My Kitchen RulesSun-Tue 7:30pm, Ch7

Manu & Virgil the Thunderbird

Kitchen HQ is still on fire, but that’s OK as the place is well insured. Last night we saw lots of grunting, chopping and passive aggression from Megan & Andy and Leigh & Princess Jen. The SA girls triumphed over the Tasmanian couple as there are no OzTAM boxes in our island state and so to include them in a state v state final is pointless. Besides, they didn’t serve any gravel in their food.

They’re the two favourite teams of the competition so the montage has to reflect just how much they’re loved. Tonight’s battle royale between the Romeos of South Australia and the Juliets of Victoria will see blood on the kitchen floor as they scale the lofty heights of the semi-final #2 mountain in search of a gut-wrenching victory. Someone will have to win, and someone will have to lose, and someone will have to clean up after them. Pity this last person as there’s no TV show about them, is there? I’m so sick of this song over the opening titles…

If nothing else, over the course of this season Nic has mastered the art of saying a lot of words without actually saying anything. There’s your next Premier, SA. Carly’s excited about what’s to come until she’s reminded they have to cook off against Nic & Rocco. Manu’s very serious about briefing the teams on things they already know. “Tonight, you have the opportunity to serve up your ultimate three course menu,” he tells them while Pete stares ahead blankly looking like Virgil from the Thunderbirds before he springs to life.

Apparently Carly & Rocco have cooked up during the course of the competition so everyone feels the need to tease them about it. They’re just “friends” Leigh tells us. As they’re not able to get a rise or a proposal, the teams are sent to the kitchens to bang on their aprons and get busy with the whizzy. Fo’shizzy. Manu needs to stop hanging out with his first year apprentices so much. “I’m feeling very calm, but perhaps it’s the calm before the storm,” says Emily. “Or perhaps it’s those two valium I dropped before the competition.” She yawns, and Pete let’s them know it’s game on.

Silkier than the silkiest thing you ever silked.

They have to serve their entrees in 90 minutes and they all know these had better be the best meals they’ve ever cooked ever in the universe or else… well, nothing really, they just don’t have to cook competitively tomorrow. The sun still rises. No biggie. Their menus, however, are quite the biggie:

Nic & Rocco
Entree – Bird’s Nest Pasta
Main – King George Whiting with shellfish mousseline
Dessert – Dolce Misti (Chocolate mousse, vanilla panna cotta and zuppa inglese)

Carly & Emily
Entree – Dukkah Crusted Scallops with beetroot and goat’s cheese salad
Main – Duck Confit with duck neck sausage and white bean puree
Dessert – Persian Love Cakes with panna cotta and fresh figs

“To cook the beetroot for the entree,” Emily tells us, “I put them in the oven.” Carly soberly realises in the first 90 minutes of prep they have to complete their entrees, get half their main course sorted, and pretty much finish dessert. At least when it comes to the dessert 30 minutes of prep they can relax. Pull up a chair and a cheeky chardy.

Nic & Rocco are all up in their own grills trying to get the Bird’s Nest pasta for their entree happening. It’s a family recipe and if there’s one thing we all know – you don’t mess with the family (recipe). “It’s called Bird’s Nest Pasta because the way you plate it up it looks really messy but somehow hangs to together and has a little deep fried sparrow in the centre,” says Rocco. Ruining the family secret Nic tells us of their 3-2-1 method: “3 eggs, 2 cups of flour, and 1 phone call to Mum to come over and make it.” Simple really.

This looks remarkably like last night's pigeon in the making...

The girls are cooking Persian love cakes because it’s a Middle Eastern inspired dish and because Carly ‘lurves’ Rocco. The cakes are spicy just like she is; they’re sweet just like she is; and they’re small just like… you get the picture. “Rocco is the ‘Dessert King’,” says Emily, “so we’re either going to have to plate up something sensational or threaten them with knives just before dessert prep starts. Either way I’m prepared.” They know they need to make dessert taste amazing to compensate for any other failure they’ve not scheduled into their day.

Nic’s so focused on making the pasta like silk he’s not thinking about what he has to do when rolling the pasta out. It’s tearing and he’s not able to make it as thin as he’d like. He says ‘silk’ one more time for no apparent reason – I think it’s his safe word. Pete tells us each team would climb over their own dead great-great-grandmother’s carcass to beat the other team and that they’ll be wheeled in shortly to allow for that part of the challenge to take place.

Everyone’s making panna cotta, and Carly’s taking it personally: “Our panna cotta’s gonna be better-a.” We’ll find out eventually as both teams have that part of their dessert in the fridge and chillin’ like a villain. Fango dares to ask us “whose panna cotta will be better?”, and the majority of the viewing audience turn to each other and ask “what’s Fango?”.

I don’t know why Rocco has failed to improve his after-the-fact recap voice when all the other competitors have got it nailed now. He still says everything with an upward inflection at the end like it’s a question and he’s seeking validation he said the right thing? I’m Ron Burgundy? Drives me up the wall? Everyone’s got a twist on every dish, so much so I fail to understand why they bother to refer to them as the original dish if it’s so twisty.

I know what it looks like and you'd be right.

Upgrading from last night’s pigeon debacle, Carly & Emily are straight into preparing to confit their duck. They’ve melted the duck fat and covered it in a dish and put it in the oven at a low temp. Note there’s no mention of WHAT temperature, but for those that watched last night’s ep POP QUIZ, HOTSHOT: You’re gonna confit a duck and you need to know the temperature you need to maintain – what do you do? WHAT DO YOU DO? That’s right, you ignore precedent and do whatever you want as it will all work out OK in the end, especially if you add gravel.

Nic’s fascination with silk continues and it’s got me wondering if that’s his trigger word for his Tourretes. They’ve cooked their pasta and are now putting it together – it basically looks like a form of cannelloni. Princess Jen calls out to Rocco mid-flight: “Do you think you’re going to beat your girlfriend?” “Hey!” says Rocco, “we’re just friends.” “I thought we were just friends,” says Nic, looking like his nose is a little out of joint. Talk about your third wheel. Awkward!

The guest judges enter and Rocco realises this is the first time they’re cooking for the judges. They have a real chance to finish them off as all the other teams have failed to include the poison provided at the start of the season. Look, if you had, one shot, or one opportunity, to seize everything you ever wanted, one moment, would you capture it? Or just let it slip, yo?

With only 20 minutes to go Carly & Emily realise they have to START preparing their entree. Exactly as they planned. Carly offers the Dukkah is the wow factor for her – wow that it’s so simple to prepare. So Emily starts by putting some pine nuts, coriander seeds, some cumin, a small cow, some pencil shavings, the hair of the rare Tibetan three-legged yak, eye of newt, sesame seeds and a pinch of salt into a frying pan to roast off and wholly ignore. They notice the scallops they have to work with are very big so they opt to cut them in half to ensure they’re cooked through in time. Manu is flabbergasted: “They’re cutting the scallop in half, I just don’t get it.” Is he that drunk that he didn’t just hear what they said?! THEY’RE TOO THICK, YOU CHEESE-EATING SURRENDER MONKEY! But wait.. Jen can smell something burning…

Nic & Rocco serving alien carrots.

There’s 5 minutes to go and Emily notices the scallops aren’t cooked but the Dukkah is burnt. Too much newt, perhaps? Not enough oil in the pan? Let’s add some oil. Nic & Rocco start plating up, and their Bird’s Nest Pasta is the most flagrant case of false advertising since we were told we’d all feel better on Swisse. The final 60 seconds fling past and everyone plates everything with a sigh and no problems at all. Nic couldn’t be happier, and Emily thinks their dish looks amazing. The judges don’t care what they think and the contestants are waved away so they can pull their beards and cluck their tongues as they pontificate and ponder the dishes before them.

Carly & Emily’s scallops come under close scrutiny – Karen thinks the dish looks lovely, and Tobie thought his scallop was cooked perfectly. Manu is still banging on about there being too much Dukkah and not enough scallop after the girls halved them. They all agree with him for some reason, and think the scallop is lost in the flavour of the coating. Nic & Rocco’s pasta is well received. All Guy can bang on about is the ‘depth of flavour’. In fact he’s saying nothing else – just repeating the phrase with different inflections each time. Look out of his new restaurant “Depth of Flavour” opening in a shopping centre food court near you soon. Tobie thinks the pasta could do with more bechamel sauce. More? MORE?! A large, bearded Harry Secombe in 19th century costume marches in to give him a piece of his mind but is stopped by security and a scuffle ensues off camera.

Carly’s starting on the duck neck sausages as they should have been almost done by now but she flies through the process in 10 minutes. What, me worry? Nic & Rocco, however, have checked their panna cotta in the fridge and it’s split (I’ll bet they’re glad they checked it now and not later), so they remake it and put the new batch in the fridge too but know it may not be set in time. A whole new layer of tension builds over the boy’s ultimate menu, making the total number of tension layers equal one.

There must have been some kind of blood pact made during the ad break as Pete tells us that both teams are now cooking for their lives. It could only be better if we learned the MKR producers are holding their loved ones at gunpoint and the teams are now cooking for their lives too. Talk about motivated amateur chefs. Emily’s started on the white bean puree and she reveals her method for our benefit: “To make white bean puree, I cook some white beans and then I puree them.” How has this process escaped me for this long? Carly puts her three irregular sausages on and there’s all sorts of concerned looks from the judges. Guy offers he’s concerned with the depth of flavour given there’s only 30 minutes remaining and they’ve only just put the sausages in the oven. Besides, it’s not a very Aussie way to cook snags.

"Praise be to the panna cotta gods!"

Nic’s working to pick up the ‘Seafood King’ title that Andy left behind last night when he was eliminated by coating his King George Whiting with nutmeg, just the way all good fascists like their fish. He thought he was putting pepper on the fillets (to be fair), so he washes the nutmeg off and starts again. They form them up in ramekins to cook and Rocco decides they need a little more of the fillet in the tubs as one isn’t enough. Turn the tension all the way up to two.

Carly gets the duck confit out of the oven so she can lay the duck pieces on a tray and put them back in the oven to colour up the skin and finish the cooking process. By accident Emily climbs in with the duck and has to be coaxed out. It turns out she mistook the “colouring of the skin” as a temporary tanning salon. The girls laugh heartily as they know they’ve got their timings right to the second, and this was their scheduled moment of hilarity in the semi-final.

The shellfish mousselini is under Nic’s guidance, though his timing as to when Italy should join the war is questioned. He doesn’t care – he knows what’s best for their main and the mother country. The ramekins go in a bain marie in the oven to cook, and the boys feel they’re ahead of the curve. That is until Rocco uses “bloody plain flour” in his sponge mixture for the zuppa inglese. He tips the mix in the bin and starts again (“Maybe it’ll rise in there,” Rocco says). Pained looks from Peter and Manu. Rocco thinks he needs to exorcise his demons due to the simple errors he’s making.

The girls rip the sausages out of the oven and the two smaller ones are cooked fine but the bigger one needs a couple more minutes. It’s just as Peter predicted without any of the trauma associated with it. With 15 minutes to go it’s gonna cook in time no matter what everyone seems to suggest. Boo to bad mis-directed fake drama.

Follow the squiggle to saucy goodness.

Manu tells us that Nic & Rocco might have too much going on with them both focused on the dessert prep in the last quarter hour of main prep. It is frenetic but the boys seem to be across it, though this is how you nutmeg your fish or add plain flour to your sponge mixture. Rocco’s concerned the sponge mixture tastes a little flowery, though once he’s sculled a dash of liquer that’ll remove the taste entirely. Nic’s working on the balling of the carrots(?!) to accompany their main and asks Rocco how the sauce is coming along which prompts him to start making it. Nic checks their fish main and it all seems to be cooked perfectly.

The large snag is out of the oven and after tasting, Carly & Emily agree this will be better than their main. “Winner, winner, duck dinner,” says Carly. 4 minutes to go and Carly pulls the duck portions out of the oven figuring they’re ready and lets them rest. Both girls get onto plating and Carly notes for the first time in this competition she’s got shaky hands. This is indeed a surprise as up until now everyone through they were soulless automatons. ROBOTS, people. Unmoved by emotion. The squiggle of bean puree isn’t going on the plate quite right and time’s a-ticking.

Rocco’s got the pearl vegetables cooked and he and Nic are now plating too. The fast cuts between teams suggest the pace has quickened, when really everyone is really just plating at a normal pace and as time expires they’ve conveniently all finished. They present their sacrifices of love to the judges and race back to their respective kitchens to finish off their desserts (in 30 minutes). Cakes have gotta come out and all the burners have to be on. A small hole in the ozone layer opens up above Kitchen HQ but no one notices as they are too busy watching the judges taste the main courses.

I am SICK. TO. DEATH. of judges who slurp and eat with their mouths open. Their mics are turned way up to capture any hint of noise and it’s so horribly irritating and downright rude.

Pete loves Nic & Rocco’s fish, but Manu doesn’t understand the flower. You can only imagine how hard it was for his parents to explain the birds and the bees if he doesn’t understand flowers. Grossi loves the mousselini (of course he does – nudge nudge), and the judges all agree the whiting is very well cooked. Liz thinks the duck was lovely, and Manu thinks the duck could do with another 20 minutes of cooking time. “There’s lots of great ideas on this plate and a lot of work has gone into them, but none of them are perfect,” says Pete. A chink in the armour of the sisters who are programmed to be practically perfect in every way? No one really cares what Leigh or Princess Jen thinks.

Mmm... chocolate...

Rocco doesn’t want tonight to be their last night cooking in this kitchen. If he bought the property it wouldn’t have to be, but who thinks practically at a time like this. When they are cooking for their LIVES. The guys know they’ve got lots to get done – but it’s their panna cotta they’re most worried about. They check on and – hallelujah – it’s almost set, so they transplant the cups into the freezer to finish them all off and in the process knocks them all over in the freezer tray. Luckily they were all set just enough or else we’d have to move to Tension DefCon level 2 again after slipping back to 1 knowing the panna cotta had all but set.

The love cakes are coming out of the moulds fine, though Carly can’t get the panna cottas out on the plates. They bash away at them while Rocco adds a liquer to the custards that still have an after taste of flour. That should do it. Carly makes the executive decision to dip the panna cotta cups in boiling water to get them out and manages to do that while melting them just enough so they look like little piles of white mush.

Both teams are plating up and the boys seem to have it all in hand (sneakily, their dessert has all the elements served in the glasses they prepared them in, so no panna cotta plating panic for them). Again, as if by magic, both teams get everything on the plate and are able to present it to the judges before being sent to the shipping container “green room” to “relax” before the judges “eliminate one team”.

Pete wants to start with Carly & Emily’s love cakes. While it may be the poorest choice of words ever, the other judges agree and immediately start making excuses for the melted panna cotta. “It’s a little bit melted but it’s OK, I think,” says Manu. We know his favourites already. Guy thinks there’s a real depth of flavour to the mushy panna cotta. Karen thinks it tastes divine and that it’s probably the best dessert she’s had on My Kitchen Rules. Somehow Pete makes his eyebrows go even higher than they’ve been all night. Nic & Rocco’s dessert is called out for floury custard but all the other elements are OK. The panna cotta is great but you can’t taste any of it without the raspberry coulis. There’s no depth of flavour(!) for Liz – it’s just all sweet, sweet, sweet.

"It's all about the depth of flavour for me..." - Guy Grossi.

The teams are returned to the Kitchen HQ set for the final scoring and their fates to be revealed. It’s been tough, but the judges have decided and the cards will now fall where they may… (The camera catches Rocco have an eye spasm and edit it together like he’s winking at Carly). Pete tells the teams that only 1 point separates them and Nic being his usual buoyant, optimistic self thinks that means he and Rocco are going home. What a guy to have on your team, right? Rocco better smack him into shape if they make it through tonight.

Nic & Rocco
Guy Grossi – 8
Tobie Puttock – 7 (“I think you tackled too much for dessert.”)
Liz Egan – 7 (“Thank you for treating the King George Whiting with respect.”)
Karen Martini – 7
Manu Feildel – 7 (“The entree was lovely but felt like it was missing the sauce.”)
Pete Evans – 8
Total score – 44/60.

“Sevens aren’t good enough right now,” says Nic. No ongoing contract for him then.
“Is 44 good enough to make the grand final? I don’t know,” says Rocco. What Rocco doesn’t know fills libraries, so the boys aren’t out of the race yet.

Carly & Emily
Guy Grossi – 7 (“What beautiful crispy skin on the confit duck but what a shame it didn’t cook a little bit longer so the duck was softer.”)
Tobie Puttock – 7
Liz Egan – 7
Karen Martini – 8 (“Your entree was bright and fresh when it came to the table.”)
Manu Feildel – 7
Pete Evans – 7 (“With the first bite of your panna cotta and I was just… WOW…”)
Total score – 43/60.

Nic & Rocco and Leigh & Princess Jen - The 2012 My Kitchen Rules finalists.

There it is. No one thing played against Carly & Emily specifically, but even though they delivered a spectacular dessert it wasn’t enough and Nic & Rocco go through to the grand final to face off against Leigh & Princess Jen. The boys embrace and hold it for longer than is comfortable for everyone. “We wouldn’t have wanted to go out to any other team so you’ve done us proud today,” says a stoic Emily, “and we think you’re amazing cooks.”

Manu gives big props to the girls, and their montage is suitably upbeat and positive. There’s lots of grabs of “This is the best we’ve had in the competition so far”. The girls are stoked they made it this far and run off into the night before their logic chips malfunction when they realise they didn’t win.

Tomorrow night (Tuesday)… it all comes to a head. Mate vs mate. State vs same state. Girls vs Boys. Royalty vs peasantry. Black vs white. “Yeah” vs “Yeah, nah”. Considering the winners take home $250,000 it suddenly all got very serious and you can guarantee I’ll be right across it. Tune in Wednesday for the grand final episode shenanigans of My Kitchen Rules 2012… you know you want to.