‘MasterChef Australia’ Recap: Try Hiding Failure With Smoke And Cloches

In the latest episode of MasterChef Australia, George entrusts the final cook of his flagship fine dining restaurant The Press Club to a bunch of amateurs.

In the latest episode of MasterChef Australia, George entrusts the final cook of his flagship fine dining restaurant The Press Club to a bunch of amateurs.

The remaining five contestants are tasked with cooking a five-course tasting menu for The Press Club’s last service before it closes down. They each have three hours to cook for 30 of the Hellenic restaurant’s former staff, with each contestant responsible for one course.

It’s also a blind tasting, so while George will be in the kitchen, Press Club Reuben Davis will third-wheel on Matt and Gary’s date.

Each course must feature an ingredient chosen by George, but what ingredient was selected is only revealed once they enter the kitchen.

The exception is Larissa. Having won the previous MasterChef challenge, she has the advantage of getting to see the full list of the ingredients matched to their courses, and choosing which one she wants to do. She chooses course four, while the rest are assigned by drawing tokens out of a bag.

MasterChef Australia Season 11

Tessa gets the first course, in which she must use capers. I have never eaten a caper to my knowledge and think they look a bit like seaweed, but Tessa loves them.

After George shows her the contents of the pantry, jumping from ingredient to ingredient like an overeager salesman, Tessa grabs some Wagyu beef and Jerusalem artichokes. Though meat isn’t an obvious starter, she thinks a lovely tartare with a yellow mustard seed vinaigrette dressing will compliment the capers nicely.

This sounds good in theory. However, with 25 minutes to go, Tessa finally tastes her mustard vinaigrette, and “it is disgusting”. There is no way it can go on the plate.

Tessa needs to start setting up the pass and plating, but she can’t serve her dish without a sauce. The vinaigrette was what pulled the whole thing together, and it just wouldn’t work without one.

Improvising, Tessa grabs her leftover gastrique from the capers, which Google informs me is a kind of sweet and sour sauce used to flavour other sauces. She quickly turns it into a new vinaigrette by adding Thai basil, which is completely different to what she had envisioned yet still somehow delicious.

“I just wanna make sure it’s perfect,” says Tessa.

MasterChef Australia Season 11

Prince Harry is on the second course, and he gets olives. He cooks with olives at home, but he typically just puts them through pasta rather than using them as the basis for a fine dining dish.

He decides to do mashed potatoes with caramelised onion jam and croutons, as well as a potato foam at George’s suggestion. Unfortunately, that means he has to clean a metric butt-ton of potatoes, condemning him to scrubbing the spuds for a whole half hour before he finally gets them in the oven.

Then he has to peel onions for his jam, which also takes ages, and then pip all his olives. “All I’ve really done is peel onions and crying,” says HRH.

This means he has to work quickly to get everything else done. “Hot potato, hot potato!” George sings, tossing a spud from hand to hand while Prince Harry frantically chops a kilo of butter.

Somehow, HRH manages to get everything ready in time for plating. However, with 10 plates left, he starts running out of potato foam. The siphon gun sputters pathetically, and for a moment it looks as though he’s in trouble. Fortunately, George helps him carefully portion what he has left and, in a Christmas miracle, he stretches it to finish every plate. Apparently the kitchen god is a monarchist.

MasterChef Australia Season 11

Vegan smokehouse Simon’s vegetable dreams come true when he’s given lentils for his main. He decides to prepare them with mushrooms and, at George’s suggestion, serve some optional pork on the side. You can bribe me with meat all you want, Simon, I’m still not going to your smoky plant sadhouse.

Things go fairly smoothly until, with 35 minutes to go, Simon cuts into his pork to prepare it for plating and says, “Shit. Oh my god.” 

He has no clue what went wrong, but the pork is overcooked and dry. I’d guess what went wrong was that he roasted it for too long. In any case, it’s just “pure panic” now. There’s no way to fix overdone meat, and he doesn’t have time to make a new one.

Pushing on, Simon decides his only recourse is to make his lentils as delicious as possible to make up for it, pickling pine mushrooms and chopping figs. For some reason it doesn’t occur to him to just yeet that pork into the ether, which he could have easily done considering it’s only a side accompaniment. 

MasterChef Australia Season 11

Having had some time to think about what to do with her lemons, Larissa takes inspiration from the noble Splice popsicle to make a crème fraiche sorbet, lemon granita, and cucumber and ouzo tea.

The extra time to plan has resulted in Larissa being very purposeful and in control of her cook, and confident in her flavour combinations. She seems to be thoroughly enjoying the whole experience, melting butter for a pastry while using liquid nitrogen to churn her sorbet.

“I’ve been waiting all season to use this,” she cheerily says to the camera.

Larissa is so caught up in her fascinated enthusiasm that she leaves her pot of butter unattended, causing it to boil over. It isn’t a big deal but it is a big mess, which aggravates the highly-strung neat freak George has revealed himself to be.

MasterChef Australia Season 11

Nicole’s cook also goes rather smoothly. She has to use honey to make the dessert, and lands on doing a burnt honey ice cream with a chocolate mousse, kourabiedes and orange segments.

She plays with fire a bit when she decides to leave her main elements to the last minute. Her honey and olive oil chocolate mousse could split if it sits for too long, and she wants her biscuits to be warm from the oven when she serves them. 

Warm kourabiedes seems an unnecessary risk for a minor luxury to me, but I suppose it’s the little details that count at this point in MasterChef. Fortunately it all works out for her in the end. 

MasterChef Australia Season 11

All the plates are beautifully presented. In particular, the pork side for Simon’s Lentils and Mushrooms arrives in a transparent cloche filled with smoke, and the mousse for Nicole’s Honey, Chocolate, Walnut and Orange is scooped tableside. However, no amount of smoke can disguise the dryness of Simon’s pork, and Nicole is just outdone by the others.

Tim takes the bronze with his Olives and Mash. It’s a risky dish, being basically a bowl of mash, and it isn’t the most attractive. Even so, the MasterChef judges find it comforting, textural and layered with flavour.

Silver goes to Tessa’s surprising and beautifully presented Capers, Beef, Artichokes. Her Jerusalem artichokes are both crispy and chewy, while her last-minute Thai basil vinaigrette provides an interesting twist.

MasterChef Australia Season 11

But the dish of the day was Larissa’s perfectly balanced lemon crème fraiche and cucumber.  Her inventiveness and risk-taking paid off yet again, as the judges considered it intelligent, sophisticated cooking, displaying good technique and command of flavour. They were also impressed by her use of the typically savoury cucumber in a sweet dish.

Larissa will go straight into MasterChef Australia’s semi-final, while Tessa and Prince Harry will find out on Sunday what Elimination Challenge advantages they earned.

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.