Meet the tagines: MasterChef contestants are introduced to their challenge.

Meet the tagines: MasterChef contestants are introduced to their challenge.

Somewhere in the boardroom of a television production studio, somewhere in wherever, a group of television creative-types were staring red-eyed at a blank page on a blank screen titled “Ideas for Making MasterChef Edgy In A Mass Appeal Kind Of Way”.

On a whiteboard behind them, the world “Comfortable” was writ, and someone had underlined it, exclamation marked it, and surrounded it with clauses from advertising contracts signed with big-name Aussie brands. Suddenly, someone leapt to life and punched the word “Dreams” into the computer. There was a pause. Through various pairs of ironic writery spectacles, eyes cogitated. Then, slowly, someone else pressed finger to delete key and eliminated five of the letters. A pause. A bead of sweat. Then a blur of type and, from nowhere,  “Diversity” appeared before them.

‘Freaking. Genius,’ someone said, with hipness.  ‘Bring out the tagine’.

Andrew get to grips with fennel.

'Fennel is my friend': Andrew get to grips with one of his favourite ingredients.

Last night, thanks to the freaking genius of some television creative-type, somewhere, the tagine was indeed brought, and Australia learned a thing or five about North African cuisine, Bosnian coriander and tagines, such as what is a tagine.

Turns out it is not a weapon of mass destruction. Unless, of course, you are a contestant on MasterChef Australia facing eeeelllllliiiiimmminnnnaaaattttiooon!!!!!!

“Welcome to the MasterChef kitchen!” Gary, a man of considerable authority, announces to a row of quivering losey-loser red team members who failed to impress some Asians with their cooking the day before (#diversity).  We know they all blame a woman from Melbourne named Debra (#Melbournespelling #diversity) for their terrifying predicament. For this reason, Debra is used to illustrate how terror-full things their predicament really when Gary asks her if she’ll be dying this episode. She says no, of course, but looks of hate from the other contestants more dramatic than Matt Preston’s outrageously outrageous ensemble indicate she may be wrong.

Hungry Matt shows off his fast-food skills.

Hungry Matt shows off his fast-food skills.

“This challenge will take place in two rounds,” Preston, a man of some authority, but perhaps not as much as Gary, declares. “First round will be a taste test,” (at this point, the blonde who only makes cupcakes visibly explodes a part of her brain), “and you’ll be tasting this!” (It’s the tagine).

“It’s a tagine!”

“It has 25 ingredients in it!”

“And it’s all the way from North Africa!” (#diversity, #dramaticmusic).

The MasterChef contestants are shocked, awed, and struck dumb by the news, none more strikingly dumb than a young man named Andy. Poor possum didn’t know that North African cuisine existed. In fact, he didn’t even know North Africans existed! How far-out crazy is that! (#diversity #dreams #education)

Of course, it’s OK for Andy to question the existence of an entire region, people and food culture because the creative-types at MasterChef prepared one earlier. A North African, that is. Or at least the daughter of one. She is Amina. She wears a headscarf. She is he first to try the tagine and hope against hope she can correctly name enough ingredients to not have to cook her father in the second, sudden-death challenge (#diversity).

“There’s a lot riding on this,” Gary says, and Debra does the math. “The reality is, I could easily get an ingredient wrong,” she says. Her insight is astounding, but not as astounding as Amina’s utterance of the word ‘Okra’ in her mysterious speech of normal English. It is a real thing too, as the Matt Preston dramatically reveals by lifting the lid of a chafing dish to reveal a green rooty-thingo we’re sure Andy has never seen/eaten/heard of but North Africans eat all the time especially in tagines. (#diversity #learning).

Next is Julia, the blonde, with the cupcakes and exploded brain. At this point, she says, she’s thinking she should go out on one of her still functioning blonde limbs and just pick what she sees. So she ignores all the obvious ingredients and chooses green olives which of course couldn’t be anything but. She’s right though, and so is a woman called TK who identifies almonds. She also appears to be Asian. (#diversity).

We whip through the next tasters – Emma, the one with the personality beanies who cries – and Debra, who we’ve already identified as the show’s polarising figure, both correctly guess ‘dates’ and ‘pistachios’, and before we know it, it’s Andrew’s turn and it’s time for something to go almost disastrously wrong. That thing turns out to be his orange sweater vest as he manages to identify coriander that is both the outstandingly obvious garnish of the dish, and ‘fresh’, a clarification Andrew, a hairdresser, is forced to make after George asks for “more information” and much heavy staring, breathing, pausing and general drama concerning the invocation of Bosnian Coriander goes on (#diversity).

Following Andrew is Filippo, An Italian (#diversity). He describes the tagine as ‘exotic’ (#diversity) and says there’s a protein in it that is familiar to him, and presumably his ‘people’ (#diversity #Italians #Europeans #Greekdebtcrisis).

“Lamb!” Fillipo says, with certainty. “What’s that you say?” “Lamb?” “Come again?” “Lamb.” “Pardon one more time?” “Lamb!” “Sorry didn’t catch that?“ “LAMB!” “Oh LAMB - why didn’t you say so the first time?”

But then, just the judges congratulate Filippo’s correct choice, and their own ability to translate Italian, Andy steps up to taste, and disaster seems imminent. He’s told himself to “keep it simple, stupid,” and that if he sees an ingredient he knows, he’ll just, y’know, name it and stuff. So he looks at this tangine business, and looks really hard, and looks some more, and then looks closely, and finally he says “I can taste lemon”.

“I need more information,” says George, a short, balding, tightly wound character fellow how doesn’t need authority because he’s the comic relief, or so we think, as he pauses, pauses, pauses and pauses some more, and the creative-types cut to break.

And we’re back. And George is pausing, and Andy is trying to think about what lemon tastes like.

“Um,” he says.

“Um,” he says again. “Ummmmm…” he says, before a tiny click is heard, his eyes glaze slightly, and his metrosexual mouth spits out “Preserved Lemon!”

He’s right! And his rightness kicks off another little spell of rightness designed to up the momentum and raise the stakes. A pair of “signature” glasses called Alice gets “sumac” right, someone else scores “lima beans” and “yoghurt” and “cinnamon” and “salt” and “cumin” and then “coriander seeds” and then – and then.

And then it’s Debra’s turn to choose again. Debra does more math, and realises there’s only ten ingredients left. She does some English too and describes how the flavours are “mishing” together.  She tastes. She chews. She speaks:

“Peanuts” she says.

There’s a pause. Gary stares at her. Perhaps a little longer than was necessary for dramatic effect, but we’re all fairly clear by this stage that Gary is a little in love with Debra.

“I don’t’ have any peanuts,” Matt says, cockily. “I don’t have any peanuts,” George says, cockily too. “There are no peanuts in this dish,” Gary says with plenty of cockiness to Debra, before telling her she’s the first person into the elimination round – and thinking very loudly about what a naughty girl she’s been. Andrew, the vest clad haircutter, and Matt, an 18 year old from Hungry Jacks, follows her into the pit, even as the pair of “signature glasses”, some other woman called

‘Mindy’, TK the Asian and Amina of North African extraction make correct guesses (#diversity #grrrlpower).

So when it comes time for Emma and her fun little head thingo come to have a go, we just know, just know, that whatever she says will be wrong. She says ‘honey’. She is wrong. And then Filippo says “paprika” and after lengthy interpretation he is also judged to be wrong, becoming the fifth and final person through to the elimination round. (#diversity).

“You are the fifth and final person through to the elimination round,” he is told. The other competitors are dismissed, and the final five stand in front of the judges. A piece of piano music plays, telling us someone will possibly cry soon as the judges tell the final five they must create a dish using five of the ingredients from the tagine in 45 minutes, or else their families will be destroyed.

Cue awkward segue to the winning blue team who are having a fancy lunch and masterclass with a foreign chef in Sydney. (#diversity).

And Back to the loser-losers. Debra says she feels this is not her day, Hungry Matt says he doesn’t want to go back to fast-food and the hairdresser says he doesn’t want to go back because he has kids.

“You have 45 minutes to preserve your place in this competition!” A fact that makes Emma, like, sooo scared.

“Your time starts now!”

Rapid racing-around-madly montage time!

Matt whips around to all the contestants to pour judgment and commentary down their throats. Andrew’s roasting fennel, Emma doesn’t have vegetables, Filippo is being Italian, Debra is making a salad, Matt is Frenching and people are frying, braising, roasting, wipping, blending, dreaming, hoping, praying, and dreaming big, courageous dreams, and before we know it, it’s:

Judges Pow-wow time!

“I’m worried about Andrew,” says George, “I’m worried about Filippo,” says Matt, “I’m in love with Debra”, says Gary, but Matt extremely concerned about the widespread use of preserved lemon.  

“Five ingredients, five dreams on the line and five minutes to go!”

Now everyone is worried.

As the clock and George and then everyone else counts down, rapid cuts of stunning television footage show stress and crisis and war and drama and most importantly #diversity. Matt says he’s panicking (no wonder when the “signature glasses” are yelling at him from the balcony), Emma is promising herself she’s not going to cry, and Filippo is hoping he can make Gary an offer he cannot refuse.

“And it’s time up!”

Big pause, heave breath, roll over, and have a cigarette as we cut to break.

And we’re back

“Unfortunately we are looking for the dish that does stand up and for that person it’ll be the last time the cook in the MasterChef kitchen,” says Gary, eloquently, totally off-the-cuff.

Debra’s dish goes first. George states there’s a lot riding on her dish. Gary thinks of riding her… dish… too. So after Matt’s had a go, he makes his way up and says all her flavours have worked well together, and are delicious. Filippo’s dish is somewhat harder to understand, Gary says, partly because he’s tried to blend a Sicilian salad with a Spanish Granita – awkward, dangerous, but hey, #diversity, so extra points for that.

Meanwhile points off for Hungry Matt, who managed to undercook his lamb as Emma presents lamb of her own that is bewwwdifull. And Frenched! (#diversity) And then Andrew shows off fennel three ways, and even though something about it literally tastes like the urinals of a football match, he gets thumbs of up from the judges.

But who’s dish was best? Who has lost? Who’s dreams will be crushed for ever and ever and ever and EVER!

That person is….!

Not Debra, she made her fennel “sing”. Not Emma and Andrew, who “did more than enough”.

Not, it turns out, Filippo either –

It’s Hungry Matt!


Apparently he broke the one cardinal rule of the kitchen, which Matt Preston says is “that food has to be delicious, and it can’t be undercooked”, which is really two things, but that doesn’t matter, because two is better than one, especially if they’re different! (#diversity).

“Now go and get yourself an apprenticeship!” says Gary, beaming, and in spite of the fact Hungry Matt probably earns more flipping burgers than slaving over a hot apprenticeship stove. This potentially troubling truth is kept at bay by soothing music and Hungry Matt’s confession he actually cooked his heart out a couple of times, and couldn’t think of a better experience. He says the most important thing he learned was how much he could achieve when he put his mind to it.

We keep with that message right up to his ‘welcome home’ scenes, and closing title screen. Here we learn Matt was recently promoted to manager of his restaurant at Hungry Jacks. He’s looking for work experience at a (real?) restaurant as well.