I cook to survive and generally look at food as sustenance, but there is something compelling about MasterChef Australia that makes me a fan of hoity-toity food.
MasterChef Australia is a competitive cooking show for home cooks whose dishes are tasted and picked apart by three mainstay judges, (and sometimes a celebrity chef or two). The eighth season of MasterChef Australia concluded its run a month ago. I just finished watching the finale or the 63rd episode. Coffee roaster Matt Sinclair caught my eye early on. Sinclair made watching the show enjoyable; he was an adventurous cook whose sweet game was almost at par with his savoury skills. Sinclair was in the thick of things until the end. Elena Duggan came from behind to erase Sinclair’s three-point advantage going into the third and final cook and was declared the winner of MasterChef Australia Season 8. Duggan received $250,000 and a monthly column in Delicious magazine while Sinclair received $40,000.
Here are the things I love about MasterChef Australia:
- MasterChef Australia knows drama.
MasterChef Australia is the only show that has made me laugh and cry, sometimes both at the same time, in recent months. The contestants have fire in their belly when they prepare their dishes, and it usually shows in their finished products. Their laughter and ear-to-ear smiles are infectious when they cook their venison perfectly in 20 minutes or make confit salmon with crispy skin that wow the judges. Their tearful confession about their passion for food and cooking as they spend the last few minutes of their stay in the competition is heartbreaking.
- Anything is possible in the MasterChef Australia kitchen (unless it is not).
MasterChef Australia contestants let their food imagination run wild. They make savoury ice cream and parfait, produce quandong tart, incorporate crickets and ants in their desserts, make silken tofu cheesecake, and reinvent apricot chicken. At the end of the day, they improve classic food and they become better cooks.
MasterChef Australia Season 7 winner Billie McKay made the impossible possible and she now works for Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck or Reymond Poernomo, a Season 7 alumnus known for his beautiful desserts, who now owns a dessert bar. They are some of the home cooks that made it big after they joined MasterChef Australia.
- MasterChef Australia is an educational show.
Aside from the cooking techniques that I will never use, MasterChef Australia is a goldmine of words that one rarely hears or uses outside the kitchen. Now I know what crémeux, paratha, bhajis, jaffles, bavarois and rochering are. J I also know that it is a mortal sin to serve undercooked or overcooked proteins, dishes that lack texture or acidity, bouyant cakes, and split mayonnaise. But, it is heavenly to have crisp skin of pork or fish and crisp leaves, crunchy and fresh elements.
- MasterChef Australia showcases produce from the four state corners of the “wide brown land” of Australia.
In addition to featuring kangaroo and vegemite, MasterChef Australia adds the finest and freshest ingredients they scour from all over Australia. Marron and prawns from the west, pork and sweet corn from the east, barramundi, taro and monkey bananas from the north, and goat’s cheese from the south.
- MasterChef Australia judge Matt Preston looks like a human sapin-sapin.
Food critic Matt Preston’s playful suits do not fail to impress. In vibrant hues of the rainbow, they look like Filipino kakanin sapin-sapin – colorful and yum.
- Watching MasterChef Australia judge George Calombaris is fun.
Chef George Calombaris is the designated food distributor in MasterChef Australia. Armed with his tiny forceps (?), Calombaris divide the contestants’ dish equally among the judges. He artfully arranges the different elements on the plate to have the mini-version of the contestants’ dishes. The long-running worry of contestants is their heavy hand in putting spices in the food that might turn Calombaris off. Spicy food makes Calombaris sweat visibly, but that does not make him dislike spicy food. He lets his mouth enjoy the spice and let the rest of the body deal with the consequence.
- MasterChef Australia Gary Mehigan is a master of guessing game.
Chef Gary Mehigan has the tendency to tap his spoon once or twice on the table when he likes what he eats. He sometimes winks and dishes out a naughty smile before he does so. Sometimes, he lets the spoon stay in midair for what seems like an eternity.
- MasterChef Australia features world-famous chefs.
MasterChef Australia’s cornucopia of culinary talents runneth over. On top of the chef judges, Shannon Bennett is a guest mentor and Curtis Stone appears on the show regularly. Season 8 alone featured Marco Pierre White, Nigella Lawson, Maggie Beer, Anna Polyviou, and Heston Blumenthal, among others. The contestants’ shrieks of joy and expressions of complete awe were palpable when they saw the celebrity chefs enter the MasterChef kitchen. Some even cried.
- MasterChef Australia’s Mystery Box and Invention Test are epic.
Yes, I just used the word epic. Again.
MasterChef Australia’s Mystery Box is literally a box of ingredients, and the contestants need to use one ingredient to hero in their dish. The winner of the Mystery Box gets to choose the core ingredient, cooking process or cooking utensil from three choices that will become the centerpiece of the dish.
One memorable Mystery Box from Season 8 is the Grotesque Mystery Box. It contained ugly-looking ingredients that could scare the wits out of the contestants. Among other things, it contained monkfish, Morton bay bug, Buddha’s hand and horned melon. That horned melon is seared on my eyeballs forever.
- MasterChef Australia’s Pressure Tests are immensely long and “devilish in their complexity”.
MasterChef Australia’s Pressure Test requires the contestants to replicate a dish in terms of taste and look within the given time with the recipe and the original dish to guide them.
The Pressure Test for the finale of MasterChef Australia Season 8 took not one but two master chefs to create. Heston Blumenthal and protégé Ashley Palmer-Watt presented “Verjus in Egg”. It looked like an egg sitting on top of a nest but “a world of pain hatch(ed) out” of the plain-looking egg. The finalists were given 5 ½ hours to go over pages of recipe, perform close to 100 steps, cook and assemble the dish. You read it correctly, 5 ½ hours or an equivalent of watching three Disney films and three trips to the snack bar.