‘MasterChef Australia’ Recap: Black Olive Cake And Drizzled With Salty Tears
Now is not the time to be testing your limits.
It’s finally Finals Week on MasterChef Australia, which means it’s time to provoke the contestants into crying.
For the last Mystery Box of the season, the remaining six contestants have 60 minutes to cook with an ingredient chosen for them by a loved one.
They also get a letter from home to remind them that they have now spent months of their finite lives away from their families in favour of being scrutinised by the Australian public.
The contestants thus enter the cook thoroughly emotionally compromised, which results in some interesting dish choices.
Because every test is an Invention Test when you’re Larissa, she decides to use her lemons to make lemon parfait and pair it with a black olive madeleine. She’s inspired by her dad’s habit of eating olives with lemon juice and bread, which sounds like a very dad thing to do, and also not a viable basis for a dessert at all.
The flavours make sense in Larissa’s mind, which is great because they don’t in mine. However, she has never seen them used together in a sweet dish. This will either be a revelation or a disaster.
Having received basil from his wife, Prince Harry claims to be making a kind of porchetta. He’s rolling a butterflied pork loin instead of using belly so that it will cook faster, and hoping that rolling it in prosciutto will prevent it from overcooking.
However, the judges’ faces upon hearing “porchetta” and seeing what he’s doing make HRH rethink his dish. Technically it’s only inspired by porchetta, and couldn’t accurately be called one.
Trying to do a proper porchetta would take too much time, and isn’t what Prince Harry wants to do anyway. So rather than changing his dish to be more porchetta-like, he shows a bit of savvy and changes its name instead, calling it a mere “pork roll”.
Anushka is happy to have received walnuts, a staple in Armenian cooking. She then decides to throw away this blessing by pulling a Derek and attempting a dish she does not have time for: Paklava fingers with cinnamon honey ice cream and honey sauce.
The rush means her paklava fingers aren’t the prettiest Anushka’s ever made. She doesn’t put too much filling in them either, hoping that this will make them cook more quickly.
Unfortunately, with only 10 minutes left to go, the dough is still very blonde instead of crispy and crunchy. Anushka bumps up the temperature, staring into the oven like a punter who has bet their last $50 on the big race. “I chose a dish I knew I might not be able to execute, and my fears are just confirming right now.”
The MasterChef judges taste all six dishes, complimenting Prince Harry on avoiding comparisons to an actual porchetta.
They’re impressed by Simon’s vegetarian dish of coffee-braised parsnips with smoked onion, beetroots and coffee stock. It sounds gross, but apparently it’s mellow and creative, with roast beef-like undertones. The judges also keep calling Simon “handsome”, which I’m guessing is their effort to bolster his confidence after the disaster of his last cook.
But it’s Larissa’s big risk that pays off, the judges considering her lemon parfait, black olive madeleine and poppy seed cream the best dish she’s served in the competition. “It’s just heaven,” says Gary. It’s clever, creative and certainly surprising, but most importantly it’s delicious. I’m still not sold on the idea, but I’m glad it worked out for her.
Larissa goes up to the gantry, while everyone else braces themselves for the last Invention Test of season 11.
The contestants have 60 minutes again, but this time they are cooking with ingredients specially selected for each of them by the judges. “That rocks my world. That is sick!” exclaims Simon, sounding the most excited anyone has ever been about cauliflower.
Everyone is stoked, and Nicole’s so enthused that she even does a little happy dance. She’s planning on stuffing her Moreton Bay bug inside agnolotti, using the shells to make a bisque and serving it all with pan-seared scallops.
I personally appreciate a scallop at any time, anywhere, however the judges tell Nicole that they’re superfluous to her dish. Nicole listens carefully to this advice and then promptly discards it. She wants to “pull out all the stops”, and that means scallops ringing her pasta dish.
Unfortunately or fortunately depending upon your point of view, the harsh realities of MasterChef life force her to give up this dream. With five minutes to go, Nicole’s bisque still isn’t finished and she’s having difficulty folding her fiddly agnolotti, so she certainly doesn’t have time to pan-sear scallops.
“I just want [the agnolotti] to be perfect,” says Nicole, even though forming them at all would be an achievement at this point. She ends up with something a lot closer to ravioli than agnolotti, but at least it’s cooked and on the plate.
Meanwhile, Anushka reveals a previously unseen affection and familiarity with Japanese flavours, pairing her sous vide quail with shiitake mushrooms and miso cauliflower puree. She wants to show the judges she’s capable of pushing herself, which is good for her personal growth but dangerous at this point in MasterChef.
Indeed, while she is dealing with some lovely flavours, George is worried that they will clash instead of compliment each other. To her credit Anushka takes this on board, pickling some mushrooms to help balance and add freshness to the dish.
However there’s still a lot to do, and she quickly becomes pressed for time. Thus, it is only once time is up that Anushka realises she left her pickled mushrooms off the plate, rendering her entire pickling endeavour meaningless.
Overall the Invention Test dishes aren’t quite as good as the Mystery Box ones. Nicole’s pasta and Prince Harry’s biscuits are tough, and while Anushka’s Japanese-inspired quail has bold flavours, it lacks finesse.
Nevertheless, while parts of Simon’s cauliflower cheese are burnt and sooty from his too-hot hibachi grill, the judges deem his dish tasty and clever enough to be one of the top dishes.
And they unreservedly love Tessa’s John Dory with almonds, capers, grapes and caviar. She had been concerned that, between her potato puree and burnt butter sauce, there was too much butter in her dish. However it seems she scaled back the amount in her puree by just the right amount. The judges call her dish “perfection on a plate”, and her best offering in the competition thus far.
“Come to mama,” says Larissa, welcoming Simon and Tessa to the top five. The three will bear witness tonight as Anushka, Nicole and Prince Harry enter the Pressure Test, where one will be weighed, measured and found wanting.
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.