My Kitchen RulesMon-Thu 7:30pm, Ch7

Feelin' hot, hot, hot!

Chop, chop, chop, chop. We’ve halved the contestant roster and now with four teams to go (and four episodes including this one) we’re on song for a finish of gargantuan proportions. I’m hoping it involves Steve dressed as a giant Stay Puft Marshmallow Man stumbling through New York with an intention to destroy Manhattan. Who ya gonna call? It doesn’t really matter as it’s never gonna happen… or is it? They have to decide who’s going to face off in the final and whoever can stop this monster makes as much sense as any other decision this series. Chop, chop – let’s get this party started, O Lady of the Dollar-Signed name.

“From day one, our goal was not to go out first,” says Megan, who walks in first holding Andy’s hand. She’s always been a self-fulfilling dichotomy and she’s not going to stop being one now. Unless she wants to. Nic & Rocco still can’t avoid the footy cliches but it’s nothing we don’t expect from them, the little rascals that they are. Ragamuffins. Actually, why *hasn’t* anyone made ragamuffins this series?

Manu waxes lyrical about how good they all are to have made it to the final four. Carly & Emily remind us they’re competitors and will stop at nothing to win this series. Nothing. This is just like the Hunger Games but with food and only slightly less wanton murder. Tonight the teams will compete in two challenges for points allowing them to be ranked and determining who cooks against whom in the semi-finals. No more pretending, no more hiding, no more complaining about the quality of the quinelles – This. Is. Serious. So serious that Andy is left to explain that 1 will cook against 4 and 2 will cook off against 3, just like the AFL finals series but with more cooking and less Meatloaf.

The first challenge is a rapid cook-off for all teams, with only 30 minutes on the clock while they prepare a 12 course degustation menu. Or a single dish with the key ingredient chosen by the jury. You decide: if you want to see the teams prepare the longer form menu, turn to page 24. If you’re happy with the one key ingredient, keep reading.

"What do you mean they're all out of seafood???"

The reaction from the contestants over the jury choosing the ingredient is exactly what you’d expect: a reflection of the bitterness offered to them. “I’m thinking if Peter is spokesperson it might be sour grapes,” says Emily straight-faced to camera. She’s so not sending Peter & Gary a Christmas card this year. The ingredient they’ll all be cooking with is chilli, so they’re all aware that this is a challenge that could bite them quite literally in the arse (in about 12 hours).

The teams get to their benches and get started in the storeroom, where Rocco asks for help with the spices as he and Nic feel they’re up for a little Asian. Rocco then realises he’s speaking with Carly, apologises profusely and races back to his bench. Menu tells us all the challenge is in the heat – too much can spoil it; too little and you lose the flavour and therefore the challenge. Like all rapid cook-offs there’s a sting in the tail: Today the teams are allowed to have both members cook, just not at the same time. Carly & Emily realise that with their dish they’ve chosen the wrong dish to share the load independently as there’s almost too much for the both of them to complete if working together.

The added sting is that the team member that isn’t competing can’t hang around and watch and shout out commands as they’ll be away in the “green room”. Each team member is entirely on their own. “This is gonna really test your faith in each other,” says Pete. Just as well that Megan & Andy were looking for more trust in each other after yesterday’s cook-off… they just got it with out the trust exercises.

Those not cooking are evicted for the first 15 minutes, and time is on. Independent of all these restrictions, these are the dishes that will hold their fate in the first challenge:

Leigh & Princess Jen – Chilli Prawns
Megan & Andy – Chilli Pork with noodle salad
Carly & Emily – Prawn & Chicken Laksa
Nic & Rocco – Crispy Spicy Kingfish with chilli lime dressing

Waiting for their turn...

Leigh starts with as much prep for her team as she can complete. Making the paste is key as it can be accidentally made to be overpowering very easily. Megan knows the time is going to fly by, so she’s trying to get the noodle salad complete as it can sit while the rest happens. Salads these days, all they do is sit there. “A laksa is a Malaysian flavoured soup,” says Carly, but she’s concerned about needing Emily’s hands to get their dish prepared in time. Nic tells us they’re gonna make the chilli shine by using in everything, including a range of men’s anti-persperant, so they’ll definitely get their chance to be judged on it.

Megan’s a bit nervous about Andy plating, and Andy’s sitting backstage saying pretty much the same thing. When you open up the dictionary and look for a definition of “things that were classic rookie errors” you’ll now see a picture the Tasmanian couple from this series. It’s so cute. Who says they don’t do anything together?

There’s some light friendly banter between Leigh & Nic, and Megan comments to herself that she rarely gets to cook in the kitchen by herself and she quite enjoys it. “It’s so peaceful,” she says. Leigh’s worried about her timing when her chilli paste isn’t reducing down near enough. The laksa isn’t making itself. Stuff isn’t done. Time for the contestants to swap with their teammates, and the handover seems pretty rushed but that’s all they get. Everyone seems to be picking up after the change quite nicely but then they haven’t yet heard of the drama they’re meant to be a part of yet.

Emily’s now frenetically working to complete everything so that the laksa is ready and even the judges think the Victorian sisters have bitten off more than they can chew. Megan’s really concerned with the order she and Andy chose to cook in “but you try telling him,” she says to the others. “Is he a bit stubborn?” asks Leigh. “Oh no, he’s just a highly opinionated individual who is entirely inflexible in deviating from the path he’s chosen,” says Megan. The others nod knowingly and sympathetically.

Close, but no cigar.

Only five minutes to go and the contestants are still talking about testing and not enough about plating. They are personifying the chilli a little too much though. On one hand it’s the hero, on the other it’s the star. It sounds like we need a Senate committee to rule on this – just not now, as they’re nearly out of time. Manu makes the one minute call and the teams realise there’s nothing left. Andy was puzzled by plating before, but now he’s had to make do and Megan’s really happy. “Wow! He’s done a great job,” she says, but there’s concern Andy’s undercooked the pork in the rush.

The judges make their way around the benches and taste the dishes as prepare. They give absolutely no indication as to their thoughts during the tasting, though they nearly have their heads blown off when tasting Nic & Rocco’s chilli creation. The judges remind Carly & Emily that it’s very hard to make a good laksa in 30 minutes but that’s all they say. Permanently sewing seeds of doubt is classic reality genre and the judges have got it nailed. Overall, the results were impressive and Pete & Manu deliver their verdict.

Megan & Andy – Pete 7; Manu 8. Total – 15. (“The pork was cooked perfectly, shame about the noodles.”)
Nic & Rocco – Pete 7; Many 7. Total – 14. (“I think you left the fish in the deep fryer too long.”)
Leigh & Princess Jen – Pete 9; Manu 8. Total – 17. (“It was great chilli prawns, but maybe a little more heat.”)
Carly & Emily – Pete 9; Manu 9. Total – 18. (“You’ve done an amazing job.”)

The teams are reminded of their position with a quick squiz at the leaderboard, and then Pete offers instruction to the team for tonight’s final challenge. “We want one dish that showcases the best of your skill, technique and capabilites,” he says. “There are no rules.” Time on! There’s all sorts of ideas being thrown around, but the teams settle on these as the best indications of what they can do in 90 minutes…

Megan & Andy – Calamari Schnitzel with scallops and crab mash
Leigh & Princess Jen – Massaman Curry with roti and pickled salad
Carly & Emily – Chinese Duck Two Ways – Peking duck with pancakes and duck san choy bow
Nic & Rocco – Macarons (mango, lemon, chocolate, pistachio, raspberry, blueberry)

Carly gives the duck a very unique blow job.

“Our dish will be something different, something new for people to try,” says Andy. What – like edible food the first time around?! It’s interesting to note that Megan & Andy’s now signature blue swimmer crabs are back and they’re again dipping into the pocket of Big Seafood. Leigh & Princess Jen are also going with their standard Thai variant. “My Grandma would usually take like a week to prepare this dish using a roster of at least 30 servants, and we’re doing it 90 minutes today,” offers a very self-satisfied Princess Jen. Everyone together: Yeah.

Proving there’s nothing like overachievers overachieving Carly & Emily will deliver their standard Chinese-inspired dish; this time it’s a duck cooked two ways. I dunno, some people like it both ways, I guess. The girls know they don’t have enough time to dry the duck adequately, but they’re gonna force flavour into that sucker like it’s their bitch. Which, given the process, it will be. To help kick things along Carly’s take to the duck post-boiling with a hairdryer to help ensure the duck receives the full blow-wave and style before serving. Then they lower some lotion in a bucket down into the well and remind the duck “it rubs the lotion on it’s skin or else it get the hose again”.

Nic & Rocco are, like the other teams, falling back on their strengths and in this case delivering a series of 6 macarons. While this is OK, Rocco decides he’ll persist in calling them MACAROONS, which every foodie knows wrong, wrong, wrong. Independent of how good they may be, the Boys from SA deserve the lowest score immediately due to this glaring error in pronunciation. What is gold is the super underneath the boys during one of their recap-narration spots identifying them as “macarons”. Never a truer word was superimposed.

Apparently, they from a place called "Macaroon"?

Pete & Manu discuss just how hard it is to make macarons – they’re extremely technical and getting the balance in texture right relies entirely on following the recipe to the letter. Which Rocco is doing from memory and has a complete mental blank, but it’s OK. He’ll remember or run screaming from Kitchen HQ naked and start bashing at the ground just like that Invisible Children fella. What a nice guy he used to be until he went batshit crazy – a role model for us all.

Rocco finally recalls the basics of what he’s doing, and he and Nic push on. “This could be the most amazing dish Nic & Rocco have created,” says Pete. “Or a complete disaster,” says Manu. These judges, they’re like a narrative yin/yang combination we can’t do without. Carly & Emily are basting the duck and get him in the oven with one hour to go, and Leigh & Princess Jen have got their massaman paste browning and all seems right for them. Andy’s stripping the meat out of the crustaceans for the crab mash and though he thinks Megan’s added too much potato she assures him it’s fine. She thinks. Besides what does the fish man know about potato and such?

Rocco’s working hard on the macarons, splitting his mixture into six and splitting Nic’s tiny mind into a million pieces with his ability to pretty much do everything while giving Nic pointless busy work. It’s one hell of a roll of the dice for the boys, but if they pull it off they’ll have a lot of yummy biscuits to eat. Leigh & Princess Jen are powering on with their curry and they look to be on time thanks to the pressure cook and Princess Jen’s mum (just don’t ask).

25 minutes to go and the macarons go in the oven, leaving the SA boys only 10 minutes to create their paired biscuits and plate them so they scurry to have as much ready as possible for when those little puppies come out. Megan & Andy are pushing on with their calamari schnitzel and they’re pretty happy with how they look in the pan. As Pete & Manu recap what’s happening for those coming in late, Pete himself calls Nic & Rocco’s little biscuits MACAROONS!!! What is this – bush week!? Some people can’t get no respect, or regard. No regard, I tells ya.

"Dude, I'm not sure the green ones worked out."

Time flies while you’re having fun or cooking for your televisual life, and somehow it’s only one minute left a people are still piping, plating, primping, priming and perfecting. Everyone gets their dishes complete and presents them team by team for the judges to taste and consider. There’s a lot of wankery in staring at forkfuls of food. The judges really liked Megan & Andy’s schnitzel, so much so Pete offered he learned a new technique from them, but the crab mash was a little bland (and didn’t the look Andy give Megan speak volumes?). Carly & Emily present their two ways duck and while the judges note it doesn’t necessarily look like Peking duck it sure tastes like it. Pete likes it so much he wants to marry it (I love the duck, I love the pancakes, I love the san choy bow, I love the dish, I love the sky, I love everybody!).

Leigh & Princess Jen are nervous presenting a ‘humble’ curry to Pete & Manu. Manu asks them rhetorically if the curry was enough to showcase their techniques. “As the cool kids would say – Oh. Em. Gee.” he says. “Simply unbelievable.” It’s a complete success. Leigh notes it’s a ‘pinch me’ moment, and after giving the offer for someone to come in and pinch her to help her acknowledge it’s real a long queue forms very quickly behind her. “This dish is the best dish I’ve tasted in this competition,” says Pete. The carcass of the Peking duck he just proposed to stands and walks out in a huff. “How dare he?!” it’s heard to say before slamming the door behind it.

Nic & Rocco present their six macarons and stand patiently watching the judges ruin their creations. The judges note the biscuits are crispy on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside, just the way they should be. Nic beams like he’s just spent 17 hours preparing these things when really all he’s done is sort the cutlery drawer. Every village needs an idiot, and when yours is on annual leave, Nic’s the man for the job.

Who's cuisine will reign supreme?!

Time for the reveal of the scores and overall placings, and each team thinks they’ve all done enough to win. Megan & Andy catch Nic & Rocco praying and Megan reminds them that they’ve already prayed too and God can’t be on both their sides. In the lead up to the score delivery we get to hear some of the worst audio overdubs this season. Either Manu keeps saying the wrong thing or whoever is responsible for the dubs is being very lazy.

Megan & Andy – Pete 8; Manu 8. Total – 16. Overall – 31. (“It was fantastic.”)
Carly & Emily – Pete 9; Manu 9. Total – 18. Overall – 36. (“The skin was just so yummy.”)
Nic & Rocco – Pete 10; Manu 10. Total – 20. Overall – 34. (“It was a risky dish, but you passed with flying colours.”)
Leigh & Princess Jen – Pete 10; Manu 10. Total – 20. Overall – 37. (“The oxtail had so much flavour in there I completely forgot which part of the beast it comes from.”)

So we’re all locked in. The semi-finals will size up with Leigh & Princess Jen vs Megan & Andy on Sunday night, and Carly & Emily vs Nic & Rocco on Monday night. It’s the showdowns we contractually were obliged to have, and the winners from each night will cook off in a massive grand final on Tuesday night. 3 more shows, a whole lot more cooking, and finally the cream rises to the middle.