'Masterchef' Finale Recap: And the Winner Is....
'Masterchef' Finale Recap: And the Winner Is....
Candice Block Lombardi
Candice Block Lombardi
Contributing Writer, BuddyTV
More than once, the three judges said it was too close to call, as the top two contestants served up restaurant style dishes. "Can we call it a draw?" asked Gordon as the three judges shook their heads. Later Gordon said, "This has been the hardest decision we have ever had to make on Masterchef, but there can only be one winner."


The final episode reviewed the quest to find the best home cooks in America. From a national search, 100 were chosen to prepare a signature dish.

Narrating, Gordon called it the "most competitive season in Masterchef history." In his epic style, he noted that tonight "two chefs will go head to head" and compete for "all the riches, all the glory and the coveted title of Masterchef."

Natasha vs. Luca

Natasha, a 26-year-old stay-at-home mom from San Diego, with a passion for cooking and use of exotic flavors and refined techniques, stood ready to take on Luca.

Luca is a 31-year-old restaurant manager from New York City who failed to make it to the Masterchef kitchen. He struggled in the beginning but his passion and drive led him to deliver restaurant-quality dishes. "This is the key to open the door to my future," said Luca.

Gordon welcomed the Top Two to the final kitchen showdown. "Congratulations to making to the Masterchef finale. Welcome all of your past competitors." As Luca and Natasha looked up at the balcony and saw their former competitors, the first hint of doubt on their determined faces.

Natasha was joined by her baby and family. Luca's wife and family then entered with his wife in front, singing "Ole, ole ole ole" and dancing. The judges surprised Luca by flying his father and sister from Italy to Los Angeles for the finale. Tears flowed.

The reunions were broken up by loud music and Graham's dramatic diction. "It's time we say goodnight to our families," he said slowly and emphatically. To start the competition, Graham noted that the judges demanded perfection in a perfectly composed meal: appetizer, dinner, and dessert, and when each cook finished their course, it was time to serve the judges in the restaurant.

"Natasha and Luca, your time starts now," Gordon said.

Of the other Masterchef contestants, Jordan and Jessie gave the advantage to Natasha, while Bri and Krissy believed that Luca would win.

The Appetizer

Luca: "This is game seven of the World Series, two outs, bases loaded, and Luca's at the plate."

Natasha: "I'm about to put it all behind me and kick his ass."

Natasha sets out to cook pan seared scallops, seaweed salad and couscous. Luca begins his dish of pan seared duck liver, French brioche and peaches.

The judges thought Luca's dish was very courageous. "Twenty seconds in the pan too long, and it disappears," said Gordon. Gordon worried it would be too sweet.

Judge Joe Bastianich doubted Natasha's choices. "Does cauliflower work with seaweed? I think she's out of her mind," he said.

Gordon called up to the balcony for feedback from this season's tough talking Masterchef cook from Philly, "Krissy, how's it looking from up there?" Krissy said that Luca's dishes looked wonderful.

"And how does Natasha's look?" Krissy said, "She made two purees and scallops."

Natasha yelled up to Krissy, "Let me just tell you something sweetie, I'm in the thunderdome and you're not."

The cooks plate their dishes. "[Natasha's] scallops look like an ocean scape, like a painting," admired Graham. "Her plating is gorgeous."

Gordon asks Natasha, "What do you think of Luca's plating?

"I think it looks heavy," she said.

The Masterchef cooks walk their food back into the restaurant area, three judges on the bench, and serve the judges.

Gordon Ramsay said, "Ladies first, Natasha please present your dishes."

Natasha told the audience in the confessional, "There is [sic] a lot of different bold flavors. I like to be bold and I like to be edgy. This dish represents me on a plate."

The judges taste Natasha's seared scallops, infused with chocolate and sesame seeds, and a salad of cauliflower and heirloom puree.

Joe said, with his poker face, "Natasha, this is a dish that an experienced chef would never make. You took a giant leap of faith and risk. That in this particular place works. I don't know if you're brilliant or lucky."

Gordon said, "The scallops are beautifully cooked to perfection."

Graham said, "My favorite part is the couscous. This is definitely one of your prettiest dishes and one of your tastiest."

The judges tried Luca's seared duck liver brioche and chutney.

Gordon said, "It smells great. Very bold effort Luca." He loved his first mouthful and the chutney but said it needed another blast.

Graham loved the sear and seasoning. He said it was very rich duck liver and worried that if the entrée was also rich, it might be too heavy.

Joe said, "This dish does a nice job of riding between savory and sweet. It's a masterpiece. Bravo."

The judges agreed that the appetizers were above what they had seen in the previous season.
Luca's had a decadence and technique which brought Joe back to a white tablecloth restaurant somewhere in Europe.

Entree

With appetizers that wowed, the judges needed something to set the two cooks apart. "This will need to to be the best entrée you have ever made in your entire life."

Both chefs nodded, their eyes steely.

Natasha began cooking a five spice monk fish with infused jasmine rice. She noted that this fish needed a lot of help from spices and is not easy to make.

Luca began his balsamic short ribs with a truffle puree. His challenge was using a pressure cooker for the short ribs because one cannot open the cooker until the ribs are done.

"How are the short ribs?" asked a judge.

"Well, I can't look inside the pan," responded Luca. "I'm going to open it in 15 minutes. Cross your fingers for me."

Natasha described to Graham how she was wrapping the monk fish in fat to hold the moisture. Graham asked if she would essentially keep cow stomach on her fish, and she said yes, but she will render it off all the way.

Luca opens the pressure cooker. "Now I will find out if my short ribs will make me or break me," said Luca as he pulled out the meet.

In the last 10 seconds, the cooks are plating and Natasha swirls color across her plates. Luca's look small.

Natasha says of Luca's dish, "Luca has a lot of brown on brown, but 60 minutes for herbs, that's great."

"My dish is a melody," said Luca.  He added that while the judges may find his food heavy, Natasha's dishes look like diet food.

The judges sampled Natasha's five spice monk fish with infused jasmine rice and coconut curry.

"The colors and the sear on the monk fish is divine," said Gordon.

Graham said of the dish, "This is arguably the prettiest dish I've seen." He admired that it was protected in fat but noted with the amount of heat it needed something such as coconut milk to sweeten and balance it."

Gordon said, "You elevated the 'rusticness' of curry to elegance. You just pulled off one of the most difficult fish to get right."

Luca presented his braised beef short ribs with chanterelle mushrooms. Was the meat cooked properly, he wondered. "The only way to know if your short ribs are cooked is take a fork in it, cut it, if it falls apart, you did a great job, if it's tough, you gotta go back to school," said Luca.

Gordon had the answer: "That's what I didn't expect. Just a touch of my knife, it opens up. On the money. It's pretty phenomenal, but it's very heavy." He noted that with Luca's heavy appetizer, dinner and perhaps dessert, "You killed me. Very happy, but you sent me six feet under." Still, if Gordon wanted to die, this is the meal he wanted as his last supper.

The judges debated: they were blown away by the high standard of the dishes. "How do you top that?" asked Joe of Luca's dish. "He could charge $35 for that and people would line up."
"Cooking that fish, slicing it beautifully, literally shows how far she has come," said Gordon of Natasha.

A Panna Cotta Showdown: "Go Big or Go Home"

"I am very close to the title. Unfortunately, there is a woman next to me who is as close to me," said Luca.

The judges told the Top Two that the competition was still too close to call. What would they serve?

Lots of Panna Cotta: an Italian dessert of simmered cream, milk, and sugar, mixed with gelatin until set.

Luca said he would prepare a Basil Panna Cotta with tomatoes - a savory combination. The judges raised their eyebrows at the odd combination.

Natasha prepared to serve Panna Cotta as well. Two Panna Cottas. Lime and Coconut.

The judges asked why too. "Go big or go home," said Natasha.

"Of all the desserts in the world, we have come down to a Panna Cotta showdown," said one judge. They wondered how Luca would pull off basil and tomatoes in a dessert.

"I'm making a dessert, never seen anywhere in a world. If I make the tomatoes sweet, it can work in a dessert," said Luca.

Suddenly the elation comes to a heart-pounding stop.

"*#@!" All eyes turn to Luca. "I forgot to strain my Panna Cotta. This is a disaster; I made such a stupid mistake."

Luca asks, "Did I just throw away my chances to win Masterchef?"

Natasha moved her two desserts to chill, while Luca started his Panna Cotta over. Joe wondered if Luca's dessert would have time to set. "There's a real chance we may be eating cream basil," said Joe.

When Natasha's dishes have set, she saw that the Lime Panna Cotta did not set and tosses it. "Maybe she wanted to show off a little too much," said Luca regarding Natasha's effort to make two desserts.

"You are bouncing my taste buds around like they are in pinball machines," said Gordon of Natasha's dessert.

"It's perfectly balanced, it's awesome, it's a great way to finish. The perfect ending to the meal," said Graham.

Joe thought the consistency of the Panna Cotta allowed him to clear his palate but thought it was too simple and lacked a second component. Still, he said it was "the perfect ending to your incredible story."

All frown with intense thought as they try Luca's Basic Panna Cotta.

Gordon said, "Luca, the texture of the Panna Cotta is sublime, but it has a savory tastes. But then the thing explodes. It's wacky, it's delicious, and yeah, you've got me."

Graham said of the dessert, "It's more 'you', it's out of control."

Joe liked the dessert but felt there were structural issues. He said the jam should be a layer underneath. "I think this is a dish that satiates my intellect more than my palate," he said.

Decision Time


"What a way to end two fabulous dinners," said Gordon. "It has been a feat to bring everything out. [Natasha] has an amazing level of presentation and level of consistency."

Graham said, "You gotta look at each dish, you gotta look at the progression of the three course dinner, and you have to look at the journey."

"For the first time, should we make it a draw?" The judges hung their heads.

 "We can't do that," said Joe. "It's so close, but one person had that slightest of edges."
The judges ask the two contestants to stand where the judges stood, saying, "You've earned your place on this stage."

"This is the most difficult decision we have had to make in the history of Masterchef, but as you know there can only be one winner of a quarter of a million dollars, a cookbook, stunning trophy and... the right to call yourself a true Masterchef."

The winner is Luca! (We predicted as much earlier this week!)

Joined by his wife, Luca achieves his American dream.

Luca said, "I came here from another country because America is the best place in the world. This is the place where dreams come true and now I am America's Masterchef. And to win the title in front of my wife, my sister and my Dad, this is so special. Natasha put up a great fight, she has a beautiful future."

Natasha said, "I've learned so much, and this is not the end, this is just going to catapult me in the direction I want to be."

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(Image courtesy of FOX)

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