Masters of their own destiny
Ever since that scary croquembouche struck fear into the hearts of the season one contestants, MasterChef Australia has served up the tastiest – and most difficult – of challenges. ANDREW FENTON reports
is back doing what it does best – pitting the most talented cooks in the country against each other with the emphasis on skills, rather than the ability to make snarky comments.
The season six contestants are “the best cooks we’ve ever had” according to judge George Calombaris.
“Literally after the first week meeting these contestants we had to rip the paper up for what we had planned, and raise the ante like you would not believe,” he says.
“These people are incredible. We deliberately said to ourselves we wanted to get back to the core value of what MasterChef is and that’s great cooking. We’re not a soap opera.”
Here, Calombaris lists the five toughest challenges in MasterChef history.
UNTIL Adriano Zumbo unveiled the impressive dessert in June 2009, most Australians had never even heard of the term croquembouche. Tom Mosby, Poh Ling Yeow, Chris Badenoch and Julie Goodwin’s struggle to recreate it saw it become synonymous with envelopepushing difficultly. “Visually it looks spectacular and then you say you’ve got three hours to pop this little baby out from scratch and people s--- themselves!” laughs Calombaris. Variations on the challenge have turned up in most seasons of the show, and even in Calombaris’s own Press Club kitchen. “When we employ someone at a senior level we say, ‘Right, make 100 profiteroles and let’s see how good you are’,” he says.
WHEN IN ROME …
MAKING pizza and pasta to the liking of Italians in Italy is harder than selling ice to the Inuit. Italian pizza bears little resemblance to the pineapple-strewn Aussie version, and their pasta is al dente to the extreme: “In Italy it’s literally crunchy!” says Calombaris. In series four, Alice Zavlavsky, Wade Drummond, Mindy Woods and Julia Taylor were thrown into a cramped kitchen and told to serve the dishes to 120 Roman diners. “I had to run the kitchen that day and if I could have pressed a button to eject myself off of Earth I would have done that,” Calombaris says.
MORE than 4.5 million viewers tuned in for season two’s finale between Callum Hann and Adam Liaw (forcing the election debate between Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott to a different timeslot). The challenge was a monster: recreating four of Quay restaurateur Peter Gilmore’s infamous snow eggs: a poached meringue filled with custard apple ice cream on a granita snow base, in three hours and 20 minutes. “It’s technically so difficult – a dessert coming out of one of the best kitchens in the country,” Calombaris says. “But they pulled it off.”
MUM KNOWS BEST
MARY Calombaris put season three contestants through their paces with five traditional dishes: pita, tzatziki, koupes (pastry and meat), hummus and shamishi (fried pastry with semolina custard). To make life more difficult, they only had three of five recipes. “I love her to bits but having her come on the show, not only bossing me around but the contestants, would have been difficult for them,” Calombaris says. Mary told the nation she was a better cook than George for one simple reason: “I don’t bastardise my food.”
THE world’s most inventive chef has made numerous appearances, challenging contestants to replicate his dry-ice and magic, molecular gastronomy. Last year, he tormented them for a week culminating in a medieval feast featuring his signature edible garden – cooked and raw veggies “planted” in “soil” made of dried olives with mayonnaise underneath, tapioca for sand and “volcanic stones” made from potatoes. “Give me a break – that’s so hard,” says Calombaris. “I have a development kitchen creating stuff like that and it takes six months to a year. Here we are, you’ve got an hour – can you pop out an edible garden?” he says.