Masterchef Australia S12 E54 Recap – You Say Potato, I Say Pohtato

There’s no doubt we are now at the extremely pointy end of the competition, where we sort the wheat from the chaff and get ever closer to finding out whether anyone can overcome Jock’s love for Laura.

Tonight, an elimination that, according to the promos, will “send a competition favourite home”, but I think we’ll be the judge of that.

The sun peeks over the horizon as we are briefly fooled into thinking we’re about to watch a kung fu epic, but instead we have to watch this bunch of idiots cook. A voiceover from Poh describes each of her opponents, noting that Reece is a fan of flavours and Laura is young. She also reveals a long-held secret: she doesn’t know how to pronounce the word “strategist”.

In the kitchen, Andy tells the five amateurs that if they survive, they deserve to be in the top five, leaving unspoken the implication that if they do not survive, they deserve nothing but humiliation.

The elimination is in two stages. Round one is a pressure test set by Phil Wood, a man who runs TWO restaurants, which is very show-offy of him. He enters the room and Melissa immediately sets about licking his boots with almost unseemly enthusiasm. He reveals the dish: potato duchess with shiitakes and cauliflower. Everyone is at pains to say how beautiful it looks, hoping that if they say it often enough nobody will notice that it actually looks like regurgitated cat food.

Callum is willing to bet that this dish will not be simple to cook – that kind of foresight is why he’s such a great stragetist. “Eating this dish is an absolute joy,” says Reece, before ruining the moment by using the word “plump”.

“Phil is one of Australia’s greatest chefs,” says Jock, seething with jealousy as he says it. He emphasises to the amateurs that it is very important to get the sauce right, as many aficionados believe that not getting the sauce right can result in the sauce being wrong. Phil agrees with Jock: he can afford to be magnanimous as he knows he’s better than him.

The cook begins. Right off the bat, Laura begins trying to devise a way to turn the dish into pasta. She is overwhelmed by the requirement to do eight different things to a potato, something she was raised to believe was an ungodly perversion. Callum, meanwhile, steadfastly maintains his belief that the dish will not be simple to cook. He refuses to diverge from this opinion, and one can’t help but admire the strength of his conviction. Meanwhile, Phil and the judges snigger amongst themselves about how hard the dish is and how great it is to see the pathetic amateurs fail.

Poh is agonising over the shiitake mushrooms: she knows her reputation rests on this element; indeed, she is known throughout Australia for her many and varied shiitakes. “Being in top five means everything to me,” she says with less sincerity than Hitler signing the Munich Pact. If it were true, it would be an incredibly weird thing to say, because it would imply that once in the top five, she saw no point in continuing. Luckily, though, it’s not true: being top five means nothing to her, just like everything else in this competition.

Phil and Jock visit Callum’s bench. Phil is disgusted by the size of Callum’s flame. He tells Callum his sauce is hot garbage and he should read the goddamn recipe. Callum begins to panic and hurl salt and vinegar around willy-nilly. “Now I’m really happy with it,” he says, repeating the legendary last words of many a crap cook.

Emelia shoves her potatoes in the oven and condemns them to hell. Reece does the same. Laura cooks spaghetti. Phil and Jock visit Emelia to ask what she’s doing. Emelia informs them that she is doing exactly the right thing because she is Emelia and she is all out of bubble gum. Stunned at her cool, ruthless efficiency, the two men back away slowly, fearing for their lives.

Callum, Laura and Reece are engaged in the process of stroking their potato, in order to raise its self-esteem ahead of cooking it. Emelia is well past this point and is squirting her potatoes into little coils, which is some real science-fiction shit. Callum tries to do the same thing, but it looks like rubbish because Callum is not as good as Emelia. Up on the balcony, Reynold theorises that there might be too much moisture, which seems likely as Callum has always been a bit wet.

Callum announces his attention to try again to make his little potato blobs. Phil looks at him as one might look at a child murderer. Callum, having been proven entirely correct in his surmise that the dish would not be simple, has no time to cook more potatoes, so he decides to press on with his bad ones and hope that the judges are very drunk when they taste.

Poh is making beurre blanc. She explains that the key to making beurre blanc is something very boring that makes bad TV. She does an impression of a stressed person to maintain the illusion that she gives a shit.

Meanwhile Emelia takes her potatoes out of the oven and observes that they are perfect and her plan is proceeding like clockwork. By sundown they will all bend the knee.

Melissa, who hasn’t said anything for a while, yells that there are five minutes to go. Poh is feeling the pressure and rushing, regretting that she stopped to do a crossword puzzle halfway through the cook. She goes too hard and too fast on her emulsion and it splits, destroying her credibility and costing her many lucrative emulsion endorsement deals.

A handy ad break reminds us that cooking is for losers: the way to get food is to order it from Snoop Dogg.

Back to the action and Poh is mourning the death of her emulsion. Her beurre blanc has turned to beurre wank, but on the upside, Reece has done exactly the same thing. The race to see who is the most inferior to Emelia is really hotting up: as Poh and Reece bugger their beurre, Callum pulls his potatoes out of the oven, notices that they look awful, and decides a good way to draw attention away from this would be to drop his sauce in a pot of water. His sauce is now fifty percent water and therefore utterly revolting in a way that even Poh could not dream of.

Sixty seconds to go and everyone is depressed. “This dish doesn’t look anything like Phil’s,” Callum muses, finally realising how pointless life is. The judges count down as the contestants consider walking into the sea. Time is up. Poh is hoping that her flavours are enough to save her from round two, which is what contestants say when they know that their flavours are not enough to save them from round two.

Tasting time. Emelia serves first. “It’s all gonna come down to tiny little details,” she says, incorrectly: it’s actually going to come down to the dreadful fuck-ups the other cooks made of it. The judges taste. The dish was made by Emelia, so it is very good. “Great job,” says Phil, a man who delivers compliments in the same tone of voice he uses to tell people their pet has died. Andy is more effusive, joyously telling Emelia that her potato was one of the most potatoey he’s ever eaten.

Reece steps up. His sauce has split and so he is cast into the outer darkness.

Laura serves. Her potato duchess is fine, and the addition of carbonara sauce works surprisingly well. Andy is physically aroused.

Poh serves. “I feel really embarrassed,” she says in what could be an audio grab from any point during this year. Her sauce has also split, and so she joins Reece in the phantom zone. “It’s a decent effort,” says Phil, rubbing it in mercilessly.

Finally, Callum serves his terrible terrible disgusting pile of filthy pigswill. The judges are agreed: Callum has sinned against Man and God. “Shrug this one off,” says Andy, unhelpfully.

Time for Round Two, in which the incompetents, Poh, Reece and Callum, will cook for their very survival: by which I mean, they will cook to remain in the cast of a television show for a short amount of time. Their challenge: make something out of potatoes, cauliflower and mushrooms that is in some way good.

“I’m already feeling pulled in two directions, with my head and with my heart,” says Poh. Her head is telling her: I want to leave; but her heart is telling her: I want to go home.

“Good luck guys,” says Callum. The other two don’t look at him: they know what he did.

Reece is making a potato dessert, which sounds terrible, and is. “I can’t believe that I’m versing Callum and Poh,” he says, deliberately saying “versing” to make the audience hate his guts.

Melissa asks Phil what he’d do if he were a contestant. He says he’d make something nice. Nobody asks Jock what he’d do, but he tells them anyway. Callum interrupts to grab a big stack of the weirdest mushrooms. Melissa asks what he’s making. He tells her a mushroom broth. “Real fucking original,” she might have replied if she were more honest. “It’s a big old bowl of happiness,” Callum says of his dish, which…I mean…seriously. You know?

With one hour to go, Poh announces that she is making the potato dumplings that she failed to do properly in a previous challenge, and adding the emulsion that she failed to do properly earlier today. She observes that this is a redemption cook, and that whenever she does redemption cooks she fails miserably. She then stops for half an hour to stare into the distance, hoping that this will seal her place on the plane home. She can’t decide: make her redemption dish, or make a Chinese mushroom dish? How can she reconcile the competing impulses while still making it clear how little anything matters?

Poh tells Jock she’s making a redemption dish, which apparently is now a term that everyone just accepts as a real thing. Jock frowns at Poh’s bench, unsure of whether Poh is a genius or a madman or maybe just an aggravating drama queen.

Meanwhile Reece is…I dunno, doing strange things with potatoes I guess. And ice-cream. It’s really creepy.

Jock and Phil check out Callum’s dish. “Smells very Japanese,” says Jock racistly. Phil reveals that he loves noodles, to widespread astonishment.

Poh sprints through the kitchen, nearly colliding with Melissa. “This is not the Poh-llercoast, it’s the Poh-nado,” says Melissa, before demanding the staffer who wrote that line be fired for doing such lasting damage to her brand. Meanwhile Poh busies herself making green pasta to recreate the sensation of eating grass. Andy pops by her bench to waste her time. “I don’t need to remind you that somebody’s going home today,” he says, which is odd, because that is exactly what he is doing. Having delivered his redundant message, he wanders off to pull wings off some flies.

Reece is thinking of ditching his ice-cream, a big move for any young man to make. He feels that it’s too strong and it overpowers the flavour of the potato. It’s a crazy old world when you can notice that the flavours of ice-cream and potato are incompatible, and decide you should therefore get rid of the ice-cream.

Poh is struggling. “This is a complete echo of round one, I cannot believe I found myself in exactly the same position,” she says, even though that has been the theme of the whole series for her. Repeating her mistakes over and over is now her trademark and she will probably get her own show where she demonstrates how to fuck food up and never learn from it.

“Give yourself time to make it perfect!” Melissa bellows, before undermining this instruction with “Five minutes to go!” Poh is whisking her emulsion desperately, but is worried that she might not have time to make it quite as revolting as it was in round one.

Meanwhile Reece and Callum have made various kinds of food.

Sixty seconds to go and Poh tries to make a run for it but finds the doors locked. She ducks into the pantry for a quick joint and comes out ready to arrange truffles. Time runs out. Reece gives Poh a round of applause that can’t help but come off as sarcastic. “Poh, be happy,” Melissa says, without offering any reason why she should.

“I think I’m going home,” Poh says while evocative synth music plays, seemingly in an attempt to persuade us that we should be feeling extremely sad about this.

Reece is first to plate up. “I’m definitely full of emotions at the moment,” he says, stereotypically. He continues to fret about the overwhelming strength of his ice-cream in relation to his feeble, sickly potato. Phil tells Reece his dish is pretty. Andy compliments him on his growth, which is a bit personal. Upon tasting the unholy dessert, the judges declare it “interesting”. Phil admits he wasn’t expecting to enjoy it as much as he did, in a way that suggests he is quite disappointed that he didn’t hate it.

Callum walks in, declaring that he could not have made his dish any more mushroomy. Before eating, Andy demands to know how Callum shrugged off round one. “What is your secret?” he hisses angrily. Callum claims dubiously to deserve to be there, and then confesses that he would, if forced, give this dish to his family. “Always good to chat,” says Andy, weirdly. The judges eat his multifarious mushroomy cornucopia and decide that it’s basically fine. Phil notes that, as Callum is willing to give the dish to his family, they can be reasonably sure it’s not poisoned, which is a big tick in his eyes.

Last to serve is Poh. She walks in with moist eyes and a mournful soundtrack and the audience cannot help but feel that something extremely overwrought is coming. “I’m so frustrated with my own personality sometimes,” Poh says, finally knowing how Australia feels. She pours her thin sauce over her ugly green-and-white lumps, which all the judges say look beautiful because they are perverts. They eat the dish and immediately notice one striking fact: it’s horrible. Her sauce is bland and her pasta is raw and the judges all agree to sign a statutory declaration to the effect that they hate Poh.

Time to announce the results, which are that Poh has lost and is finally free. Everyone breathes a huge sigh of relief. “Poh, you are a national treasure,” says Melissa, causing eyerolls across the nation. Reece is in tears, scarcely believing that even when he makes an actual potato dessert, he can’t get out of this hellhole.

“I’ve loved every moment,” Poh lies, grinning from ear to ear as she looks forward to the life of peace and happiness that awaits her. Callum makes an overlong and unconvincing speech about how Poh is the most wonderful human being to ever walk the earth, followed by Melissa making an overlong and unconvincing speech on the same theme. Cast and crew unite in an attempt to generate the atmosphere of a state funeral as Poh rides away, tears and bullshit flowing freely. A strange sensation comes over us all as we realise that never again will we see this legendary cook manufacture artifical drama at the behest of a producer who is struggling to generate sufficient jeopardy for tonight’s episode.

Tune in tomorrow when the hyperbole reaches undreamt-of heights.

Support independent recapping via Ben’s Patreon. Listen to the Washing Up podcast for more Masterchef insights.