I Did A ‘MasterChef Australia’ Pressure Test And Did Not Win A White Apron
I did, however, get to meet Derek.
“Um I don’t want to alarm anyone but I think Derek is here,” I messaged my group chat. I didn’t need to clarify what “Derek” I meant. They all knew.
It was a little before 6:30 on Monday night, and I’d just walked into the Jacob’s Creek Kitchen Collective’s opening night on the Royal Botanic Gardens’ Bennelong Lawn.
Held in partnership with MasterChef Australia, the $110 experience provides the fun of a MasterChef Pressure Test without all the panic, mind-numbing stress and potential for national humiliation.
Divided into four teams of four, attendees follow set recipes to prepare an entree and dessert for a panel of judges, including Huxtaburger‘s Daniel Wilson and Rocker‘s Stuart Toon. Said judges also wander from bench to bench during the timed cook, gently stoking competitors’ self-doubt for the full MasterChef experience.
They didn’t have to prod me too much, as I am well-practised in sourcing my own anxiety. This was kicked off by my entering the building to discover one of my favourite MasterChef Australia contestants enjoying a glass of wine not five metres away from me.
Dumpling Derek broke my heart recently when he was eliminated from the current season in eighth place, and I was not quiet about it. Seeing him exit the competition was upsetting, as the arms dealer was a bright beam of giggly sunshine in the already well-lit MasterChef kitchen.
I do not regret my articles and stand by every word.
However I had not dressed for human consumption, prioritising utility over aesthetics and foolishly confident in my ability to blend into the background of any social situation. Few, I thought, would care to chat to a mere MasterChef recapper.
It turns out that I was very wrong, and Derek reads the recaps (hi Derek). Fortunately he didn’t mind my questioning his ability to read analogue time, and I was able to gripe about his ridiculous over-ambition to his ridiculous symmetrical face.
Derek also told me that his dish choices during the competition were partially influenced by the shirt he was wearing on the day. During one cook he wore a pineapple shirt, so he decided to make a pineapple dish. On another day he wore a lumberjack-esque shirt, so he took a hacksaw to some beef ribs.
This was a very Derek way of thinking. That is, illogical, infuriating and absolutely adorable.
MasterChef alumni obviously won’t be in attendance at every Jacob’s Creek Kitchen Collective session. Don’t expect to come away capable of cooking a Michelin star dish, either. First of all, that’s incredibly unrealistic. Secondly, the experience is more a paint-by-numbers approach to cooking, with nearly everything carefully portioned out for you. They will also adjust the dishes to accommodate any dietary requirements flagged when you book.
I was in charge of the macadamia and Thai basil pesto for our confit vanilla king salmon with pesto and fennel purée, which was not as complicated as the accent mark makes it sound.
For the pesto, all I had to do was pop the ingredients in the food processor, whizz it up, then overthink how much salt, pepper and oil I should be adding.
The fennel purée was slightly more involved, requiring my teammate to dice fennel, sweat it on the stove, blend it up and mush it through a sieve.
But overall, the recipe was simple enough that a literal child could have done it.
Unfortunately, Team Riesling didn’t win the night’s four white aprons. I’m happy to say I didn’t hear anything negative about my pesto, and our plating was respectable.
However our fish and purée were under-seasoned, which Wilson let us know by coming out and placing a salt grinder next to us while we ate our entrees.
So the night wasn’t completely free of embarrassment.
Side note: It turns out that professional chefs regularly add a Dead Sea’s worth of salt to their dishes just as a matter of course. However much salt you put in your food, trust me when I say that they add way, way more. Like, a ridiculous amount. You would be genuinely shocked by seeing how much salt they use.
Anyway, my team was perfectly content with our entrees regardless of the alleged lack of salt, which just goes to show just how subjective cooking can be.
Typically, participants also prepare a dessert of chocolate and plum mousse with choc coconut soil and shiraz sugar shard. However, both dessert and the share plates of mains were cooked for us on opening night, including some roast potatoes that pretty much everyone wanted to elope with.
Everything was, of course, paired with Jacob’s Creek wines — the dishes having been specifically formulated to compliment them.
I would have liked to try cooking the dessert, which Wilson said was possibly even easier than the entree. I also kind of wish it was more of a challenge. But overall, my MasterChef experience was a fun, delicious, unique night out. I may not have won the white apron, but I was going to go home at the end of the night anyway.
The Jacob’s Creek Kitchen Collective is currently available for booking at $110 per person, running lunch and dinner sessions until August 4. All proceeds go to the charity SecondBite, with every session feeding 3300 Australians in need.