MasterChef AustraliaSun 7:30pm; Mon-Fri 7pm, Ch10
“The following program is classified PG. It contains some coarse language and an oft-spectacled Alice. Channel Ten recommends guidance for young viewers and restraint for people who can’t stand the bitch.”

It’s the MasterChef Top Ten in Italy, and George & Gary can’t wait for their chance to snuggle up close on a lady Vespa. There’s talk of getting ‘Rome on a plate’ (bloody big plate) and Italy’s number one chef Massimo has to put up with some dodgy dishes and George’s eating style and call it raisins. Just another week on the hustings, but this time in a whole other country. Let it be known that from now on the 8th of July will be known as International Sorry Day where we as a nation apologise to other countries that have had to bear the load of visiting MasterChef Australia contestants. Italy, you’re on the list.

As the Cheftestants settle into the Qantas Business Lounge, Kylie contemplates moving in permanently, Wade falls in love with a burger, and later as they get on the plane Ben questions his very existence. It’s telling that Beau puts his headphones on as Kylie talks to him – it’s what we’d all do.

Eventually they arrive in Rome and are greeted by the collective Cheshire Cat-like grins of Matt P, Gary & George in the middle of some square somewhere. Alice acted as tour guide but only knew one thing. Gary greets the Cheftestants in Italian as good as his Greek, so you know we’re all in for a good week. George announces that they’re “all in Rome to soak up that one word: cultural sensitivity”. He tells them it’s no Roman holiday even though it looks remarkably like a holiday as only one will be eliminated.

Their first challenge, Matt P announces, is to bring a Roman story on a plate. They need to dig deep and explore to get to the heart of what makes Roman food tick. Anatomical issues aside, it’s an inspiring opportunity to spread the same kind of fear the cast of “Kath & Kimderella” spread when they were here filming last year. It’s also another opportunity for Australian-Italian relations to hit an all time low as Alice continues to pretend to know what she’s doing.

The ten will be broken down into teams of two which will then explore Rome and it’s food offerings, collect ingredients, then meet up at some old dude’s house to cook their Roman story in 90 minutes (like they’ll have a story after only 4 hours of window shopping). The two teams who have their dishes selected as best will go into a challenge that will step them closer to immunity, as the week’s activities are dragged out longer than normal. The teams have also been preselected:

Red – Beau & Audra
Blue – Ben & Debra (uh-oh)
Green – Alice & Wade (poor bastard)
Yellow – Kylie & Andy
Orange – Julia & Mindy

Gary encourages the Cheftestants: “When in Rome, do as the Romans do”, so immediately Beau & Andy proposition the ladies for an orgy, while Wade heads off to invade Gaul. The rest are sent packing to explore the lanes, alleys and presumably supermarkets of Rome – but not after some serious Nikon product placement.

The Green team ‘conveniently’ swing by a pannini bar unannounced to find they’ve the opportunity to learn how to make squid ink bread. They then visit a fountain and dispose of a couple of worthless one euro coins Alice had lying around in her pseudo-ironic purse by throwing them in – Alice wishing for good luck and Wade wishing for a bizarre gardening accident to take place upon his partner.

Kylie & Andy look like star-crossed lovers in stupid yellow aprons taking holidays snaps. They also ‘conveniently’ find themselves in a restaurant run by Chris Badenoch’s Italian brother and they’re schooled in cooking offal (insert joke here).

Australia’s ultimate dance competition is coming to Ten, and no – they’re serious when they say that. That claim without a ballroom dancer in sight, too.

There’s more sightseeing and story creation taking place as star-cross lovers Mindy and Julia discover Rome as much as they discover each other. They wander blindly down an alley when they both smell fish and ‘conveniently’ walk into Rome’s oldest fishmongery. “There’s the largest array of seafood I’ve seen,” says Julia. “Outside the Sydney fish market,” adds an unseen producer, “Remember – they’re a sponsor on a upcoming episode!”. Given how far away Rome is from the ocean the girls are amazed it’s so fresh. They take a photo of themselves posing with a guy holding a fish he calls a “Mind-ee”. The girls giggle and skip out of the shop holding hands.

Ben, stuck with Debra, are amazed at the scope of the place and hope to pick up some inspiration at the local Aldi. The swing by a deli and start to feast on the owner’s goodwill as he explains how the Roman empire fell – entirely the cause of dried figs and pecorino, which he still stocks if only to ensure the Romans never get up again (he’s a spy from the east just doing his bit to keep them all in check). They then stumble into a corner store where the owner is just emptying his latest batch of freshly deep fried dim sims in the bain marie when he offers them a deep fried rice ball with a salmonella surprise in the middle. This really takes Deb’s fancy and will form the basis of her and Ben’s dish.

While the Cheftestants continue to wander blindly around Rome, Beau and Audra find themselves in front of the Spanish steps and realise they’ve spent their time just wandering around the place and not looking for food. They ‘conveniently’ run into a local who tells them to get out of her country, so they dive into a butcher’s as she gets violent to buy some veal, then it’s off to the local Coles. They’re chasing mushrooms and while they can’t find the ones they want they, like so many compromises they’ve made before, realise the judges won’t care so they just pick up any old thing.

Kylie & Andy struggle with the language barrier while shopping for offal – but once they realise they’ve been asking for “a knife” instead of “the heart, lungs and liver of an animal” they laugh heartily with the confused stall owner, still brandishing a sharp knife. Mindy & Julia are carefully selecting their tomatoes as this is Rome, and only the best tomatoes will do.

Not one contestant has chosen to make pizza or a pasta dish as “Rome on a plate”. It’s almost like they’ve been told not to as it will form the basis of another challenge this week. But half way through the episode that’s complete speculation.

Alice is dragging Wade around looking for squid ink for their gnocchi, but Alice’s poor Italian isn’t helping their cause. After Kylie & Andy try “six or seven” different butchers for their offal they go back to the first one to get one that had been ‘conveniently’ prepared earlier and another cut out of a carcass in front of them. Andy’s chuffed they now have their organs as he’d left his accidentally on the plane in the seat pocket in front of where he sat.

The teams casually stroll into the Villa’s gardens and eventually find Alice, the White Rabbit and the Mad Cravatter waiting to greet them. To ensure we know they’re still in Italy the kitchens they’lll work at have all been set up in the garden, in the blazing sun. No troublesome safe food preparation rules here!

Matt P welcomes their guest judge – a man with three Michelin stars and four Michelin tyres – Massimo Bottura. Alice is overcome with joy as Massimo was her first crush as an amateur chef, something she’s more than happy to profess to his face immediately on meeting him. “Meeting Heston was like meeting a rock star,” says Alice, “But meeting Massimo was like meeting Nietzsche.” Good to see she has some perspective to her continual delusion.

Matt P presses Massimo for his sense of Roman cuisine, which he replies with a flat “good, simple Italian food – like pizza or pasta”. Well this challenge just took a turn for the worse. George addresses the Cheftestants, but they all soundly ignore him and race to their benches to start preparing their meals.

Again, the producers let Alice recap far too much. When Massimo and Matt P pop around to find out what they’re cooking, Alice swiftly slips the Italian her room key and winks knowingly from behind her absurdly large and in no way prescription glasses. They’re making squid ink gnocchi with fried artichoke – inspired by the squid ink streets of Rome punctuated with fried artichoke signage.

Naturally Gary & George won’t let the guest chef near their “chosen one” and so are next in line to ask Julia what she and Mindy are making. She rambles incoherently for a second before announcing it’s a fish stew – which reminds them of the time Rome was by the seaside. They show off some of their happy snaps, including meeting Eduardo the fishmonger who introduced Mindy to a fish called Wanda (which she mistook as being the breed of fish, but she did ask what it was called).

Ben has allowed Debra to throw caution to the wind and invent a dish of pork meatballs with a surprise fig inside each one. It reminds us all of the time Debra revealed her ‘surprise fig’ by walking out of her room in the MasterChef house in Australia with her robe not done up. Matt P & Massimo ask why they’re cooking these surprise meatballs and Debra recounts the fig & cheese/fall of Rome story which everyone laughs at except the Italian. “It’s amazing how they think,” says Massimo to Matt P, who’s too busy stuffing his mouth with dried fig and pecorino.

Andy reveals their spoils of shopping and holds the offal up for all to see. Ben offers him 50 euro if he can make it taste good, which Andy promptly accepts and the game is on! As he chops up the kidney and lungs he finds a small cancerous growth which he declares he has no idea what it is and keeps it in the food anyway. It’s not like it was big enough to kill the animal in the first place, so how could it hurt humans?

For absolutely no reason, Gary points out to the Cheftestants that Massimo is here and they’re cooking for him – just like he did 45 minutes ago. It would seem the jetlag is exacerbating his alzheimers, poor man. Matt P rightly questions Beau & Audra on the choice of mushrooms in their dish as they’re not in season, so the team quickly swap over to artichokes because no one else is doing them.

Time is vanishing as quickly as the ad breaks occur. The judges take refuge in the shade of a tree because it’s way to hot to stand in the sun and narrate (but not too hot to stand in the sun and cook). Julia puts some whole mullet in their broth and laughs like a crazy woman at the sacrifice of the fish. Massimo stops by and is very handsy with Mindy which makes Julia as jealous as hell.

Andy & Kylie have managed to make their lungs whistle as they cook, so they’re pretty happy. It barely took any training. Ben notes that Deb can’t be pushed – she’ll work at her own pace and to hell with the construct of a time limit being forced upon her. After Deb’s revelation last week she’s menopausal NOBODY is messing with her.

Alice’s first batch of gnocchi are falling apart so to save them she decides to fry them to crisp them up. Or she could just recap everything that’s happened at them and those little potato pillows will harden up in no time. Mindy’s freaking out; Debra’s acutely aware of the dangers of serving undercooked pork; Wade’s getting frustrated with Alice while his eyebrows continue to look after the artichokes for him.

One minute left and it’s all a-scurry to plate. Ben’s not allowed to touch the meatballs – naturally, as he handed his over to Deb when they were paired together at the start of the challenge. All the food makes it onto all the plates and it’s another successful end to a challenge for the Cheftetants.

The judges seek refuge from the hot, hot sun outside and move inside the Villa for tasting. Judge favourites Julia & Mindy are summoned to deliver their blah-blah-blah-fish-stew. The Red team recount their visit to the Roman fish market as their inspiriation, thus the plate full of seafood presented to the judges. The judges tuck in and a whole other culture get to be disgusted with George’s table manners. All four are in love with the fish stew and Massimo declares “it’s going to be very difficult to beat this plate”. Not one contestant has served “Rome” on a plate, as was the brief – rules be dammed!

Ben & Debra offer their meatball surprise(!), and Matt P asks them both how they got on working together – strange, as that’s never been asked of any other MasterChef team ever.

“Oh… fine,” says a puzzled Debra.
Ben counters: “I think Deb has a very, um… not in a negative way, um, has tunnel vision so once she gets a concept in her head that’s the way we’re going. I understand that about Deb and once she got that idea and I liked that idea I let her run with it and tried to support her from behind as much as I possibly could.” Any future he had with the diplomatic corps ended with that statement.

George’s pendantism makes him say out loud he’s not happy being presented with two big balls. “So you’d rather have three big balls than two big balls,” queries Preston. “Yeah, aren’t we all like that?” responds Calombaris, now getting shifty looks from the entire crew. So good is Massimo’s touch and his experience in the kitchen that he announces he can FEEL they used some lemon too. Again all the judges are taken in by the balls – they’re still juicy and holding their form.

Beau & Audra present their veal saltimbocca plate with bagged mushrooms. As a team they’re disappointed with what they presented and the judges agree. Matt P doesn’t geddit. Massimo says it looks like tapas – “everything is a big mess”, raising tensions between the Spaniards and Italians even higher.

Andy & Kylie present their “scary dish” – Coratella (saute of offal), and Matt P immediately asks them two questions. “Firstly: do you think this dish is a great reflection of Rome; and secondly: Can you guys kiss and fondle each other while we eat?” The Yellow team blush and shift nervously on their feet, but soon realise Preston isn’t joking so kiss awkwardly as the judges tuck in. George places a piece of liver in his mouth with a dreamy look he normally reserves for other men with three balls. The risk the team took in preparing offal has paid off as the judges are very pleased.

Green team Wade & Alice deliver their squid ink gnocchi with deep fried artichoke and George is excited because it’s the first plate of modern food they’d had today, completely ignoring the brief presented to the Cheftestants. They tuck in and are amazed at how nice it all is. Gary uses the word ‘sophisticated’ and so George is compelled to use it as well, although he mispronounces it (“This is a really sophistimacated dish”).

Gary can’t contain his excitement at the judgement reveal, and is pleased to announce the top two dishes were presented by the Green team of Wade & Alice (god, we’ll never hear the end of it) and the Orange team of Mindy & Julia, and boy do those Queensland girls know how to celebrate.

Massimo recounts a story of how he desperately disappointed his father by becoming a chef, but HA! he outlived him so who disappointed whom now? He wishes the Cheftestants a happy life by shaking each by the hand except for Julia who he grabs and drops into a dip, stares into her eyes and whispers sweet Italian nothings to her before passionately kissing her on the lips with the deepest of kisses she’s ever encountered. She falls limp in his arms and yet is rigid with desire. All too soon the embrace is over and as Massimo walks away he’s seen throwing Alice’s room keycard into a pot plant.

Tomorrow night, the challenge presented to Julia, Mindy, Alice & Wade is looking for quality, quantity and consistency, so all four Cheftestants are screwed. It’s a pizza and pasta challenge – so that may explain their absence as dishes tonight – and Alice declares it the “hardest challenge ever” having never worked in a Pizza Hut in her life. The challenge appears to go so well George declares someone to be officially ‘in the shed’ which is puzzling even by his standards. At least we get to see more sweeping shots of the Italian countryside, which makes up for the illness that took out half the cast thanks to some dodgy pasta they all had. Who’s going to own up to that?!