And so the circus rolled into town and began the long, slow, and drawn out process of selecting a winner and a child to wear the crown of Junior Masterchef the 2nd. This series has taken a toll on both viewer and contestant alike. Plenty of viewers have fallen by the wayside as ratings have tumbled from the lofty heights of an unstoppable juggernaut, to the soul shattering depths of something that might involve Kyle Sandilands. Contestants, too, have fallen victims to the double edged plastic safety sword of being considered the best junior amateur chefs in the country. Even the judges have suffered under the harsh glare of a commercial failure. Witness both Matt and George’s hair loss.
However, contractual obligations mean everything in this industry, and, even though its return next year is most unlikely, there was no way that this series was not going to draw to its inevitable close, with one winner, and lots of losers. The successes. The failures. The tears. The tantrums. The tautologies. The Terry Hill impersonations. It all came down to the one moment. And it was a moment, literally.
The downward spiral into insanity began last Sunday, when the remaining contestants sauntered into the Masterchef kitchen, which for two of them would be the last time. Chandler reckoned it could be his last chance, showing the viewers how well he had developed the skill to grasp the obvious.
The first challenge involved making the perfect pavlova in only 80 minutes. The perfect pavlova is based on three elements: the smoothness of its outer skin, the gooiness of its centre, and the perkiness of its peak. So it’s a similar set of credentials as are considered when judging Miss Universe. Zac hit an early hurdle when he couldn’t get any stiffness at all, so Matt came over and offered some free advice: keep it clean. Alysha confessed that this was her first pavlova, while Lily made the fatal mistake of eating all her ingredients before actually cooking anything.
When the dishes were brought up for tasting, Harry confessed he was unhappy with his presentation, but unfortunately the Vegas showgirls he’d booked failed to turn up and he was upset because he’d paid a $200 deposit and he wasn’t sure if he’d get it back. However, it transpired that his pavlova tasted quite good and the showgirls would have been surplus to requirements, if not an actual distraction from the true showstopper. Lily’s was also well received. Indigo brought hers up on a paddle, ostensibly for presentation, but also to whack George across the face with should the opportunity present itself. Disappointingly, it didn’t. Jack went too far when he married cooking with playing the bagpipes, leaving great big spaces on the plate to represent the grace notes so beloved of listeners to bagpipe music (grace notes are the silent bit). Chandler tried to cover up his many mistakes by mashing up his pavlova and calling it a pavlova milkshake, while George said to Zac that he could see Zac’s pavlova sitting in the window of a fine patisserie, because it tasted like it was made of plastic presumably. When tasting Alysha’s, Matt said beautiful 7 times, but admitted to not actually liking it, while George congratulated Greta on her clever presentation, and compared her dish to the show that is replacing Junior Masterchef on Sunday nights (It’s a Knockout).
With the tasting over, Matt claimed that a pavlova is a real crowd pleaser, kind of like the warm up guy for an audience there to see some real food. Then the scores were announced with little fanfare or even fair fans, with Indigo third, Greta second and Harry first, almost causing his head to explode from excitement, or “excitment” as channel 9 likes to call it.
With the scores added to the scoreboard, Greta, Indigo, Zac and Jack went through to the top 6 with the rest to battle it out for the last 2 spots. Thunder dome was again ruled out, so instead the children would face a pressure test, cooking a Guillaume (pronounced ghee arm) Brahimi dish, and be judged by the man himself. The dish was a turban of scampi in a caviar sauce, proving that casual racism is alive and well in Sydney’s restaurant scene.
Once the cooking got underway, there was the general struggle with the spinach, the scampi and the spaghetti. Harry rolled his like a seasoned Arts student, but Chandler made the almost fatal mistake of not tying his end off. He revealed that he had written on his hand “I’m in the zone” to look at every time he panicked, but unfortunately the excess sweat had smeared the ink and it instead read “I’m in the mood for dancing, romancing”, an instruction he followed to the letter. Chandler then claimed that he “badly want to be in the top 6”, a claim that he was amply able to fulfil, as he went about being in the top 6 badly by not actually being in it.
During the tasting, Chandler was criticised for the amount of ink that had run off his hand into the dish, while Guillaume thought the presentation was “wristic”, which is French for rustic. Lily committed the heinous crime of, according to Matt, leaving shell in the dish. However, as none of the other judges found shell, perhaps the shell had already been in Matt’s mouth? Harry overemphasised his desire to stay in the competition by saying that he didn’t think there was a word for his desire, obviously having not yet learnt the word desire.
With the tasting over and the scores in, neither Chandler nor Lily had done well enough to stay in the competition, leaving Harry and Alysha to fill in the last two spots in the top 6.
With the top 6 decided, next up was a mystery box challenge of mysterious proportions, with mysterious ingredients coming out on a conveyor belt, much like the Masterchef franchise itself. 30 ingredients would come out, but only 5 could be chosen by each contestant. Zac waited until the final ingredient came out, waiting for something to go with his salmon, and breathed a huge sigh of relief when baby basil appeared. Harry cooked up some chilli prawns in yet another attempt to eliminate George, while he thought his garlic sauce tasted a bit floury. He hoped the judges wouldn’t notice that, showing even at this stage that he hasn’t quite grasped the concept of cooking for the purpose of eating. Meanwhile, with the time up, Alysha realised she’d forgotten to pack Choy.
With the tasting underway, Zac was congratulated for his crispy skin, having taken his tips from Ed Gein. On the other hand, Indigo and Alysha overcooked their lamb, taking their tips from Jeffrey Dahmer. However, Alysha nicely balanced her overcooked lamb with undercooked mushroom, making her dish a particularly unpleasant experience. Jack was let down by his presentation, having failed to deal with an errant cow lick, while Greta expectedly and predictably did most things right. George disappointingly survived Harry’s chilli assault on him, and as expected, Harry’s inventive garlic and flour sauce was criticised. With the tasting done, Greta was the winner.
What followed was an invention test of sub-epic proportions, based around Thai food. Greta, as winner of the last round, was allowed to choose the core ingredient out of duck, prawn and snapper. Greta stated that she wanted to throw a spanner in the works, which may have been an indication that she’s suffering from dyslexia, confusing spanner with snapper, but of course throwing a snapper in the works wouldn’t have the same effect as the works would just mush up the snapper and then keep on working. Anyway, she chose duck, which may slow down the works somewhat longer than snapper.
With the cheflings having finished cooking the ducklings, the dishes were presented to the judges for the now traditional tasting. George inappropriately compared Harry’s dish to Santa’s sack, unaware that Santa is actually an eunuch. Matt thought Greta’s dish was like a party happening in his mouth, particularly the bits that tasted like cigarette butts left in a bottle of beer. Zac feared his duck was undercooked, but need not have worried as the meat was perfectly pink, whereas Indigo’s was a tad overcooked, a tad being an official measurement of juiciness. After the scores were tallied, Greta was put through to the final. The remaining 5 were whittled down to 3 to face off in the semi-final, with Zac, Jack and Harry selected, and Alysha and Indigo sent packing.
The three boys were forwarded on to the Opera House, but instead of singing, they were there to make the judges taste buds sing, or if not sing at least hum or if not hum at least ask “what’s that song that goes da dum da da dum dum?” Gary made the outrageous claim that “if you come to Sydney you have to come to the Opera House” but as a lawyer I can assure Gary no such law exists. Sure, if you come to Sydney, you have to pass through customs, but that’s not a part of the Opera House’s functions.
Anna told the boys to cook straight from the heart and avoid using hands and arms, which can be quite unhygienic, but wisely they didn’t take her advice. They had to cook two dishes in two hours, but could only cook the first dish in the first hour, and the second in the second hour. Jack wanted to let his imagination run wild, but couldn’t find any sloth so had to contain his imagination to an extent. Harry claimed that a fingerprint on his plate could cost him, leading canny viewers to suspect he may be responsible for some of Australia’s most heinous and newsworthy unsolved crimes.
Harry speared his rabbit out of the pan and onto the dirty bench but didn’t skip a beat when he flipped it back in the pan and then straight into the oven, looking around to make sure no one had seen what he had done. Jack’s cool stocks plummeted when he admitted to never having smoked lamb, and went down even further in viewer’s estimations when he opined that “lamb smokers are jokers”. Eventually, he had to accept that his ‘lamb bong’ was never going to work, and sought out an alternative. He could have asked Zac, who had layered his tray with what looked like ‘ice’, valued on the street at $1,000,000. Or it could have been rock salt with a blue food colouring.
Then it was on to desserts. Jack claimed that his mentor was a women named Glen, which had viewers bullshit detectors blaring loudly, as women are not named Glen, unless they are named Glen Close, and I doubt Glen Close has taught Jack anything, except remain faithful to your wife. Harry claimed his earliest memory was cooking with Marie-Antoine Carême, but given that Carême, history’s first celebrity chef, died in 1833, one suspects Harry was speaking metaphorically, or as it is known in Masterchef-speak, speaking literally.
Finally, with the cooking done, the judges sat down to taste the dishes in front of the picturesque Sydney Opera House, and in the shadow of the brutal reminder of depression era Australia that is the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Zac was criticised for mixing salt with seafood, a weird combination if ever there was one, but his dessert proved popular. Harry’s rabbit, according to the judges, was cooked to perfection, which shows that Harry could have a big future in the Elmer Fudd industry, though his friand was a little undercooked. Jack was last, and managed to tell the judges what his main and dessert were using 17 question marks (rising inflection you see), but both dishes were a triumph of putting food to heat and adding foods together, otherwise known as cooking. His dessert in particular, which resembled dog poo in the garden, was highly praised. In fact, Jack’s dishes were good enough to put him through to the final to meet Greta.
And so to the final, or as it is known, the finale. Greta versus Jack. Jack versus Greta. George being annoying. Etc. Viewers were treated to a retrospective, showing the contestants journeys, their highs, their lows, their middles. But without wasting time, Jack and Greta were thrust into the maelstrom that is a studio kitchen with slightly lower benches and safety knives. George announced that Greta and Jack were to the two best young chefs in the country, leaving everyone else wondering who won last year’s Junior Masterchef.
The first challenge was an invention test with individual’s choice of fruit being the core ingredients. The guest judge was described as one of the finest chefs in Australia, but then Donna Hay walked out so obviously a miscommunication occurred somewhere. However, once the cooking was done, Donna put on her judges hat, but not before she removed her witch’s hat.
Jack claimed he was excited to be giving his food to Donna Hay, which suggested to me he had poisoned it, but it transpired that he actually wanted to please her. Jack was given high marks for his presentation, though there was some criticism for the colour of his mousse. Gary was quick to pounce, arguing that Jack was only a twelve year old boy. However, Gary had forgotten the golden rule of Masterchef, which is “shut your fat face Gary”.
Greta’s dish could not have been more different than Jack’s, mainly because they were asked not to make their dishes too different by the producers, and they know on which side their bread is buttered. Donna Hay wrinkled her nose at Greta, causing 17 kittens to expire instantly, but all that was forgotten when the dish was tasted, with each of the judges agreeing furiously with each other that it was good. When the scores came in, Greta was in the lead.
For the next challenge the guest judge was Tetsuya, who according to Greta is like a god of food, though he is no longer thought of in as high esteem as he used to be, so maybe one of the minor gods. They had to cook his world famous dish of crap on a plate, otherwise known as steamed spanner crab, with bean curd and spanner crab mousse. At the tasting, Gary thought Greta’s was better than Tetsuya’s and asked him if it was time to step down, but he refused. Then each man stared at the other for 15 minutes, before Gary backed down, mumbling something about the “Yakuza”. Jack said he was proud to have reproduced Tetsuya’s dish, which left Tetsuya shaking his head, either in furious agreement or furious disagreement, but it was furious nonetheless.
When the scores were presented, Jack did quite well almost supplanting Tetsuya as the new Tetsuya, but Greta had done enough to capture the title of the greatest Junior Masterchef ever in the history of Junior Masterchef except for last year and except for next year but there won’t be a next year because this year the ratings have been abysmal. So well done Greta, for being a pretty good cook.
Thanks to everyone for reading my various recaps throughout the year and a big thanks to Steve Molk, “the Molk”, for giving me a forum for my efforts. It’s been a blast.