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.
In my time as Masterchef New Zealand recapper, so far I’ve chosen not to make fun of the judges’ and contestants’ Kiwi accents. This is half because accent gags are low hanging fruit and I like to think I’m above them, and half because the Australian accent is equally ridiculous and I’d lose any war that occurred between me and every New Zealander who reads this column. Having an angry mob of Kiwis show up at my door screaming DINGO ATE MY BABY and THERE’S A BLOODY REDBACK IN THE DUNNY MATE STREWTH would destroy me psychologically. I figured it just wasn’t worth it.
Until this week. Until… the fish challenge.
Like every Australian on the planet, I suffer a condition that causes me to collapse into helpless giggles whenever I hear a Kiwi say the word fish. Fish and chips? I’m a goner. Catch me in a pile on the floor whispering ‘fush and chups’ to myself between episodes of manic laughter. I’m sorry, we just can’t help it. Come across the ditch, beat me senseless, take my flock of hardy Merino sheep as your own, I don’t deserve them.
Anyway, the first component to this week’s (deep, steadying breaths) fish challenge is a fish identification test. Hat-wearing dadbod exemplar and judge Al Brown has the contestants line up in the swanky new Masterchef kitchen, and from a weird prop container covered in random ocean detritus he pulls several slimy fish out one at a time. Holding them aloft as though he’s a proud fisherman rather than a national disgrace, he has the contestants write the name of the fish down and present their findings.
It turns out all the contestants know what a snapper looks like, although Merran confesses she only knows from watching past seasons of Masterchef. The only thing I’ve ever learned from watching Masterchef is that highly developed nations are very innovative in coming up with ways to waste food and resources that could be used to feed the hungry, but good on her. Next up Al pulls a long, slimy eel out of the fish bin, as though he’s been apprenticed as a marine midwife to some horrible sea monster that gives birth to all the world’s different species out of a single orifice.
A bunch of them get it wrong, and Chris says his mates are going to kill him for not knowing what an eel looks like. Chris – I reckon if your mates are that emotionally invested in your eel knowledge you either need to get some new mates or help them open the eel hatchery they obviously need in their lives.
At the end, spear fishing physiotherapist Tim, Masterchef teachers pet Merran and one contestant whose name I can’t remember but who I’ve taken to thinking of as ‘the pointy one’ are declared winners. They get to go up to the balcony and enjoy their bird’s eye view of everyone else attempting to tame the fruits of the sea – the other contestants have one and a half hours to cook a fish dish with their chosen species. There’s a mad rush to the fish bin and old mate Richard the butcher is left holding the troublesome eel, which he takes “so the girls don’t have to cook with it”. Problematic and outdated chivalry aside, it’s a nice thing to do. Get in there and give that eel hell, Richard.
The shocking twist of this challenge is that the bottom three will have to go into a second round, in which they’re only allowed to cook with the bits of the fish they’ve got leftover from the first round. It seems clear to me that the producers have set this up because they don’t like the judges and want to see them eating fish heads, eel spleen and squid beaks, which I fully support.
The cook itself is pretty chill. An hour and a half to make one seafood meal is a long time, and if this were Masterchef Australia they’d be expecting the fish to recite classic verse, or cartwheel to the table and check the judges’ moles for early signs of cancer.
Raw whole fish is pretty disgusting, so there are a few upchuck moments early on while the contestants are filleting. Hayley finds that her John Dory has recently eaten another fish, which she mistakenly thinks means that it’s a pregnant female. I’ve got bad news for you Hayley: you should’ve paid more attention at school, because fish don’t give birth to live young and now you look like a turkey. Leo has chosen to cook his fish whole, which the judges deem a gutsy move because if he stuffs it up he’ll be cooking invisible fish in the next round. He’s sweating like a pig and looks how I imagine I’d feel if someone stripped me nude and made me hop around the crater of an active volcano. It’s just a reality show man, pull yourself together.
Lily, who I’m starting to understand is a bit of a loose unit, babbles something about her fish being king of the sea. Her eyes are always open a bit too wide, like insensitive depictions of mental patients in movies from the ’70s. Gideon’s making some underwhelming curry dish, and comments that it’s weird to have access to so many ingredients when his usual cooking style is “whatever’s in the pantry because I don’t want to get out of my pyjamas”. As long as he’s showering daily, I guess. Richard’s in a predictable spot of bother with his eel, an animal that’s only food in the most technical sense.
Gideon, Lily and Jess end up in the bottom three. Richard somehow manages to plate up a tasty eel chowder, and Leo’s whole fried fish is pronounced “unbelievable” and “amazing” by the judges, who should be replaced by cute dogs trained to bark once for good and twice for bad.
Jess is in a pickle here because all she’s got left from the first round is some squid tentacles and a split aioli. Gideon makes some okay looking fish cakes and Lily plates up some pretty kingfish sashimi. Jess deep fries her tentacles rather than using them as a smelly whip to lash Al’s third stupid hat off his head, which is nice of her but ultimately would’ve been the smarter choice because they end up sending her home. That’s my top Masterchef tip – choose ingredients that are easy to weaponise, and watch the judges pronounce you the winner under threat of being glassed with a smashed bottle of cold pressed olive oil.
All the contestants compete to see who can have the most overwrought emotional response to Jess’ elimination, and Gemma wins because she breaks down in tears. At the end of the day that’s what Masterchef is about: crying on command. She’ll go far in this kitchen, mark my words.
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