Sundae Roast
Hugh Sundae adds some seasoning to Masterchef New Zealand

Sundae Roast: A gentle nightmare

Judge Josh Emett (right) picks on Sushil, for a change.
Judge Josh Emett (right) picks on Sushil, for a change.

Super seven? Really? Will each week from here on in have a new catch phrase? Milestones I can understand; making it to the MasterChef kitchen, making the top 10, making the grand final. But every week?

I guess I can understand the psychology, breaking a large goal (winning MasterChef) down into smaller goals (surviving the next challenge). If the stress levels I experience before a dinner party are anything to go by then perhaps I shouldn't begrudge the contestants a little mental reinforcement.

It's a surprise to see Aaron yoga-ing it up at the MasterChef mansion. Not because I doubt his commitment to all things zen, but I figure if you're going to the trouble of flying everyone to Fiji you'd probably get a couple of challenges out of it. Plus the resort guy said they were going to be there for a few days.

But back they are, and despite my earlier comments they really have reached a point I've always found to be poignant. Solo bench stage. Yep, challenge after challenge contestants have had to work side by side, sharing cooktops, receiving excess steam and fat from pressure cookers, and just generally having their personal space infringed.

Now, not only can they spread out, they have two ovens, just like my dream kitchen. Imagine the possibilities. No longer would you face the dilemma of potentially burning your roast potatoes as you get the muffin tray hot enough for the Yorkshire Puds.

But my standard-roast problems are nothing compared to the roast within a roast issues the contestants face this week. The Turduckenqua is a quail inside a chicken inside a duck inside a turkey - and it's a challenge designed by Martin Bosley - who gets the award for most down to earth guest judge so far. While I'm giving awards out, Bosley also gets one for best description of the love affair we all have cooking. "Cooking is the greatest gift of generosity, a great chef is someone who enjoys giving."

Well you'd have to, to put yourself through making this Turduckenqua. It's a slightly down-scaled version of the Turducken that meat-aficionado friends and I have talked about making, where whole birds are used. Today contestants have the blessing of only having to use breasts. Still, it's a tall order.

"Everyone's very stressed," Kelly tells Simon Gault. Amazingly he asks why.

The yoga is paying off for the Aaronator, who doesn't seem too stressed at all, on the outside at least.

"If we'd had to debone all of the birds from scratch and use every part of every bird it would be an absolute nightmare," he says. "As it is, it's just like a gentle nightmare."

A very involved gentle nightmare. Pausing the episode on the recipe I see that the stuffing is made from bird trimmings. They need to be blitzed with other ingredients which need to be fried off first. Once the beast is in the oven the pressure doesn't stop, accompaniments and a pan gravy also have to be made. But we're nowhere near that yet.

"We should be hearing now, the sound of meat being beaten out, I'm not hearing those noises," Bosley tells Gault. I like Bosley. He's understated and knowledgeable. He would actually make a great permanent judge.

Perfectionist Vanessa has struck an early problem. She's cut her turkey breast the wrong way. I can sympathise, I have the same reoccurring problem with tomatoes. In this case though I'm unsure if it will be a problem and knowing Vanessa's luck it will probably make it better.

Paula also has a problem, her Turduckenqua is huge and that could be an issue when it comes to cooking time. It looks like a burger that's been served in an American speed-eating competition. How did this happen? Surely they're all given similar size birds, did she beat it out too much?

"This is prehistoric," says Ray McVinnie. "This is from the kitchen of Wilma Flintstone."

As I'm considering Paula's predicament I start to notice that I've warmed to many of the current crop and I'm not ready for them to go. Three or four of them anyway. Immediately the episode has become that much more important as I realise I'm finally quite invested in this bloody show.

But really, I'm invested in Aaron. The Aaronator. Sure - it's a competition, but he has consistently demonstrated such technique and knowledge of flavour that he deserves to win. If I was worried for Paula, I'm scared for Aaron, as he doesn't seem on top of things.

"You have under an hour and a quarter to go Aaron and I can tell you, you are running well behind," Josh Emett tells Aaron. Wait a minute, does Aaron... OMG yes, Aaron actually looks flustered. Immediately I find myself standing on my seat like it's the end of a close Warriors game.

Eliott is even later getting his Turduckenqua in the oven.

"I've cooked it at a slightly higher temperature, so hopefully that's going to work for me," he says. The recipe calls for 225 to start with (it's turned down after 35 minutes) but it looks like the oven says 250 when he puts it in. That's more than slightly.

Speaking of too hot, you'll never guess who's cooking up a sweat. Yes, our Sushil really is the prince of perspiration. The sultan of sweat. The Dalai Lama of diaphoresis! (that's enough - Ed). But he always speaks of it in good humour, "it's just how my body is," he often tells us. But that sweat hasn't just drawn out moisture, it's brought out the best in Simon Gault.

"I've got a present for ya," Gault tells Sushil. "You ready for this?"

So that's where Gault was last week. He was shopping for a monogrammed sweatband for Sushil. Brilliant!

"Thank you very much, chef!" Sushil replied, fighting his natural inclination to be polite while at the same time clearly trying to concentrate on his cooking.

If anyone is smart, and often people are, there will be knock off versions of those sweatbands on TradeMe by morning. I'll be having one made and I'll wear it with pride.

Ella is on song. Her birds were among the first in the oven and she seems focused and calm. "I'm just going to do really good roast veges and cider and caramelised onion jus." Anything involving caramelised onion will always get a tick from me.

Kelly too is making something that wets my whistle - an almond, chilli and orange crust. I love crust. This seems more like one of those stand alone crumbs that you, well, crumb over things. I've never tried it and I need to fix this. I also need to get a good digital thermometer. I can't believe I've been pricking chickens and watching the juice all this time when technology has made a fool proof alternative.

McVinnie visits Eliott for a check up and finds him in need of his own monogrammed sweatband. If Eliott is confident in his sauce he's not able to get that across. McVinnie too seems unconvinced and leaves with "good luck with that."

Paula hasn't been her relaxed jovial self lately either. It's almost like she's so close now that she's realised she can actually win this and that's taking it's toll.

"Once I step back from my plate I feel pretty stink because it didn't look as nice as I wanted it to," she says. Luckily she's first up for judging and soon has reason to relax.

"It just screams flavour at me," McVinnie tells her. Again they're doing the tasting in front of the contestants. I think I like it better this way, and I also like Bosley.

"The date puree was a fantastic addition to the dish, beautifully seasoned the whole way through," he tells her. "You wouldn't want to go a grain of salt either way."

But Bosley also throws a curveball. When Sushil's Turduckenqua is presented he says the oddest thing. "It looks like it's been through an Oliver Stone movie." What does that even mean? He used too many left wings? The general opinion is obvious however. It's a Turduckenqua without the uckenqua.

But Bosley isn't finished. "There is no spirit of generosity on that plate," he says before again bringing up his thoughts about cooking being the greatest gift, etc. "That just looks like you're being mean."

The problem is Sushil attempted a modern presentation style which didn't work out. We all do it, right? Dinner for the family? Plonk the green beans anywhere. Dinner party? Make a Jenga tower out of them. In Sushil's case he's created a border of vegetables around the edge of the plate.

"One piece of asparagus that's about as limp as... it's ever going to be," Emett tells him. "That's grim."

Ella is as nervous as Sushil should be, but with little reason. "It actually looks okay," she says as she halves the Turkduckenqua for the reveal. I do like these kind of 'you-don't-know-till-you-cut-it-open challenges. "Cooked perfectly," confirms Gault.

Ella too has gone rather modern in her presentation, and also has her vegetables lined up, although hers are a "path" of veges rather than a border. There's a difference. "I can work this plate out at a glance," McVinnie says.

Funny thing modern presentation. Like television comedy, it should really only be attempted when you know what you're doing. Get it wrong and it's worse than trying at all.

Oh jeez, oh boy, oh man. Aaron is walking up now and I'm very worried. I felt similar two seasons ago when Cameron Petley crashed out of the competition, and even further back on MasterChef Australia when Chris Badenoch came to an unceremonious end at the hand of Donna Hay.

"I don't often see you flustered," Gault tells Aaron. Bosley notes a few errors with the Turduckenqua such as "too dark for me."

The judges all try his Turduckenqua with kumara, parsnip and fennel. For a moment I think it's going to be ok, until Bosley says: "When you cut into it, it promised so much." Uh oh. "But for me it completely died on the plate."

This is bad. We all know there are bad comments then there are bad comments. This is a bad comment. He said 'died'.

"A little bit rough today mate," Emett says. "The fennel is a real letdown, as is the baby turnips, they're just not cooked enough."

Emett thinks Aaron got the Turkduckenqua right, but everything else wrong. What put him off? Of the sauce, Emett says "it's got that flavour like you finished it with a teaspoon of Vegemite."

I'm desperately trying to think of who may have done worse, a task not helped by Kelly being next.

"It's a joy to look at that plate," says Bosley. The potato, the vegetables, the whole thing."

The green beans are poking out from under the crumb in all directions, kinda perfectly random. Like they'd been drawn on.

After they taste, Simon Gault drops a bomb. "You can win this competition," he says without a trace of exaggeration in his voice. "You cook like that, you're all the way through. It's unbelievable."

For a while now in the back of my mind I've had an Aaron/Kelly final filed under quite likely. Good god that would be a final and a half. I would nerve-drink a bottle of wine before the first ad break.

Vanessa's earlier amdram reaction to cutting the Turkey turns out to be unfounded as, you guessed it, she's done a pretty good job. Slightly dry on the outside, "but the rest of it is all really, really good," Emett tells her. Even her fatty sauce, which would normally be a no-go, gets Gault on side. "But actually it works really good with it."

Eliott doesn't look confident as he walks to the bench, but he's done that before and come out smiling. Well I think they were smiles. I'm almost positive his lips were turned up.

McVinnie goes first. "The whole thing does look a bit like a roasted Guinea Pig."

But what about the taste?! "Um," says Bosley. "It's not good. The Turkey's bone dry."

"Yep," Eliott replies, nodding, in that way he does. Bosley's blow by blow account of the problems with Eliott's dish is great, he actually points out not only the what, but the why. For Eliott it's tough listening, but it's constructive.

"[The quail] has been overcooked in the pan, before it even went in to the Turkduckenqua itself.

"The sauce itself feels like you didn't cook the port off enough, it still feels slightly alcoholic."

But the final word goes to Gault. "Say your prayers."

It is very strange seeing Aaron, Eliott and Sushil in the bottom three. One of these things is not like the other.

"I've seen other people standing there and thought it looked horrible and yep, it's horrible, "Aaron confirms.

Finally I relax. He's talking about the elimination in past tense and he seems pretty relaxed and jovial, I think I've just realised he's safe. That was bloody close.

So I was wrong about Eliott after all. I thought it would be a clash of personalities in a team challenge that would send him out, but in the end it was the challenge that was foul (sorry). I wonder if he ended up making the Turduckenqua last Christmas?

I think it's so close now, that not only won't we be seeing team challenges any more but I can't imagine another mystery box challenge either. That's a shame as I had some celebrities standing by to take part in a virtual "what would you have done with those ingredients" mystery box. Maybe next time.

From now on each week there will be a new crazy idea sent to test the final six, five, four... we're bound to see some bloody good dishes. I just hope the Aaronator hasn't peaked too soon.

Episode 12

Best line: "Cooking is the greatest gift of generosity, a great chef is someone who enjoys giving." Martin Bosley can stay.
Worst line: "No more mess on the floor, no more untidiness." Bloody hell Josh, can you lay off Sushil for one week?
Current favourites: Aaron, Paula, Kelly, Ella

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
Episode 7: Get your ship together
Episode 8: A journey of dumplings
Episode 9: All you need is love
Episode 10: Excess baggage
Episode 11: Fiji whiz

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