We have now reached the end of How To Succeed in MasterChef week, and I remain disappointed that it was not, in fact, inspired by the 1961 musical How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. Instead, this week the only song and dance was all about perfecting the skills that will lead to glory in the MasterChef kitchen.
You know, evergreen skills such as “survive an anxiety dream involving yabbies”, and “combine fig and licorice without chundering on to your station”.
Monday’s team challenge was a battle of time-sensitive kitchen classics, with some moments of triumph (Pete’s perfect steak!) and some of despair (Tommy’s “technically baked” ice-cream tart). Tuesday’s pressure test involved the contestants choosing to replicate one of two Zonfrillo signature tarts – sweet or savoury – only for Jock to suddenly switch them with the glee of a Bond supervillain. In the end, Maja’s “deconstructed” (read: destroyed) tart sent her packing.
Wednesday’s under-bench-basics spectacular commanded the contestants to hero ingredients like plain flour and milk (jazzed up with two selections from the garden), and Thursday’s immunity challenge assigned some … unusual pairings, such as hapless Dan’s figs and licorice, the latter of which is his mortal enemy.
Depinder’s mango and chilli fried chicken snared her the coveted immunity pin, and the knowledge that making “chickeny” (© Melissa 2021) chicken is a cornerstone of How To Succeed in MasterChef, if not in life.
And so the wheel of time turns to Sunday evening, and our new best friends return to Ascot Vale to tackle this week’s elimination challenge: taking a well-known food-related figure of speech and turning it into culinary reality in 90 minutes. Sadly this does not involve my personal favourite, “face like a hatful of smashed crabs”, but such inspiring terms as “cool as a cucumber”.
Melissa explains that, today, they will be learning the most important lesson of How To Succeed week: they will have to “Meet. The. Brief”. The contestants nod in recognition, like a discount shop display full of those water-drinking ducks. Today’s brief: a Classic Food Saying. “The lights come down, there’s a bit of a club vibe,” offers Conor, as a projector “writes” the first saying in light across the floor.
The contestants go into a trance as our unseen audiovisual calligrapher continues to unload – “Bring home the bacon”, “The proof is in the pudding” – with Therese reading them out loud like Ray groaning “Cross the streams … ” at the climactic moment in Ghostbusters, perhaps preparing to toast her own figurative Stay-Puft Marshmallow man. Releasing them from this psychic agony, Jock commands the contestants to, once again, “Meet the brief”, and the countdown begins.
Ten minutes into the episode and I’ve already heard the Classic Food Saying “as cool as a cucumber” so many times that despite having recently seen the heartbreaking pig farm documentary Gunda, I’m longing for the sweaty, cruel embrace of sizzling bacon. Mel wiggles some cucumbers at the camera while Andy yells “Cucumber, cucumber, cucumber!” in case anyone’s forgotten what they are meant to be as cool as.
Eric is bringing home the bacon with carbonara. “I don’t think there’s much that can go wrong,” he says, having forgotten Maja’s lemon-’n’-cream carbonara that offended Jock’s ancestors. “I’m going for something odd,” says Conor, of his black olive ice-cream and cucumber granita combo, as Depinder says “Oh wow” from the gantry while her face says “Oh yuck”.
After 90 minutes of so much cucumber granita that there’s no space in the blast freezer for anything else – with a brief respite from coolness when Eric sets fire to his crisp, followed by his fingers, then his saucepan – it’s time for our faves to present their creations.
Confusing the plot of Ratatouille with a David Cronenberg B-side, Jock praises the “bejewelled clockwork mouse inside [Conor’s] head” that masterminded the olive and cucumber dessert spectacular.
Mel summons the spirit of that one guy from San Dimas high school and describes Elise’s sticky date pudding as “dense but also light”. Kishwar’s spicy bonito and cooling cucumber granita “nails” the brief. Tom makes the granita of the day of 10,000 granitas with his typically next-level dessert (“compressed apple cucumber”; sure, why not?).
Tommy gets the triumphant_guitar_solo.mp3 musical cue with his bun cha Hanoi, meeting the brief by not only heroing “the bacon” of his chosen Classic Food Saying, but also the “bringing home” quality of a meal his family loves.
In less ringing praise, Eric’s maple bacon carbonara puts him firmly on struggle street. Dan’s trout ceviche with fish and cucumber broth is decried as “muddy” by Jock. Jess makes a cucumber dish that tastes of ginger.
But Wynona’s decision to pair sweet cucumber granita with confit salmon and noodles works about as well as we all thought it would, and though it’s “not the end of your food journey by any means”, it is in fact the end of her MasterChef journey – and perhaps the start of a life-long phobia of the phrase “cool as a cucumber”. I’ll see you in the support group, babe.
What made me cry
ASMR Pete’s three-hat-worthy choko and cucumber dumplings, which not only looked beautiful, but reminded me of the time my little brother nailed a choko to my bedroom door :’)
The white chocolate velouté award for failure
Wynona’s haunted confit salmon and cucumber granita catastrophe, which gave the nation an instant aversion to both well-cooked salmon and icy treats.
MasterChef Australia continues on Network Ten