It was a chance for redemption in the poultry shed this week on MasterChef Australia as the eliminated contestants returned for one of two chances to rejoin the competition.
Pastry chef Anthony Hart took the baton of tempered chocolate torture from Kirsten Tibballs and commanded the returnees recreate his “chocolate oasis”, which I’m pretty sure I saw in a cubism group show at MoMA. Minoli triumphed and absolutely lost it, which was incredibly endearing.
Finally, the final four of the returnees suffered through a three-course menu challenge final(e]. Maja’s deconstructed Splice, made using the skills she’d attained during her post-elimination work experience, secured her return to white-apron status alongside Minoli.
And so Sunday rolls around, bringing with it another lighthearted fish butchery session. Yes, the human manifestation of one of those “Fish Fear Me” dad caps is back, welcoming the contestants by laying out his weaponry. It’s Josh Niland, everybody!
Brent immediately forgets how much he enjoyed making fancy desserts and declares himself a fish butchery fanboy. Josh stands behind a hapless Murray cod: “I’m going to take this one fish and show you how to make it disappear … ” he teases, as I ready myself to be dazzled by sleight of hand, “... into three courses!” Hang on, this isn’t the junior championships of closeup magic??
“Oh my cod,” says Justin, possessed by the pun-mad spirit of The Goodies.
Josh turns one cod into a “three-piece feed” entree, a roast with crackling, and finally a lamington with crystallised Murray cod scales. It’s a masterclass in inventive, low-waste butchery (ditching only the gills and gallbladder) that leaves the contestants with Car City eyes. “And again, this is something that you can all achieve,” he says, to gales of disbelieving laughter.
It’s such a sustained display of witchcraft that by the time Josh turns fish scales into the lamington’s desiccated coconut I’m ready to sentence him to death by pressing.
It’s to be a three-round, three-course challenge: the contestants have to butcher their own Murray cod and stretch it out across a potential three dishes.
Fifteen minutes into round 1 and the contestants have said “hectic” roughly 40 times.
Brent nearly puts his peanuts into Scott’s oven, as the bishop said to the improv troupe, but it’s all good, because Josh reckons Brent’s fish tacos “were worth getting your apron dirty” for.
There’s praise, too, for Tommy, Justin, Depinder and Josh’s No 1 fan Sabina, whose barbecued cod belly he describes as “the perfect canapé”.
Dan’s fish skin has gone rubbery. Amir’s sauce is off. There’s worse news for Minoli, whose cod is raw but whose sauce and sambal is so good that Mel and Josh cry out her name “MENDOZA!!” style.
It’s on to round 2 for Linda, Pete, Kishwar, Amir, Maja, Dan and Minoli, with 45 minutes to try again with what’s left of their cod.
Minoli is cooking the same dish again but “jazzing it up”; hey, if it ain’t cooked, don’t nix it, or whatever the old phrase is. Amir’s making fancy fish fingers, summoning the spirit of Captain Fishface. (BRB, changing my PhD research topic to cod in British TV comedy.) “It looks sick, smells good,” offers Justin from the gantry, readying himself to win the Pulitzer for food criticism.
It’s time to taste. Pete’s up first, and as soon as Jock cuts into the poached cod, he stares deep into Pete’s soul: “Mate, I’m just gonna call it: this was not your round. Welcome to round 3.” As cod is my witness, he is broken in half!!!
It’s better news for Linda, whose fried cod tail and loin with tamarind and chilli sauce sends the judges into apoplexies of pleasure.
Josh declares that Maja’s dish, with minor adjustments, would be “on the menu tomorrow”.
Kishwar’s is “wonderful”! Then we begin the slow slide into the abyss. Amir’s fish fingers are “enjoyable” but not amazing. Dan’s eggplant chips are soggy despite his “ripping” sauce.
Minoli gives the judges deja vu with her second take on round 1’s raw fish fantasia, and … “That is easily the best plate of food today,” Josh declares. It’s so good it’s given him goosebumps. Minoli lives!!
It’s left to Pete, Amir (“The salad was irrelevant”) and Dan to duke it out in round 3, with 60 minutes to bring it home. Dan’s doing laksa. Amir is going full Josh and using every bit of the cod he has left, impressing Jock and Andy. It’s a different story at Pete’s bench, where he’s “going to poach cod again”.
“I need you guys to like it,” Pete says, describing a truly revolting-sounding blanched fish skin. Andy makes an expression that will soon replace the Oxford English Dictionary entry for “duh”.
At time’s up, Dan is already crying. He’s given the competition his all but he’s not happy with his laksa. Dan, no!!
Pete’s “elegant, very minimalist” dish is declared “a knockout”. Dan’s dish is “just a laksa”, and Amir’s Turkish dumpling “has potential”, but it’s Dan who the judges reckon left out the best remaining cuts of cod, so he’s going home. And may cod bless us, every one.
What made me cry:
Dan declaring that his MasterChef journey was the “second best” time of his life after his wedding day, and insisting that the true treasure was the friends he made along the way.
The white chocolate velouté award for failure:
Every attempt Pete made to cook bog-standard food. Remember yourself, Pete! You’re the ASMR-voiced master of weird stuff! Next week I wanna see candied pumpkin skin 10 ways floating in a frozen warrigal greens consommé, not “poached cod and tomato bisque”!!
This article was corrected on 7 June 2021. Sabina cooked cod belly, not pork belly.