Masterchef: Challenge turns into a lemon

The first immunity challenge is a bit of a lemon as the judges forget how to judge and Matt Moran makes mentoring a contact sport. Join us for a recap with the lot, plus the all new Recap Extra Taste.

Ahhh, the MasterChef titles, they’re hot, they’re cold, they’re ... well a little dated really. Couldn’t they get the contestants to do a cover of the theme or something? Have the judges sit on stools and spin a lazy susan if they like the result? Call it MasterVoice perhaps? .... Hmmm. Just off to the Trademark office for a moment, amuse yourselves.

Anyhoo, tonight’s titles feature ... names! For those who haven’t memorised our useful chart of the top 24 contestants, each one appears, performing a casually, utterly unrehearsed and uncontrived pose above their moniker. TK kicks it all off with a steaming dumpling and Tregan brings up the rear serving milkshakes on rollerskates. And that scrubs yet another off the list of "sentences I thought I'd never write."

Post-flaming-logo Emma is brushing her teeth and we know it’s going to be an adrenalin packed episode. Ben, who the MasterVoice previously told us had won the chance to battle for immunity, speaks of his chance to battle for immunity, before a flashback shows Preston announcing that Ben has a chance to battle for immunity, so while I wonder what’s going to happen tonight, Ben withdraws to his special white place (he has floating pasta makers and hanging colanders inhabiting his subconscious mind it seems) and explains that immunity is the “ultimate prize”, which is true in a plague-ridden society, however in MasterChef there is the promise of so much more: a book, a nickname in these recaps and the opportunity to appear in Masterchef: Where are they Now? shows for years ... well, maybe year to come.

Back in the house, Emma and some guy whose credits pose clearly wasn’t memorable are watching Ben iron, because the TV in the house is permanently tuned to Ten and they don’t have any other shows worth watching other than the one they’re in. Oh the guy is Andy, I learn from Andy, as he appears in the white room of monologue to say Ben is nervous.

Ben walks over to MasterHall (ok there was a car and a hyper-accelerated aerial shot) and Gary can see that he is bursting out of his skin, which is the kind of behaviour that really makes me wish they had at least a back up set of chef’s whites. Ben heeds Gary’s warning though and reskins himself before worrying that Matt Moran is here. Smart boy that Ben. Moran delivers the world's worst audition for wrestlemania ever with a subdued “are you ready to rumble?” and, before the complete lack of palpable tension gets any more obvious, George decides to explain the challenge: develop a portfolio of programs that could help Ten find some traction in the ratings race. Oh no wait, George says the challenge is to beat today's celebrity chef inj order to win an immunity pin. But that makes no sense, they’ve already said it’s an immunity challenge nine times, surely he couldn’t just be stating the obvious.

Of course he could.

Preston steps up to see if this episode can begin. “Ben, today Matt Moran isn’t your opponent.” Strike three. I wonder if Ben could do some more ironing to spark things up.

Finally some new information. Moran is in fact Ben’s mentor tonight as he engages in the battle round, proving that even the thickest satire is lost on MasterChef as they actually attempt to become The Voice. Ben will be battling one of Australia’s hottest young chefs says Preston, and in walk three sets of sneakers. Yes, Ben is going to cook off against a highly athletic super insect.

The super insect is Dan Hong, the executive chef of Ms G’s in Sydney he tells us. His dishes have to explode in your mouth. Simultaneously every mouthful you eat is going to go “wow!”. His dishes are made mostly of easily surprised Nitroglycerine. Dan introduces the pair of black T-Shirts behind him, and combined they have 27 years of cooking experience, which slightly outclasses Ben's 3 years of watching MasterChef.

Ben has to make an entree, main and dessert to compete with the three courses made by Dan and the T’s. Plus he’ll have to choose a main ingredient from one of the two hidden behind the massive red curtain in the middle of the room. Given how ridiculously complicated this episode is getting, its really lucky they didn’t waste time explaining trivialities earlier.

The curtain falls and we discover that Ben must choose a core ingredient of either lemons or honey. Gary wants Ben’s end result to stand out and shine so he should probably choose Preston's outfit. Except the choice of main ingredient is actually made by Dan. Sweet or sour Dan? “Sour man! I choose lemon.”

Ben is now cooking three dishes against three professional chefs, using their chosen ingredient, but thankfully Gary evens things up by giving him a handicap. Ben has to use two of his fellow contestants. Sadly not as ingredients but as assistants. Preston suggests he choose his victims wisely. Gary points out that the assistants get nothing out of winning tonight, so they actually have an incentive to ensure he loses, but let's ignore that. Ben chooses Andy, because they are BFFs. Then chooses Emma, proving that watching a man iron is the way to his kitchen and by choosing the two people he happened to be seen with earlier convincing me that there’s definitely, absolutely no way that they shoot these scenes out of order.

Preston points out that when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade, and he is lucky because that would have been a terrible joke if Dan had chosen honey. As Ben tries to work out whether lemonade is an entree or a main, Gary points out that all the pressure is really on Dan because he has three head chefs and only sixty minutes, while Ben has ninety minutes and Matt Moran. That sound in the background is the bookmakers tearing up their books as they had so daftly believed the three amateurs with the bald guy who wants to rumble them were at some sort of disadvantage.

After the break Matt, Gary and George sit down at a table for four presumably to give we the viewers the sense of being invited to sup with them, as they passionately ponder what the teams are going to do by saying the word lemon more times than is humanly conceivable. Meanwhile Ben and the bumblers wander around the MasterPantry discussing what isn’t there. No scallops. But there is snapper. So the obvious solution is tacos. And as the fish rides off on its bicycle, Ben turns his mind to dessert.

Emma is assigned to make a baked lemon cheese cake and Ben says he is confident. Confident that Emma is perfectly placed to snatch defeat from the jaws of any victory he might accidentally stumble towards and cry about it afterwards. Matt starts his mentoring by standing around chatting with Dan, which could prove to be just the impediment the professional chefs need.

Once Ben has started actually preparing his dish, Matt helps out by wandering over and interrupting him to ask inane questions in order to slow him down and undermine his confidence. Has he cooked pasta before? Not much no. How well does he know his assistants? Very, he can even remember Andy’s name without pausing. And Emma will be good at sweets because she is sweet, by which logic Ben should actually do well at this challenge, because he’s beginning to look like a bit of a lemon. Finally can Moran do anything to help? No, clearly not.

Emma decides that gazing longingly at Ben as he ironed mightn’t have been Jane Austen enough and starts offering him tastings from her mixing bowl. She hand feeds him liquid cheesecake and coyly asks if he wants more. He wants more lemon. She wants to spoon. While Moran wants Dan to ratchet up the tension a bit so gets him to say how risky it is for Emma to make cheesecake and Dan to make pasta. Then he starts yelling about time. Moran is the sort of mentor that wins challenges ... by stepping on his own team and claiming he rumbled them.

Dan and the T’s are let loose and the rock music kicks in. They are a slicing, dicing, incredibly well edited machine. Then Moran comes over to mentor them to even things up.

Once everyone in the kitchen is holding a knife, Moran gives up mentoring for his own safety and starts mentoring us, talking to camera about how Dan’s dish isn’t lemon enough, before heading over to Ben’s team to tell Andy that his garnish slicing will give away to the judges that his dish isn’t Dan’s, and his complete inability to cut the snapper the way his dish requires will give away to the judges that he can’t cook. Poor Andy, if only he had anything riding on this.

After the break Moran will undermine Emma, but first Andrew Gaze is in a kitchen doing nothing of use, we’ll call it “mentoring.”

Dan’s team are under pressure as they need the pastry to be made before they can deconstruct their dessert, and they’re just wishing they were professional chefs who worked under these sort of conditions regularly. On the other side of the MasterWall, Ben seeks advice from the heavens on how to make ravioli as he’s only done it three times before, and Mario reveals himself to the deity we all thought he might be by providing some advice. "Dollop it" says Mario the MasterGod.

Emma’s cheesecake is too runny, Dan tastes the oven and declares it is good, and we have five minutes to go. Emma’s second cheesecake is cracked, and she doesn’t know how to cut it. Try crying would be my advice, that normally seems to cut it in this show for at least the first few weeks.

Oh Good Mario! Moran is mentoring again. While the others ward him off with fire or reminders of his ill-fated time on The Chopping Block, Ben is vulnerable, absorbed in his one remaining task. Moran swoops, and succeeds, careful to loom over Ben and provide half-advice just long enough to ensure that he can reassure him that he’s burned his sauce. After the break the judges will judge the dishes and it looks like they’ll be quite judgemental about it.

When we return, Ben has to start his sauce again and the other contestants help by whipping up into a rabid frenzy, clapping and yelping incoherently, just like ... a pack of MasterChef contestants.

Time is up and the two teams pour over the contestants offerings, with Dan impressed that Andy has made toritllas and that Ben has made ravioli, and Ben impressed that he has waited until it was far too late to realise his prawns are undercooked.

The judges receive the entrees – Snapper Tacos Ceviche from Ben and the Bumblers, Sashimi with Lemon Ponzu from Dan and the T’s – but first Preston has to give thanks to the God of excruciating analogy, as he tells us that he always thinks of entrees as “the wink across the dance floor, it’s the smile across the crowded bar, it’s a bit of a flirt with the diner, we want to be titillated.” Clearly Preston was hoping for some sort of citric slapper followed by a sour puss and a lemon tart, but the overwhelming taste home viewers receive is a hint of bile.

George and Gary try to completely ignore everything Preston just said and taste the tacos. Gary thinks the ingredients are good, but George thinks the snapper should have been the bed, leading to the ideal taco situation of a piece of fish wrapped around a tortilla and proving that if it ain’t deconstructed this year, it ain’t going to fly.

They try the sashimi and Gary loves its look, Preston thinks it’s a classic and George points out that the fish is full of sinew, with Gary admitting that the massive hunk of skin he’s pushed aside wasn’t that appealing. We’re voting per dish it seems and Preston goes for the sashimi, George votes for the taco and Gary is looking up the number for a pizza company in his little black book.

*** THE RECAP EXTRA TASTE ***

The three wannabes and the three professionals are sitting around talking, but who cares about them, this is the RECAP EXTRA TASTE where you the reader get that behind the scenes glimpse of a recapper you always wanted. I, dear reader, am sitting on my sofa watching television. My wife is wishing I was half as funny as I think I am on these recaps and the cat is lying asleep on the floor.

Gosh aren’t you glad we got this new feature this year. It really makes the ads look more entertaining by comparison doesn’t it?

*** END OF EXTRA TASTE ***

George wants to taste the main courses, so an underpaid actor brings in one dish and one slice of old growth rainforest that was chopped down to plant a lemon orchard after the local environmentalists were told to “suck on a lemon,” now THAT is dedication to a theme. Genius. The log proffers up Prawn and Duck San Choy Bow while the mere dish contains Ben’s Prawn Ravioli with Lemon Butter Sauce and Roasted Prawns.

Gary wasn’t expecting those two dishes, having yearned for the lemon soup he constantly offers in his restaurant only to see customer after customer dangle their fingers contemptuously in it. He lets out his frustrations by castigating the prawns for being raw and flipping one over to highlight something that becomes slightly less clear. George helps out by removing the prawns entirely which Preston feels vastly improves the dish.

They eat and nod and Preston’s eyes rotate on independent axles, before Gary actually tries the prawn only to discover its “quite nice.” A review pull quote that is only matched by Preston’s “for a dish that looks that ugly, it tastes surprisingly delicious.”

The judges turn to the environment-raping san choy bow, and the heavy lemon-based-hallucinogenic that Dan has laced through his dish pays dividends as Gary calmly bites into a lettuce leaf that is gushing lemon juice, George attempts to eat single grains of rice with a fork and Preston starts ladling sauce from his bowl into a spoon that is resting on the table.

Gary has no doubt that this is a delicious dish and that he is in fact a carrot walking backwards up a hill. He loves the fresh flavours and the party going on in his mind. All George is getting though is lemon grass, which is really taking the edge off his trip. Preston, whose greater body mass means he has sobered up sooner points out that the san choy bow has essentially no lemon, which keen observers will note was kind of the point. Gary, determined to be pointless, votes for the san choy bow. And the talking mongoose. George is torn, but doesn’t reveal his answer, instead doodling in his black folio. Preston gazes contemptuously at them both without revealing a favourite.

The desserts arrive just as Gary gets the munchies: Dan’s Deconstructed Lemon Tart with Lemonade Granita versus Ben's Lemon Cheesecake with Tuile. Gary likes the look of the tart, and the judges race to say “deconstructed” before each other. Preston then reveals the secret to his famous dairy discos, declaring cheesecake to be a “guaranteed party starter.”

The trio then actually like something, gorging themselves on the deconstructed tart and gushing over the candied lemon strings hidden within. Gary then demonstrates the objectivity and level headedness we look for in our judges by declaring he doesn’t even need to try the other dish. George tries to talk him around by pointing out that the cheesecake “could taste like a MasterChef’s made it.” On the other hand it could taste good.

They eat the cheesecake. They make facial expressions. They ... completely fail to discuss the dish at all. If you can’t say anything nice? Wait these are the judges. If you can’t say anything nasty?

The trios line up for the announcement and Gary asks Moran how Ben went. Moran replies that he has to say he saw exceptional food. So either Ben is exceptional food, or Ben is what happens to exceptional food.

Gary draws out the entree result reveal for just long enough that we and the MasterChef logo feel like exploding. After the break we get to see Gary draw it out all over again before he finally reveals that Dan’s Sashimi was the top entree. Gary then offers a wealth of praise, plus a sinewy slap on the wrist to professional chef Dan then completely ignores Ben, the man actually entered in the competition.

George has the honour of announcing the main course winner and just bloody gets on with it. Ben wins with the ravioli. George then explains that Ben was very lucky because Dan’s dish didn’t taste of lemon and also this competition would already be a dud if Ben didn’t win a round.

Preston sums up the very few things we have just seen in order to make sure he makes it into tomorrow night’s “previously on MasterChef” and then announces that the winning dessert is Dan’s deconstructed lemon tart. Emma apologises to Ben for preparing the first dish in MasterChef history that the judges can’t even be bothered referencing. Preston congratulates Dan and then Gary asks who was responsible for the dessert – without actually discussing it – and finally, the episode and this recap are complete as Emma gets the opportunity to cry.

Phew.

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