Dani. Michael. Kate. Alana. At the start of the week, we knew that one of these four would be crowned Masterchef 2011. We were also fairly sure that it wouldn’t be Dani. But for the other three, the chance to be named Australia’s best amateur cook. Which of course we know isn’t true. For a start, those contestants in series one and two who haven’t become professionals would, presumably, be better than the contestants in series three. Also, since about 8,000 people applied to be on Masterchef 2011, and Australia is populated with about 21 million, unless the remaining population, less the 8,000 applicants, is made up of professional chefs, then there is a fair chance that some of those 21 million are reasonably good cooks and just didn’t feel the need to parade themselves on national television. So let’s just say, that for Michael, Alana and Kate, the chance to be the best cooks out of about 8,000 people. And for Dani, the chance to meet Curtis Stone.

To kick things off in finals week, the contestants were asked to road test a recipe: that is, they were asked to write it, read it, print it, bind it, laminate it, photograph it, test it for roadworthiness, test it for literacy, test it for hepatitis, and give it to some true ‘home cooks’ to ruin. Curtis Stone offered them some sage advice. He said “you have to be really specific, when writing a recipe”. George offered some less helpful advice when he said that this week was do or die and that they could “forget about sleep, you can sleep when you’re dead”, continuing his world record attempt of getting a Bon Jovi lyric in every episode.

Michael went for irony with his chicken dish entitled “Not just another spring chicken”, unaware that the sort of market that recipe books are aimed at have a flimsy grasp of irony. Alana’s dish was an apple and rosemary tarte tan. Alana brought her first attempt down to show Kate who said “it’s beautiful.” Kate then confirmed her earlier suspicions when she said to camera “it’s beautiful.” Dani’s dish of pork belly and Asian soup was originally going to be called “What’s that smell?”, a title replete with wit and humour but in the end Dani didn’t feel it was representative of her cooking style.

Following the writing of the recipe came the shooting of the recipe and in many respects a quick painless death was what these recipes deserved but in fact it was camera type shooting and not bullet to the head type shooting. Many props were available to the contestants to use in the photo shoot, such as table tops, tea towels and cast iron cookers, but one wonders if Alana’s decision to include a wooden leg was really less about fulfilling the brief and more about fulfilling her sick and twisted fantasies.

After developing and writing their recipes and after the photoshoot, they arrived at the Masterchef kitchen to meet their recipe testers. Rather than the much hoped for four horsemen of the apocalypse, the testers turned out to be some rather normal looking middle aged woman. Michael said that “they’re mum’s, they’re people that cook a lot at home. They’re probably the most honest recipe testers you could find”, ignoring their lengthy criminal records. Sue, Narelle, Tina and Annabelle all put their keys in a bowl by the front door. Kate got Tina, Dani got Annabbelle, Alana got Narelle, and Michael, in one of the sexiest match ups since David Caruso and Dennis Franz first nailed a perp together, got Sue.

In a heartbreaking reality check, some of the contestants realised they may have overthought their recipes as the home cooks struggled. Dani instantly regretted her inclusion of penguin as an ingredient, considering that these days not all Coles stores stock it. Kate was reproving herself for including in the recipe the instruction that the cook do two laps of the oval between elements, a step that was almost certainly surplus to requirements. Alana was horrified to realise she had left out a vital step: that in making puff pastry one must always include a little “magic”. But Michael and Sue came to the fore, together and then Sue first followed by Michael, as his chicken dish won the day.

Michael’s prize was the opportunity to spend some time in the pantry with Maggie Beer, which, to some, may seem less of a prize and more of a rite of passage. Sue didn’t go away empty handed either as she was asked to take the aprons home and wash them.

After Michael had his tryst with Maggie Beer and the formalities had been dissolved like so much white sauce on corned beef, she revealed to him the recipe for the next challenge. The contestants would be asked to make a terrine, and not just any terrine but Maggie Beer’s terrine. Armed with this powerful knowledge, Michael attempted a little subterfuge and threw some hints to the girls designed to misdirect. He scattered flour around the house kitchen and left out sundry baking goods in an attempt to convince them he had stumbled across Adriano Zumbo in the pantry. All three were quick to pick up the cues and fell for his trick.
So you can imagine the girls’ surprise when Michael named Maggie Beer as the guest judge. Or you could just see it by watching the show and save your imagination for some more “eclectic” pursuits.

As expected, Michael streaked ahead because of his prior knowledge. Kate, Alana and Dani all struggled with removing the chicken skin, though why they felt the need to dress up as chickens before the challenge started is a mystery. But the delays cost them dearly. Kate said her gut feeling was that her terrine was raw in the middle. The judges also had some feelings in their guts after tasting her raw terrine. Alana said that all she could do was cross her fingers and hope that her terrine was cooked, forgetting the vital role that heat plays in making raw meat edible. Dani said hers was a little bit pink and she thought that was okay, but remained silent in regards to her terrine. When Michael brought out his, and he was asked whether it was cooked, he said he was pretty sure it was. Then Maggie said something that might have been “The only way to go now is the big cut” but viewers couldn’t be sure she hadn’t left out an n in that last word, in a sly reference to Matt Preston. Anyway, Michael’s was a vast improvement on the others, but was still undercooked and therefore shit.

With all four dishes failing to pass the exacting standards of Beer, Gary was forced to defend the challenge by claiming that they had tested the recipe. He stated that “We tested the recipe, 15 times in fact. And by testing it 15 times we discovered that the time limit we set was definitely achievable.” What the contestants failed to ask him was why they felt the need to test it 15 times, were all 15 cooked, and who were the lucky homeless people who got to enjoy a Maggie Beer terrine for the first, and most likely last time in their lives? Questions that will continue to remain unanswered.

So the only option was to place all four in elimination. This elimination challenge involved the contestants creating three dishes that were representative of their childhoods, their formative years and now. In other words, they were asked to create their story in food. In other, other words, they were asked to do something massively wanky.

Michael selected baby pork as one of his dishes because that was a name often abusively hurled at him in the playground. Kate chose to cook with lemon, to represent the time she spent with Rachel on the show. Alana decided to create a dish around rice, because it’s safe and bland and represents who she is now. Dani went with Asian flavours, just not the ones popular in any Asian countries.
In the end it was Kate and Alana who impressed most in this wankfest. At the other end of the scale, Dani, no matter how hard she tried, couldn’t convince the judges that she had experienced an Asian childhood. Plus, her soup looked like vomit. So she was gone, she who had given us so much. The end credits informed us that she was busy working on a business plan for her Asian grocer, though why he can’t work on his own business plan is a question that must remain unanswered.

With Dani gone, the producers finally thought it was safe to let the contestants cook for some paying customers, so Michael, Alana and Kate were each allocated to a three hat restaurant in Sydney, where they had to create and cook a dish that was in keeping with the menu of their respective establishment. Alana said she couldn’t believe she was plating up for real people, as opposed to the robots and crash test dummies they usually serve food to.

Alana smoked her tuna in the oven, struggling to get herself in there at first, but once inside sitting back and enjoying the smooth flavour. Michael was doing beetroot two ways: cooked and shoved down the front of his pants to impress the ladies. Unfortunately beetroot stains. Meanwhile, Kate was making some coffee and Cartman icecream or at least that’s what I thought she said.

Michael and Kate’s dishes proved to be a hit, whereas Alana’s was thought to be not quite up to the standard of three hats. Michael was adjudged the winner, just, which caused him to leap up in the air and jump around in a way reminiscent of John Fahey when Sy-dey won the Olympics. So Michael went through to the final, leaving Kate and Alana to battle it out for the other spot.

And so, for the final challenge before the actual final, Masterchef brought back an old favourite to test Kate and Alana, none other than that master of torture, Adriano Zumbo. He brought with him his gingerbread house, a house shaped dessert made out of gingerbread, and the girls had to recreate his dish. Preston remarked that if they failed here, the title of Masterchef would slip through their fingers like soup, highlighting the fact that Preston has clearly lost his mind if he has started eating soup with his fingers. Either that or it’s a new trend.

As expected they both struggled because neither of them had any skills in building and this wasn’t the Renovators (Channel 10’s new, exciting, totally original television show). In fact, both of them struggled to fulfil Zumbo’s vision of a grand house in the country and both of them built something that looked less like Grand Designs and more like Housing Commission.

In the end, it was the little things that made the difference. Alana’s Housing Commission house was derivative, relying on stereotypes such as wrecked cars in the front yard and drug deals going on out the back, whereas Kate showed signs of originality by including an official from DOCS fashioned out of gummi bears. As a result, Kate moved through to the final. The end credits informed us that since leaving Masterchef Alana has barely had time to unpack, as she embarks on a career as a food and travel writer, where she will write about her attempts to circumnavigate the world in less than 80 days in a hot air soufflé.

The Final

We start with a look back at the entire series. At the start there was a lot of hugging but this was quickly followed by lots of screaming as they all met their food heroes. This was even more quickly followed by rivers of tears as the contestants came to grips with the heart breaking lifestyle of a reality tv show contestant.

Finally, we get down to what we came here for which is the final, as we see the now familiar opening credits and the cavalcade of failed amateurs and silly faces.

With the ominous music, we expect to see that Michael has murdered Kate in her sleep as the pressure got to him, but instead we see them dressing, which is just as horrifying. Kate says she’s putting on her chef whites for the last time, acknowledging that she has no career in food. Then we see the 3000th shot of a T-Hub being used by the contestants JUST LIKE A PHONE but bigger and less useful.

Kate says she wants to enjoy it as she lugs a 300 kilogram suitcase in the back of a car. What ever she’s packed in that suitcase that she wants to enjoy would be too much for one normal woman. Then we watch them drive to the kitchen and an unknown chauffer perform an admirable stop. Finally, they enter the kitchen to the raucous applause of this years eliminated contestants, who they’d presumed were dead.

Ah, all those old faces. Jay, Matt, Kumar, Rachel, that guy with the shirt, the girl that has her hair down, the one that was always cooking. We’ll never forget them, particularly old whatsit face. But it’s not about them, although I predict we’ll see quite a bit more of them as the final rolls on.

Today it’s about Kate and Michael. Kumar says may the best person win, but I think we all have a sneaking suspicion that cooking will also be a factor. Kate says she’s going to cook her heart out, so if she wins, the $100,000 prize money is most certainly going to the international black market in organs.

George makes the surprising announcement that this year’s final will proceed exactly as last years final, with three rounds, each dish scored so that the total three can be a maximum score of 100. In a shocking development George announces that the person with the highest score will win. This is not what either Michael or Kate had expected.

So into round one, which involves a mystery box race. Michael barely waits for an explanation before he has affixed wheels and faux headlights to his mystery box, only to discover that Gary had been speaking literally figuratively. In fact, it turned out there was food in the mystery box with which they had 45 minutes to create a dish. In fact they had to cook in steps taking ingredients from a series of mystery boxes, not knowing what is next, and not being allowed to go back.

George starts the clock and they both start running. We barely have time to work out who is the more ungainly before they’re straight into it. Michael goes for the beef and oysters, while Kate gets crabs. All of a sudden they’re in Bunnings until we realise it’s just an add for the Renovators, Tens new and original reality tv show where the top 24 amateur renovators in Australia go head to head to see who can be etc etc.

Back in the kitchen and Matt gives us an update via his i-phone. Alana points out that Kate is wasting time getting to know her crab, whereas Matt informs us that Michael is already up to his third box. Gary informs them that there’s no time for mistakes, but Michael and Kate go on to prove that there’s always time for mistakes.

George and Gary continue to remind them of how much time they have, for which both contestants are grateful because they obviously can’t see the massive clock right in front of them. Finally, they plate up their dishes. Kate hopes that the judges can turn a blind eye to all the chaos that went on in the kitchen, but really, if the eye is blind, what is the point of them turning it? They can’t see out of it anyway.

Both Michael and Kate breath a sigh of relief, because they’ve finished the first round, but also because they got through 45 minutes of cooking without George shouting ‘Boom, boom shake the room’ at them. Rachel looks on from the gallery, wondering if she had perhaps been Kate earlier in the series. Jay also looks on, certain that he and Michael are the same size and therefore could share clothes.

Kate’s dish is well received, but there were doubts over whether the crab and bug were cooked enough. Michael was roundly criticised for his hard carrot, but in the heat of the moment some times men find these things are hard to control. Then Dicko is asking Michael and Kate questions about gay marriage, until we realise we’re watching an ad for Can of Worms. Pity, I would have been interested in Kate’s response.

Back in the kitchen, and it’s time for the scores. Kate get’s a 7 from George and an 8 from Gary, which results, surprisingly, in some positive and uplifting music from the hidden orchestra, leaving themselves nowhere to go if Michael scores better. Which he does, with an 8 from George and a 9 from Gary. The orchestra literally flies through the roof.

So Michael goes into round 2 with a two point lead. George and Gary have suddenly transmogrified into Matt Moran and Matt Preston, which satisfies viewers and Mesdames Mehigan and Colambaris alike. But wait, Gary and George are still there, which means Matt and Matt have appeared out of thin air, or in Preston’s case, big boned air.

Kate and Michael have 2 hours and 15 minutes in round 2 to cook something representative of their time on Masterchef. And again we see them run which is unfair on everyone. Do they make Matt Shirvington cook?

Kate says she is making quail breast using techniques learnt over the whole series, including the one’s relating to cooking. Michael says he is making a poached lobster with fennel and a champagne sauce. Meanwhile, it starts to rain outside, which is indicative of absolutely nothing going on inside. Kate shows her increased vocabulary by saying jus and glaze a lot, but then embarrases herself by using sauce as an adjective. Meanwhile, Michael holds a lobster upside down over a pot of boiling water, threatening to dump it in if it doesn’t reveal the secret of its champagne sauce. It doesn’t, so he does, as its squeals reverberate around the cavernous kitchen.

With one hour in, both contestants look calm, and the uplifting music again kicks in. However, pretty soon Kate is rolling her quail. And then suddenly Kate and Michael start knocking down the walls, until we realise it’s an ad for the Renovators ,Ten’s new and original reality tv show where the top 24 amateur renovators in Australia go head to head to see who can be etc etc.

Back in the kitchen, and Gary reminds them of the scores and what’s at stake, which isn’t much in the scheme of things. Kate says she needs to keep a close eye on her custards, and a lazy eye on Michael. Michael has cooked his first lobster and sits down to give it a try until he realises he is still in a competition and doesn’t have time to enjoy himself.

Suddenly, Kate fails to understand simple physics when she forgets to use water to create steam, and instead burns her basket. Initially she thinks it’s God talking to her, but it’s actually Gary telling her something is burning. Meanwhile, the gallery looks bored. Michael, on the other hand, is on full throttle. He says to camera that champagne sauce isn’t the hardest thing ever. He’s right of course, that honour belongs to titanium, or is it diamond? Anyway, Preston tries Michael’s sauce and then puts the spoon back in, causing Michael to throw the sauce away and start again.

As time winds down, Kate’s custard goes all floppy, probably because of stage fright. Michael leaves the tails on his leeks, but fortunately the head and legs he took off. Gary informs them they have nothing to lose, forgetting that amputated limbs do not grow back. Finally, the time is up and, as usual, they all plate up in time.

The rain continues to fall outside, pointlessly, as the contestants bring their dishes to the judges. This time, they are sitting down. Michael is criticised for leaving tails on his leeks, before he begins cutting up the judges with a circular saw, until we realise we’re watching an ad for the Renovators ,Ten’s new and original reality tv show where the top 24 amateur renovators in Australia go head to head to see who can be etc etc.

Back with the judging, and Michael continues to be belittled for his little leeks. Also his sauce is a little acidic according to Preston and instantly Michael regrets urinating in it. Next it’s Kate with her quail with roast garlic custard. She says it’s not a perfect dish but that it’s on its way, assuming that it will fix it self up as she carries it to the judges. In fact it does, because it proves to be a hit. Preston forgets where he is and calls the jus a gravy, while Moran deflects attention while talking without spitting.

While the rain continues to fall, the judges line up to deliver their verdict. Michael scored a total of 31 out of 40. Kate wiped the floor with him, scoring 36 out of 40. This put her 3 in front of Michael. As confirmed by George for those who couldn’t read.

So to round three and the final challenge, which involved renovating 6 different but similar houses, until we realise that we’re watching an episode of the Renovators ,Ten’s new and original reality tv show where the top 24 amateur renovators in Australia go head to head to see who can be etc etc.

After an hour of not watching TV, we come back to see the final round, and who would be crowned Masterchef 2011. The tension builds, the sphincters tighten, the music gets louder. Gary announces that at the start of the series Kate and Michael were two entirely different people. Kate was Rachel and Michael was Jay. But now they are Kate and Michael again, who coincidentally are the people in the final. Kate says she never would have imagined in a million years that she’d be in the final, but George assures her it only feels like this series has been going for a million years. She looks back to a time when her children had poor scissor skills, and realises what she’ll have to back to if she doesn’t win.

Michael also gets to look back, back to a time when he was a simple hobbit in the Shire, then working as a projectionist in a XXX cinema. And of course we see Michael meet his food heroes. Well not all of them, because there is only an hour left. We learn that Michael once had a father who he no longer has and that he is in love with Hayden. Finally, we saw the moment when he knew he was in the final, which we all hoped we’d never have to see again.

And then we get down to the final round. This time it is set by the best chef in the world. But it turns out it’s not the Swedish chef from the Muppets, but rather Rene Rezepi, Michael’s real food hero. Rene had brought his toughest dish, his most challenging recipe, his most wankiest piece of wank. A snowman!

Rene explains to us how he came up with the recipe, which apparently involved 5 guys trapped, naked in a snowbound cabin, who, having sated all their earthly desires, had nothing else to do. Rene says the body of the snowman is extremely difficult, but once you unlock its secrets a world of earthly pleasures await.

Hayden tells us that whoever nails the snowman will be the next Masterchef, but then again he’s from Cronulla and that’s how they judge success there. The snowman allows George one last flurry of puns, and then they’re into it. 15 minutes in and Rene screams “Boom, boom shake the ski lodge” while he and Gary wander around asking inane question of Michael and Kate.

Kate works on her meringues, while Michael makes his carrot sorbet. Then Kate stuffs up her sorbet by not making enough carrot puree and it is at this point that Charlie Pickering informs Miranda Kerr and Shaun Micalef will be cooking off against each other in the next challenge, until we realise we’re watching an ad for the 7pm Project.

Back in the kitchen, George informs them that Rene is worried because they only have an hour and a half and their sorbet needs to set. Rene takes George aside and firmly informs him that he can speak for himself and that he really wasn’t worried because he couldn’t care less. Suitably chastised, George continues to annoy everyone but it’s only for another hour and a half and then it’s finally over so no one stops him.

Michael expresses concern that he won’t have much sorbet as a backup, though he should know that when you get into a fight you’ve got no hope if carrot sorbet is your only backup. Kate is on to her yoghurt snow as Michael realises he didn’t put any ingredients in his carrot sorbet and had just put an empty dish in the blast chiller. They both continue to do things that seem pointless until Matt Moran informs them they only have 45 minutes to go.

Kate puts her balls in liquid nitrogen causing a great collective wince around Australia, while Michael has smoke coming off his, an indication that he needs to leave the ladies alone and get back to cooking. Both start plating up their snowmen, which in this day and age probably should be called snowpersons. In fact, to be on the safe side, they probably should be called crsytalized water vapour person of unknown ethnic origin.

Kate points out that she only has minutes to do what usually takes the worlds best chef hours, but then she her attention is drawn to the part of her contract which says that contestants cannot point out the unrealistic nature of the challenges set in the show without incurring a penalty, so she quickly shuts up. Michael points out that his moose is quite loose, embarrassing himself and humiliating his partner.

Finally, they finish and it’s down to the judging. Kate presents her dish first. Preston points the obvious difference in the her snowman has been forced to wear a dress reminiscint of the Victorian era, hiding it’s womanly figure beneath a skirt of dried and cooked egg white. The judges use a knife and fork to eat a dish that is clearly a dessert, while creepily staring at Kate. This is not what I signed up for, thinks Kate. But then the uplifting music begins and we know she won’t be tied up and tortured this time. In fact, there is not a word of criticism about her dish, though Gary throws in a low blow when mentioning the time she has spent away from her kids. He softens the blow by saying that he enjoyed it so much, he wishes he could lick the plate, but an elbow condition makes that impossible.

Michael comes in next, claiming that it’s the most important moment of his life, pushing aside with ease the death of his father. Then suddenly Dicko asks him if he is being open and honest about his relationship with the moose, until we realise we’re watching an ad for Can of Worms. Pity, because I would have liked to have heard his response.

Back in the judging room, Michael tells he’s as proud as punch, though not as intelligent. He tells them he thinks he’s nailed it, he’s cooked a cracker, but if he’s actually cooked a cracker then there’s a good chance he hasn’t nailed it. It turns out he was confused because he’d actually cooked the snowman. The judges fall over themselves to congratulate Michael, knocking the table over in the process. Preston claims it was great watching Michael turn into a man over the last 14 weeks, starting the competition as Arena and ending up as Michael.

Finally, it all comes down to the scores, to see who is Australia’s next Masterchef. But before that, an honour guard of professional chefs and former contestants. Preston explains what then first prize is, again, but, again, no one explains what will happen to the loser. Drugs? Alcohol? Ready, Steady Cook? Then the contestants families are brought in, so that there are now so many people in the Masterchef kitchen it would be easy to murder George and get away with it, but no one rises to the challenge.

Time for the announcement, which has already taken an hour. Gary confirms the scores and makes some pretty strong claims about use of hearts in cooking. Then Michael’s scores are read out and he gets 34. He looks pretty pleased but he must know that, unless Kate defecated on the plate he is going to lose. Gary says Kate looks a little bit nervous, because she can’t remember whether she defecated on a plate or not, so she can only wait for the scores. She scores 36 and wins Masterchef 2011. The crowd embraces her and glittery stuff falls from the sky.

And so it is over for another year. In the meantime, we can all enjoy watching Michael as the new host of Ready, Steady Cook.