‘MasterChef’ season 12 episodes 18 and 19 recap: Which 3 chef-testants advanced to the finale? [UPDATING LIVE BLOG]

Tonight, the Top Five chefs are faced with two separate elimination challenges in the semifinals: a Baked Alaska and one of Chef Gordon Ramsay’s signature dishes, an intricate lobster tortellini. Then, the chefs who advance to the finals prepare an appetizer and entree in front of a live audience with the support of former “MasterChef” judge Graham Elliot in the special two-hour “Semi Finals/Finale Part 1 – Special Guest Graham Elliot” episode of “MasterChef” airing Wednesday, Sept. 7 (8:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX.

Meet the Top 20 returning cooks competing in Season 12

Season 12 of “MasterChef” is all about redemption, when All-Star competitors from the last 11 seasons return to the show to see if they have learned from their past mistakes. For the first time ever, “MasterChef” is re-opening the door to some of the most memorable and talented cooks in the competition’s history, including two “Junior Edition” cooks now competing as adults. Aaron Sanchez and Joe Bastianich join Gordon on the judging panel.

The Top 5 chef-testants for Season 12 are Christian Green, Dara Yu, Emily Hallock, Michael Silverstein and Shanika Patterson.

SEE ‘MasterChef 12’ fans say Willie deserved to go home last week instead of Bowen [POLL RESULTS]

8:00 p.m.Previously, on “MasterChef”!  The Top 8 chefs were paired together and tasked with communicating on opposite sides of a wall to create identical dishes with a double elimination on the line. Amanda Saab and Derrick Fox couldn’t get the job done and were the first two chopped. Then, the Top 6 took over Chef Wolfgang Puck’s kitchen at the famous Spago restaurant in Los Angeles. Willie Mike failed to lead his team to victory and was the third chef-testant sent packing. But enough about last week’s episode, let’s see who can impress the judges tonight!

8:05 p.m. — The Top 5 enter the kitchen and briefly celebrate their accomplishments. Joe informs them that there is only room for three in the finale, so two will be going home. There will be two separate challenges in tonight’s semi-final — and in each, whoever cooks the worst dish will go home. The first challenge is a dessert that is the perfect combination of fire and ice — a Baked Alaska. It is one of the most difficult dishes to master. They will have 75 minutes to prepare this dish. At the end of the challenge, four of them will move on to the second phase of the semifinals. The challenge starts now!

8:10 p.m. — It appears Dara is the only home cook in this competition who has experience making Baked Alaska. She seems like the only one not intimidated by the challenge, but she’s always a little frazzled regardless of her level of confidence. Emily looks totally frazzled, but the last time I saw Emily look this nervous was during the chilis challenge she won. So who knows where she might land. With 45 minutes remaining, Gordon screams at the contestants to get their ice cream in the freezer. Shanika begins to panic. Her ice cream isn’t ready and she appears to be behind her competitors.

8:25 p.m. — Shanika throws some liquid nitrogen in her ice cream and gets it in a mold. She’s determined to make this finale. Over at Christian’s station, Aaron warns him about how long it takes to meringue. The judges gather to discuss who they think might have the edge. Gordon is intrigued by Shanika’s flavors — lemon basil — but desserts have never been her strong point. Joe says Dara has the technical skills to win the challenge, but if she gets in her own head she can be her own worst enemy. He adds Emily’s flavors are risky. She will either hit it out of the park or fall flat on her face. As time winds down, disasters begin to happen. Emily’s ice cream is melting and starts to slide off her cake. Michael runs out of meringue and has to just smear it all over the cake. Time expires and it’s time to see which home cook will go home first tonight.

8:28 p.m. — First up is Dara’s Peach Melba Baked Alaska, which Joe calls “delicate,” “soft” and “very good.” Aaron thinks it’s “amazing.” Gordon thinks Dara has “hit the jackpot.” Next up is Shanika’s Strawberry Lemon Basil Baked Alaska, which Gordon calls “beautiful.” Joe says the sponge cake tastes good, but it’s a little dense. Aaron thinks it’s “really well done.” Gordon likes the flavor of Shanika’s ice cream. Third is Christian’s Praline Pecan Baked Alaska, which immediately gets an “Ooh la la!” from Joe. Aaron thinks the sponge cake is overcooked, but the ice cream is well executed. Gordon thinks the sponge is dry, but it’s a near perfect Baked Alaska.

8:30 p.m. — Emily is next with her Goat’s Cheese Cherry Baked Alaska, which the judges immediately notice is melting. The construction is bad, but Aaron appreciates the flavors. Joe says the contrast of flavors is good, but it’s not an ice cream dessert, it’s a cream. Last up is Michael’s Bananas Foster Baked Alaska. Aaron thinks the ice cream is overpowering and sweet. Gordon likes the ice cream, but it’s “sweet on sweet on sweet.” Now it’s judgment time. Gordon, Aaron and Joe all agree that Christian and Dara have the best Baked Alaskas, so they’ll head up to safety first. The next person moving forward is Shanika. Last to move on is Michael, which means Emily has been eliminated in fifth place. “I’m leaving the ‘MasterChef’ kitchen with my head held high and I am proud as hell,” she states.

8:35 p.m. — There’s no time to rest before the next challenge starts and Gordon leaves to change into something “more comfortable.” Aaron and Joe explain that the only thing standing between the contestants and the Top 3 is a stunning Lobster Tortellini with Tomato Puree and Basil Puree. They’ll be following along as Gordon cooks it, keeping up with his pace in real time. If they fall behind, their spot in the finale could go up in smoke. Once Gordon is done, the contestants will have just 30 seconds to plate their dish.

8:45 p.m. — The challenge is underway and Michael hits the first snag with some flakey dough. Dara feels like she has a bit of an advantage in this challenge because she went to culinary school and she knows how to take direction. Vegetables are in the pan and Christian is cool as a cucumber. Shanika’s knife skills are a little slow, so she is at risk of falling behind. Joe says Dara looks the most “in control” and she’s the only one adding both lemon juice and zest to her dish. Michael looks totally frazzled and his pasta is too dry. Shanika is fumbling as well, falling behind as she tries to keep up with Gordon. This is a stressful dish to prepare, but it looks delicious.

8:55 p.m. — Folding tortellini is no easy task. It’s the first time Christian has done this and it’s the first time he has looked concerned throughout this challenge. Shanika is now way behind, folding her tortellinis while others are pulling theirs out of the boiling water. As the seconds wind down everyone gets something on the plate, but Shanika is extremely disappointed with herself. The judges will now look examine everyone’s dishes. Michael’s has nowhere near the amount of filling it needs. The taste is flat because there was no lemon juice. Aaron says there is way too much basil puree. Joe says, “It tastes as good as it looks bad.” Shanika is next and hers looks unfinished. Joe thinks it’s over-seasoned. Aaron and Gordon disagree, but the pasta is dry. Dara’s looks “beautiful” and Aaron says she did it “perfectly.” Gordon calls it “a really strong dish.” Last up is Christian. He has too much filling in the pasta so his tortellini didn’t stick. Joe criticizes him for not salting the boiling water for his pasta. The pasta is under-seasoned, but aside from that it’s “pretty tasty.”

9:00 p.m. — The judges huddle to decide which home cook will fall short of this season finale. Gordon names Dara as the first finalist, followed by Christian and Michael. The person going home in fourth place is Shanika. “I cooked with pure passion this time around,” she says. “It’s been an amazing ride. If asked, would I do this again? Hell yeah.”

9:10 p.m. — It’s finale time! The judges enter the “MasterChef” kitchen and the room is electric with a live audience surrounding the set and the previously eliminated contestants watching from the balcony. Finalists Christian, Dara and Michael enter the arena to do battle. For Dara to be here at age 20 is pretty incredible. She’s about 15 years younger than both of her competitors. But Christian and Michael have incredible experience on their side. Seeing their proud families in the audience is emotional. This should be an epic finale!

9:15 p.m. — Here is the challenge: The Top 3 must make a cohesive, three-course menu consisting of an appetizer, an entree and a dessert. Michael’s Tex-Mex menu is inspired by his roots and culinary journey. Dara’s theme is an ode to her childhood, inspired by experiences and food that influence her passion for cooking. Christian will showcase his Southern roots, which he says are “Where I started and where I’m headed.” Their 60 minutes starts now! As they begin cooking, Dara says she’s determined to prove age is nothing but a number. She wants to infuse French culinary techniques into her style of cooking. Michael guarantees his menu will be unlike anything the judges have tasted before. “It’s bold and it’s risky and it’s gonna blow the judges away.” Christian’s menu will prove he stays true to himself, but he knows he has to find a way to elevate his dishes.

9:30 p.m. — The judges discuss what each chef is cooking. They wonder if Christian’s fried green tomatoes are worthy of a finale. Michael is not cooking, he’s smoking a trout. Will he pull it off? Gordon isn’t sure about Dara’s technique on her Béarnaise sauce. Sure enough, it breaks. She comes up with an alternative as time winds down and it’s time to taste the appetizers.

9:33 p.m. — Up first is Michael’s Cold Smoked Trout with Pomelo & Cucumber Aguachile, Salsa Macha and Pickled Cucumbers. It was served in a tray with smoke pouring out, which was visually stunning. “The colors pop,” says Gordon. Aaron says he turned the culture on its head and Joe says he would be proud to serve it at a restaurant. As for the taste? “Fresh and vibrant.” Gordon says the trout needs a touch more salt. Joe likes the risk, but there’s a void of salt.

9:39 p.m. — Next up is Dara’s Crispy Skin Red Snapper with Grilled Asparagus and Miso Béarnaise Sauce. Gordon says it’s “intriguing” visually. The fish is cooked beautifully, but Gordon has a big issues with the sauce. It’s a cross between cold Béarnaise and warm mayonnaise. Joe doesn’t care about the technicalities, he cares that it’s all Dara’s and it’s “all delicious.” Aaron compliments the rich flavors and thinks it says a lot about her.

9:41 p.m. — The last appetizer is Christian’s Fried Green Tomato with Crawfish Salad, Remoulade Sauce and Caviar. Gordon says it’s one of the most glamorous green tomatoes in America. “The tomato is delicious,” he adds. “The magic is in the breading. It’s crispy and it’s classy.” There are a few too many herbs on it though. Aaron calls it “delicious stuff.” Joe likes everything about the dish.

9:45 p.m. — After the appetizer round this competition is neck-and-neck. Before the entree round begins, a very special guest is introduced — Graham Elliot. He tells everyone not to overthink things. Commit to the dish and focus on technique and artistry. Each chef-testant describes their entree before the 60 minutes on the clock begins to count down. For Aaron, Christian’s dish sounds like the winner if he pulls off all the flavors. For Joe, it’s Michael’s that sounds the most “restauranty.” Graham thinks Dara’s sounds “really exciting.”

10:00 p.m. — Dara’s short ribs are in the pressure cooker. They won’t come out until three minutes are left on the clock and if they aren’t cooked right she has nowhere to hide. Everyone has a lot going on at their stations and this is an exciting finale indeed. The judges think Michael is behind and “his ambition might take him down.” This is where tonight’s episode will end. We won’t find out who the winner is until next week’s season finale, airing Wednesday, September 14 on FOX.

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