Fi­nal taste test

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - FRONT PAGE - DEB­BIE SCHIPP

TWO dishes, worlds apart, sum up MasterChef judge Gary Me­hi­gan’s fifth sea­son on the food re­al­ity show. The first took him to the depths of de­spair. The sec­ond re­minded him why he loved the show.

“It was one of the very worst dishes on the show for all sea­sons,” says Me­hi­gan of con­tes­tant Noe­lene’s stir fry, plated up when the show filmed for a week in the Barossa Val­ley.

“It looked like a caul­dron of puppy dogs tails, It was aw­ful, this mish- mash of strange flavours, and I told her, too.

“I re­mem­ber look­ing at [ fel­low judges] Ge­orge [ Calom­baris] and Matt [ Pre­ston] and think­ing ‘ what are we do­ing? This is ter­ri­ble’.

“Then, at the other end of the spec­trum, you hit the fi­nal, where they are all just putting up amaz­ing dishes and you’re think­ing: ‘ There it is, bang’. You can never have 24 su­per­stars but you can have three.”

Me­hi­gan’s good- dish/ ap­palling- dish mo­ments pretty much en­cap­su­late

MasterChef’s lat­est sea­son. The rat­ings for what was once a Chan­nel Ten jug­ger­naut have far from set the world on fire, and in early episodes many fans de­spaired at a crop of hope­fuls who seemed, as the food fail­ures mounted up, barely able to boil an egg. It was more mas­ter- mess, than MasterChef. Me­hi­gan blames a high- qual­ity crop of con­tes­tants in sea­son four.

“We’d been spoiled by this bril­liant tal­ent that came through fairly well- formed at the start of that sea­son, and sud­denly, we had this new crop of prep­pies,” he says.

“It’s like be­ing a teacher. The new crop comes in and some can spell their name, and oth­ers can barely write one let­ter.

“But that’s what has al­ways been at the core of the show watch­ing peo­ple with po­ten­tial de­velop into some­thing ex­cep­tional by the end of the sea­son.”

“So to give Noe­lene some credit, she did a dish of dumplings in the top ten and it was chalk and cheese.

“Go­ing from a dish that was ill- con­ceived to a so­phis­ti­cated, well thought- out, beau­ti­fully pre­sented dish you’d be happy to eat in a restau­rant – that’s what this show is about.”

As tonight’s grand fi­nal looms, Me­hi­gan says the cream has again risen to the top, with the fi­nal three Samira El Khafir, Lyn­ton Tapp and Emma Dean more than pass­ing the taste test.

Me­hi­gan was happy to be proven wrong by top end cow­boy Tapp, the only male among the fi­nal­ists.

“I wrote him off early and he knew it,” says Me­hi­gan

“He said: ‘ You think I’m fak­ing it’. I wasn’t, but I was hard on him.

“He kept at it, and there was one point, late in the com­pe­ti­tion, where he threw it back in my face, and I quite liked that be­cause it showed he was se­ri­ous.

“It wasn’t that I had to eat hum­ble pie, but maybe I nib­bled a lit­tle hum­ble tart. I thought ‘ good, the push­ing and prod­ding has worked’.

“I’ve seen it hap­pen in com­mer­cial kitchens. You try to coach them up, and it seems they’re not cut out for the in­dus­try, and then the penny just drops and things start to make sense.”

He’s been a fan of the feisty El Khafir from the out­set.

“It strikes me, be­ing An­glo- Saxon that ev­ery­one that doesn’t cook roast chicken on a Sun­day is do­ing some­thing more ex­otic­tast­ing, and she was of­fer­ing that.

“Like Lyn­ton, she came in cook­ing big, bold, homestyle food, but I did think she’d get to a point in the com­pe­ti­tion where she’d freeze be­cause she’d run out of dishes that her friends and fam­ily loved. “She’s strong and feisty and I like that. “At the be­gin­ning all we heard was ‘ I’d make that but I don’t have the in­gre­di­ents to make it’ and you’re like ‘ get over that’, and she has.”

Me­hi­gan found Dean a nat­u­ral fit from the start. “Her food story just made sense,” he says. “Here she was, for­ag­ing away in her gar­den brim­ming with great in­gre­di­ents.’

“She has the food back­ground, loves her cook­ing, has a chef as a boyfriend. I thought ‘ this was se­ri­ous stuff’ and won­dered if she could keep it to­gether.

“Samira’s feisti­ness can be her down­fall, Lyn­ton had a re­luc­tance to put him­self out there, and Emma’s thing is fall­ing over un­der pres­sure.

“Who­ever doesn’t suc­cumb to their par­tic­u­lar weak­ness will win.”

MASTERCHEF

TDT, Tonight, 7.30PM

LAST OR­DERS: Masterchef con­tes­tants Samira El Khafir, Lyn­ton Tapp and Emma Dean will serve up their best in the fi­nale tonight.

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