Australian food television connoisseur and disappointment addict Eleanor Robertson journeys through cyber space and time to watch and recap TV3’s competitive cooking show, Masterchef New Zealand each week.
Unlike most weeks where each episode receives equal attention from me, this time I’m going to mostly ignore the first episode because it was so goddamn boring. It was a clam challenge – yes, clams, the world’s most boring bivalves. The slogan for clams should be “clams: because you’re too poor to afford oysters”. Even mussels, those gritty little beard envelopes, leave clams in the dust in the flavour stakes. I don’t know how Masterchef NZ became ensconced in the pocket of Big Clam, but I don’t bloody like it.
Two things happened worth remarking upon. Most importantly, Gemma was eliminated at the end of not one but TWO clam cooking challenges. Two courses of clams, God, strike me down now. I haven’t been a huge Gemma fan over the course of the show because she seems like a so-so cook, but this elimination was a bit unfair because her dishes were boring.
That might sound like a bad thing, but really, all she did was let the clam’s natural boringness shine through. She made clams the hero of her dishes, which is what they’re always telling the contestants to do. Seems unjust that she gets eliminated on those grounds, but I’m not losing too much sleep over it because Gemma’s mental state has seemed a bit tenuous over the past few weeks and I hope she’s now resting at home, or on a massive drug and alcohol bender. Either one ought to sort her out.
The other notable event was the judges doing their level best to psych Glenda out for no apparent reason. Last week saw her bullied by straight-up sociopath Marco Pierre White, and she doesn’t get a break this week. Glenda’s main ongoing problem is nerves, and it shits me up the wall when the show deliberately attempts to break the surface tension on her composure. Al is the main offender here, always popping his dumb hat-swaddled head out of the compost to ask her questions when it’s clear she’s two stress incidents away from a meltdown.
But she wins in the end, and the prize this week is a trip to New York. Apart from being a super exciting holiday location, it’s also very far away from Al, which should be very relaxing for her.
I have a love-hate relationship with George Calombaris. On one hand he’s a very charismatic screen presence, with an undeniable spring in his step that can liven up even the most boring Masterchef challenge. On the other hand, he’s dumber than a box of hair and doesn’t understand why he should have to pay his employees properly. George is one of those people lucky to be born at such a late stage in history, because if he’d popped out any time before the advent of electricity he’d have died of starvation in childhood after having his meagre rations consistently stolen by a wily hound.
This week George has been wheeled out to convene a fancy dessert pressure test, and even before he walks in the room people are excited to see him. Something else I like about George is that for a chef, he’s remarkably nice. The only time he ever shouts at contestants on Masterchef Australia is when they’re about to bugger up a service challenge in one of his restaurants – I’ve never heard him personally put someone down, behave threateningly, throw objects, etc. After Marco week, the bouncy little Aussie-Greek dude who can be relied upon to treat contestants like people instead of sacks of shit is a breath of fresh air.
“This is about being happy, yeah?” says George as he unveils the complex three-mousse pudding dish he’s inflicting on the cooks. Already, he’s bouncing up and down on the balls of his feet like a toddler about to get on a rollercoaster.
After the contestants start cooking, George goes around to have a heart-to-heart with them about their life stories, which is the only thing he’s good at apart from cooking.
“Some members of my family don’t take me seriously, so I’m hoping if I win Masterchef I can prove to them I can do it,” says Richard the middle-aged butcher. Poor bloke. Maybe your wife doesn’t respect you because you’re the kind of guy who goes on a mediocre reality TV show to prove a point. That’s my guess.
“I really want to pay homage to this recipe,” he says, misusing the word ‘homage’.
“You will mate. I feel it. I feel it,” says George. Excited By Something That Doesn’t Make Sense: The George Calombaris Story.
“George is great, isn’t he. Like the Energizer Bunny,” says Al, who clearly wants to keep him as a household pet. He’s right, but George does seem extra-sparkly when sharing an episode with Al, Josh and Mark, who seem to have some kind of collective agreement in place guaranteeing them the right to say only one interesting thing per week.
Tim, who should have gone home weeks ago, has been picked this week to provide the transparently commercial product endorsement in the course of the cook.
“The Thermomix is such a clever little device. You just put the food in and it cooks it,” he says while pouring his aniseed cream into the $2000 appliance. His enthusiasm is hilariously undermined at the end of the challenge, when he discovers that the Thermomix has left his cream a runny, un-set disaster. Well done Tim, you’ve sacrificed your integrity to promote a very expensive bucket whose main feature is to disappoint and frustrate its owner.
Because the recipe is a Calombaris creation, it’s a beautiful, creative piece of work. George reminds me of playing The Sims as a kid and using up the finite amount of skill points you get to create a character on only the one skill, leaving your Sim an expert in one arena and absolutely hopeless in every other. George spent all his skill points on cooking, so now he’s a world-famous chef who probably employs someone to tie his shoelaces for him.
“You’re working up a sweat aren’t you,” says George.
“Hyperhidrosis,” says Leo as he squirts his snow topping into a bowl of liquid nitrogen. Hyperhidrosis, otherwise known as ‘sweating like a pig’, is a harsh diagnosis at the best of times, but it’s even worse when you remember that Leo is an actual pig farmer. Poor bastard.
All the cooks plate up a dish, but several have missing or stuffed up elements. During the judging, Richard again impresses on the judges how little his family loves him.
“What legacy do you want to leave for the kids out there?” asks George
“My family doesn’t take me seriously,” says Richard with tears in his eyes, seeming not to care he hasn’t answered the question.
And then they boot him out! God, talk about tragic. Let a middle-aged man who’s having problems at home expose his insecurities on commercial television, and then unceremoniously turf him over a mediocre pudding. Brutal.
Even more brutal is the announcement that next week the competition will take place in Dubai, a glittering Middle Eastern metropolis constructed by migrant slaves. I assume this is happening because someone on the production team either stands to make a financial gain somehow, or else nobody who works on the show knows how bad this looks. Tune in next week for more human rights abuses in and around the kitchen.
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