Can we go on? DSO contemplates Masterchef sans Marion and Jonathan

I am so sad. After performing amazing cooking feats, the nation’s most beloved AND the nation’s most bitched about are both gone.

Marion definitely had skill in buckets, and was lovely. The only good thing about her elimination was watching Alvin say OMG and Claire wrap Aaron up in the biggest hug, while the others tried not to smile at the chance they might now get ahead.

Jonathan suited more complicated tastes than Marion, or maybe it was just that he grew on you. He certainly grew on me. I can only think how irritated he was that he got knocked out by two Eliminata, but he graciously did not say so. He did however say that his ruthless ‘eliminator’ persona was a product of the cutting room floor. The bevy of friends and family and the loving wife who welcomed him home would seem to indicate this is true.

Oh goodness. Two reliable, consistent performers, each capable of real flair, each of whom held deep knowledge and understanding of their craft, both gone. So now, we return to the gifted amateurs.

Thoughts people, thoughts. Will the telly be better or worse without them? Will others fly now that Marion and Jonathan aren’t going to win everything? Will the food be better now that people who don’t know very much will be faffing about in the Masterchef kitchen?


You be the judge. The thread is open. Bitch, whine, moan, complain, mourn. Whatever you need to do.


Tim Dunlop laments Masterchef’s return of the eliminata

Tim Dunlop is one of the granddaddies of Australian blogging, and I’m not just saying that because it was his “Blogrolling” column in the Fairfax press that made me decide to go and investigate these “blog” things six or so years ago. He’s a serious home cook, and his current gig is writing Crikey’s excellent music blog Johnny’s in the Basement, where he has recommended music to sharpen knives to.

So the producers of the hit show have done again this year what they did last year: given a bunch of contestants who were eliminated a second chance to win the crown.

However, unlike last year, (where, as they showed in Monday night’s show) the returning contestants were welcomed back warmly, this year’s contestants were not happy to see four losers from earlier rounds reinstated. In fact, the decision went down like a cup of cold sick (or one of Joanne’s sauces).

As this is the most important thing in the world, let me offer a few thoughts.

It sucks. No way should eliminated contestants be allowed back in.

I think this is especially the case when the entire show is predicated on, not just going through the normal rounds of competition where, at various points you risk elimination, but because one of the key rewards in the show, once you win a particular challenge, is the chance to wear the immunity pin. Short of the title itself, that is, being crowned Masterchef of Australia, the immunity pin is held up as the ultimate accolade and symbol of achievement.

Under such circumstances it makes no sense to allow those who were eliminated back in. It completely devalues the reward and advantage that comes with winning an immunity pin.

In effect, the producers are giving a one-off immunity pin to people who have lost challenges.

Allowing the eliminata back, to my way of thinking, is not only a breach of faith with contestants who have got to this point in the challenge, it’s a breach of faith with the audience. Are we playing by the rules and spirit of the game or aren’t we? Apparently not.

I also think it was borderline cruel to make the contestants themselves the vehicle for the return of the three smallest losers. This just seemed a sneaky way to co-opt the contestants in their own tragedy, as if the judges/producers were implying, hey, even you thought they were good enough to be here.

Beyond all this, I think the producers are playing a dangerous game. It was clear from last night’s previews that they intend to play up the fact that those already in the house are unhappy about the failed four returning. In other words, the whole thing is being played for its controversy value in order to increase ratings.

Now, I’m not so dumb as to not realise that this is a commercial venture hellbent of maxing out the number of bums on seats watching, but there comes a point where such manipulation can become counterproductive. They are already pushing their luck with the ponderous pauses before every winner/loser/momentous development is announced, not to mention stuff like Matt’s ridiculous plate-throwing moment. It won’t take much more for them to be crossing the bridge too far.

Having said all that, I would probably be less concerned if Skye was one of those who got back in. I reckon she is better than all the eliminata and most likely better than at least Callum amongst the other remaining contestants, and probably Aaron too. In other words, part of the problem with letting people back is that those they let back really aren’t as good as the ones already there.

No matter who they have let back in, I’d guess it will end up as a showdown between Jonathan and Marion, though it depends which Jonathan shows up for the remainder of the season.

There seem to be two of him, Michelin Jonathan and McDonalds Jonathan. He either comes top or he comes bottom.

The other contender is Adam. I guess Claire is too, though she looks a bit fragile (as a cook). She is consistent, but it is consistent at a fairly middling standard. She rarely looks like she will hit one out of the park and no doubt that is what will be needed.

Anyway, bottom line is, I’m enjoying the show, but the return of eliminata is a bad move. Channel Ten need to be careful not to undermine their credibility with ill-judged gimmicks in the name of short-term ratings.

Dr Sister Outlaw asks, ‘do the basics matter’ and ‘what is the world coming to with these young people’?

I’m loving Australian Masterchef 2010, although it’s pretty different to the first season. Last year I didn’t watch seriously until the major personalities had emerged. Even so, it was clear that each contestant was seriously interested in a wide range of cooking styles and was a reliable all-rounder, as well as being able to demonstrate flair and insight.

But this year, night after night, I sit there tweeting (which, as Zoe and other tweeps have said, is more than half the fun of viewing) complaining about the incompetence of this lot and their constant moans (and tears): “I’ve never … [cooked Thai, filleted fish, seen a live chook, made a curry from scratch] before”. And although I initially forgave Kate for using a microwave because she made a great case for it, she was so ignorant that if she hadn’t been eliminated I would have microwaved her.

This week in the eliminations Jonathan “The Terminator” saw off “Soggy” Adele (thanks whoever tweeted that epithet). He’d also easily despatched Devon “No Nickname Necessary”. Why? Because of his technical competence. He was superb at handling eggs and had actually thought about the chemistry of tomato paste and that it does not enhance a bolognaise unless you cook it for hours. When I was discussing this with my bloke, who is learning to cook, he said “I always put tomato paste in bolognaise”, which kind of underscores my point – Adele failed because she cooks by the “always” method, rather than being analytical about what she is doing.

Home cooks like me usually have a good sense about how to dish up good tasting food, but I would argue that a chef thinks much more deeply about the ways in which the chemistry and physics of cooking affect taste. The highest expression of this is molecular gastronomy, which is iconoclastic in the way it challenges rules and understandings but does through via highly refined technique. You could say Masterchef teaches home cooks to think about chemistry and physics (certainly Gary and George try), but you can’t teach contestants how to break rules if they don’t know any rules to start with.

Then I read this Associated Press article about food snobbery. Apparently wee young things have not got a clue about cooking technique because they don’t read cookbooks any more but source their info from teh internetz:

“The twentysomethings right now are probably one of the most educated food generations ever. And by that I mean they can talk to you about foie gras or cooking sous vide or the flavor profile of a Bordeaux,” said Cheryl Brown, editorial director of the popular website Slashfood.

“But what they can’t do is truss a chicken or cook a pot roast. So there’s this funny balance of having an amazing breadth of food knowledge but not having the kitchen basics to back it up,” she said.

Hmmm. I’m not Gen Y but I don’t think we can blame teh internetz. For one thing, the web is full of people showing off their technique (I’ll often google when I am stumped about how to do something I’ve not done before). But if the current Masterchef contestants are any guide, this article may be bang on the mark.

But who or what can we blame for this problem? Maybe Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson (who I love, btw), for dumbing food down to reliable combinations? Maybe providore types, for telling us that only the most exclusive items from the most rarefied locations can be considered edible? Or is this just another Gen Y bashing exercise, and the truth is there is no problem at all?

An open thread, on whatever you feel like saying about food, technique, Masterchef, the contestants’ obvious hatred of Jonathan, Gen Y and food knowledge.

Two takes on Molecular Gastronomy

I am in love with a blog I’ve just found called resistance is fertile, and am working my way through the archives, finding joys like this take on “101 quick meals”and this, which involves chocolate and poetry, and is beautiful.

Lagusta is an anarchist chef living in upstate New York who runs businesses delivering home cooked vegan meals and making chocolates, including one called a Furious Vulva. And she thinks that all vegans should go to Alinea, the famed Chicago restaurant of Grant Achatz recently ranked the best restaurant in North America, and the seventh best restaurant in the world:

vegans should be embracing this molecular gastronomy business. It’s so vegan friendly. It uses tools we’ve been using forever (agar, kuzu, flax seeds, various powders and elixirs), but it uses them unapologetically, not as “replacements,” but as interesting elements of a dish on their own merit.

Several world aways is Oliver Peyton, an Irish-born art lover and restauranteur. He seems much more straight-laced than Lagusta, but is apparently known for running off at the gob sometimes.

I was looking for Luke Ngyuen videos on the SBS food site, when I stumbled across Peyton’s “Eating Art“, an examination of the antecedents of molecular gastronomy in modernist art.

The show has some painful sequences of Peyton striding around in picturesque international locations, but starts to fly when he asks fancy New York chef Sam Mason to interpret Cezanne’s still life Apples and Oranges (1899). Mason (re)constructs sharp-edged boxes of intense appley-ness, that nod at both Cezanne’s determination to see and capture structure and his urge to move his craft forward

Wylie Dufresne of wd-50, gets the altogether more grim Juan Gris’ Bottle of Rum and a Newspaper and constructs an octopus terrine eaten with a toasted saffron cake, pickled ginger and pine nuts that have had very, very, very elaborate things done to them. It looks amazing.

And finally, at Massimo Bottura’s Osteria Francescana in Northern Italy, a three course Futurist fancy including a fake roast ham (cooked sous vide, blow-torched for colour and complete with atomised aromas); then a thin square of freshly hand minced raw beef, laid with a path of salty flavour.

It concludes with a triumph of nostalgia. Foie gras is infused with milk and cherrywood smoke and cooked sous vide. A stick is inserted, then it’s injected with the local Modena balsamic and rolled in roasted almond and hazlenut. I couldn’t manage a screenshot even as shabby as the two above, so you’ll have to take my word for it that they totally made a Golden Gaytime. In proper Marinetti-fashion, it is served accompanied by a large Italian man booming avant-garde poetry.

Masterchef fantasy restaurant menus – here’s mine

Tuesday’s Masterchef this week featured the remaining contestants (other than Lucas and Julia) being given an opportunity to make a three course meal that they would love to serve in their own restaurant/cafe. There’s much entertaining to-ing and fro-ing about the structure of the program, etc, at Reality Raving. I for one assumed that they’d been given some notice so that the ingredients they wanted – unusual in Chris’ case, unseasonal in Sam’s – could be organised.

While I will never enter Masterchef, wanting neither a career as a chef nor a role in a reality TV show, I can indulge for a few minutes a happy fantasy about what I might cook given a similar challenge.

My fantasy joint is both local, and seasonal, so to start I would offer a little glass of creamy Jerusalem artichoke soup with truffle straws. It would look a little like the fennel/orange/truffle soup from this post at Helen’s Grab Your Fork, but homelier rather than foamlier. Jerusalem artichoke soup has great depth without weight. It also provides lots of opportunities to make comments about flatulence, which might get any first date awkwardness off to a flying start. FWIW I think the soup is so good it’s worth a fart or two.

For a starter, I would offer a tasting plate of charcuterie and preserved veggies. With the Mountain Creek Farm heritage breed meats I so love I’d make a rustic pork terrine, accompanied by a tapendade made with the oily black Homeleigh Grove semi-dried olives, and a little medallion of poached and pressed beef tongue topped with some of my home-pickled, home-grown plums from last summer. I’d serve it with a herby salad – radicchio, baby endive, parsley, hazelnuts and thin tangelo segments in a mustardy dressing made with new season olive oil.

Main course would be a perfectly baked free range chook (that means a LOT of butter, some garlic, lemon and thyme) with a cauliflower gratin. Yep, cauliflower in cheesy white sauce – it might be naff, but hands up who hates it? The chicken would be sauced with a very simple puree of eschallots and sorrel which had been sweated in butter and finished with splash of cream and OK, I never said the Heart Foundation loved me, butter. There’d be some black (aka Tuscan aka lacinato aka dinosaur aka most alternatively named vegetable available or what) kale braised with olive oil and garlic, and some sweet baby carrots. The chook might look a bit like this:

But that’s not all for you, don’t be greedy. For dessert, I’d make a more elegant (and smaller) version of this Skye Gyngell – sourced recipe I made recently for a dinner party at my dear friend Cath’s place in Elizabeth Bay. I would make her give me her dear old dead Nan’s golden edged plates to use again (that’s Cath, not Skye). Little meringues, gooey inside their crisp shells, with a quenelle of chestnut poached in milk with vanilla bean* and chestnut honey, poached prunes and runny cream. Pardon the horrible flash photograph but it was a lovely long dinner and by her own admission Cath has more wine than God:

meringue cooked

Is that something you’d like to eat? And what would I be eating at your fantasy restaurant?

* Vanilla bean in Canberra I hear you ask? I’m not a purist on the seasonal and local thing – it’s a matter of emphasis, not a religion.

You know you’ve been watching too much Master Chef when…

You get home from work and start rushing to get the dinner on and you suddenly imagine George Columbaris at your elbow. “How are you going there? You’ve got TWENTY MORE MINUTES! Those SPUDS SHOULD BE PEELED by now!!!”

You find yourself thinking “Which Masterchef contestant would I be?” (Just because I identify with her in some ways, her cooking choices are not like mine at all. “Aussie”? “Baked dinner”? erp!)

You say “You eediot! Not that way!” at the TV.

Your twelve-year-old starts insisting on helping with the dinner (Can I say W00t!), and comes out with stuff like, “The onions are caramelising nicely while the sausage has taken on a whole new dimension of flavour.”

You yell “Booooo!” whenever Hat Man Chris “Boris” Badenough appears

You’re watching a cookie-cutter Fremantle Media reality show with a cast of characters who are holed up in a house and one is voted off each week, crying and the word “journey” mandatory – in other words, a massive yawning cliche – and although you’re feeling a bit dirty, you can’t look away.

Who else has been watching Masterchef? What are your impressions? Triumphs, disasters, heroes, villains? Has it changed any kitchen routines in your household? Anyone suddenly taken to wearing cravats?