After a nationwide search for the finest home cooks, 18 have been chosen to take part in the competition to be named America's next "MasterChef." Tonight the contest officially begins. The cooks enter the "MasterChef" kitchen where they join the three judges: Gordon Ramsay, Graham Elliot, and Joe Bastianich.
The contestants make their way to their stations and are assigned the first Mystery Box Challenge of the season. They must prepare, cook, and present one awesome dish using only the ingredients provided in the box. The person with the best dish will have a huge advantage in the next stage of the competition.
Inside the box they find duck breast, kale, rhubarb, dark rum, sweet potato, five-spice powder, bananas, and maple syrup. Christine, the first-ever blind "MasterChef" contestant, must memorize the list of ingredients to figure out her dish; although she's been assigned an aide, the helper cannot contribute to Christine's cooking.
They have 60 minutes to cook as the judges wander the kitchen and survey the competitors' work. The cooks need to impress Gordon, Graham, and Joe, because the judges will select the top three dishes from what they see. Before time is up, a fire breaks out at Helene's station, and Chef Ramsay runs to the rescue. He warns her that she now has her neck in a noose.
After observing and tasting throughout the challenge, the judges take one final look to identify the three best dishes. They choose those prepared by Ryan, Samantha, and Scott. Gordon says that their dishes did indeed stand out - but not in a good way, "You managed to cook the worst three dishes of this Mystery Box Challenge," he tells them.
Chef Ramsay informs the competitors that the rulebook has been rewritten, and anyone can be sent home at anytime. Joe adds that whoever has cooked the worst dish of the three will be immediately handing back their "MasterChef" apron.
First up is Ryan, who made a seared duck breast with bananas and sweet potato puree. Joe asks, "Is this a joke?" Gordon says he's gone "bananas" by pairing the fruit with duck.
Samantha then presents her seared duck breast with sweet potato rhubarb puree. Graham points out that the duck is not cooked. Scott then offers them a duck profiterole and mashed sweet potatoes. Gordon says this effort is embarrassing.
After talking it over, the judges choose to eliminate Samantha in the first time ever that a competitor has been cut after a Mystery Box challenge. But the judges also announce that they have chosen a winner, Felix, who brings them her dish. Gordon says that her Chinese five-spiced seared duck breast with eggplant and sweet potato is phenomenal, and Joe says that the flavor is fantastic.
For winning the Mystery Box Challenge, Felix is invited to enter the "MasterChef" pantry, where she is in control of the first elimination test. The judges present her with their three most intimidating dishes. Joe picks Italian risotto, Graham selects classic New England clam chowder, and Gordon chooses beef Wellington. Felix decides that risotto will be the theme of the elimination test.
The judges reveal that Felix is safe and does not need to compete in the challenge. She retreats to the galley to watch. The other 16 contestants have 45 minutes to make a stunning risotto dish. At the end of the challenge at least one more person will be sent home. Because she cannot see what's in the pantry, Christine must trust her aide to pull out the best ingredients from those she says she needs.
Joe and Graham discuss that the best risotto is a simple one. Joe does not think Helene's dish is cooked properly, but she disagrees. Gordon says he's concerned that Tali is using cranberries in his risotto.
When time is up, the judges will taste each dish and then single out the three worst creations. The cook who presents the least favorite dish will be eliminated.
Monti is up first with her risotto with pancetta, sun-dried tomatoes, and white asparagus. Chef Ramsay says that it doesn't look like a risotto and that her garnish tastes better than the star of the dish.
As an Italian cook, Frank feels the pressure to impress the judges with his risotto. His dish includes clams, artichoke, blood orange, pancetta, and basil. Joe tells him he is successful.
David Martinez presents his risotto with gooseberry, roasted poblano, and scallops. Gordon tells him he nailed it. Graham says it's "one of the best things I've tasted in a long time."
Helene's saffron risotto with scallops wrapped in burdock root is undercooked. Joe takes her scallop basket and throws it in the trash, begging the contestants not to waste their time with gimmicks.
Chef Ramsay tells Christine that her risotto with scallops, mushrooms, garlic, and onions is subpar. Joe praises both Ryan - who made a risotto with portobello, morel, and shiitake mushrooms - as well Scott, who made a simple risotto with fennel and onions.
Tali brings his risotto with pistachios, cranberries, cherries, and gooseberries to the judges. Joe calls it disgusting, while Gordon says it's a disaster.
Last up is David Mack, who presents risotto with morel and portobello mushrooms. Graham is shocked to find that he did not wash the mushrooms thoroughly because there is a gritty texture to the dish. Joe spits it out after tasting sand.
The judges must now decide which home cooks are in the bottom three. From this group, one more person will be sent home. First the judges announce the two standout risottos: Frank's and David Martinez's. These two cooks will become team captains in the next challenge. In the end, they choose the risottos made by David Mack, Helene, and Tali as the three worst and send Dave Mack home.