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.
After complaining in my last recap about judge Al Brown’s wearing of a hat indoors, an incident compounded by the fact that the hat in question was bedazzled with a picture of a lobster, I found out yesterday that Al plans to wear many different stupid hats throughout the season in order to promote his own line of stupid hats.
Al, my dude. Masterchef is many things: a cooking show, a reasonable justification for the destruction of the entire planet, the reason I drink too much on Sunday nights. But using it as a way to flog your sideline project in stupid hats is beyond the pale, and should prompt you to wonder if you’ve perhaps surrounded yourself with a coterie of yes-men who attach themselves to celebrity for personal gain. Like starfuckers but with hats. Hatfuckers I guess. Just something to think on.
Anyway. Here we are in week two, our first Mystery Box challenge. The contestants are learning quickly to respond to the judges’ emotional cues like well trained puppies, laughing at their dumb jokes and deploying the relevant Masterchef jargon to perfection. A bunch of the contestants are selected for the top 16 immediately and retire to the observation benches, with bags of treats to reward the active contestants when they learn commands like ‘beat mixture with furious intensity’, ‘slam a pot down in frustration’ and ‘look toward the heavens as if for divine intervention’.
The lids come off the mystery boxes and it’s poultry. Ahhh, the mysteries of poultry. I myself have spent many a fine Summer’s day ambling through the countryside, wondering to myself: where does poultry come from? Where is it going? Is it constituted by an essential characteristic, a certain poultry-ness, or does it reveal itself to us as a concept by being distinct from other things? No matter now: the divinely assembled team of Masterchef ontologists will surely uncover its secrets, deepening humankind’s connection with the fundamental properties of existence.
Contestant Shannon the fish and chip shop worker starts off her Inquiry Into The Nature And Being Of Poultry well by receiving a compliment from the judges for her knife skills, which makes her flap her arms around wildly like an overstimulated toddler. Or even – like a bird? It’s too early to say. One thing this segment does teach me is that Masterchef NZ uses the same boring classical-ish soundbank as the Australian version, which is sad because I’ve always thought Masterchef would be great set to a backing track of the Benny Hill theme. Or just a live-recorded compilation of every anxiety fart slipped out by the contestants on set, either way.
Peter, Gideon and Hayley, who have clearly been reading the Masterchef playbook, thunder across the starting line with some strong sob stories involving their dead family members. I’ve often wondered if the show should just embrace this element and become Sob Story Kitchen, where the food must be seasoned with salty tears and sauced with hopes that the dead relations in question are watching from heaven. This is a patently ridiculous idea of course, because there’s only one TV in heaven and it shows the same clip of my least favourite high school teacher falling down the stairs again, and again, and again. Her notes have gone everywhere. It’s delicious.
Most of the contestants have chosen to cook duck breast, which is a very simple dish with two rules: make sure you get the skin crispy and the subcutaneous fat rendered by applying it to a high heat; and make sure the meat itself is pink and juicy in the middle. That’s it, I’ve just taught you how to make duck breast. It’s got two steps. Tying your shoelaces has way more steps. Arguably, it’s harder to scratch your own arse and continue breathing normally than it is to make duck breast.
But the kitchen is a complete den of chaos. Gideon is swearing like a sailor and throwing around pots and utensils with the speed and gusto of someone with seconds to live and three extra arms, but that may be because he’s chosen to cook a mutant quail/duck/chicken combo instead of doing something more simple and elegant like sous-vide one of his own shoes. He’s also shouting at the stove to “cook faster”, which goes to show just how quickly the vigorous insanity of the Masterchef environment makes people abandon the rules that govern everyday life.
Hayley gets pinged by a roaming judge for almost throwing away her chicken skin, an essential component of her dish, but it turns out she’s just placed it neatly in a bag under her bench. Another contestant cuts herself twice, which is a neat demonstration of why cooking is not a great idea as a competitive sport.
But Peter, the poor bastard, is really struggling. First he mispronounces quinoa as quee-noh-ah, an endearing but ignorant mistake that should disqualify him. Then, having devolved into a state of complete crisis, he calls the judges over and asks to quit the competition. Because this is television and not the real world, they encourage him to keep going. Instead of the alternative – walking out the kitchen, wading into waist-high water and waiting quietly for death.
“This bodes well for a good Masterchef 2015,” says Al, the only judge whose name I can reliably remember, from underneath his taunting indoor cap. Look around you Al, the only thing this mess bodes well for is the likelihood of someone starting a catastrophic fire that consumes the entire studio.
The judging is pretty boring this episode. Gemma thinks she’s cooked duck but has actually made pigeon, and the judges give her good feedback anyway because it’s quite nice pigeon. This moment infuriates me. If anything, Gemma has set back our collective understanding of the mysteries of poultry and should be made to apologise to every living bird.
Peter the quitter, having managed to plate up a dish, rehashes his sob story after the judges encourage him to tell them about the adversity he’s suffered. It’s a circus of death and it makes me hope they cancel the rest of the season and let him walk away with the prize, but no such luck.
MARK THE JUDGE: Are your loved ones watching over you today Peter?
PETER: Yes. Yes they are.
MARK: Good on you. Now back to the dish.
I did not make up that exchange, it actually happened. I present it to you without comment.
In the end the judges turf Peter, Shannon, the lady who cut herself twice, and one other contestant. Al addresses the remaining contestants, who are headed back to settle into the house, by telling them they need to live and breathe Masterchef. He doesn’t say whether they’re required to sleep or eat it. Do they have to eat it, Al? Do they? I guess we’ll find out next week.
Masterchef airs on TV3, Sundays at 7.30pm
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