Sundae Roast

Hugh Sundae adds some seasoning to Masterchef New Zealand

Sundae Roast: Get your ship together

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Sushil battens down the hatches, or something like that.
Sushil battens down the hatches, or something like that.

Here we go again. Wake up, wake up, bang the pots. Everyone's tired, blah blah blah.

I've never been a fan of team challenge episodes. It's like tuning in to your favourite radio show and finding it's being hosted by a fill-in. Do you go and do something else or soldier on, despite knowing you won't really enjoy it as much?

Well in my case I'm committed to doing this blog so there is no choice. I better batten down the hatches, or set a course for foodville or some other bloody pun.

Having said all that, getting the contestants outside their cliff-top prison to see the challenge venue - The Dawn Princess - sail past was a nice touch.

For those overseas readers who can't watch the show, The Dawn Princess is a cruise ship.

"I'm really excited," says Ella. "We haven't been told our challenge yet but I imagine it's cooking in the kitchens... or something?" Well spotted.

My distaste for team challenges aside, it does give the opportunity to get inside the contestant's heads a little bit as we watch them pick their own teams.

"This is slightly awkward isn't it," Dana notes, still draped in her duvet.

They all stand around, not wanting to be first. "I reckon it's going to be fun whatever we do," says Aaron. That's easy for him to say, everyone will want to be on his team.

They decide on everyone randomly taking a coloured apron as they wish. It doesn't spell out everyone's opinion of everyone else as much as the old "two team leaders taking turns to pick team members" method, but repeated slow-motion views still gives me some insight.

Ella goes first and takes a red apron. This tells me she is either confident enough to think people will want to be on her team, or that she doesn't want to offend people later by not picking the same team as them. Eliott goes red too, perhaps thinking it will be good to have at least one person on the team who can cook.

Kris, David and Paula go blue, this tells me they don't want to be on Eliott's team. Wow I'm starting to enjoy this now. I feel like Dr Phil.

The Aaronator goes red. This could be because three people just went blue and he doesn't want the reds to feel bad about themselves. Or it could just be that he's the Aaronator and there isn't anyone higher up the chain than him to worry about.

As Paula said: "I was kind of disappointed Aaron didn't pick blue after I had because I would have loved to have been on his team." No such problems for Dana, who following Aaron grabs a red apron before they all run out.

The last two to have a choice are Vanessa and Kelly, who both go blue. I'm at a loss to explain this, so let's just say they're National voters*.

Once onboard Simon Gault throws around some impressive but ultimately irrelevant numbers. "More than 105,000 meals are served a day across the Princess Cruises fleet, that's more than 37,000,000 meals every year."

So you're making them cook every meal across the whole fleet for a whole year? "Wow that's a lot of meals!" Kris says. He needn't worry, this challenge only involved about 1800 passengers.

"Later on they're going to get very hungry, and I think you know what that means," Gault adds. Oh, oh, ask Ella! She worked it out hours ago.

Each team member takes a dish each. Jennis has the cracking idea to tell everyone she doesn't mind making either of the two easiest dishes, but it backfires when chef Alfredo Marzi tells her she has to make both.

In the other gallery, new blue team head chef Kelly is dishing out the, um, dishes.

"The lamb shanks are pretty much the hardest on the list," says Sushil. "So as soon as the dish was given to me the pressure was on me." I'm not so sure about that. I tend to find any slow braise more forgiving to cook than, say pan-frying a fish fillet or steak. Or even chopping vegetables evenly, which Emett pulls Eliott up for. "If it was my kitchen I wouldn't have that."

Kelly is also on chopping duty, but is operating with an injury. Her hand required six stitches after an incident at the mansion involving a knife and coconut jelly.

"I've taken my painkillers so hopefully they'll last me through," she says. Judging by her giggling and the wide-eyed look on her face reminiscent of Claire Danes in Homeland, the painkillers are working sweeeeeeeeeet as.

Despite attempts to up the drama ("so the pressure is ON?" Emett asks Marzi), everything seems to be going pretty well. It's starting to get a bit boring. Luckily Jennis forgets to reserve any lettuce hearts so things heat up. At least I think they heat up, it's hard to tell from one of her typically rambling descriptions.

"It's just a miscommunication between what was expected, of me, and whether or not I kind of stood up, and just did what was on the paper?"

A few seconds later, Chef Marzi also runs out of patience while waiting for the point. "Shut up." In the background Emett smiles like a Bond villain.

It's time for Chef Marzi to have a pre-service check of each dish, and most just require some minor adjustments.

Sushil, bless him, reveals the silliest looking lamb shank I've ever seen. Sticking straight up like a, ah, tent pole. If that wasn't enough, on top of the lamb shank there is a sprig of rosemary sticking even higher. It looked like a skyscraper with a stupidly tall antenna for the sole purpose of being the tallest building on the skyline.

"You needs to think about the logistic," Marzi says, before attempting to cover the plate with one of those plastic cloches you get with your room service bowl of fries.

The lid is balancing on the top of the bone. I hope like hell Sushil thinks to move the cloche so the bone sticks straight up through the finger hole to really show Chef Marzi what for, but sadly it's not to be.

Sushil though, remains confident. "It might work in a fine dining restaurant." Are you sure?

It's Gault's turn to try and create some drama. "You probably feel like a couple of you had a knife put through your heart about now." I don't think anyone really feels like that but they go to an ad break anyway.

After the break it's the other team's turn for a once over. Eliott used the wrong bowl for his soup, Dana's satay presentation could be better, Aaron needs to put his sauce on top of the fish and Ella's pork presentation was better than Corinna's. Meh.

Gault and Emett get together to compare teams. "Well mate it was all going on here I tell you what," Gault says, apparently auditioning to be a rugby commentator.

"They're working pretty hard but you know these challenges, it's going to hit them pretty hard later on I think," says Emett. Oh for God sake will someone drop a plate or serve raw fish or something! Ask and you shall receive, Paula drops a plate and swears.

Usually in this kind of mass-service challenge you can rely on someone falling behind to create some drama, but these guys seem pretty under control. Maybe they should have cooked 37,000,000 meals after all?

The judging isn't revealing any major clangers. A bit of messy presentation here, some dirty ramekins there. Even Sushil hasn't broken a sweat.

"We're just plating up the dishes as the orders are coming in and I'm really excited because I'm just loving what I'm doing right now," he beams.

"Not sure about the I.T. anymore because this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. I'm actually getting a rush here!"

Wherever Sushil ends up, I hope the kitchen isn't hidden from public view, his energy is infectious.

So the challenge is over and Emett sends everyone home to stew all night about who may be going home. It's a shame they don't do the elimination out on deck and make the loser walk the plank.

The next day in the MasterChef kitchen Emett reminds us how dramatic things were. "It was high stakes on the high seas." Technically they were in dock but whatever. Sushil gets a nod for best performer, and the judges think everyone has done a great job. So it comes down to the finer details.

Vanessa and Corinna are deemed to be worst performers and I think both can feel a bit miffed really. Neither particularly deserved to go home based on their efforts. But there is a cook-off to cushion the fall. Unfortunately for Corinna, Vanessa is what you call a girly-swat.

"Before I came on MasterChef it was really important to me that I understood Kiwi ingredients, Whitebait fritter is iconic for New Zealanders so I went on the MasterChef website and there's Ray McVinnie's recipe and I thought that's the one to remember." Boom. I've tried to come up with something to hate about that but it's impossible. Vanessa did what Serena didn't - homework.

Everyone knows what's going to happen. From the moment Corinna starts whipping the egg whites it's written all over every face in the room. Gault looks like he's going through the motions and even Corinna looks like she's mentally packing her bag.

The final moments were a sad watch. It was like that America's Cup race when the boat split in half. Corinna's whitebait meringues were burning. Vanessa was wiping down her bench. Australian tenacity had won the day.

Episode 7

Best line: "We're just plating up the dishes as the orders are coming in and I'm really excited because I'm just loving what I'm doing right now." Sushil's "I'm on top of the world" moment.
Worst line: "You probably feel like a couple of you had a knife put through your heart about now." Simon Gault kinda rewrites history.
Current favourites: Aaron, Ella

*May not be National voters.

Episode 1: Fourteen Grand Up
Episode 2: A Route Of Pleasure
Episode 3: Keep Blowin' Brother
Episode 4: Wake and shake
Episode 5: True Colours
Episode 6: Dropping the ball

-nzherald.co.nz

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