Masterchef Recap: La Dolce Schadenfreude

It’s Home Cooking Week, so obviously tonight’s task is to cook for 250 people in a restaurant.

The amateurs gather outside the casino in Melbourne’s Southbank. “Every home cook needs a night off,” says Gary, and their hearts leap with hope that they’re going to be allowed to play the pokies. But no, they have to make Italian food all day. “Pia, this’ll play to your strengths,” Gary chortles, and everyone laughs and Pia has a look of pure terror on her face. She is about to be exposed.

The task is to separate into two teams and take over the kitchen at Gradi, a restaurant run by a man called Johnny who is apparently great at making pizza and people in Naples talk about him and not even the amateurs are able to summon the mendacity required to pretend they know who he is.

The red team is confident because they are led by Eloise, who comes from a big Italian family and is therefore incredibly full of herself, and they also have Pia, who has on thousands of occasions claimed to know what she’s doing.

“Luckily for you, Johnny is going to be running the kitchen,” Gary informs them, but this is like when an accident victim says they’re lucky to have retained one limb — if the amateurs were really lucky they wouldn’t have to do at all. Luck, on a day like this, is getting gastro and having to be hospitalised.

The green team plans their menu. “Something spicy, something tomatoey,” says Sarah, intent on running the gamut of every single adjective for food she knows. Over on the red team Pia won’t stop talking even when her captain tells her to. “My plan today is to have everyone play to their strengths,” says Eloise, but surely it won’t do the team any good to just let Pia talk for the entire service.

Johnny tells both teams that their menus sound great. At least that’s what he says with his mouth: the rest of his face tells them that he just wants to get away from them as quickly as possible.

Eloise informs us that when making pizza, “getting the dough right is absolutely crucial”. See, someone who wasn’t from a big Italian family would never have known that.

While the red team prepare their dough, Johnny inspires them with reminders of the intense pressure they’re under and the catastrophic cost of getting anything wrong. He struggles to have the same effect on the green team, because they haven’t really started yet. Probably because nobody from a big Italian family is on their team. This means they have to go to the library and borrow some books about dough before they can begin.

They’re still not putting people’s names up whenever they’re on screen. It’s very irritating because I don’t care enough about any of these people yet to remember their names.

Anyway, Johnny walks around telling everyone what a bad idea it is to measure ingredients out with your hand instead of, you know, implements designed for measuring. They laugh merrily at him — what would he know, he is merely a successful restaurateur and world-renowned chef, whereas they are home cooks with two weeks’ reality TV experience under their belts. I think they know a thing or two about measuring by instinct.

Apparently Pia is known as “the pasta queen”, which I assume is like a “dessert queen”, i.e. it means she’s terrible at pasta. There’s a lot of pressure on Pia because as an Italian, she’s contractually obliged to pretend that there is anyone outside this show who will give a shit if she doesn’t make pasta properly.

The green team is taking too long to mix their dough and Johnny tells them they’re taking too long to mix their dough and they know they’re taking too long to mix their dough but what can you do? Dough takes a long time and they’re not good at this. “The pizza dough is vital,” Trent observes, and he’s not even Italian, so he’s obviously a bloody fast learner.

Meanwhile Eloise is stressing about sauce and Brian is stirring what appears to be dishwater, but he tells Johnny is actually coffee jelly, one of the few desserts known to man that is worse to eat than dishwater.

Jess and some woman whose name I don’t know are making tiramisa. Apparently the sponge is important in tiramisu. Everything seems to be important in everything. Why doesn’t this show ever focus on the insignificant parts of dishes? Bias.

The sponge has gone disastrously bad and turned into what Jess describes as “an omelette pancake”, but what looks more like a large handbag that’s been in a river for a week. A new sponge must be made. Johnny informs Jess that there’s fifty minutes till service and she, like everyone else in the kitchen, needs to get a goddamn bloody motherfucking move on for christ’s sake. Johnny is now sporting the tight, brittle smile of a man who thought it’d be good publicity to let a bunch of amateurs infest his kitchen but is now deeply regretting this recklessness and wishes to spray them all with mustard gas.

Things are not getting better for Johnny as he asks Pia if her pasta will dry in time and she replies, “I hope so”, like some sort of idiot. He keeps smiling because he signed a contract saying he would, but his fingers are itching to start throwing knives. If that’s not enough, he discovers Brian’s jelly in the freezer, which is now not only disgusting, but not set. “I wouldn’t even consider serving it, but that’s entirely up to you,” he says, meaning, “If you serve this shit I will gut you like a fish”. Brian decides to give the jelly another go, using arcane jelly-setting methods he learned from a jelly shaman.

The green team’s captain, whose name is apparently Diana, is given a lecture on mozzarella from Johnny. This leads to a conversation between Diana and Ben on the subject of mozzarella which is less interesting than you might think. Apparently some cheese is different to other cheese and this makes pizza something or other I don’t know. We never agonised this much when I worked at Domino’s.

The red team tastes their dough and it’s great: the feelgood story of the year! And just in time, because customers are coming in, including the judges, who sit down and after some discussion, reach a consensus: this is definitely a restaurant that feels like how a restaurant should feel when you’re in a restaurant. Gary seems oddly excited to be in a restaurant, in fact, like he’s not been in one for years.

The kitchen is a frenzy of activity, some amateurs building pizzas, some amateurs putting pizzas in ovens, and the team captains with the hardest job of all: shouting. “Come on guys, you’re doing a great job,” Johnny lies at the top of his lungs.

At the judges’ table, Gary waits until the waitress has left to thank her in Italian, and they tuck into some pizza. George pulls a sort of half-satisfied face, as if he’s just been told he can only underpay his staff by 10–15 percent. Yet he says he liked it. Maybe George is just unhappy with life in general. Food certainly doesn’t seem to give him any pleasure.

On the green team, pizzas are being returned and Johnny is nearing the point of explosive violence. Their dough isn’t cooked enough: they’re pulling the pizzas out of the oven too fast. Will their premature extraction cost them? Possibly: the judges are unimpressed with their offering: apparently it has wet bits on it. I’m not sure exactly what the wet bits are, but the way Gary describes them they sound absolutely disgusting, like they’ve put live blobfish on top of the pizzas.

The green team might be struggling, but they may just rebound in the second course, as Benjamin (not to be confused with Ben, who has no enormous bushranger-y beard) informs his team captain Eloise that with ten minutes till the pasta is due out, the red team has forgotten to make any pasta sauce. This is a problem, because a lot of people who eat in Italian restaurants go home unhappy if they are given pasta with no sauce. Apparently Eloise’s big Italian family forgot to impart this one lesson to her when she was growing up.

“I need you to work faster,” Eloise hassles Benjamin. Young Beardy shows superhuman restraint not to reply, “I need you to captain better”, but just gets on with the job of making the sauce that Eloise was too incompetent to get started ages ago.

Out in the restaurant the diners are tucking in and being extremely disappointed whenever they get something good because they don’t get to go home and tell all their friends about the time they went to a restaurant being run by Masterchef and all the amateurs fucked up.

The judges taste the green team’s pasta and are delighted, as indicated by George looking like he can smell a rotting groundhog in his toilet. He wipes his head, like he always does when he’s eaten something spicy and doesn’t care who’s looking at him.

The red team is floundering because they don’t have enough sauce as a result of being stupid, and they’re sending out dishes without much sauce on them, and Johnny is researching justifiable homicide online. The judges try the red team’s pasta and find it as disappointing as Eloise’s captaincy.

It’s dessert time, and the red team have followed up the sins of their sauce with rock-hard sponge. Jess decides to soak the sponge in coffee syrup, which is lucky because that’s what you do with tiramisu anyway. Meanwhile Brian never thought he’d get excited over set jelly, but today is showing him just how empty his life is. The only thing Brian is worried about now is the balance of the dish, which is an indication of how selfish and ignorant of the major crises facing the world in the twenty-first century he is.

“We start plating up the sponge and my heart sinks,” says Jess, who’d hoped she’d have achieved more by this age. Some of the sponge is still too hard. It’s going to be inconsistent, but then who cares? People aren’t going to know what other people’s dessert was like. And it has to be sent out, because Eloise is barking in a really hypocritical way at her.

The judges taste the red team’s tiramisu and are deeply disappointed but also secretly thrilled because they’re sick of Eloise’s crap too. George pulls his “disgusted” face, but this time it doesn’t mean he loved it. “I think the balance is off,” says Gary, grinning with sadistic glee.

Back in the kitchen Brian is yelling at everyone, having gone made with power ever since his jelly set. But tragedy strikes when the green team begins running out of mousse. He asks Callan to whip up some more mousse, and Callan gets to work on whatever perverted method he uses to make mousse at short notice. “We’ve got more mousse,” cries Brian happily, but if only he knew the sordid things Callan had to do to provide it.

The green team’s dessert looks pretty good, but it’s “deconstructed”, so any reasonable person would take a lot of marks off for being wankers. Of course the judges think it’s wonderful because they’re pretentious, and after all what better way to epitomise Home Cooking Week than serving deconstructed tiramisu to several hundred people in a high-priced city restaurant?

Finally service is over, and Johnny can try to rebuild his shattered business. With the teams lined up before him, he singles out Brian from the green team, and Samuel from the red team, for special praise, as they were the two amateurs who showed some vague sense of competency. George forces the amateurs to applaud Johnny, claiming it takes a “big heart” to open a restaurant up to clueless idiots like them. A big, self-promotional heart.

Gary critiques the red team, pointing out that overall they sucked. Pia looks devastated, as if she’s going to get whacked for this. George and Matt inform the green team that they were much better than the red team, which is the main reason that they won. Diana says she’s never screamed so loud, which is sad when you think about it.

“I’m pretty devastated,” says Eloise. “I’m the captain, so I feel like I’m the one who’s leading my team to elimination”. It’s so poignant, and so true: remember how she forgot that pasta needs sauce? That might’ve been a misstep, in retrospect.

Anyway tune in tomorrow, when Eloise’s pack of worthless losers compete to be allowed one more day in paradise.

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