‘MasterChef Australia’ Recap: Choo Choo, Here Comes The Food
This week’s MasterChef Australia Team Challenge combines cooking with another one of life’s daily struggles: Making it in time for the train.
The contestants meet the judges at Queenscliff Station on Victoria’s Bellarine Peninsula, where George is wearing his chef’s whites despite not doing anything to warrant them in this episode.
Split into four teams of two, they will be preparing a four-course vegetarian meal for 30 diners on the Q-Train, a travelling restaurant which runs to Drysdale and back.
Each team is in charge of one course featuring an assigned ingredient, with their kitchens set up at stops along the train’s route.
They’ll have two hours to prep, after which they’ll have to board the train, then plate and serve within 20 minutes. The train won’t wait either, so if they miss the train, they risk getting expelled from Hogwarts.
“I’ve never missed a train in my life,” says Anushka to the camera, “and I’m not planning to miss the train today.” Either she doesn’t catch trains all that often, or she is superhuman.
She and Larissa are the Purple Team, and they have a relatively smooth cook at Queenscliff. Given fresh oyster mushrooms to create their starter, they decide to serve roast oyster mushroom on a bed of mushroom puree, pickled mushrooms, deep fried enoki mushrooms, parsley oil and pangrattato.
Purple Team encounter a small bump when Anushka’s deep fried enoki mushrooms turn out bitter, but Larissa decides not to plate it, relying on her hazelnut pangrattato to add enough crunch to the dish. She has shown more sense than many contestants before her by that act alone.
Fortunately, George doesn’t feel that their dish is missing anything, and both boarding the train and service go smoothly.
Preparing the second course at Suma Park Station, Yellow Team’s Nicole and Christina are cooking their zucchinis in every configuration known to man. Stuffed, pureed, grilled, pickled. “Zucchini, zucchini, zucchini, zucchini,” says Nicole. The word “zucchini” loses all meaning.
It’s a lot of elements, and the wind is slowing them down by compromising the gas stove’s flames. Still, they chug along at a good clip, right up until they put a sample plate up for George with 20 minutes to go. He’s happy overall but finds the portion sizes too small.
Nicole and Christina freak out until Christina thinks of a zucchini configuration they haven’t used yet, grabbing some medium-sized zucchinis to cook fondants. They’re cutting it fine, and the time crunch isn’t helped when, with six minutes to go, Nicole realises they forgot to bake the stuffed zucchinis.
The stuffed zucchinis only take four minutes to cook, but the whole situation is less than ideal. I’m astounded that they manage to get everything cooked nicely and loaded onto the train before it leaves.
At Drysdale Station, Burgundy Team’s Tessa and Prince Harry are working with eggplant. Both prefer to cook with meat, but eggplant is kind of like the meat of vegetables, so really it’s the best case scenario for them. Aiming for a Middle Eastern-style dish, they decide to make roast eggplant and eggplant chips served with yoghurt, as well as slow-cooked eggs to show off some technique.
Unfortunately, everything goes wrong. Tessa finds herself hampered by the wind when trying to smoke the Greek yoghurt. Prince Harry mangles his eggplant in the mandolin, forcing him to cut unsatisfactorily thick slices with a knife. Tessa scrapes their roast eggplant from its skin and pulls it into strips, trying to mitigate how wet it is.
Prince Harry fries the eggplant chips with enough vigour that his wedding ring flies off and lands on the train tracks. I can picture train guards yelling at their televisions as he jumps down onto the tracks to grab it.
But Burgundy Team’s biggest issue is their eggs. Neither Tessa nor Prince Harry have cooked slow eggs in a sous vide machine before, but for some reason, they think it’s a grand idea to do so now. It’s like watching them enthusiastically tie themselves to the train tracks.
Though they expect the eggs to take 45 minutes to cook, the arduous prep required means Tessa and Prince Harry only get them on at around the 47-minute mark. The eggs then take much, much longer to cook than anticipated, so Burgundy Team ramp up the temperature with 20 minutes to go, hoping it doesn’t adversely affect the texture. I’d think the bigger concern is whether they’re going to be serving their eggs Rocky-style.
Transporting the eggs onto the Q-Train and plating them up is also a nightmare since they’re ridiculously delicate and there are no backups. Fortunately, there are no breakages. Tessa and Prince Harry have no idea if the eggs are even cooked, but they’re on the plate, so I guess that’s a kind of victory. “These eggs better be worth it,” says Prince Harry.
At the final stop, Green Team’s Simon and Derek are in charge of dessert. Vegan Smokehouse Simon is a bit disappointed, but fortunately for him, they’re assigned figs. He has had some experience with those.
Derek starts on some olive oil cakes, putting perfectly sized slices of fig in the bottom of his moulds and pouring the batter on top, while Simon infuses cream with fig leaves. He’s never done this before, but it seems safer than putting him on the cakes.
However, with 20 minutes to go, his cream isn’t picking up the fig leaf flavour, so they decide to blitz the leaves in and see what happens. What happens is that the cream becomes fatty and bitter, and makes George pull a face like he’s just discovered one of Urban Dictionary’s NSFW entries.
Freaking out, Simon scraps it and makes a mascarpone cream with vanilla instead. However, without the infused cream, Green Team are worried they aren’t pushing the fig flavour enough.
Fortunately, Derek is struck by inspiration. Popping a few fig leaves in the microwave, he dehydrates them and then blitzes them into a dust for garnishing. It’s an idea born from desperation, but it produces a visually stunning green powder. Derek is stoked. “It’s bloody sick!”
As George is too busy teleporting between stations to sit in on the tasting, it’s once again date night for Gary and Matt.
Though Purple Team’s “Roasted Mushrooms on Toast” is a bit forward in lemon and lacking some crunch, the judges find their dish beautiful to look at and generally tasty.
The flavour and texture of Yellow Team’s “Celebration of Zucchini” also impress Gary and Matt, who fall so in love with Christina’s purees that they wipe their plates clean with pilfered pieces of bread.
Unfortunately, Burgundy Team’s eggs were very much not worth it. Their Middle Eastern eggplant Bellarine style is “sloppy” and “sludgy”, with floury eggplant chips, and their eggs’ yolks are firmer than the whites. The textures are unpleasant, the flavours are underwhelming, and neither judge finishes their dish.
Green Team’s olive oil cake with mascarpone, fig and fig leaf syrup does better, looking beautiful and tasting lovely. However, they haven’t done much with the fig, nor pushed its flavour enough for a MasterChef top eight dish, and someone has to join Burgundy Team at the bottom.
Green Team’s Simon and Derek and Burgundy Team’s Tessa and Prince Harry are thus headed into the Elimination Challenge, where one will take the midnight train going anywhere except the MasterChef kitchen.
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.