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Fritter failure sees Corinna jump ship

I’ve been waiting for this moment – the opportunity to see the contestants in the pressure-cooker environment of a professional kitchen.

The contestants have spent a few weeks in the comfortable surroundings of the dream kitchen that is MasterChef HQ, getting familiar with where things are, the layout of the pantry and how a challenge works. That comfort, along with an emotional challenge, meant that last week they produced one of the best tasting sessions ever seen on MasterChef. You can throw all that overboard because it’s time to hit the high seas – well, the inner harbour of Auckland at least.

It’s all aboard the Dawn Princess, a majestic cruise ship that travels around Australasia and the South Pacific. The contestants have been charged with cooking a dish for 1,800 old people with false teeth and worldly expectations, which probably means they’ll be cooking easy-chew food with little “after effects”. Imagine the next day after spicy nacho night on a cruise ship.

Josh starts their day early with the pot and pan alarm clock. Crashing and banging in the early hours of the morning, all the while grinning from ear to ear with sadistic joy. It’s not long before the gravity of the challenge can be seen all over the contestants’ faces.

When the most you’ve cooked for previously might be a dozen, or maybe slightly more if you’re popular, 1,800 almost seems like an illusionary number. It’s like running an ultra- distance race when all you’ve done before is Round the Bays (yes, that’s right; I so DID round the bays! Every kilometre meant another guilt-free sausage roll at the end).

Cooking for large numbers and cooking in a foreign space are some of the skills that make a cook a chef. Being a chef isn’t just about being able to make tasty food; you need to be organised, you need to be able to take direction and you need to be able to put your back into it and work your socks off. This is what so many home cooks think they want to do while they casually create a masterpiece for the family table, yet the reality can be a real shock.

And so this challenge will be a big wake up call for many of the contestants. After this they’ll either be begging for more time in a professional kitchen, or begging for a position in food writing…

It’s obvious that Sushil is thriving in the real kitchen environment. Tongs in both hands and working at break neck speed, he’s buzzing – and you can tell already that this guy really wants to be working in a kitchen. Good on him.

But not all of the contestants are finding the environment to their liking. Jennis is finding the one-way communication difficult to handle as she makes excuses to the head chef, Alfredo Marzi. The hierarchy in a kitchen was famously modelled on the structure of the French Army and talking back to the head chef is like telling Napoleon that you think you’ll rest up today, rather than cross the front line. They don’t want to know; they just want you to get it done, or die trying.

We’re a few weeks in now and some of the contestants personalities are coming through. Poor Elliot always seems to get the dunce music playing when he gets screen time – this time around for his poor knife skills. He seems like the type of guy who is how he is and doesn’t give a salt-and-pepper-shaker about whether you think otherwise.

Sometimes that can be seen as a positive quality, but in Elliot it just comes across smug and not very endearing. If you’re not open to other people’s opinions you’re limiting your potential to learn and grow.

The ever-presentable Kelly pulled out her – now expected – presentation tricks again and, yes, the dish does look good, but then I guess you can spend a lot of time thinking about presentation when all you have to do is chop fruit.
Is making stuff pretty and creating a coulis really the stuff of a MasterChef? How about some simple salads? I don’t care if it’s for 3,000 people, can we step it up please? Many people watch these shows not only for the personalities but also for the food. We’re not being taught much by seeing people plate together a few mixed leaves and a dressing.

Come tasting most of the contestants have managed to get through the experience with their reputations intact; although it has to be stated that I doubt any of them have plated 1,800 dishes. The only contestant to really stand out seems to have been Sushil. Considering he has struggled to make a lasting impression in most of the creative challenges this should be a real confidence booster.

The judges are being picky and the bottom two, Vanessa and Corinna, get their judgement based on poor time-keeping and dirty plates. As with a few weeks ago, the bottom two contestants have a final cook-off challenge, this time creating a white bait fritter. Corinna gets it horribly wrong as she attempts a fluffy, cloud, whitebait savoury meringue concoction which leaves little doubt over who will be leaving the kitchen.

And it’s a fair judgement. The winner of the next MasterChef NZ should be able to cook a fritter, don’t you think?

Anthony McEntee is a former MasterChef contestant. Missed last week's episode? Read about the MasterChef NZ Last Supper.

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