My Kitchen RulesMon-Thu 7:30pm, Ch7

Don't they look STOKED to be up for elimination?!

The teams are cooking for the first time in Kitchen HQ, which can mean only one thing – we’re just not sure what that is yet. Competitive cooking will be the winner on the night, that’s for sure.

As it’s the first time cooking in Kitchen HQ, everyone gets to tell us that this is their first time cooking in Kitchen HQ. Pete & Manu also get to tell us the same thing. Importantly, Simon & Meg (NZ) and Carly & Emily (Vic) have immunity, and Thomas & Carla (Vic) are already up for elimination, so the remaining 8 teams are cooking for their lives in a sort of new-age, gladiatorial, “whisks at 20 paces” pyramid challenge where the worst team will face off with T&C on Monday to see who goes home.

It’s announced everyone will be cooking with one of the few ingredients used around the world. No, it’s not McDonald’s, it’s chicken. The teams are only cooking for 30 minutes and Manu wants “Magnifique!”. Leigh & Princess Jen (SA) already have plans for their chicken (“We’ll make Drunken Chicken, easy peasy”) when Pete & Manu announce that the method by which they cook their chook has been determined by workbench they’re standing at. The cooking equipment is under their bench – they’re using either a deep fryer, a grill pan, a baking tray or a wok. “We’ve got the worst,” moans Megan (Tas). Obviously the concept of KFC hasn’t made it to the Apple Isle yet. It is only 2012, after all.

Leigh & Princess Jen got the baking tray and that throws their Drunken Chicken out with the baby and said bathwater. As a last minute peace offering, the judges tell the contestants they have 1 minute to convince another team to swap equipment if they want to. Sam & Jillian (NSW) are tempted to swap their wok for a baking tray, but concede it would be a good tactic to keep what they have. Jillian seems pleased, although her face isn’t moving today so no one can really tell.

Wok's doing?!

Nobody swaps, and the 30 minutes starts with a frantic rush into the storeroom. Peter (Qld) is disappointed that they’re given a whole chicken – I guess he was expecting it to come broken down. Scott (Qld) got cornered in the ‘tray section of the storeroom’, but is soon out for he and David to start on their dish – Prosciutto Wrapped Chicken. 30 minutes is next to no time to make a restaurant quality dish, so there’s all sorts of corners cut by some teams. Angela & Justine (WA) are making Crispy Chicken on Asian Noodle Salad and they’re running their bench like some sort of culinary United Nations. “Justine’s running the fryer because she’s got lots of experience with that,” says Angela. That’s just cruel.

Sam & Jillian are sizing up a Chicken Roulade with Glazed Vegetables – the glazed vegetables are a specialty of Sam, as he regularly glazes over when Jillian talks. Though Jillian does need help wrapping the chicken so Sam busts out some old-school Run-DMC. Intriguingly they’re making their BAKED roulade in their wok. Yeah, no problems there. Leigh & Princess Jen are digging their heels in, sticking with their Drunken Chicken dish in their baking tray.

With 20 minutes left, we touch base with Megan & Andy to learn they’re stuck with the fryer so they’re making a spicy Mexican Schnitzel with Salsa Verde and Cous Cous Salad. There’s a near domestic as Andy assaults the chicken breast with a mallet to turn it into a schnitzel – he’s already ruined one and is working on sending the other to counselling. Jillian’s now regretting not swapping, as persevering with the roulade has meant cooking it in a wok isn’t the straight forward process she thought it would be. Fancy that. Wok’s doing there?!

The time is ticking away, and Megan & Princess Jen have both caught IRS (“idiot recap syndrome”). Nic & Rocco (SA) are stretching themselves* by cooking Grilled Chicken with Mushroom Risotto and White Basil Sauce. (*Not actually stretching themselves.) Rocco feels they’re right on top of the dish, so much so that there’s time to hear Thomas & Carla tell us they don’t want to cook off against them. IS THAT A SIGN!? Siblings Steve & Helen are making Basil Chicken with Snow Peas and Rice, using the wok to their advantage. “Just because we’re Greek doesn’t mean we can’t cook anything else,” smiles Steve, smashing a plate & crying “Opa!”. Peter & Gary are working on a Chicken Mango Salad, as seen on page 43 of the 1972 Women’s Weekly Cookbook. They’re really confident as chicken and mango go well together, as is seen by the fact that Thomas & Carla are barracking for them – “I really like Thomas & Carla,” says Peter. “Not sure we’d take their advice though,” smiles Gary. Those two guys… wacky funsters.

Straighten up, soldier!

There’s 15 minutes left, and time for Pete & Manu to give us their thoughts on the way. They’re concerned about the Drunken Chicken poached in the oven for one. Andy’s concerned the schnitzel will burn, so it’s in and out every 5 minutes. Mashed potato, tasting sauces, No 39 at the Golden Lamb(!) – it’s all happening. You have to wonder how the teams find time to sit down and talk about their dishes while they’re going. Very impressive. There’s a dressing disaster for the WA girls and at the call for the final 10 minutes, the surrounding chaos somehow intensifies. Sam & Jillian and Leigh & Princess Jen are struggling with their chicken – it’s nowhere near cooked. Princess Jen is horrified.

5 minutes to go, Pete tells the teams they’re looking for some sensational chicken dishes, and everyone knows they’re gonna be disappointed. Sam has cancelled their chicken, much to Jillian’s horror. Princess Jen looks like she’s pulled out a miracle as their chicken is cooked. One minute left and the last plating touches are happening, and Sam & Jillian are about to come to blows. Time’s up and everyone happy – except for S&J, who are delivering a diabolical dish. Pete & Manu taste, not letting a thing on until time for judgement.

The four teams who didn’t meet the mark will go into a cooking showdown to determine who faces Thomas & Carla in elimination. Pete & Manu deliver it like this:
Leigh & Princess Jen – Drunken Chicken: “Wow” – SAFE.
Peter & Gary – Chicken Mango Salad: “Cold tropical fruit does not go well with a hot protein – NOT SAFE.
David & Scott – Prosciutto Wrapped Chicken – SAFE.
Megan & Andy – Mexican Schnitzel: “The sauce was a let down” – NOT SAFE.
Steve & Helen – Basil Chicken – SAFE. (They’re very huggy.)
Sam & Jillian – Chicken Roulade: “The roulade wasn’t really a roulade” – NOT SAFE.
Nic & Rocco – Grilled Chicken: “We didn’t ask for a spectacular risotto with chicken” – NOT SAFE.
Angela & Justine – Crispy Chicken: “The chicken was a little bit over-salted” – SAFE.

Sam turned on the waterworks at the news her roulade was crap, but it does her team no good. Nic & Rocco are crushed by the comments that the chicken was an afterthought. No time to dwell – it’s on to the showdown!

That crab... it's looking at you...

Salt & Pepper are the everyday ingredients in the showdown. “Salt or pepper must play a critical role in the creation of clavour of your dish,” demands Manu. The teams have one hour, and so Peter & Gary, Megan & Andy, Sam & Jillian and Nic & Rocco hop to it. Well, sort of meander – no one seems to think it’s that urgent. Sam & Jillian spend a lot of time thinking while everyone else is crack-a-lacking.

Megan & Andy are cooking Blackened Fish – it’s something Andy does all the time and there’s 3 different peppers in the coating. Sam & Jillian are preparing Poached Pears with Pepper Spiced Syrup and Pepper Tuile, clearly showing they’re strong on salt for this challenge. Nic & Rocco are cooking Pepper Crab with Egg Noodles (“Everyone in South Australia cook swimmer crab”), while Peter & Gary are making a Roast Beef Fillet with Green Peppercorn Sauce – “a classic,” says Gary. Even their ‘supporters’ Thomas & Carla note it’s straight out of the 1970’s.

There’s chopping, plucking, crabbing, looking, saucing – but not a lot of panicking yet. But there’s still 30 minutes to go. Gary’s busy saucing and Peter notes “If we get the seasoning wrong we’re done for”. All the while tensions are running hot with Megan & Andy, as Andy notes that the sauce Megan has prepared isn’t thick enough – “it’s water,” he says. If looks could kill Megan would already be marrying her other brother.

Fifteen minutes left and it’s all sorts of crazy. Sam & Jillian don’t want to be in the elimination cook-off, and Andy admits he and Megan fight a bit in the kitchen but that’s how siblings manage. Peter & Gary are discussing how they like their steak done when out of nowhere Megan offers: “This isn’t going to be hard enough, darling.” She motions to the mashed potato but we all know she meant some other mashed item. Nic & Rocco not doing much better.

Peter & Gary get the steak out and while Gary celebrates it’s a good medium rare, Peter assures us he likes it “a little bit redder”. I’ll bet. There’s the furious last minute prep, plating and forgetting the carrots, and the teams watching are cheering them on just like the producer told them to. Times up and everyone has to step away from their benches.

It's not very blackened yet.

Nic & Rocco are first to be judged, and Manu notes they’ve definitely used pepper and salt in their dish. The sweetness of the crab offsets the saltiness and it balances out. Pete thinks the crab is perfectly cooked and he loves it. LOVES it. So does his mum, she loves it too. Especially from Nic & Rocco. Megan & Andy’s Blackened Fish is really nice as far as Manu is concerned. Pete thinks they need to get the ratios right – the fish is great, but the potato stack is visually overpowering. Peter & Gary deliver their Roast Beef and Manu notes that they have delivered the sauce, though he would have done a little more on the presentation. “Again you’ve done an old-school classic,” notes Pete, though he is enjoying it. “But is it too simple?”

Finally Sam & Jillian present their Poached Pears which Manu thinks are “wicket”, though we’re all pretty sure he meant “wicked”. “The tuile has worked and adds texture to the dish,” he says. Pete would have preferred if the pears were poached a little longer. No time to linger as it’s time for still MORE JUDGEMENT.

There’s even more comments by the judges on each dish, filling out the hour. No real insight is being offered, though it is providing the opportunity for Pete & Manu to talk a lot. There is a warning to Peter & Gary that perhaps their cooking is too dated, and they may need to rethink their cooking strategy to survive. Andy’s amazed that cooking can make him feel this way as he prepares with the other’s to find out who is going into the sudden death cook-off.

Sam & Jillian are the worst! They now have to face off against Thomas & Carla on Monday night in a battle where the loser is eliminated from the game. Thomas & Carla want to stay, and Sam & Jillian are determined to fight on. For the first time this season we’ll see the guest judges return to Kitchen HQ covered in glory (well, covered in something – Guy Grossi’s involved). It all comes down to Monday night…