Two hopefuls have fallen, leaving only approximately three hundred still in the race. Tonight it’s time for a mystery box, and the box has been specially prepared by Melissa, utilising her well-honed skills at putting objects inside a container.
“When was the last time you did a mystery box?” Dani asks Callum, who tells her it’s none of her damn business. All the cooks speculate on what might be in the boxes, because they have very little in common and can find nothing else to talk about.
“Hands up who likes mystery boxes,” says Jock. Everyone claims to like them except Tracy, who has never seen one before, never having been on the show until now. Khanh says he loves mystery boxes, but then reveals he can’t remember whether he ever won one, such are the lengths the human psyche will go to to repress memories of Masterchef participation.
Once Melissa’s involvement in the mystery box is revealed, everyone has a good old laugh about whatever character traits they’re all supposed to know Melissa possesses, and then the boxes are opened. They contain cherries, coriander, honey, black vinegar, Chinese five spice, taro, whiting, chicken feet, spring onions and galangal, a pretend spice she made up. These ingredients have specifically been chosen by Melissa to make sure the contestants cook huge amounts of absolute garbage. Melissa tells the story of how she used to go to yum cha with her parents, which is what inspired her to become whatever it is she is.
The best five cooks of the mystery box will get a chance to compete for immunity. The judges will taste every single dish, as they are underpaid and can’t afford food.
“When Melissa talks about things like yum cha, it makes me feel really happy,” says Brendan in the voice of someone informing relatives of the time of his father’s funeral. Meanwhile Jock and Andy tell Melissa that her ingredients are just CRAZY. Melissa insists that her burgeoning madness played no part in her selection of such terrible things.
As Andy’s friend Ben fondles a chicken foot and muses on the meaning of life, Asian Sarah tells Melissa she’s making taro croquettes. She just goes ahead and says it out loud, like it’s something to be proud of. Elsewhere, Reynold confesses that the voice in his head is telling him to make a dessert, but he knows that this voice comes from Satan, and he is determined to fight it. He will instead make something savoury that nobody likes.
“Simon, you silly bastard,” says Simon, speaking for us all. He’s fumbling his utensils, perhaps because he’s out of his comfort zone, as he tells Melissa. She tells him that it’s good to be out his comfort zone, despite the fact that the very NAME of the comfort zone indicates that it’s good to be IN it.
Speaking of terrible logic, Ice-Cream Ben has decided that, unlike Reynold, he really enjoys being pigeonholed, and is making chicken feet ice-cream. It sounds like a horrible idea, but if anyone can prove that it is, in fact, even worse than that, it’s Ben.
Poh has never cooked chicken feet before, but today she is, because life is an adventure and meant to be lived to the full. It’s a challenge, but she has an advantage over the others: she really does not give a single shit.
Melissa visits Brendan to ask him what kind of dumpling he’s making. Brendan is so excited about the nostalgic sensation of making won tons that his voice verges on modulation. “The home-style, nostalgic memories, I think they’re the best ones,” says Melissa, wisely differentiating those memories from, for example, Vietnam War flashbacks. Brendan is extra keen to impress Melissa and, with a bit of luck, marry her.
Simon is cooking taro with chicken feet jelly and fish skin. It sounds disgusting, but that’s his secret weapon: making dishes that sound so disgusting one is very slightly surprised when the taste is not quite as disgusting as expected.
Khanh drops the bombshell that his cooking style is “all about flavour”, unlike those stuffy high-end chefs who insist on draining all flavour from their cooking. Khanh leaves the flavour in, and that’s what makes Khanh Khanh. Andy and Jock pop to his bench – Andy and Jock always go to the benches together because Andy is in love with Jock and refuses to leave his side no matter how many times Jock tells him to fuck off – and note that Khanh is extremely nervous. Andy tells him that he makes good food when he’s stressed, which is a curse that Khanh will always live with.
Asian Sarah moves onto her sauce, if that’s the kind of thing you’re interested in. It involves water. Fascinating.
“I am loving the smells in here,” Melissa shouts, conning the viewers into thinking something smells good.
Callum is making a honey and black vinegar parfait, having learnt one thing since his first Masterchef experience: 50% of all dishes made on this show have to be parfait. Reynold, who could, and does, make parfait in his sleep, is going against all his natural instincts and smoking some fish bones, much like a murderous hermit might.
Melissa visits Ice-Cream Ben and subtly hints that his idea for chicken feet ice-cream is the stupidest thing she’s ever heard in her life, allowing for the fact that she rarely listens to herself. Ben notes that it’s important to impress Melissa, which is in direct opposition to the fact he’s making CHICKEN FEET ICE-CREAM.
Jock still hasn’t shaken off Andy, who follows him to Brendan’s bench. Andy tells Brendan to serve a dumpling he’s never eaten before, which is a pretty low bar: where would Brendan even find a dumpling that Andy had already eaten? If anything, cooking a new dumpling is an easier task that digging through raw sewage to find a previously-devoured dumpling.
Anyway, Jock tells Brendan that both he and Khanh are making chicken feet broth. Brendan’s face falls – as much as Brendan’s face is capable of falling. The news has devastated him: life no longer has any meaning, and he longs for death’s blessed sting as preferable to the hideous humiliation of making a similar broth to someone else in the same room. Still, he ploughs on, for he is a slave to duty.
The judges go on to note that Andy’s friend Ben and Poh are also making vaguely similar dishes. In a contest in which 22 people have been given a small number of identical ingredients, it’s not all that surprising that several of them will be making similar things, but the show is determined to convince us that every instance of this represents a gobsmacking novelty akin to the discovery of an albino hippopotamus.
“I think my food is a bit like me: flavourful, it’s strong and loud,” says Khanh. This is the second time this episode Khanh has told us that his food is strong and loud and flavourful. He mentions it in every other episode too, so if the producers are reading this: we just might’ve got the message about Khanh’s big flavours by now.
Asian Sarah is stuffing her taros, if you catch my drift. “I would like my lunch ready in ten minutes please!” Melissa screams angrily at her personal assistant, the audio being stitched into the final edit to make it seem like she’s addressing the contestants.
With five minutes left, Hayden, Rose, Tessa and Laura are frantically trying to overcome the fact that they’ve barely been on screen tonight and are clearly not going to be chosen. As time runs out, Laura high-fives Amina, who’s been on screen even less and might as well have gone home for a nap.
Asian Sarah is first to serve, with her stuffed taro. “If you opened a restaurant only serving these, you would have a queue around the corner,” says Jock, showing a surprising naivete regarding the realities of the restaurant industry. Perhaps he’s simply warning her that if she tries to make anything else she’s bound to fail.
Next to plate up is Reynold, plagued by voices in his head and the haunting legacy of a life wasted on desserts. He serves a whiting with such fancy presentation that you just know that if you ate it you would still be really hungry afterwards. “This is a dish to dress up for,” says Melissa, lust radiating from her every pore.
Next is Amina. “In anyone’s definition of the word, you do soul food so well,” says Melissa, failing to specify which word she means.
Next is Emelia. She’s been unsighted up till now, yet she’s deemed worthy of some eighties synth riffs while the judges taste.
Next is Harry. He’s made no impression on anyone’s consciousness before now, and nothing will change tonight.
Next is Laura. Her dish looks like a fish killed by toxic waste in a polluted river and left to rot for several months, and the judges absolutely love it.
Next is Khanh…and Brendan, as Jock insists that because they both made broth they have to plate up together. It is what they call a “broth-off”, which is not a thing and never will be. Jock calls it a “Masterchef first”, but it’s not the first time two people have made broth on the same day, it’s just the first time a judge has been such a wanker about it.
“Shall we taste one at a time?” asks Melissa: an odd question, as the only alternative would be to taste both simultaneously, which would not be a particularly effective way of judging the best dish. Having decided that, yes, tasting one at a time is quite a good idea, it is declared that both men have made great dishes and the real winner today has been broth.
Up comes Simon with whatever it is that he’s made. He has made a chicken feet mousse, because the concept of chicken feet jelly was simply not gross enough. He squirts his mousse over his taro like a carp fertilising a clutch of eggs. The judges eat the unsettling assemblage. It sucks. Duh. The judges congratulate Simon on being brave enough to serve something truly dreadful.
Next is Hayden, who is sort of OK.
Next is Rose, who is terrible.
Next is Callum with his weird parfait. It’s all right but it has coriander in it and is thus ruined.
Next is Poh…and Andy’s friend Ben. They, too, will be forced to plate up together in an attempt to manufacture a point of interest out of the fact that in a challenge where one of the ingredients was chicken feet, they both cooked chicken feet. They are both fine basically. Jock calls it a “feet-off” and I swear to God, Jock, don’t push me.
Next is Ice-Cream Ben and his horrible, terrible, no-good very bad ice-cream. Combining the creamy freshness of ice-cream with the summery tang of chicken fat, it’s a taste sensation. The judges would rather do anything on earth other than eat it, but they have a contract so they do. They tell Ben it’s delicious. They are lying. They can say it’s delicious from here to doomsday: I will not believe them. Jock drinks the chicken-fat caramel straight from the jug, laying it on a bit thick and making it obvious it’s all a sham.
It is time for the winning five to be named. There is a sneaking suspicion that the contestants whose dishes didn’t even get shown in this episode might not be among them. Indeed, the winners are: Reynold and his soul-tortured savoury; Ice-Cream Ben and his offence against God; Laura and whatever the hell she made; Asian Sarah and her sucking-up-to-Melissa yum cha; and Khanh’s broth, which was chosen just to kill Brendan’s spirit a little bit more. Melissa gives special congratulations to Brendan, to rub it in. “Thank you,” says Brendan in a deeply suicidal tone.
Tune in tomorrow, when Ben will make ice-cream out of a live eel.