Masterchef this week took us back to the good old fashioned days of hearty food, of wholesome fare, and of Women’s Weekly recipes. It took us back to those delightful days of the fifties, where the food was nourishing, rich and uncomplicated. Where a chicken was considered an exotic ingredient. Where breakfast, lunch and dinner were taken on the lawn. And where middle age men could grope young women with impunity. Halcyon days.

The week started on Sunday, which is increasingly becoming the fashion these days. The contestants had to choose between the obvious gourmand combinations of lamb and anchovies, oranges and sherry, chorizo and squid, or Cagney and Lacey. Then, the contestants were given a short time in the pantry to select 15 items to go with their chosen combination. But, as George had attended a swingers party the weekend before he’d hit upon the idea of the contestants swapping their “shopping baskets” so they would end up with ingredients that no one in their right mind would have chosen, except obviously for all of the contestants.

The confusion caused consternation for some but others rose to the challenge. Jay, Dani and Ellie were in the bottom three, whilst Arena, Danielle, Shannon and Michael had the top four dishes, with Danielle being judged the best.

Dani’s Spanish trifle, which is a terrible way to describe the ongoing difficulties faced by the Spanish in relation to the Basque separatist movement, failed to inspire the judges, whist Jay’s churros, did inspire the judges, but only to burn their taste buds off with acid. Meanwhile, Ellie’s stuffed capsicum lived up to it’s name. Ellie took the criticism from the judges to heart, which was how it was probably meant to be taken, when Gary described it as “strangely unpleasant”, and she broke down in tears. Gary and George both felt her…sorry, felt for her and offered her a consoling hug, which she readily accepted. I guess she really does want to be a chef.

Jay, Ellie and Dani then went together to elimination. On the way there, Jay had the girls in stitches with his impression of an illiterate elephant trying to book a flight with Jetstar, but once they arrived it was straight down to business.

The challenge was to recreate Dan Hong’s (otherwise known as “Who?”) Pandan Chiffon Cake with Black Sesame Ice Cream, Coconut Praline, and tapioca (otherwise known as “What?”) in 90 minutes (otherwise known as “One and a half hours”).

As expected, all the contestants struggled cooking a made up dish. George tried to inspire the three by yelling at them that “You can’t have your cake and eat it too”, which was bound to cause confusion after last week’s Masterclass where Maria Antoinette had instructed the judges to “let them eat cake”.

However, it turned out that George was on the money, because at judging no one could eat Jay’s cake. As a result, his Masterchef journey came to an end. This was something of a shock as only last week he was riding high in the judges’ estimations, so the fall from grace was bound to be emotional, and it certainly was judging by the seeping of liquid from around Jay’s eyes. Strangely enough, neither Gary nor George sought to console him with intimate physical contact.

In a stunning turn of events, we learnt at the end of the episode that Jay had eschewed the traditional route taken by failed Masterchef contestants (releasing a sauce range) in favour of working in a commercial kitchen. Only time will tell if this radical move will assist Jay in his determination to be a professional chef.

With Jay gone, that left the field wide open and the proportion of short, fat men in the show reduced by one third.

Danielle’s reward for having the best dish was to face uber chef and unknown person Thorsten Schmidt in an immunity challenge. The task involved cooking Thai food, which was neithers strong suit, and Thorsten was given the added handicap of not being allowed to see the recipe. Danielle, on the other hand, had the added handicap of not being able to cook, so it evened out in the end. Danielle did get to see the recipe, which makes it all the more surprising that she decided to put a hair in her dish when the recipe was silent on the inclusion of a hair or hairs from the head or any other part of the body.

On tasting, Danielle’s courageous gambit of including a hair almost came up trumps when George, upon finding the hair in the relish, tried to attach to his head. However, when he realised that if he used that hair his curtains wouldn’t match his drapes, he quickly discarded it and scored Danielle poorly for trying to make him look like an idiot, a task, he said, he was more than capable of performing himself. As a result, Danielle missed out on immunity and will have to face the coming Swine Flu epidemic with the rest of us.

With eliminations and immunities out of the way for the time being, the competition turned to the first of its big celebrity chef guests. Nigella Lawson, in Australia spruking the benefits of Twinings, was on hand to do a spot of judging.

This time the challenge involved the teams being split into the old and young and having to cook the recipes made famous by Ms Lawson. The twist? The team captains (Alana for red and Adam for blue) were given the recipes and 25 minutes and then each contestant would be given 20 minutes after them to continue and complete the dishes. This was known as the Tag Team Challenge, though it was not what George had imagined when he originally came up with the name.

The dishes were red velvet cup cakes, devil’s food cake, roast beef with Yorkshire pudding, potato gratin and brussel sprouts with bacon, and game pie.

Nigella thought the red team’s gratin could have been more voluptuous, but didn’t extend the same criticism to Michelle Grattin. She thought the blue team’s game pie was okay, but criticised the red team for leaving a whole flock of grouse in theirs. Both teams had dishes which were successful and both teams had dishes which failed. However, neither team could force Nigella Lawson to stand up, so the question of whether she has a bottom half remains unanswered.

The blue team were adjudged the supreme beings and their prize was dinner at Tetsuya’s. Not his restaurant mind you, but one of his many residential properties, currently leased at reasonable market rates. The dinner was cooked by the lessee, so the reward was probably less exceptional than perhaps the contestants had originally thought it would be. Still, they couldn’t complain, because their contracts preclude it.

For the red team, though, it was the ignominy of an elimination. Shannon and Arena nominated themselves to furious nodding agreement from the rest of the team. In the Masterchef kitchen, George and Matt Moran told them that they would be cooking with one of the most versatile of ingredients, so you can imagine their shock and horror when the cloche was lifted to reveal a chicken. Still they only complained for several minutes before proceeding to get on with the job, if the job was destroying everyone’s faith in mankind.

Both girls did things with the chicken which are considered sins by several Christian religions, but it was the cooking of the chickens that they were judged on. Neither plated up anything of note and the judges certainly let them know it. Both girls instantly turned on the tears, but because Shannon began crying a fraction of a second before Arena, under the rules of Masterchef she was automatically deemed the winner.

The end credits informed us that Arena had headed back to Western Australia where she has opened a kitchen in her parents’ organic shop, serving vegetarian food, presumably to vegetarians. Let’s hope she understands how lucky she was to have appeared on Masterchef, because it is unlikely that without that experience behind her, her parents would have consented to her cooking food in their shop.


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