Final taste test
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.”
TDT, Tonight, 7.30PM