MasterChef finale – Tues, July 26 – Matt V Elena

Finally – we’ve made it! It was a hard journey but we pushed, pushed pushed to boom, boom, shake, shake the room to get here for a chance to achieve our food dream.
Tonight the final two contestants battle it out to see who will be crowned MasterChef Australia 2016 winner and take home the $250,000 prize.
Oh, and a column in the always excellent delicious. magazine (and, yes, that fullstop is part of the proper name … yes, I know!).
So it’s the finale of which we dreamed: Glowing Elena versus Intense Matt. How lovely to have two grown ups who have shown great growth in the comp and have avoided any drama.


Glowing Elena was under the radar for a long time, thanks to the edit. MasterChef 2016 started on May 1 but it wasn’t until May 22 (Nigella Week) that she made enough of an impression for me to note this in a recap:
Oh my god – Elena speaks!! She’s doing pumpkin parfait, pancetta crumb and cumin tuille. She’s a high school visual arts teacher who wants to inspire young people to grow their own produce. This is a lot of air time on Elena. Is she the winner?
Conversely, on May 8 (MPW Week), I wrote this about IM:
Intense looking dude Matt – he of the disc earrings – is doing a gnocchi and jus with crispy chicken skin. Marco tastes his jus as it’s cooking and gets the usual flick of the eyes over the bifocals … Next up is Intense Matt with his pan-fried gnocchi with lots of crunchy elements. Gaz is in heaven: “Savoury, chickeny, bacony cereal.”
MPW loves the soz: “I don’t think that you realise how clever you are … genius in your hands.” Matt says it’s better than even his recent wedding day. Oh no he didn’t!


START OF RECAP

I reckon it will be a good 15 minutes before anyone touches a saucepan. First we have to suffer through all the talking heads about the dream, the push, the “yes, George!” and who wants it most.
Why is the MasterChef trophy a giant platter? Surely it should be a gold-plated sous vide machine or a silver smoking gun?
Gary is wearing a paisley tie in his to camera piece about the intensity of Intense Matt. It’s weird.
Ooh – George is wearing a tie, too. The other contestants are dressed up aand Matt P just needs a tri-corner hat to go with his Napoleon Bonaparte frock coat.
Oh god, we’re starting with the deep and meaningfuls. IM and GE have to say what being on MC means to them? Surely they’ll make them repeat their answers at the end. The answers are pretty much “dreams”, “thankful”, “passion”.

There will be three rounds, with each round devoted to an entree, a main and a dessert – and we know the last round will be a Heston challenge that makes series one’s croquembouche look like a pancake shaker mix.

Round one: entree
There are 10 ingredients and they have to hero one: They don’t name them oil but looks like fennel (it had to happen), quail, sea urchin, fish that could be snapper, tofu, spring onions, duck eggs, marron (remember when Nev “cooked” it on MKR but didn’t know it should change colour?, oysters, pork.

IM goes straight for the quail. GE has granny smiths in her basket – more of her signature apple batons for decoration?

After last night's show.

After last night’s show.


IM is doing both roasted and confit quail, with charred corn and chorizo salsa.
GE is doing marron two ways with a ponzu dressing, a smoked veg salad and marron crackers. It’s a lot to do – she knows it and so do the judges. She’s having soz dramas with her dashi – something she has to nail given the judges said her main in the last episode was too dry.
IM is making a Pedro Ximenez reduction for his dish and the editors must have been chortling when they decided to cut in a pan to Con on the gantry – Con who used the wine in almost every dish he made in his short time on the show, causing me to believe he secretly works for PX.
GE has tried to fix her soz and Gaz comes over to give her a confidence boost. “That, is doing nothing,” he says after tasting. So blunt Gaz is back. Send George over for a “yes, George!” and she’ll be bawling on the floor in no time. “If you want any kind of complexity you have to take the panic away … making stuff is never going to be enough.”
She decides to roast the marron shells in a bid to bump up the flavour.
They’ve both done an amazing amount of work in 60 minutes.

The judges taste

And they are eating in the dishes in front of the contestants – seems cruel.


GE’s marron: Gaz was worried about the soz but he doesn’t really say if it’s any good. The marron is perfectly cooked. She’s done something she’s never tried before in the comp. “It’s a beautiful fresh dish, says Matt. He likes the saltiness of the marron cracker.


IM’s quail: They like the look. “It’s delicious; I love it,” says George. The confit legs are perfect. Woo hoo! IM must have this round.

Round one scores
GE: Gaz 7/10, George 8, Matt 8 Total: 23
IM: Gaz 8/10, George 9, Matt 9. Total: 26 Only an 8 from George and we didn’t hear one negative comment about the dish? He’s saving up for a 10 later.

Round two

They get 75 minutes to cook any style main they want. After
After a flustered start GE has her game face on. She’s doing twice-cooked lamb with a macadamia puree and pickled veg.
IM is cooking crispy skinned barra with brussels sprouts, fondant spuds and pancetta and prawn head broth. Hopefully he’ll do a fried prawn heard garnish – the judges love those.
Gaz gives him a look when he explains his broth idea and then pretty much trashes it. Please, IM, just make it and blow his bloody socks off with it.
IM forges ahead. “My gut’s telling me it’s going to be ok,” he tells the camera. He’s doing his brussies a few different ways – it’s a bit of a GE thing to do. GE is pulling out the big guns: she’s pickling beetroot (BINGO!).
GE says she wants her nut puree to have a slightly grainy texture. Really? She’s better hope the judges get it.
IM thinks his soz is a little lacking, so he chucks in some saffron. Mmmm. He does a text piece and thinks it’s done, but it’s raw inside. Fingers crossed it works with the real fillets.
GE’s lamb looks gorgeously soft, and if anyone can make a brown braise look pretty on a plate, it’s her. Again, we’re hearing from her how pushed she is for time.
IM is happy with his broth’s flavour: “It’s fully loaded.” God love him.

The judges taste
This time the contestants don’t watch the tasting.


GE’s lamb: She says cooking now is a bit like creating and artwork (remember, she’s an art teacher) and getting instant feedback on it, which is gratifying. “It looks like a little plate of jewels,” says Gaz. “I’m running out of words to express something that blows my mind,” says George. They love the soz – and George says it’s Michelin quailty. They’re all raving about it.


IM’s snapper: This whole thing of IM not listening too Gary about the soz and wondering whether his fish is cooked will turn out to be a total beat up. IM tears up when Gaz asks him how he feels about the dish. Gaz works hard to hold back the smile. You can tell they all really like him. Raised-in-a-barn George just drinks his broth straight from the jug. “I’ve been proved wrong today,” says Gaz. George says it’s a gorgeous and clever dish. “It tastes like it’s been on a great French menu for 50 years,” sys Matt.

Round two scores
IM: Gaz 10/10 (BFF Trent lets out a huge yell), George 10, Matt 10. IM can’t believe it. He’s now on a total of 56 points.
GE: Gaz 10/10, George 10, Matt 10. Total so far 53 points.
Gaz says it’s the first time in MC history there have been two perfect scores. And then they bring in their families, because they want to see floods of tears.


IM can bareley walk, he’s laugh-crying so hard at the sight of his wife and family. Up on the gantry, Charlie has to take off his hipster glasses to wipe a tear away. IM can’t believe his folks flew back from Italy for the finale but no doubt MC sprang for their tickets.

Round three
There are 40 points on offer for this last round. Gaz talks up how awesome and difficult this pressure test will be. “It takes not one but two of the nest chefs in the world to bring it to us,” says Matt. Ooh, Heston and who? Some bloke called Ashley Palmer-Watts, a top chef who is one of Heston’s proteges. Has Ashley been brought in to look interested when H can’t be bovvered. Heston says it’s harder than last year’s dessert pressure test (remember this?).
“There’s close to 100 steps,” Ashley tells them. It’s called Verjus in Egg.


It looks like an egg atop a nest of noodles. Heston cracks the egg and it craks like a real shell. It’s filled with coconut panna cotta and a mandarin and thyme gel for the yolk. At the bottom of the egg is a coffee parfait. Parfait AND panna cotta in the same dish.
The egg shell is made of two layers of chocolate but it looks like a real chook egg. A nervy IM exchanges a glance with GE and asks Heston: “Is it possible?” Heston says it is.
They have five-and-a-half hours for the dish. IM has done quite well with desserts lately but the finicky nature of this one favours GE.
To make crystallised coffee IM has to use what looks like a jar of Nescafe Gold. As a barista, that must kill him. The mad scientist magic works for both of them. “I’ve never crystallised anything, except by accident,” says IM.
GE has stuffed up mandarin “yolk” by jumping the gun with the setting agent. She needs to do it again but she doesn’t have enough mix to do a full batch. GE is trying to keep it together as someone lamely calls out “you’ve got this”. She’s going to do a half batch instead. Luckily they have calculators.
IM takes his “yolk” over to a vacuum machine and his face watching the science of it all is hilarious. He looks around as if worried he’s broken something, but apparently it’s all good.
Oooh, they are making their ABPs with powdered gelatine, which is usually a no no in the MC kitchen. IM’s ABP mix does not look thick enough and Harry, in a bow tie, is chosen to bring it to our attention.
GE makes a mountain of honeycomb which she then laboriously stretches in nest strands. GE’s ABPs have set a treat and she can pipe in her yolk. IM’s haven’t worked and H says he has to do them again. IM doesn’t know what he did wrong – did he not wait a bit before adding the gelatine mixture to the rest? His family looks worried but BFF Trent urges “stay cool”. He will have to wait another hour for the ABP. He starts to lose it. George comes over for the pep talk. “It will be like this in the kitchen one day,” he tells IM. Yeah, but when you’re a real chef they don’t lock you in a house for six months and hardly let you speak to your family or go for a stroll to grab a coffee.
Luckily he realises it was the lack of blooming time for the ABP that is to blame. At least he can do his tempered choc for the egg while it’s setting.
GE is worried because she hasn’t done much tempering – and she’s never used a marble surface before. She does well and uses a spray gun for the first egg layer, and you can hear Elise yelling down to clean the moulds carefully.
IM is having choc dramas – he’s let the temp drop too low. He uses it anyway. IM has become the underdog now. He at least drains his moulds upside down to remove excess choc – a step GE forgot. And his ABP #2 has worked. Yay.
Oh god – more excruciating watching choc being banged out of moulds. GE’s shells look pretty good – you can still see a bit of the seam where the two halves join. IM’s shells look so delicate and he’s rushing. There’s a little gap in one and he decides to skip the final sealing step to save time. Aargh – tension!
He looks lost at the liquid nitrogen station so GE pops over to give him detailed instructions.


Good on you, GE – this is why we love both of you as final two. You’d never see that kind of camaraderie in US cooking shows.
Finally, they are done, and GE sinks to the floor in relief. And then it’s hugs all round. But IM utters a heartbreaking “Oh no!”. His egg seam hasn’t held (he missed that last step) and it’s opened up. “I’m gutted,” he says through tears. His poor wife on the gantry is trying to telepathically tell him everything will be ok. Oh dear. They finally let her come down to give him a cuddle.


So, poor IM has just lost. Aaargh. Hopefully his runner-up prize will be enough to fund his food truck. He’s gained a legion of fans and will be a huge success at whatever he does. If he wants more experience in a professional kitchen first there will be hundreds of places around the country falling over themselves to offer him a job. GE is a worthy winner but IM made himself known as a contender from the beginning.

The judges taste
IM’s egg: “It’s all good,” he bravely tells the judges. “What do you want us to remember about you as a person fro this plate of food,” asks Matt P. What the hell – who’s writing these lines? They crack the egg and it looks fine inside. “He’s shown great ability to dig deep,” says Heston. The ABP texture was perfect. The shell wasn’t tempered and the egg had split, though.
GE’s egg: The judges are impressed. The shell is a little thick but otherwise they love it. “This one just had more impact… it seems a little bit bolder to me,” says Ashley.

Final round scores

The guest chefs from throughout the season are here, too, as well as Reynold, Emma Dean, Andy and Julie Godwin. I don’t see Billie – surely they would have mentioned her if she was there.
IM: H and Ashley 7/10, Matt 7, George 7, Gaz 7. Grand total: 84. GE is going to get 9s, so it’s all over for IM.
GE: Gaz 8, George 8, Matt 8, H and Ashley 9.
GE wins by two points.

Well done to both of them – we couldn’t have asked for a better final two. GE gives a nice thank you speech and graciously says how much she’s learnt from him.
“Thank you for your friendship and support,” he tells her in return.
Matt P tells IM how wonderfully tenacious he is: “We cannot wait to get into the queue of your food truck.” IM gets $40,000 and he seems genuinely surprised. And Harry gets $10,000.

And that’s all, folks.



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