Masterchef Recap: Licorice My Love Pump

Finals Week is a proud Australian tradition that historians believe dates back to the early 1700s, when Masterchef was known as “Hors d’oeuvres Hoedown” and elimination meant death. This year’s finals week promises to be the biggest ever or possibly the smallest ever or maybe something in between I guess I don’t know.

Anyway here we are with the final six, each with their own particular strength: Tamara’s sunny smile, Arum’s slightly annoying accent, Karlie’s absence of facial expressions, Sarah’s obsessive love of pork belly, Ben’s hair, and Diana’s easily-forgotten existence.

“One of you will be Australia’s Masterchef for 2017,” says Gary to the six, the unspoken words, “the rest of you deserve only scorn and contempt” hanging in the air.

Time for the first finals mystery box. It’s a pretty exciting one containing some green things, a couple of bottles, chestnuts, cheese, pears and the still-beating heart of a stag. As always, the judges will only taste the three most appealing dishes, and the winner of the challenge will receive a MASSIVE ADVANTAGE that is of no practical benefit whatsoever. It was ever so.

Also, because this is finals week and a certain level of basic competency is expected, the amateurs have to include every ingredient in the mystery box in their dish. The amateurs are shocked and dismayed by this, as it forces them to think, which is their least favourite activity.

“These are all fantastic cooks I’m up against,” Ben lies: he actually thinks one of them is utter shit, but it’s a secret which one. Ben has decided to make ice cream, because although at the beginning of the competition he wasn’t really a “dessert guy”, ice cream is now the only thing he knows how to make. Masterchef has ruined him as it ruined so many before him.

Karlie is also making ice cream — if this year’s Masterchef contestants went in on a restaurant together, the dessert menu would be a hundred pages long and the mains menu would just have Sarah’s pork belly in broth.

Arum is roasting his chestnuts in the oven, because he hasn’t heard the song. He, along with Diana, is making a sorbet, AKA the Coward’s Ice Cream.

“I have an idea in mind — I want to do a dessert,” says Tamara with breathtaking originality. She’s making a semifreddo, which is like an ice cream combined with a sorbet. Only Sarah is making a non-dessert, but the mystery box didn’t contain pork belly so god know how she’ll cope.

Ben tells Gary he’s making fennel ice cream. Gary tells him that’s a good idea, which is a cruel joke to play on the young man.

Speaking of cruel jokes, Karlie’s chestnuts now explode, which is not a euphemism. In all likelihood Karlie planned this all along, in order to exploit the bitter war memories of her opponents, who will now be crippled by their Nam flashbacks and be unable to cook. But she fools the judges into believing she simply forgot to score her chestnuts, which is apparently very important: when you don’t score them, they explode. Interestingly this is also true of Masterchef contestants, which is why the judges take their job so seriously.

There is now some footage of cooking, just to emphasise how much more entertaining explosions are. The amateurs are all working extremely hard despite their knowledge that the advantage they are competing for will be useless.

Ben wants to do something “outside the box” with his rice. This is a bad idea, as rice is in the box for a reason. He decides to make a shortbread with it. I don’t even know what that means. A shortbread with rice. The words do not fit together in any logical way. May God have mercy on Ben’s soul.

Meanwhile Sarah is trying to figure out what to do with her goat’s cheese. Then it hits her: a fragment of one of Karlie’s chestnuts.

No actually she’s just had an idea: use the goat’s cheese as a seasoning. This is a pretty obvious idea that took her an unusually long time to have, but goat’s cheese is a tricky thing: it has a very strong flavour but at the same time is inedible.

Ben’s wild rice shortbread is still just a little bit warm, and also an abomination in the eyes of the Almighty, but he’s pressing on with it.

“Is your goat’s cheese dilemma sorted?” Matt asks Sarah. It’s only reasonable for her to tell him it’s none of his business, but she takes the easy way out and tells him about her goat’s cheese. She confesses that she hasn’t tasted the goat’s cheese crumb. Matt walks away, speechless in the face of such depravity.

Eventually the cooking is over and tension is at an all-time low. It’s only a mystery box, after all.

The judges taste Karlie’s dish first. She is surprised to hear her name called out, because she had deliberately tried to make her dish look revolting. The judges say it’s good but they’ve lied to us before.

Then they taste Ben’s fennel ice cream, inexplicably failing to ask him why he doesn’t make something different once in a while. Gary is impressed by the wild rice shortbread because the world has gone irrevocably mad and cannot be saved from the pit of filthy into which it has descended. Anyway the ice cream tastes good they say. “You’ve become the ice cream king,” says George, as if that’s a compliment.

The final dish the judges choose to taste is Tamara’s, which puts a smile on her face to replace the smile that was already on her face. Her semifreddo kind of looks like it’s wrapped in an omelette, but I think it’s supposed to. “Your food is so much fun to eat,” croons Matt in that seductive way he has.

Judgment time. “After eight years of these shenanigans we know how important the first challenge of finals week is,” says Matt, but what he doesn’t say is that “how important it is” is “not important at all”. Ben wins the mystery box challenge and we’re that much closer to moving on to something that matters.

Ben’s advantage — that crucial factor that will not help him win the invention test in any way at all — is that he gets to pick any ingredient he wants from the pantry to make everyone cook with. It is almost guaranteed that he won’t win after getting this advantage, but it’s fun to watch a man bend over to peer at poultry I guess. I mean that’s the theory isn’t it.

“There is one ingredient that really stands out to me,” Ben says, and everyone is really hoping it will be skinless footy franks. But no, of course not: it’s licorice. What a freaking weirdo.

Tamara hates licorice. Karlie loves licorice. George says, “Licorice is one of those things”, and he has a point.

The obvious way to serve licorice — besides in the bin — is to just present a few ropes of it on a plate, but no, everyone rushes off to “cook”. Sarah stuns onlookers by grabbing a ribeye steak instead of pork belly — is she taking a deadly risk here?

Tamara tastes some licorice. She finds it remains disgusting. The judges pop by to waste her time. George asks her if she wants to be in the bottom three. She says no, restraining her urge to spit in George’s face and strangle him with licorice. She runs to the pantry to get some fennel, because that’s her answer to everything.

Ben has decided to make ice cream, in the same way that birds decide to fly and fish decide to swim.

Sarah tells Gary and George that she is making mashed potato. Gary and George tell her she sucks. “Thanks guys,” she says, fists clenched with rage.

Meanwhile Diana is making something gross. Heroin or something. George tells her he’s scared of how much gelatin is in her panna cotta. She tells him how much. George walks away without responding, in an extremely rude manner. Diana explains that she will be stressed out if her panna cotta doesn’t set, which is a perfectly reasonable reaction and I don’t think she should feel ashamed of herself or anything.

Over to Ben, who has discovered that his sambuca is unrecognisable but his anglaise is heating up. The problems of modern millennials. Meanwhile Matt is harassing Tamara with some rambly bullshit or other.

Meanwhile Karlie admits that George is right: licorice paint is a terrible idea. This might be wrong though: licorice is a terrible idea as a food, maybe as paint it would work well.

Oh, Arum is still around. Good for him. He’s going to cook Brussels sprouts, like some kind of madman.

Matt asks Sarah whether she’s dumped her mash, so to speak. Sarah, clearly incredibly pissed off with Matt’s dictatorial demands, says she has — but there’s a note of defiance in her voice that suggests she might slip the mash back in just to stick it up him.

Ben is really worried about his ice cream. His anglaise is too warm. “What happens when you put booze into ice cream?” Matt asks — can’t he see Ben is busy? He doesn’t have time to answer your stupid science quizzes. Ben explains that he’s hoping he’s burnt enough of the alcohol off for the ice cream to set. “I think you’re touching wood there,” says Matt, in an incredibly inappropriate sexual overture that has no place in this timeslot.

With thirty seconds left, Ben takes his ice cream out of the freezer and finds that it is a horrible mess. That advantage has really worked out well for him.

Arum has licorice in a savoury beef sauce, which is obviously terrible, but let’s see what the judges will say about it. They say it’s great, so nothing makes sense anymore.

Next dish: Karlie. “I’m really worried about the ingredients I’ve used in my dish,” says Karlie, and indeed, the ingredients are sometimes the most important thing in food. Karlie’s ingredients include beetroot so it’s no wonder her dish sucks.

Next is Sarah, who has gone out of her comfort zone by cooking non-pork-belly-steak. George tells her it doesn’t look good, which is disgraceful body-shaming. The judges don’t like her dish, or her general attitude.

Tamara, who chickened out of protesting the presence of licorice by boycotting the challenge, steps up. Her dish is good: the tragedy is she herself would hate it because of the gross licorice.

Next is Diana, who has been loitering around the kitchen all day. Her dish is kind of OK but kind of not. George says he’s concerned for her, which sounds like one of his creepy attempts to get a contestant to hug him.

Final dish belongs to Ben, who is happy with every element on the plate except the ice cream, which is a problem because his dish is ice cream. “What happened Ben?” asks Matt. Ben’s response is unsatisfactory. The judges think the dish is OK but sort of not OK, a lot like Diana but more poignant because of the licorice and the music playing while Ben walks back.

In the end Ben escapes due to the overwhelming crappiness of his colleagues. Sarah, Karlie and Diana are the bottom three. Sarah says it hurts — “I don’t want them to go home,” she laments, which probably means she wants Arum to go home.

George urges them to think about “how much do you want to be in this competition”, because as long as they all really really want to be in it, nobody will be eliminated. Oh no, that’s not how it works, is it: actually how much they want it is completely irrelevant.

Tune in tomorrow when they have to make fish or something.

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