‘MasterChef Australia’ Recap: Big Arms And Bad Husbands

Welcome back to another season of Australia's most wholesome reality show: Masterchef Australia.

MasterChef Australia Season 11

Strap on your white aprons and get ready for some wholesome food and wholesome fun: MasterChef Australia returned last night for its 11th season, in the biggest television event of the week.

Last year was one of the best seasons of MasterChef Australia so far. Winner Sashi became the first contestant to hold two immunity pins at once, while Loki became the first contestant to leave with one. Hoda made hand-pulled fairy floss, and Brendan cut his hand open on a broken oil bottle. Gordon Ramsay and Prince Charles showed up, Ben’s finale dish of fried fish and peas was curb stomped back into the sea, and Aldo ate food off the floor.

Season 11 has a lot to live up to. But the first order of business: Finding this year’s top 24.

As usual, the new season starts with the hopefuls investigating the MasterChef garden. A couple marvel over the M-shaped garden bed in a way that suggests they haven’t watched previous seasons, before judges Gary Mehigan, Matt Preston and George Calombaris emerge like culinary deities coming through the clouds.

The applicants tactfully ignore the fact that Matt is dressed like Colonel Sanders’ evil twin who was raised by evil clowns, and are rewarded by the appearance of last year’s winner Sashi. He’s here to mentor the hopefuls for the day, though by the end of the episode he hasn’t actually done much aside from make comments like “the judges like that” or “do you have time to do another one?”

I don’t really care, as Sashi merely has to stand in the general vicinity to be a comfort. “Always remember: Flavour, flavour, flavour!” he smiles like a seasoning-powered sunbeam. Bless him.

MasterChef Australia Season 11

Gary reminds the audience that both the title of MasterChef Australia 2019 champion and $250,000 are up for grabs, just in case anyone’s forgotten why they’re there. The winner also gets a monthly column in Delicious, though that isn’t exciting enough to warrant a mention.

Matt then goes through the audition rules (for those surprised by the M-shaped garden bed). Everyone has 60 minutes to cook their signature dish. A “yes” from all three judges, and you get a white apron. A mix of yays and nays, and you get a second chance to cook. Three no’s and you won’t be in the ‘Hot and Cold’ Katy Perry montage this year.

“We’re simple guys,” says George. “All we want is delicious food.” This isn’t strictly true considering past emphasis on tweezer-precise plating, but nobody points this out. Instead, the hopefuls happily follow George in a call-and-response chant. “What do we want?” “Delicious food!”

First to present said delicious food is 33-year-old primary school teacher Tim, who was billed in the ads as looking like Prince Harry. This is debatable.

His Royal Highness makes crispy pork belly with celeriac puree, charred fennel and an apple glaze, and Sashi tells him the judges love good crackling pork belly, but that’s true of anyone who eats pork and can feel joy.

The dish looks great, a fact I resent due to running into complications with my own pork belly skin just last week. George likes the roast on the fennel, and Gary gushes about the combination of flavours, in particular the addition of the pork juices in the glaze. Three yeses, and Prince Harry is our first contestant for 2019.

MasterChef Australia Season 11 - Tim

Next is Jess, a 28-year-old travel agent with lipstick as loud as her personality. Her dream is to have a market stall selling compound butters and sauces, which doesn’t seem like a thing you need the MasterChef title for, but then I’ve never tried to set up a market stall.

Jess says her pan-seared scallops with caramelised shallot puree, fresh garden peas, asparagus, pea shoot tendrils, tarragon herb oil and prosciutto is “a celebration of flavours,” proving that she already speaks MasterChef. “I’m loud, I wear my heart on my sleeve, I’m all or nothing.”

She has a kind of sad backstory and is the first to cry, though it’s due to the emotion of auditioning rather than her removed thyroid tumour. Jess bursts into tears upon receiving her apron, and I realise the bench’s oven is on for no apparent reason. I’m happy for her, but I can’t help fixating on the wasted electricity while she runs weeping back to her mum.

MasterChef Australia Season 11 - Jess MasterChef Australia Season 11 - Jess

It’s now time for the feel-good montage, wherein George, Matt and Gary accept tributes from a procession of supplicants, and dole out white aprons at a pace worthy of a T-shirt cannon.

Huda, originally from Saudi Arabia, presents lamb kofta with citrus and tahini sauce. Ben’s dad is brought in to give him a white apron for his lamb with parsnip and beetroot. Tessa gives them tea-smoked rainbow trout on a bed of coriander noodles with a lemongrass and coconut broth. Steph cooks pani puri, an Indian dish, as her husband was born and grew up in India. I remember that I haven’t eaten dinner yet.

Then we get to Gina, a Greek grandmother who cooks Italian. Her husband isn’t supportive of her auditioning for MasterChef, and I want her to get in for that reason alone. Unfortunately, we’ve had nothing but great dishes thus far, so it’s time for a failure.

Gina is in a rush so doesn’t taste her pici pasta alla norma with poor man’s Parmesan, causing Sashi to gaze at the plate in shocked disappointment. Failure to taste is pretty much a death knell for the MasterChef kitchen, but then she takes a big neon green highlighter to her mistakes by telling the judges both that she didn’t taste it and that she ran out of time to add an oil to the top. Gina, no.

The food is yummy but not delicious, and Gina becomes the first auditionee turned down. I hate the thought that her husband was probably glad.

MasterChef Australia Season 11 - Gina MasterChef Australia Season 11 - Gina

Gina’s pre-crushed dreams and subsequent disappointment leads us into a montage of cooking disasters. Burnt fennel seeds, poorly grilled eggplant, pasty dumplings. The cook of a flavourless brown butter parfait with pickled apple and fennel vows to try again in the future. A contestant runs into problems and ends up presenting his mash with one banger instead of two. It looks like he took a long, straight poo on the plate, and I can’t stop thinking about it. 

It’s all very sad, particularly as these people already cook way better than I do.

Fortunately, the depressing montage of skilled people failing at things they’re good at is halted by dumpling Derek of the large arms and immovable hair. Twitter immediately thirsts.

MasterChef Australia Season 11 - Derek MasterChef Australia Season 11 - Derek

A 26-year-old financial analyst, Derek says he needs the creative outlet of cooking but went into finance to make his parents proud. I latch onto him as my most relatable contestant thus far, his charm and tendency to bring his mates baked goods outweighing the Madame Tussauds creation atop his head.

The buff baker serves the judges pot sticker dumplings with a chilli oil and red vinegar sauce, adorning them with a lattice skirt of rice flour and water. Dumplings are one of the best foods in the world, so this further cements Derek in my affections.

The lattice skirt causes a brief moment of tension when he isn’t sure the dumplings will come out of the pan intact, but they do, creating a lovely sort of dumpling pancake. Derek’s flavoursome filling easily earns him a white apron, his sister becomes the most excited person in this entire episode, and my mum declares that “he’s quite nice-looking but he’s got stupid hair”.

Another montage of white aprons. Abbey hates food waste and cooks pan-seared salmon fillet with prawn bisque. Cocktail bartender Simon, who dreams of opening a vegetable smokehouse that I will never visit, serves pan-fried broccoli stem and butter-poached cod with a cream of pine nuts and Jerusalem artichokes. Joe presents butternut pumpkin annaloti with goat’s curd mousse, pancetta and a burnt butter sauce.

Nicole, who’s blue gloved up like a Firefly villain after repeatedly cutting herself, serves rib on the bone with truffle mash and red wine jus. I have only had steak and truffle mash once in my low-dining life, but it left enough of an impression on me that I resent being unable to reach into my television.

Twenty-two-year-old Leah then presents glass apple ravioli with chicken liver pate and a brandy apple espuma, which is Spanish for foam and which I had to google.

Leah is a massive MasterChef fan who has been working on this dish for eight years, and looks absolutely giddy with joy at being able to present it to the judges. It’s as though she’s been Pleasantvilled into her favourite TV show, and she can’t stop grinning.

However, though Leah’s dish looks fairly impressive, Matt says she doesn’t have the basic techniques down. He turns her down, calling her pate grainy, but George and Gary give her the opportunity to cook again, which she accepts with a disappointed but gracious smile.

MasterChef Australia Season 11 - Leah MasterChef Australia Season 11 - Leah

And now we’re in for the second chance montage. Sandeep presents Kashmiri rogan josh. Dee’s Sri Lankan coconut custard gets a no from George but yeses from Matt and Gary. A man with thick glasses frames serves bombe alaska with eucalyptus ice cream, though he isn’t named so I suspect he won’t make it through tomorrow.

The next cook to get more than a montage is Kyle, a 29-year-old moustache owner. He calls his dish “king oyster mushroom scallops with edamame puree”. Only there aren’t any scallops in it — they’re king oyster mushrooms dressed up to look like scallops.

I like mushrooms, love scallops, and dislike people telling me I’m eating one thing then presenting me with another. So I’m not particularly on board with his plan to trick the judges into thinking they’re getting seafood, no matter how impressive the dish appears.

It’s tasty enough to get a white apron though, after the judges quickly identify that the “scallops” are mushrooms and pretend to give pescetarian Kyle some rather stern looks. I’ll let it slide this time Kyle, but you’re on thin ice, buddy. I’m watching you.

MasterChef Australia Season 11 - Kyle

Another montage of white aprons, and I’m beginning to think all the second chancers will be fighting it out over one spot tomorrow.

Tati’s Malaysian roti jala gets an apron and a magnificent happy dance. I also have my eye on her, but in a good way. Blake, 23, serves quail with jamon, AKA Spanish ham. Yossra presents an apron-worthy Egyptian kofta sandwich. Walleed puts a modern twist on a baklava, showcasing his Egyptian heritage to win MasterChef Australia’s 250th apron.

I would have liked to spend more time getting to know all of these cooks, so can’t wait to get stuck into the competition.

Mandy, a 51-year-old stay-at-home mum, presents a Middle Eastern feast with spicing Matt finds harsh and dry. He gives her a “yes” despite thinking one of his fellow judges will say “no”, but neither do and Mandy gets an apron I’m not certain she should. It’s early days, but she’s currently the best candidate for an early exit. Sorry, Mandy.

Finally, the episode ends on a sweet note with the final contestant for the night, 49-year-old Anushka. Anushka moved to Australia from Armenia 17 years ago and posts photos of her dishes on Instagram. It’s very cute.

Anushka bakes the judges medovik — a traditional honey cake to which she adds honeycomb. Unfortunately today’s honeycomb isn’t her best, though it isn’t so bad that it can’t be served to the judges. She then proceeds to pull a Gina and tell the judges this, continuing the aggravating tradition of contestants deliberately drawing attention to the flaws in their cooking.

It doesn’t matter though, because the judges are impressed enough with the simple but delicious cake to grant her a white apron. They also take photos with her for her Instagram, while she sheds adorable tears of joy and tells Matt that he’s “so cuddly”. It’s a wholesome end to the episode, and hopefully a precursor to the joy I’m expecting from this season.

So that’s 18 aprons handed out last night. It’s too soon to pick a frontrunner, particularly as it looks as though a lot of great dishes got relegated to montages, but I’m fairly optimistic about this year’s selection of contestants so far.

Tonight, 13 people will cook again for one of six remaining aprons, while being mentored by season eight runner up Matt Sinclair, season seven winner Billie McKay, and season one runner up Poh Ling Yeow, one of my MasterChef faves. 

I’m keen to see who’ll be rounding out this year’s cohort, but I’m just as eager to see Poh back in the MasterChef kitchen. She is the OG MasterChef of my heart, and I will never get over the beautifully ruffled edges of her vegetable and blue cheese pie in season one. Love you, Poh.

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.