MasterChef All Stars strut their stuff
It's only fitting, now the Olympics have begun, that we are simultaneously engrossed in MasterChef All Stars, for is this not the Olympics of cooking, the "citius, altius, cheesius" of culinary endeavour, the absolute pinnacle of achievement that all aspiring foodsmiths are striving towards?
No, it is not. But it is wonderful to see all our favourites again, familiar faces that allow us to skip all that getting-to-know-you guff and get straight into the mocking laughter.
And mocking laughter of course is what tonight’s episode is all about, as our all-star collection of MasterChef champions and people who didn’t quite manage it wake up in the MasterChef house to have a natural spontaneous conversation about how incredible it is to be back in the MasterChef house. A few easy, natural remarks about how great raising money for charity is and how they don’t even know the camera is there, and it's off to the kitchen, where the three horsemen of the Apocalypse await.
"WOW! BOOM!" Gary yells, still coming down off the red cordial high from last night. "Another day, another charity dollar," he then says, with the expression of a man who thinks he's saying something catchy. "That's right, another charity dollar," says George, and a consensus is reached – it is indeed another charity dollar.
We are informed that every single one of them will be cooking today, which seems fair enough. In fact it’d be a bit of a waste of time if they didn't. Today's challenge is a very difficult and confusing one, in which someone decides who's going to cook, and then someone else decides who'll cook against the first one, and then someone … anyway look it’s pretty complicated, but Kate will be cooking against Jonno and Julie, who is looking for revenge for Jonno's ageist remarks. Everyone has a good laugh but you can tell that deep down Julie genuinely wants to hurt him a lot.
Kate announces that they will be cooking Lebanese. "Ooh, Lebanese!" the judges cry, searching for something interesting to say, and finding that well fairly dry. Kate picked Lebanese because she doesn’t think anyone else cooks Lebanese, but oh, Jonno loves Moroccan! And apart from geography those are practically the same country, so Kate may have sabotaged herself.
However, Jonno's expertise in non-Lebanese food may not be the advantage in making Lebanese food that we first thought – in fact he admits he has no idea what he's doing, and doesn’t even know what the dish he's making is called, which is a problem given we all know that 50% of the score is the pronunciation of the meal's name.
Kate is supremely confident though, reeling off a long list of words to Gary that sure sound impressive to me, whatever they might be. She’s looking to destroy the red team, and they are in trouble, as Aaron informs us that Jonno is both the most devastating cook in the competition, and an epic failure. His musings on the intractable dichotomy at the heart of human existence cannot last long though, as Jonno has lit a bonfire to hide his shame and time is running out. In fact it's all over, and Julie flies into the air and screams like a woman set free from the chains of oppression – she’s already won MasterChef once, so the result doesn’t really matter: all she cares about is staying conscious throughout each task.
Jonno's care factor is a lot higher though, as he confesses his kibbeh (kibby? Kibair?) is disgusting and he wouldn’t serve it to anybody. "I don’t know why I keep putting myself in these positions," he confesses, presumably meaning "in the kitchen", and it must be said his life has followed an odd trajectory for someone who hates cooking.
As a point of interest, the scooter outside is now blue. Maybe it’s a mood scooter?
Up steps Kate to present her spiced lamb fillet with an atmospheric synthesiser garnish. Gary thinks Kate has cooked the lamb really well but would like more of the spices – but then Gary’s unhealthy spice obsession is well-known.
Up steps Jonathan, who presents his revolting balls of muck and makes fun of the judges' presenting skills to round things. Jonno's Moroccan-Lebanese thingummajigs are so revolting that George can’t even finish his sentence, and the suspicion grows that he is in fact trying to poison everyone.
Julie’s dish of Lebanese … stuff impresses the judges enormously, although Matt tells her one of her pieces of bread was a bit doughy, but then he’s one to talk.
"We saw some fantastic food … and Jonathan's dish," says Matt, bringing waves of laughter from all the all-stars, who are at heart natural bullies. He then announces that Julie won that challenge, meaning she didn’t turn her face the colour of a lobster for nothing, and Julie gets to nominate the challenge for the next round. Poh will cook for the blue team, and the food is Chinese. Poh will be cooking against Marion from the red team and, "We'll keep the Asian queens together," Kate chuckles, delighted to get the chance to put her controversial racial separatist theories into practice, and she puts up Dani, who is Asian I guess. Asian-ish? More Asian than Hayden probably. Less Asian than Kumar, one could argue, but then we’ve already established this series is not about maps.
As the three Asian queens get to work, Matt excitedly repeats the terms of the task and the contestants' names because viewer feedback indicates that most MasterChef fans feel the show's greatest deficiency is its lack of repetition. George then approaches Poh’s bench, and Poh tells him how great it would be if he left immediately. Poh is understandably nervous, as the rules state anyone who loses to Dani has to do a lap of the kitchen with their pants down.
Looking at the benches, it looks like Poh is making some dumplings, and Marion is making some kind of Chia pet. Dani isn't making anything, as she’s become fascinated by her own reflection in the mixing bowl, and is attempting to poke mirror-Dani in the face with her wooden spoon. Although no, I tell a lie, she's actually making some weird sesame seed toffee apple thing. Whatever it is it’s so stressful that some of her hair has made a bid for freedom, as she weaves a web above her chopping board in an attempt to ensnare some flies for flavour.
"It doesn't get any better than this," says George, words that have long ceased to have any meaning for anyone watching this show. Poh is first to serve. "It's a bit spicy, the sauce!" she guffaws, after George has already eaten it, and everyone continues to enjoy the contestants' ongoing campaign to ruin George's day.
Marion is next with her salt and pepper scampi, which I believe is a particularly disobedient breed of crustacean. Matt loves it, which is pretty boring. I don't think anyone is tuning in to hear "I love it", Matt. What happened to "disgusting…ly good!"
And then of course Dani, whose lack of confidence is betrayed by how quickly she falls back on obscene innuendo to win the judges' hearts. As Matt explains, Dani's dish is a lot like toffee apple except for the flavour and texture and ingredients, and he compliments her on her "traditional Chinese with a modern spin". "Modern" in this context meaning "on a stick".
Matt is all set to announce the winner, but his excitement is so great he begins burning with an intense blue flame and turns into Sarah Murdoch.
Prices are still down at Coles, and Status Quo are still reminding us of just how long ago the 70s were, and when we return to the MasterChef kitchen, we learn that Dani has won the challenge and find ourselves utterly unable to process the information. This also means that she has won $5000 for her charity, while Marion and Poh's charities are left to rue their reckless miscalculations.
Time for round 3, and Kumar is nominated by the yellow team, prompting Aaron to volunteer to be murdered, and Julie to tell Chris to get his hat down there – this is bound to create tension on the floor, given Chris' hat is the reason Aaron wasn’t allowed to wear his beanie this season – will burning resentment turn to violence? The challenge is Indian, because stereotypes.
"Kumar's got this in the bag," says George, who is pretty sure every Indian is a master Indian chef, because that's how ethnicity works.
Kumar may NOT have it in the bag, though, because he couldn’t find his curry ingredients in the pantry, so instead he’s just frying up some birdseed. Gary pops over to check on Aaron, who really couldn't care less about this competition if he had access to an atomic-powered fully electronic automatic not-caring machine.
As Kumar tosses his mussels – which never really look like real food, let’s be honest – in a pot, he says he just realised how lovely it is to be back there. He is then reminded how awful it actually is to be back there as his teammates wail at him to ensure his mussels have no beards. "I'm a chef, not a f***ing barber!" he yells, in an alternate version of MasterChef that is playing in my head.
Time is up, and one ominous shot of the blue scooter later, Kumar serves up his mussels in a coconut sauce along with some other thing that might be a real thing or just something he made up knowing that nobody there knows anything about Indian food. Gary compliments him on how well he cooked the mussels and then notes that they have beards on them and OH MY GOD KUMAR KATE AND DANI BOTH TOLD YOU TO MAKE SURE THERE WERE NO BEARDS AND YOU TOLD THEM YOU’D TAKEN OFF THE BEARDS KUMAR YOU LIED WHY ARE YOU SUCH A LIAR?
The heat of deception sets the kitchen alight, and we must take an ad break, in which Status Quo continues to maintain it.
Back to Kumar, whose sick determination to feed mussel-beards to professional chefs is glossed over by Gary "Captain Lowered Standards" Mehigan, and everyone applauds.
It is now Aaron's turn, and obviously we all hope Matt will hurl his dish to the floor, or even better, slap his face, but all he says is “beautifully cooked”, and we are beginning to wonder if ANYone is going to get abused in this series.
Last is Chris, who hands over his salmon like a man who hates salmon, hates Indian cooking, hates George, and hates himself. However, his dish is done so well that George can barely choke out a few compliments before turning and retreating to sob quietly over how wonderful food can be and how he will never know a love as pure as that fish.
Chris wins $5000 for the Lort Smith Animal Hospital, which cares for those animals which manage to escape becoming ingredients on MasterChef.
The last round is Justine vs Callum vs Hayden, which is a contest just made for some saucy slash fiction, and straight away Justine and George begin flirting. Appropriately enough the challenge is French, the language of love and dismembering tiny animals with barely any meat on them: although Callum quickly learns that the real challenge is concentrating on his cooking while people yell his name sarcastically from the balcony. Hayden and Justine get into the spirit of things, mockingly calling out snide comments about how "well" he’s doing. What did Callum ever do to you, guys? He’s just a kid trying to make his dreams come true.
Tension mounts as Justine confides her darkest secret: that she would prefer not to overcook her fish. There are audible gasps all around as this hitherto-unsuspected side to Justine's personality is revealed.
But then we all have our dark sides: Justine has her addiction to well-cooked fish, but Hayden has a similarly disturbing compulsive disorder causing him to violently beat the inside of saucepans, and George suffers from a rare disorder which forces him to constantly count down from ten in a loud, braying voice.
"You had to cook a French-inspired dish," George tells them, but frankly if they didn’t know that already it's too late now. It is now time to taste, and a great shockwave of relief travels across the land when it is revealed that Justine's snapper is cooked perfectly. George loves her dish, but objects to her mixing together crispiness and sogginess, an act that threatens to tear apart the fabric of space-time itself.
Callum is next, and Gary asks him if he’s worried about anything, which seems like a really dangerous can of worms to open. However, even if Callum has 99 problems, a poorly-prepared quail ain't one, for Gary loves his quail. He isn't sure about the mandarin, though, which is understandable – I've never been sure about mandarin. I'm not even sure it's a real fruit. Gary probably shares my suspicion that a mandarin is just an orange with a personality disorder.
And then there’s Hayden, who hasn’t done very well, either in the sense of good food, or the sense of compelling television. And since it's not real MasterChef, we don't have to mess around, it's straight on to the result, and Callum has won, which means $5000 to his chosen charity, and once more two charities that will just have to go without because that is the cruel, unfeeling nature of the world. Everyone has a bit of a hug, but not too enthusiastically, because it's only All Stars and nobody is really sure how they're supposed to feel about it all.
And that’s it for tonight, except for a quick glimpse of tomorrow night, when the gang will visit some firemen and have a real sausage-fest. If you know what I mean.
Ben is the author of Superchef – A Parody, published by Allen and Unwin.