpone, caramel sauce and segmented orange.

As Ramsay said, this was one of the toughest challenges of the season, and tested the cooks’ ability to work as a team, communicate, and operate quickly. The team of James and Kennedy got off to a bumpy start, with James getting going on preparing the meal as Kennedy stood off to the sidelines, waiting for her turn to tag in, and spending her time telling James to hurry up.

‘MasterChef’: Portland cook tries to avoid Gordon Ramsay’s wrath in two tough challenges (2)

“I’m a little bit worried about being partnered with James only because I like doing four or five things at once, and James really just focuses on one thing,” Kennedy said. In the kitchen, James responded to Kennedy’s suggestions for what he should be doing by saying, “I got you.” Kennedy said, “C’mon, James, we’re going to have to pick up some speed.”

Asking James if there was anything else that needed doing in preparing the dessert, James again said, “I got you.” Kennedy said, “You can’t just say, ‘I got you,’ you’ve got to talk to me.”

“James is working like a turtle right now,” Kennedy said. “I’m getting so frustrated. We have so many other things we have to get ready, and I feel like it’s starting to fall apart.”

James responded to Kennedy’s ongoing pressure to work faster by asking, “You trust me or not?” Kennedy said, “I do trust you, James,” but “if we don’t speed up, it’ll be a disaster.”

When it was time to switch, Kennedy was cooking as James looked on from the sidelines. Unfortunately, Kennedy had problems making the pasta dough. “You feel like it’s coming together?” James asked. “No,” Kennedy said, adding, “I don’t know if we’re going to be able to fix it.”

James told Kennedy to put the pasta aside. “Don’t worry about it,” he said. “I feel like if it’s not working, we might as well just get focused on the other two dishes.”

Kennedy eventually added more flour to her dough, and said they needed to have pasta on the plate, and couldn’t just leave it off. She told James that the dessert cakes looked good, and added, ”Everything’s coming together. We can make it happen.”

“I know, I know,” James said, as he put some finishing touches on the cakes for the sticky toffee pudding.

When time was up, Kennedy and James exchanged high fives, and Kennedy said, “At least we got something on the plate,” adding they could hope that someone else did something worse than they did.

“I feel like teamwork isn’t necessarily evident on these plates,” Kennedy said. “It was chaotic.” But she hoped the judges would recognize they tried their hardest, and that the flavors were there.

‘MasterChef’: Portland cook tries to avoid Gordon Ramsay’s wrath in two tough challenges (3)

Despite Kennedy’s rather dire take on how she and James worked in the tag team challenge, their dish drew generally positive comments from the judges. Bastianich liked the pasta, though Ramsay thought it was chewy. Sanchez said James and Kennedy’s dish had the best sauce of the night, and Ramsay thought the shrimp was cooked beautifully.

Of the filet, the judges praised the sear, though they found it a bit overcooked at medium, rather than medium rare. “Who finished the mash?” Ramsay asked, regarding the mashed potatoes. “I did, chef,” James said. Ramsay praised the potatoes as delicious and described the seasoning on the steak as spot-on. If the filet hadn’t been overcooked, James and Kennedy’s entree would have been the best of the night, the judges said. And Ramsay also complimented the sticky toffee pudding, praising its “lovely consistency,” and calling it one of the best of the night.

Despite the kind words, James and Kennedy didn’t finish at the top, as the week’s winning team was Sav and MD. The losing team, by a mile, was Charles and Jennifer, whose dishes were just sad-looking. The judges decided that, while both team members showed weaknesses, Charles’ contribution was the worst, so he was sent home.

— Kristi Turnquist

503-221-8227; kturnquist@oregonian.com; @Kristiturnquist

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