Sometimes it seems that in life, the people you want to please the most are your harshest critics. Whether it be your parents, your siblings, your peers, your reality television show judges, or your pet gerbil called “Chunky”, we all want someone to look at us and say, “You’ve done extremely well and you should be very proud”. What we don’t want is for them to look at us and say “Why the hell did you do that?”, “You are such a disappointment” and “If you pull your finger out of there I won’t be responsible for what happens next!” Yet invariably the people closest to us are the hardest to please.

And so, in this penultimate week of Masterchef, the contestants strived to prove themselves. They were pitted against each other. They were pitted against their families. They were pitted against professionals. And finally they were pitted against each other … again. And to what end? The elimination of someone who had the makings of a fine chef? The elimination of someone who had staked it all on a dream? The elimination of someone who had proved time and time again that she had what it took to succeed in the food industry. Nope. Just Ellie.

It all started on Sunday, when, in an attempt to inject some life into proceedings, the contestants were asked to choose ingredients for each other. Anyone who has ever been involved in a family will recognise that this challenge closely resembles what happens at Christmas time, where one member buys a present for another, invariably either something they, the buyer, would like themselves, or something that will piss the receiver off no end. So for Michael, Kate gave him something she knew he would hate: a dessert basket. Michael, on the other hand, when filling Alana’s basket, probably wanted to give her something he would love himself. But he wasn’t allowed to include Hayden, so gave her flounder with beetroot and kohl rabi instead. Now let’s just dwell on the phrase “when filling Alana’s basket” for a moment.

But back to reality and Michael, notwithstanding that he’d been given a basket full of sweet ingredients, and despite his known weakness for desserts, was able to create a standout dish of pannacottta and roasted rhubarb with honey and orange syrup. He called it his ”Honey Trap”, because, according to Michael “not only does it represent a sweet approach to cooking, but also all those women who have teased and tricked me, who have led me on and left me devastated, who will one day regret the day they met me. Damn their eyes. Damn their eyes to hell.” George and Matt just looked at each other and slowly backed away.

Yet despite, or perhaps because of, this psychotic episode, Michael’s dish was deemed to be the winner, which gave him the opportunity to battle it out in the final immunity challenge of 2011. After last week and Dani’s cook off against Eamon Sullivan, Michael must have been hoping for an opponent of similar calibre. Golfer Adam Scott perhaps? Basketballer Luc Longley? Pugilist Jeff Fenech even?

We would have to wait and see, because before that the contestants were thrown into another challenge but with a different reward. The prize for the winner was a night spent with their loved ones, or, should they not wish to spend any time with their loved ones, a night with a reasonable priced escort. For an added bonus, the winner would not only get to see their family, and hopefully , for those with spouses or partners, enjoy an intimate moment or two, but George, Gary and Matt would be on hand to watch as well. Talk about pressure!

Matt Preston built the excitement, by reminding the contestants that they had cooked for and with some great names, including Nigella Lawson, Heston Blumenthal, and the Dalai Lama. But this time, they would be cooking for someone much better. “The Pope?” thought Kate. “Barack Obama?” asked Dani. “Hayden?” hoped Michael. Disappointingly, it was none of those and was, in fact, the contestants families, people they’d spent most of their lives with and who they would spend the rest of their lives with.

Of course, the judging couldn’t be left in the hands of people with no experience and an inability to talk about elements and flavours and caramelization, although Kate’s husband gave it a red hot go when he said the dish she presented “has all the elements I like”. Presumably he wasn’t referring to the dangerous levels of cadmium. So George, Gary and Matt were the final arbiters of each contestant’s food and it would be they who would decide who would get to go home/get laid.

Michael’s family consisted of his mother and his big sister Ruth. They were two people, by the way. His mother wasn’t a woman called Ruth who is also his sister. Perhaps if I’d included a comma we wouldn’t be having this problem of the trailing modifier. Could his mother also be his sister? I guess it’s possible she could be his half sister.

But there was no evidence of incest and we shouldn’t dwell on things we can’t prove. Leave that to journalists. What we do know is that Ruth had suffered a life threatening liver disease, and was thus slightly shorter than most people. To lift her spirits, Michael decided to cook the contents of the head of an ovine, which sounds awful, but is actually just sheep’s brains, which sounds even more awful.

Both Dani and Ellie had their mothers there, and the similarities were astounding. When Preston asked Ellie’s mum about what she was like as a child, Ellie’s mum described how Ellie used to dream of opening a Deli, and how she wanted to call it Ellie’s Smelly Deli. When Ellie corrected her and said she had wanted to call it just Ellie’s Deli, her mum burst into tears. On the other hand, looking at Dani and her mum, it’s clear they’ve both had their hair done in the same mould.

Kate and Alana had their partners, with Kate’s children also being there. Kate made much of the fact that her husband “likes a bit of pork”, which was probably a bit of a tautology because we’d already assumed that by the presence of the children.

In the end the judges thought Alana’s pancake stacks were the best. Perhaps they were. Or perhaps the selection of Alana just indicates who Gary, George and Matt would prefer to go home with. Whatever the reason, we were treated to some vision of Alana and husband coming home to a house full of guests with George and Gary cooking, and Matt Preston serving.

Pretty soon after that Michael had his shot at immunity. This would be the last immunity pin up for grabs, and if he got he could be assured of a spot in the top 4. As stated before, no doubt Michael was hoping that this immunity challenge would be consistent with the last one where Dani won immunity against a swimmer who had once cooked a nice dessert. And Michael wasn’t disappointed when he discovered that he was up against Teage Ezard, Victorian Chef of the Year, and professional chef of 20 years experience. He was extremely disappointed. Ropable in fact. But not gropeable. That’s Ellie, according to George.

Notwithstanding some close scoring, Michael was never really in it and left out ingredients in the Tom Kha, as well as overcooking the quail’s egg. However, the judges did indicate that, as a result of this challenge, Michael was the one to beat in the competition. And I agree. If you had to choose someone to beat out of the five, I’d probably want to beat Michael, with Ellie and Dani a close second.
With the last immunity pin lost forever, the contestants decided to take some time out and enjoy a lazy day at home. However, they were rudely shocked when George appeared while they were still in their pyjamas, their hair tousled, the smell of last night’s passionate love making, I mean roast dinner, still lingering in the air.

George was there to inform them of the next challenge but he didn’t come alone. He had brought with him some very odd ingredients, such as Colin Fassenidge, Donovan Cooke and Ashly Hicks, as well as sea urchin, pigs’ tails, liquorice, salsify and, the real surprise, an ingredient known as pumpkin. With such a disgusting menu it was always going to be a case of who could disguise their food the best. Dani tried to camouflage the liquorice in a dessert she called a liquorice allsort. Alana attempted to fool the judges by crumbing and deep frying the pigs’ tails, while Ellie tried to hide the salsify down the back of the lounge and serve lobster instead.

So it was ironic that it was Kate and Michael who shone in this challenge. Both made a feature of their main ingredient: Michael with his sea urchin, and Kate with her pumpkin, with Kate prevailing over all. Her reward: a day with Matt Moran. If there was a second prize it would have been two.

The two worst dishes came from Ellie and Dani but, because Dani was holding an immunity pin, if she chose to use it, Alana would have to face off against Ellie. This may have seemed unfair, but it was in keeping with the Masterchef philosophy – use products that aren’t available from your major sponsor. Of course, before this week Alana had neither won a challenge or been in the bottom two, so it was fitting that after he win earlier in the week she should be involved in an elimination challenge. And really, she was up against Ellie, so what could possibly go wrong?

Quite a lot as it turned out. They were asked to re-cook their worst disasters. For Ellie, the choice was endless. It was cavalcade of burnt offerings, of weird combinations, and of something that Gary described as “strangely unpleasant”. For Alana, she’d undercooked some chops and pears once.

This time Alana managed to cook both the meat and the fruit to perfection, though she was criticised by Gary because he felt she had too much fat. In other news a pot called a kettle black. Ellie improved her dish remarkably, going from a Spanish stuffed capsicum to Spanish crème caramel with orange ice cream. However, whether it was because Alana had the better dish, or because the producers felt it would be grossly unfair for Alana to be eliminated even though she hadn’t been in the bottom two, it was decided that it would be Ellie, going home.

The end credits informed us that Ellie has started an apprenticeship at Rockpool Bar and Grill in Melbourne. Kudos to Ellie for starting from the bottom. There is no room in the food industry for people who think they can just walk in and start at the bottom without doing the hard yards. All those positions are now taken.


MasterChef Australia – Sun/Mon/Tue/Wed/Thu/Fri 7:30pm, Ch10.