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.
Who’s got two thumbs and didn’t realise until too late that Masterchef NZ is now on two nights a week? Me. It’s me. Shoutout to episode four, in which the contestants cooked eggs, everybody burnt the bejesus out of their omelettes, and Gideon got eliminated.
But now onto week four. Things are starting to get real, people. This isn’t just a bunch of randos off the street waving their arms around windmill-fashion while screaming about burnt butter crumb; it’s a bunch of randos off the street doing that with a whisk in each hand and creeping symptoms of stress-induced breakdown.
Episode five is a double Mystery Box challenge, and the contestants are instructed to choose one and take the lid off. It transpires that one box covers an assortment of savoury ingredients including lamb, liver and celeriac, and the other reveals sweet; strawberries, etc. Mystery Box reveals are always a little disappointing for me because they hardly ever contain live weasels, 500 small crabs in a burlap sack, or a freshly whelped human infant.
But the contestants seem pretty shocked anyway. Some picked sweet when they wanted savoury, and vice versa. Amy, who I have discovered is the kind of slightly delusional narcissist you often find populating the middle management layer of large corporations, misidentifies the celeriac as taro. “I’m not good with naming things, apart from my children,” she says. Yeah, right. I hope you’re rehearsing the apology you’re going to have to give to Ralphred and Bunton in 15 years’ time.
Hayley, who is emerging as both an authentically ebullient person and a pretty good cook, is making liver popcorn. I assume this is like popcorn chicken, except not as good. Poor Chris the builder has put on his trusty Kitchen Jorts for luck, which he’ll need because he cut and burned himself about half a dozen times in the previous episode. They’ve put a creepy black latex glove on his injured hand, as though he’s about to receive money for fisting a tied-up businessman in a BDSM dungeon.
Noting that Hayley’s having trouble with her mandoline, judge Josh sidles up to her bench in rather a flirtatious manner. Smash cut to Hayley’s commentary: “I quite like Josh coming over, he’s not bad on the eye.” Down girl, this is a family show.
Victoria, the brittle perfectionist, starts losing it about halfway through the cook. Her facial expressions and frustrated gestures make her look like an Impressionist portrait of a woman who’s lost a child to the horrors of war. The pathos only gets worse from there. By the end her body is racked by hollow laughter and she’s offering her benchmates bits of her leftover burnt meringue. Al tries to comfort her, but she cares not for the obtuse, fatherly backpatting from the man in the stupid hat. She will relive this day in abstract nightmares for years to come, and my heart breaks for her.
Amy, who made lamb shanks, plates up an absolute shitpile that she thinks looks a million bucks. “I’m actually the lamb queen,” she says, and I think: the lambs can have you, lady, because nobody else is buying.
During judging, Tim presents a pumpkin semifreddo that looks, hand to God, like an actual puddle of baby diarrhea. Hayley’s popcorn liver bites go over well. Leo’s liver dish is also outstanding, and he gets a big high five that looks like it might have damaged his shoulder.
The contestants file back into the kitchen for what would usually be the results announcement, but instead are confronted with the second Mystery Box. Yeah that’s right suckers, it’s time to do another one. The mood in the room plummets: they’re all shagged out. Victoria looks like she’s going to be shot behind the grain shed for being too weak to complete latrine duty. Al approaches Amy’s bench, where she’s making a posset dessert, and is basically told to go fuck himself.
“It is very cruel,” says Lily.
Crawling into the judging room on hands and knees, begging for mercy, an exhausted Gemma delivers her liver dish. Al, never missing an opportunity, senses her weakness like a hungry jackal and brings up her dead grandfather, which makes her sob uncontrollably. Hayley’s cheesecake is so good that she and Josh would definitely be making love on the table if that were permitted on primetime television. Amy’s posset is terrible.
In the end it comes down to Amy and Victoria, the bad one and the sad one. Victoria gets the short end of the stick, and we’re tormented with a one-second shot of Amy’s smuggest smirk before the judges kick her out as well, almost as an afterthought. It’s brutal, and I love every second of it.
It’s a reinvention test! Hayley, the winner of last episode, assigns four contestants each to one of three ‘classic New Zealand dishes’: trifle, mac and cheese, or roast lamb. Al sniffles around in the background, looking like he’d love nothing more than to plunge his truncated snout into the bowl of cheesy macaroni and root around in it until he’s kicked back into the mud.
Richard the butcher gets the lamb, and it looks like the best day of his life. He’s the kind of gentle old bloke who probably leaves a six pack of beer in the boot of his car when he goes to the mechanic. Walking disaster Chris bursts a bag of flour all over his face in the first three minutes, something I assumed only happened in slapstick cartoons. Al hurries over with a kitchen wipe to dab at his face and check he’s doing his spelling homework, and Chris must be used to this kind of degrading treatment because he doesn’t use one of the many knives at his disposal to shank Al in the solar plexus.
The rest of the cook is boring, because none of the contestants are very inventive. They all seem to imagine that ‘re-invention’ just means ‘with fussier plating’, so there’s a lot of clumsy meat-stacking and sauce-globbing. Everyone makes a chorizo crumb, or as I like to call it the Coward’s Crumb because chorizo makes anything taste good. You could sprinkle chorizo crumb over a slice of soiled mattress and it would be delicious.
Tim has a panicky cook with his cheesy gnocchi and spends the last half hour pulling his finger out. Ben adds “some cheeky Cointreau” to his trifle and I decide if I had to have babies with one of the contestants, it would be him. Mark slimes over to Leo, who’s making a spiced Indonesian trifle, and gives him shit for having a messy bench. “It’s a cooking competition, not a cleaning competition,” snipes Leo. He’s got a point but, given that he’s a pig farmer, cooking in a pigsty probably comes naturally to him.
I hate to be a backseat Masterchef contestant, but at the end of the cook I think, “I could do a better job than most of these people.” Given that I regularly buy and eat dodgy Thai imported sardines because they’re 65c per can, the bar set in this invention test is pretty damn low.
Hayley, Gemma, Glenda, Sarah and Lily make up the top five with dishes I would describe as “good drunken dinner party food”. The sort of stuff you’d cook to try and impress your mates, but it comes out pretty wonky because you’ve been drinking since 3pm. Sarah’s deconstructed lasagne with mushrooms and pancetta is impressive, especially for a 19 year old, but still a solid ‘meh’ on my internal Masterchef Dish Ranking Matrix.
Pull your socks up, people. If I don’t see someone smoking their own handmade ricotta next week, I’m going to give up recapping the food at all. It’ll just be wall-to-wall unkind remarks about Al and comparisons of each contestant to various Looney Tunes characters, because deep down I’m always hoping that one of them gets crushed by an Acme-brand safe.
Masterchef NZ airs Sunday 7pm and Mondays 7.30pm on TV3
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