‘MasterChef Australia’ Recap: Let’s Do The Time Warp Again

MasterChef Australia Season 11

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There have been nine Mystery Boxes in season 11 of MasterChef Australia so far, and there are nine contestants left in the competition. This means it’s time for Mystery Box 2: Electric Boogaloo.

This week, we’re revisiting the Mystery Boxes of challenges past. Each contestant is randomly assigned a Mystery Box from earlier in the competition, and have 60 minutes to show just how much they’ve improved. 

The challenge is arguably uneven in terms of difficulty, but it makes for interesting viewing as well as a ton of pain for the contestants.

And in the end, isn’t that what MasterChef is really about?

MasterChef Australia Season 11

Tessa groans immediately upon seeing a mountain of lollies spill out of her Mystery Box. “Oh no.” It’s the Sweet Week Box — the one box she wanted to avoid.

Still, Tessa tries to make the best of it, sensibly deciding to focus on only a few flavours to avoid the confusion of her previous dish. But then when Gary asks Tessa what she’s doing, she starts listing every flavour known to man.

Strawberry, raspberry, spearmint, banana, pineapple — it’s practically every ingredient in the box. Fortunately, she scales it back when Gary advises that maybe 50 billion different flavours is a bit much for one dish, but it does make one wonder what Tessa thinks “a few” means.

The Queensland Box has gone to Simon, which seems a blessing because he won it last time. However, though he wants to make something even better this time, he’s pulling a complete blank. He’s faffing about, peeling peanuts and generally looking confused, much as he did in the cursed Elimination Challenge.

Eventually, Simon decides to hero the crab, poaching it and pairing it with a peanut cream and pickled longan (the fruit replacing the box’s lychee due to the change of season). Crab and peanut don’t sound like a great pairing, but you gotta work with what you’ve got, and things have historically worked out for Simon anyway.

MasterChef Australia Season 11

Meanwhile, Derek is taking the complete opposite approach to Simon. Saddled with the Everything Box, which requires him to use every ingredient in the box, Derek is cooking the same dish as last time, only without regret. Which, really, is kind of what this challenge is all about. 

This time Derek’s cooking his parsnips in cream and milk instead of just plain water, giving it more creaminess. He’s also reducing lamb fat and adding lemon juice to create a sauce, as well as topping the whole business with rosemary salt. 

I’m nervous that Derek hasn’t changed it enough, but his dish got tasted last time so it’s possible these tweaks will make it a winner.

MasterChef Australia Season 11

For a reason nobody can explain, Larissa has three different sauces cooking: A beurre blanc, a marron bisque and a tomato sugo. She has the Black Box, and has decided to demonstrate her increased confidence in cooking savoury dishes by making every sauce she knows. 

Unfortunately, the judges are confused by Larissa’s odd combination of sauces and elements, as well as her decision not to include the butter she used to poach the marron. 

This shakes Larissa’s confidence a bit, but she soldiers bravely on. Her solution is to combine all three sauces together to make one big super sauce, like mixing together Slurpee flavours at 7-Eleven. It’s either going to be amazing, or really, really bad.

MasterChef Australia Season 11

It’s time for tasting, and Simon’s fumbled his way into a judge-pleasing dish once more. Though peanut and crab sound like a strange combination, Matt and Gary appreciate the creaminess of Simon’s sauce, and declare his poached crab with peanut cream and pickled longan better than his previous dish.

To her surprise, Larissa’s three-in-one Slurpee sauce also earns praise, Gary calling her poached marron with eggplant and marron bisque one of his favourite dishes in the competition thus far.

Even so, it’s Derek’s lamb with leek and parsnip puree and brussels sprouts that wins the cook. Gary declares that the technique on show is terrific, and it still has heart. Derek ascends to the gantry like a Greek god returning to Mt Olympus, while the rest of the contestants move into the next round.

MasterChef Australia Season 11

This week’s Immunity Challenge is another “do whatever you want as long as you can justify it” type of challenge. Contestants have 60 minutes to cook a dish inspired by a moment in time, with Matt giving examples such as a Sunday dinner or a first date.

Sadly, nobody cooks a dish inspired by the 1960s. I’m still waiting for a MasterChef-quality jelly salad.

Nicole’s chosen moment in time is a family trip to China when she first tried Peking duck. She’s making a five spice duck, including a hoisin sauce despite her never having made one before. This doesn’t seem like the time to try something like that, but I’m resigned to never understanding MasterChef contestants.

Gary encourages Nicole to take more inspiration from her rosy memories, so she decides to add plum juice to her sauce, reasoning that she likes plum sauce with duck as well. It seems the theme of today is “pouring liquids into other liquids to see what happens”.

MasterChef Australia Season 11

Also the theme of today, and of MasterChef in general, is “spitting in the face of Father Time then being surprised when he turns on you”. Anushka’s making a “Winter Cottage”, which is comprised of sour cream pastry filled with cherries and covered with coconut. It reminds her of Christmas at her uncle’s place, and usually takes three to four hours to cook.

Three to four hours. This is a 60-minute challenge.

Though Anushka pops her little pile of pastry in the blast chiller to set, it predictably doesn’t do so before she needs to cut and plate it. It just barely holds together, but it looks very sad.

MasterChef Australia Season 11

Also displaying flagrant disregard for time is Larissa. She’s cooking a creme fraiche parfait with peach sorbet, poached peach and peach syrup, recalling her childhood growing up on a stone fruit farm. 

That’s two frozen elements, for those playing along at home. Again, this is a 60-minute challenge.

Though her sorbet freezes fine, Larissa runs into trouble with her creme fraiche. She leaves it in the blast chiller for as long as possible, but like Anushka’s dish, it still hasn’t set by the time she needs to plate up.

Larissa’s dish isn’t really a dish without the creme fraiche, so she has almost no choice but to put the splodgy disk on the plate and hope for the best. 

MasterChef Australia Season 11

The contestants offer their dishes to the MasterChef judges like serfs paying tribute to their lords.

The judges are impressed with Simon’s grilled asparagus with smoked mussels and mussel emulsion, eating it while facing each other like Simon and his partner did just after moving in together. Between this and last week’s Team Challenge, tastings are starting to feel like Matt and Gary’s dates. 

The couple also enjoy Christina’s Thai pork larb and Larissa’s creme fraiche parfait with peach sorbet, poached peach and peach syrup. Despite the meltiness of her creme fraiche, the summery flavours of Larissa’s dish are reportedly delicious.

She, Christina and Simon will therefore be joining Derek in the fight for the Immunity Pin, which is about 50 billion times more valuable now that we’re in the home stretch of the competition.

MasterChef Australia Season 11

However, Tim’s paella and Tati’s chicken and mushroom noodles are judged to be pedestrian. Further, though her sauce is reportedly terrific, Gary straight up just doesn’t like Anushka’s Winter Cottage. 

Twitter cries foul, recalling when Simon’s sauce saved him from elimination despite everything else on his dish being subpar. Nevertheless, Tim, Tati and Anushka will be the ones offered up to this week’s Pressure Test, where one will be cast out.

Amanda Yeo is a Sydney-based writer, lawyer and MasterChef enthusiast who still thinks Reynold should have gotten an immunity pin for his 30/30 dessert in season seven. Follow her on Twitter: @amandamyeo.