‘MasterChef Australia’ Recap: Street Food, Girls Trips To India And French “Fine Dining” Bias

"Tessa and Brendan cooked good Mexican food without going there for two weeks together once?? How can this be??"

masterchef recap emelia laura

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After last night’s elimination, we now have our top eight of MasterChef: Back To Win.

Walking onto the kitchen lot, the competing bottom eight were greeted by the judges and four colourful street food carts representing Chinese, Indian, Mexican and Lebanese cuisine.

From here, everyone bar Vegan Reece, who deservedly won immunity earlier in the week, learned they were taking part in a partner cook for the first round… because we all saw just how well challenges in pairs went last week when the contestants played the terrible game of blind twins.

Anyway, Dumpling King Brendan simply couldn’t contain himself and his obvious want for the Chinese cart. But sadly for him, it was a blind pick and he ended up with Mexican, the one cuisine he dreaded most alongside Tessa.

Living out Brendan’s dream, Khanh and Dessert King Reynold both picked out Chinese, while Teacher’s Pet Laura nabbed Indian along with bestie “MILLZYYY” aka Emelia. This left Chaotic Poh and Sweat King Callum to cook up Lebanese.

As a “leg up” in the challenge, Melissa introduced guest chef Charlie Carrington from Atlas, which was strange because he’s not Chinese, Mexican, Indian or Lebanese, but hey! He’s made a whole ass career out of traveling to foreign countries to take their recipes and make the foods trendy for white people down in Melbourne, so why not?

Given a set pantry, 75 minutes and the requirement of two dishes, the pairs jumped into planning their menus right away.

To hit the brief, Team Mexico immediately decided that they had to make tacos for a street food challenge — crispy fish tacos, to be exact. For their second dish, Brendan and Tessa decided on an agave and lime chargrilled quail served with salsa, which didn’t sound very authentic nor convincing to Melissa and Charlie as they checked in on the team.

Similarly, as they worked on their Lebanese menu, Chaotic Poh and Sweat King Callum agreed that they had to make something with lamb. For their first dish, Team Lebanon decided on a pretty simple coriander and pistachio hummus with prawns heads and for their second, a braised lamb shoulder flatbread served with salad.

Now, I’m no chef but I know damn well that no big ass chunk of red meat can get cooked right in only 75 minutes. And Jock agreed, resuming the position of Bench Demon™️, Jock noted that the lamb ran the risk of drying out and called the cook “very ambitious” considering they only had 75 minutes and lamb shoulder normally takes… like four hours.

Meanwhile, as Teacher’s Pet Laura and Emelia planned their Indian dishes, Laura revealed that the pair had actually travelled together through India for two weeks after their original MasterChef season — which gave off both huge post-HSC gap year vibes and the energy of an Eat, Pray, Love-esque ~finding yourself~ trip.

Either way, the besties were excited about being paired together and decided to dip back into their memory vaults to grab some dish inspiration from their trip. For one dish, the girls settled on a tandoor naan with prawns and tikka masala.

Then, remembering the “little cucumber snack in cups” from their travels, Team India decided on a raw scallop pani puri with chilli cucumber, despite never having made it before. Which is always just such a great, super amazing strategy that always seems to work. (I’m lying.)

Over on the Team China bench, Khanh was well underway on his cook of pork and cabbage pan-fried dumplings, while Dessert King Reynold was working on a fairly straight-forward classic fried rice. But, in an attempt to make the fried rice somewhat fancier, Reynold decided that adding a whole heap of chicken fat and fatty lap cheong (Chinese sausage) was the way to go. Spoiler alert: It wasn’t.

Back to Team Mexico, Tessa was freaking out that she and Brendan had a disadvantage because neither of them were Mexican or had been to the country. And sorry, what? Do you think Poh is Lebanese? Or that Emelia and Laura going on a ~girls trip~ to India six years ago somehow makes them pros at Indian food? Please relax.

Anyway, the convoluted point that Tessa was trying to make was that her knowledge of Mexican cuisine was pretty Westernised. But, honestly I don’t think anyone’s attempt at Mexican could get any worse than Dani’s singular thick-ass taco or Hayden’s store-bought chip fiasco if they tried, tbh.

As it turns out, however, travelling together to a country one time doesn’t mean shit for your cooking as Emelia so perfectly demonstrated. While Teacher’s Pet Laura started cooking down her Indian tikka masala to accompany her tandoor prawns, Emelia was perched firmly on Struggle Street™️ as she spent, no joke, literally all cook trying to get her pani puri to puff up.

As the judges chatted about what was going on, Andy and Mel continued to bring up that the girls had travelled together to India once, so that meant they had to do well. Sorry, what is the correlation there? Like, I went to Thailand one time but it doesn’t mean I’m going to be whipping out a cracker fucking pad Thai or laksa anytime soon, damn.

Moving over to a pair who didn’t travel together, Sweat King Callum and Chaotic Poh were busy whipping up the rest of their elements as they waited for their lamb shoulder to cook. Callum suggested that they should probably drop an element to better manage their time, but Poh told him no. This is probably because Poh knows that the rules of time and space simply don’t apply to her.

Somehow managing to get all their other elements done, the pair finally depressurised the pressure cooker and Poh started to shred the dry-ass looking lamb.

Back over in India, after about a full hour of struggling, Emelia finally got her fried pani puri to work. Managing to get one really good puri and three average ones, Emelia said that the pani puri was perfect. Well… she said everything with the pani puri was perfect except for the puri itself, which totally defeats the purpose, but sure.

But they weren’t the only ones struggling. As Dessert King Reynold begun to put the finishing touches on his fried rice creation, Khanh tasted the dish and gave some last-minute Jock-style advice. Letting Reynold know that the rice was tasting far too greasy, Team China decided to chuck in some coriander and birds eye chilli for some much needed freshness.

Unfortunately for Team China, as Khanh had warned Reynold, the judges found the fried rice to be far too greasy, but loved Khanh’s pork and cabbage dumplings. However, being a little harsher because she knows the food better, Mel went one step further to call the dishes “nice, but not great”. Ouch.

Moving on to Team Mexico, the judges loved Brendan’s perfectly cooked tacos and were pleasantly surprised by the quail. Not expecting much from the bird, all the judges thoroughly enjoyed the charred flavours and fruity heat from the hot sauce — with Melissa even noting that quail is actually a traditional dish in the South of Mexico, so the pair did nail the brief of street food.

Up next, Team India were complimented on the cooking of the prawns, but Andy and Jock noted that they could barely taste them because of the overpowering tikka masala flavours. Still banging on about Laura and Emelia’s Indian travels together, the judges were disappointed by their 75-minute pani puri for it’s off texture, which Jock compared to a stale biscuit. Delicious.

Last up, Poh and Callum brought up their grilled prawns with hummus and lamb shoulder with flatbread. The judges loved the prawn and flatbreads, but felt that the lamb, as expected, was dry. But we already knew that because who the fuck decides to cook a whole ass lamb shoulder in 75 minutes?

Ultimately, while almost all the teams struggled, the judges decided that the greasy Chinese fried rice and shitty Indian pani puri were the worst of the lot. This meant that Dessert King Reynold, Khanh, Teacher’s Pet Laura and Emelia all landed themselves in the 60-minute second round focused on fine dining.

Moving back into the kitchen, the bottom four had to select a new country from a map that noted all the cuisines that guest judge Charlie has cooked at Atlas before. Sadly for Laura, this map did not include her one true love: Italy. But it did have France, the country that’s the epitome of fiNe DiNiNg according to the judges, which three of the four cooks went with.

Settling on French, Teacher’s Pet Laura decided to copy Poh’s pie creation from the other week by crafting a fancy version of a coq au vin (chicken stew). Trying to make the dish more ~fine dining~, Laura chose to keep some of the traditional coq (heh) flavours and change the cooking process with a hibachi quail and a cognac and bone marrow jus to make it all just that little bit fancier.

Picking France too, Emelia decided to play on her strengths with a pastry — a Paris-brest in petit four form, to be exact. Despite having tried to make this literally just last episode, Emelia was hellbent on redeeming herself and reputation with choux buns.

Also set on redemption, Dessert King Reynold decided to do French. Stepping out of his comfort zone, Reynold chose to switch over to savoury with a sous vide confit blue-eye with a celeriac puree and eschalot wine sauce — a similar dish to the one he was eliminated with on Season 7, when he overcooked his bonito.

Being the only one to choose a cuisine that wasn’t French, Khanh decided to stick to his roots and what he knows best by choosing Vietnam. In an attempt to elevate gà kho gung, a traditionally “peasant” Vietnamese dish of chicken in a fish sauce caramel with a heap of ginger, Khahn decided to sub out the chicken for a hibachi quail.

Showing his total lack of self-awareness, Jock then said that Asian food doesn’t lend itself well to fine dining, but French does. And hmmm, I wonder why that is, Jock? Perhaps the Eurocentrism of the food industry with the gentrification of Asian dishes until they’re deemed trendy enough by white chefs could have something to do with it? Perhaps it’s that, but who knows!?

To make the already painful conversation about 3000% worse, guest judge Charlie then said that turning Vietnamese food into fine dining would be tough, but that Khanh was lucky because “there’s a lot of French influence” in Vietnamese cuisine. Oh gee whiz! Isn’t Vietnam just super lucky that they were colonised by the French for six decades so that Khanh could have a better chance at winning this French fine dining challenge! Yum, yum!

Ugh, anyway moving on. While placing her choux in the oven, Emelia started to get emotional after Bench Demon Jock decided to come over and pester her.

Already very clearly nervous, Emelia broke down in tears and started a monologue about how pastry is her passion and how everything came down to this one tiny bite — clearly just still just upset that she bombed out in the last challenge doing something she’s made a career of. Getting the obvious winners edit, Emelia then shared that she’s been reserved all competition because she’s felt intimidated by her fellow contestants, but was determined to shine this time.

With time ticking down, the cracks, beyond Emelia’s breakdown, started to show. As Khanh slammed his quail breast down on the hibachi without deboning it prior, we could see what was going to happen. Similarly, Reynold deciding to pull his blue-eye out of the sous vide and place it right on the plate without checking if it was cooked fully was also a telling moment.

Thankfully for our little dessert queen, however, Emelia’s mood did a full 180 after she pulled her choux buns out of the oven to find they cooked perfectly. We love to see it. Confidence ONLY zone from here on out.

When it came to tasting, the judges felt that Dessert King Reynold’s confit blue-eye was cooked perfectly, but on the edge. While “perfectly cooked”, Jock said another 30 seconds less and the fish would be under, which I’m pretty sure is generally just how the concept of cooking works. Anyway, long story short, the dish had clearly redeemed the Season 7 fish he was eliminated on.

Up next, Khanh started to tear up while presenting his fancified home dish, claiming that fine dining is not his style of cooking — and the judges could tell. While the vision was admirable, they felt that the dish wasn’t French enough. Oops, sorry, I meant that the sauce wasn’t viscous enough to be a fine dining dish, the persimmon didn’t fit the flavours on the plate, and that the quail breast was dry — with Jock even finding a ribcage bone in his.

Back over to the French dishes, Teacher’s Pet Laura also started to tear up while talking about her dish and generally tough day. Even though the judges felt that the dish missed the fine dining mark in terms of presentation, they shared that they did love the flavours and, in particular, the addition of bone marrow.

And in a surprise to no one, after getting the hero edit all episode, the judges loved Emelia’s “textbook perfect” Paris-brest petit fours. But sadly, this meant that we had to say goodbye to Khanh, MasterChef’s most entertaining and fashionable contestant ever.

On the next episode of MasterChef: Back To Win, the top eight compete in a Golden Mystery Box challenge and learn that the game is changing to only three challenges and one elimination a week.

MasterChef: Back To Win returns tonight at 7.30pm on Channel Ten. 

Michelle Rennex is a Senior Writer at Junkee who can’t cook, but enjoys judging people like she can. You can follow her on Twitter at @michellerennex