It’s semi-final time, which means the final three, because Masterchef doesn’t know what a semi-final is. Tonight they cook for a spot in the final, and the third-placed cook will find themselves falling helplessly into the abyss, a silent scream issuing from their terrified mouths for all eternity as their only dream crumbles before their eyes.
Who will that depressed loser be? Will it be Reynold, the best cook on the show? Or Emelia, the second-best cook on the show? Or Laura, who knows how to make pasta?
We begin with a deeply emotional montage of the final three reflecting on their journeys so far, which serves as a powerful reminder of how annoying emotional montages are. Each of the finalists speaks with passion of what they are hoping tonight will bring: Reynold hopes he will win the challenge, while Laura is hopeful of having a win in the challenge. Emelia, conversely, expresses a hope that the challenge will bring her a win. They’re all bringing such unique perspectives.
The trio arrive at the kitchen and must undergo the day’s first challenge: listening to Andy talk. “Has it sunk in yet?” Andy asks, meaninglessly. “One of you is going to be this year’s Masterchef!” This, of course, has been true on every single day of the series, but for some reason Andy believes that today there is some profundity attached to the statement. He tells the contestants that if they win they will get a trophy and a lot of money, and they smile politely and don’t mention that they already know that.
Andy asks Emelia how it feels competing against her best friend, and everyone has a good laugh over the fact that Reynold has no friends at all in the kitchen. Andy, afraid that the world will end if he stops talking, asks Reynold if he’s feeling the pressure. Reynold admits he’s feeling a little bit of pressure, but is also feeling pretty good because he knows he’s much better at cooking than the other two.
Finally Andy gives someone else a chance to talk, and Melissa introduces the guest chef: Martin something. Martin looks like a man who has been disappointed many times in life and wishes to take it out on someone random. He was on the show once before, when Emelia won a pressure test by successfully making a little pile of pretentious wank. He warns that today’s dish will be ten times as pretentious and wanky as that one, and unveils it. It is a toffee apple, or so he claims: Reynold immediately defies authority by claiming, “That is not a freaking toffee apple”. And it’s true that it doesn’t look like a toffee apple: it looks like a rose wearing a dress.
“A dish that looks this breathtaking has to have a story,” says Jock, committing a blatant logical fallacy. Martin explains that the story behind this dish is that he’s from England, where people like toffee apples, so he decided to make something called a toffee apple that isn’t actually a toffee apple. What a great story!
What Martin has done so cunningly is cut an apple into a long strip, covered in toffee, which he then rolls up into the shape of an apple again. Interestingly enough, the effect of looking like an apple is something that could also have been achieved by just leaving the apple in its original shape, but where would be the sadism in that? Jock describes the apple as “one long lasagne of apple”, surprising many with the revelation that one of Australia’s most celebrated chefs does not know what lasagne is.
The dish also has leaves which are made of stuff that you can eat, because God forbid anyone ever cook anything on this show that just looks like food. Martin explains what’s in the dish. It is very complicated and boring. Jock tells the trio that at the end of the challenge they will have to have “Ten perfect components”. This, again, is patently untrue: all they need to have is ten components that are better than one of the others’ components.
“Do not fall at the final hurdle: you guys can do this,” says Andy: an incredibly dishonest thing to say, since everyone knows that: 1. no matter how well they cook, one of them is going to fall at the final hurdle; 2. this is the semi-final, so is not actually the final hurdle; and 3. only two of those guys can do it, by the rules of the show.
Emelia readies her pumpkin and persimmon puree. Doesn’t that sound awful? This is what happens when chefs value alliteration more highly than flavour.
“The pressure is definitely on me today,” says Laura as she begins rolling out her fettucine. She notes that the bitterness of the caramel is one of the most crucial elements of the dessert, so she gets to work ensuring that none of the caramel’s career goals come to fruition.
“I’m just going to go by my instinct,” says Reynold, like some kind of lunatic. He’s got a RECIPE right in FRONT of him, why the HELL would you go by instinct? Melissa and Martin visit his bench. Melissa asks whether the ominously smoking pot in front of him is a problem. Reynold assures her that his sugar is fine. Martin looks at him with murder in his eyes.
Emelia’s pumpkin and persimmon puree is in the oven and so it is time to run an apple through a medieval torture device in order to create a long strip of apple which can then be rolled up so it looks like an apple again. She’s not happy with her first apple. She’s not happy with her second apple. She’s not happy with the fact that Andy has come over to pester her when she’s trying to do something really quite difficult. Her third apple looks good, so everyone shout yippee.
Reynold begins churning out his apple strip. The key to this step is ensuring that your apple looks exactly like a piece of paper – nature’s most appetising substance. He does well and causes Martin to make a strange noise. He makes a second one as a backup in case the first one doesn’t work out, even though it already has worked out. Reynold moves in mysterious ways.
Laura emphasises how amazing Martin’s apple is. “You could be deceived that it’s actually a whole apple on the plate,” she gushes. Again, we have to stress that the effect of a whole apple on the plate is also something you can do by putting a whole apple on a plate. Laura is struggling to turn her apple into a piece of paper, out of her depth because apples aren’t ravioli. She is close to tears as she sees her dream of buying a Pizza Hut franchise slipping away. As she flails about, Emelia comes over to help her and tell her how to do it properly, which is – let’s not beat about the bush – cheating. Reynold compounds the shame by also lending a hand. If Laura wins today – and, God forbid, if she wins the final – the sheer injustice of her victory, achieved by using the assistance of superior cooks, will be obvious. Laura weeps with gratitude as she lauds the selflessness of her fellow cooks, but at no point does she do the honourable thing and quit.
Meanwhile Emelia is turning her apples red, striving to achieve the most important part of the dish: making it look like tinned beetroot. Reynold is also turning his apples red, but his rolled-up apple isn’t the shape of an apple, it’s more the shape of a nuclear silo – but just where in the recipe does it say the dish shouldn’t look like a silo? Right at the beginning is the answer.
With only two hours to go, the pressure is really on the audience, who are only now realising what an incredibly long episode they’ve let themselves in for. Melissa and Jock question Martin about how to make weird real fake apples. Martin explains that the key is to be heaps good at making stuff.
Emelia is tired, but her lipstick remains on point. She kneels before her oven and embarks on one of the recipe’s trickiest components: shaping the leaves while suffering third degree burns. To achieve the perfect leaf effect it is necessary to give yourself heat stroke, just another reason that haute cuisine is not worth it.
Reynold takes a large red brick out of the oven. Apparently the apple scrolls have to be baked inside a brick. Reynold’s apple scrolls look terrible. Or rather: they look wonderful, but they are a slightly different shape to Martin’s, so they might as well McNuggets. On the other hand, Emelia’s apple scrolls look perfect. Laura’s look pretty bad, but she’s Jock’s friend so it’ll be OK.
Reynold thinks perhaps he rolled his scroll too tight: a common problem for millennial men. But he has no choice but to shove his brick back in the oven and hope that he can slip Andy a fifty later on without anyone seeing.
“The air in this kitchen is so thick with pressure you could cut it with a knife!” Jock yells, tragically not realising that there has been a gas leak and they only have minutes to live.
Emelia observes how delicate and easy to break her leaves are, illustrating her point by breaking them. “I feel like I’m going to vomit,” she says, which would be a major mistake, as the recipe says the vomit goes in last.
Laura produces a perfect leaf and is shocked. “You could chuck it outside amongst all the other fresh leaves and you wouldn’t know the difference!” she squeals, but she’s wrong: none of the other leaves smell like bolognese sauce.
“Talk to me about leaves,” Jock snaps at Reynold, sick of his non-leaf-discussing bullshit. Reynold is frying his leaves, which is a bit weird if you ask me. His leaves have come out oily, possibly because of all the oil he just put them in. He puts them in the oven to dry them out. The recipe does not say he should put them in the oven, and Reynold has committed the gravest sin any cook can commit: thinking for himself.
Meanwhile Emelia’s leaves keep breaking, as if to taunt her. She’s on her fourth batch of raspberry leaves. “I can’t leave them off,” she frets, so worried she doesn’t even pause to savour the pun. Finally she gets some leaves that work, making the whole thing an anticlimax.
Jock asks Reynold why he has leaves in the oven. Reynold explains that they’re dehydrating. “They’re DEHYDRATING?” says Jock, as if Reynold just told him he’d fed them to a civet. Reynold opens the oven and discovers his leaves have lost their shape. The realisation that not following the recipe has led to an outcome other than that which the recipe was written to achieve comes as a huge surprise to Reynold, who has never cooked before today. Reynold must now reshape and reprint his deformed leaves, which is a sentence that simply does not make sense in any culinary context.
With thirty minutes to go, Jock yells at the contestants to make sure they understand that they are in a cooking competition. Emelia, who has grasped the show’s premise, takes her apple scroll out of the oven and discovers that it is as perfect as her face. Laura is also very happy with her apple, for reasons not readily apparent. Reynold is not happy with his apple, which stubbornly continues to refuse to be apple-shaped. A rueful smile crosses his lips a la Butch Cassidy realising that death is inevitable.
There are still more things to do, with chocolate and cream and stuff. It’s all a bit much if you ask me: a bowl of ice cream would surely be just as nice. Laura looks at the clock and sees how fast time is going: sixty seconds per minute. She can hardly believe it.
Reynold gets to work on his chocolate stem. “I’m not even going to look at the recipe,” he says, remembering how well this has worked for him in the past. He remembers how the stem looks, so what would be the point of looking at the piece of paper right in front of him that explains in detail how to make it? Only someone with the slightest desire to win would do something so silly.
Meanwhile Emelia has burnt her caramel, in what future historians will refer to as the moment Australia lost its innocence. Jock reminds the cooks that they need ten elements ready on their benches, which is a very useful reminder with a couple of minutes to go, as it is far too late to do anything about it if they don’t.
One minute to go, which the judges will spend clapping for reasons they cannot fully explain. Emelia is stuck because she doesn’t know what an apple stem looks like. Andy tells her it looks like an apple stem. Emelia thanks him for his advice.
Time is up. Emelia is happy. Laura is happy. Reynold is not happy. There is a dark inevitability to this…
The judges sit at the judging table. Martin is amazed at how well the contestants did, given their lack of prior knowledge. This clear evidence that what he does is not really that special does not seem to faze him.
Emelia comes to plate up first. The contestants have five minutes to plate up, which fairly tedious. To cut a long story short, she plates it up. Melissa asks her if she thinks she’ll make the final. Emelia says she does. Jock asks where her confidence came from. Emelia explains that somewhere along the way she suddenly realised that she kicks ass.
Emelia’s apple looks like Martin’s apple, but how does it taste? And honestly does that even matter? The judges eat. Martin declares it extraordinary, but pronounces it “extra-ordinary” so it sounds like he’s saying it is very very ordinary. Clearly Emelia has nailed it. “She has nailed it,” says Andy, proving me right.
Laura comes in to plate up. She does so. She tells the judges how nice it was that her opponents came over to help her cheat when it became clear she didn’t know how to make the dish. The judges appreciate the sweetness of this gross injustice. Jock tells her that her emotion is level with his chin. Laura laughs nervously at Jock’s growing insanity. The judges look at Laura’s apple. It is shaped like a cross between a pear and a volcano. They eat it. They like it and also Laura used to work for Jock, which really impresses them.
“For me to go home now would be devastating,” says Reynold, and he’s right: to go home before actually serving his dish would be a huge misstep. Reynold is worried about the shape of his apple, but is hoping the judges won’t notice, or will forget that Laura used to work for Jock. He plates up. His chocolate stem breaks. “FUCKING CUNT!” he screams…inside his head. He gets another stem in place and all is well. Except, obviously, for the fact that he’s lost. But we’ll get to that.
First, Reynold explains how much the competition means to him. He tells the judges that no matter how hard his family works, there’s always something that knocks them down. He tells them that his family is struggling with their business. He tells them that cooking is the only thing he’s good at. He tells them that he wants to give back to his family. He cries.
The judges find it hard to listen to Reynold’s words, because they can see how much it means to him, and how incredibly cruel they are about to be. They dismiss him, and observe how good the dish looks apart from the fact that the apple, which is the most important bit, is completely wrong. They eat. I notice at this point they are using gold cutlery, which feels like a huge middle finger to the audience.
The judges are disgusted by Reynold’s flagrant infinitesimal divergences from the original dish. Andy complains that the caramel was not bitter enough, which is more than you can say for Andy. The judges all agree that there is nothing more offensive than sweet caramel. Also one of Jock’s leaves was slightly bendy, at which he pronounces himself nauseated. Oh, and his apple was too small, the bastard.
And so the final three gather to be told the news: Emelia is perfect, Laura is great as long as the other cooks step in to help her whenever she has no idea what she’s doing, and Reynold is obviously the best cook but is going home because this whole competition sucks. Reynold collapses in tears. The judges look on as he sobs, presumably very fucking proud of themselves.
Tune in Monday night, when either Emelia wins or I burn something down.