‘MasterChef Australia’ Recap: French Toast Counts As Fine Dining
In the latest episode of MasterChef Australia, in lieu of a Pressure Test, the contestants prepare a five-course degustation menu at fine dining Perth restaurant Wildflower. Which, really, is its own kind of pressure test.
Dressed in their chef whites, Christina, Larissa, Nicole, Simon and Prince Harry are given two hours and 30 minutes to cook for 23 people.
Anushka and Tessa aren’t cooking, having won the privilege of relaxing on the sidelines last episode, so the five remaining contestants each have an entire course all to themselves.
Each course must feature an ingredient selected by Wildflower’s head chef Matthew Sartori, with contestants only told what they’re working with once they enter the kitchen in a staggered start.
Fortunately, they get to decide amongst themselves who cooks which course, and they all agree that Nicole will cook first, followed by Simon, Christina and Prince Harry, with Larissa finishing with dessert.
Nicole is the first to start, and she isn’t thrilled at being presented with beetroot. Nevertheless, she quickly comes up with an idea, deciding to make a salad with pickled and roasted beetroot, beetroot glaze and sandalwood nuts.
There are a lot of elements, and Nicole’s nerves aren’t helped by chef Matt silently watching like a judgy cat. “Do you think these are gonna cook in time?” asks Nicole, covering her whole grilled beetroot with foil to put in the oven with 30 minutes to go. Matt just looks at her.
Fortunately, the beetroot emerge beautifully roasted. Though Nicole is still peeling them with five minutes to go, everything gets onto the plate without issue.
Simon is given marron for the second course, and he is stoked. He decides to cut them in half lengthwise, intending to cook and serve them in their shell because customers “should know what they’re eating”. Apparently, he doesn’t trust them to read a menu.
Unfortunately, it takes Simon ages to break down all those crustaceans. He’s still prepping them with 40 minutes to go and hasn’t even started on any other elements.
Considering the time left, Simon decides that cooking the marron in the shell will take too long. Instead, he scoops them out to poach in butter, intending to put the cooked marron back in their shells like a fleshy jigsaw puzzle.
However, cooking the marron tightens their fibres, making them curl up and no longer fit in the shells. It is, in Simon’s own words, “a bloody mess”.
Simon is forced to drop the whole shell idea and plate the marron as is. It looks “mucky and disjointed”, so he just hopes his other elements mitigate it. You know, the ones he barely had time to do.
“Duck is the worst ingredient I could have been given,” says Christina, who’s working on the main. Duck takes a long time to prep, and she’s overwhelmed by all the available produce she could pair it with. She just can’t think of a dish, and is freaking out.
Christina eventually finds inspiration in some adorable baby pumpkins, and decides on pan-seared duck breast with cauliflower puree and caramelised pumpkin. It means she has to break down 16 ducks, because MasterChef has something against providing pre-butchered fowl, but at least she has some direction now.
“I don’t have time to stop,” says Christina, tearing apart the carcasses. Powering ahead, she handily makes up for the precious minutes she lost to confusion, and ends up plating a dish she can be proud of. It’s a surprising result considering her incredibly flustered start.
Prince Harry says he’d never heard of his assigned ingredient finger limes until he’d entered this competition, which confirms my suspicions that at least a few of the contestants have never watched the show. He decides to make French toast with finger lime chutney and cheese, enjoying a little cheese tasting while he’s at it. French toast is just fancy toast, and what is fine dining if not fancy food?
“This is the closest I’ve gotten to making a toasted sandwich for the judges,” says HRH, referring to his food dream of opening gourmet toasted sandwich truck. “They’ve been asking for it, so they’re almost getting it today.”
Prince Harry quickly gets his finger lime chutney on the stove to cook down. However, with around one hour to go, it still hasn’t broken down enough. The skins are hard and it tastes, in his own words, very bitter and “quite unpalatable”.
Giving up on the chutney, HRH strains it to make a sweet syrup instead, hoping there’s enough finger lime flavour to justify it. Fortunately, he’s happy with the result, putting it on the plate beneath his French toast and torched cheese.
I’m concerned there won’t be enough finger lime on the dish. But if MasterChef has taught me anything, it’s that you could brutally murder someone and get away with it as long as you cover their corpse in a really good sauce.
Larissa’s had around two hours to think about what to cook, so when she’s finally allowed into the kitchen she jumps straight into a bombe Alaska. Chef Matt, however, does not like the idea. Larissa is trying to put her assigned ingredient of plums into a preconceived dish rather than build a dish around the ingredient, and he is sceptical that it will work.
Nevertheless, Larissa confidently charges on. To be fair, this strategy of disregarding both standard logic and professional advice has panned out improbably well for her in the past.
It takes Larrissa an eternity to make her giant batches of plum sorbet and ice cream, with both still churning at the one hour mark. Fortunately she has a blast chiller, the patron saint of MasterChef, and everything sets.
However, with around half an hour to go, Larissa discovers her Italian meringue is way too sloppy and runny to pipe on top of her dessert. “It does look a bit runny,” says Matt helpfully. Larissa therefore decides to pipe the meringue onto the plate and blowtorch it, resting the bombe Alaska’s guts on top.
It isn’t ideal, but it’s better than trying to pour the sticky white liquid all over her dessert.
Despite her poor beginning, Christina’s third course of duck with pumpkin and cauliflower puree is the standout dish of the night. MasterChef‘s judges find her flavours soft and subtle, and the dish well balanced. The other top dish is Nicole’s first course of roasted beetroot salad, the sandalwood nuts being a particular point of interest.
Both Nicole and Christina will therefore join Tessa and Anushka to cook for a spot in Final’s Week.
Prince Harry’s French toast with cheese and finger limes rival Nicole for second place, but the other dishes aren’t so compelling.
Simon’s disappointing grilled marron with coral emulsion and waxflower has multiple issues, with mushy marron and a garlic-heavy emulsion. “This is Flaw City, isn’t it?” says judge Matt. Meanwhile, Larissa’s plum and ginger bombe Alaska predictably didn’t hero the plum at all, which would have made it a failure even if she’d gotten the meringue on.
Fortunately, there’s no elimination this time, merely the shame of borking a fine dining dish on national television.
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.