MasterChef recap: Contestants give this arty service challenge a red-hot van Gogh

MasterChef judges Jock Zonfrillo, Melissa Leong and Andy Allen at LUME Melbourne.
MasterChef judges Jock Zonfrillo, Melissa Leong and Andy Allen at LUME Melbourne. Photo: Channel 10

Is there anything more delightful than eating in a forest? Yes, of course there is, lots of things. Eating in a restaurant, for one. Yet today's challenge to the hapless patsies of the MasterChef kitchen is to cook dishes that evoke a sense of the forest for some reason.

Contestants arrive at The LUME Melbourne, Australia's first digital art gallery, where they are surrounded by the artworks of Vincent van Gogh projected on enormous screens, just as the master himself never intended them to be. "You're literally inside the middle of a painting," says Jock, who doesn't know the meaning of several of the words he just said. 

Tommy sits today out as he won the chance to go straight into tomorrow's immunity challenge. The other 12 cooks are split into two teams, each of which must prepare a three-course meal for 30 diners – or rather, for three diners, i.e. the judges, whose opinions actually count as opposed to the other diners who can be served dry toast and mustard packets for all it matters.

The meal they prepare must be inspired by a van Gogh painting of a forest. Melissa explains that they want a multi-sensory immersive experience, something that is of course literally impossible to achieve with a plate of food, so failure is inevitable. Although, they should be able to make their experience more multi-sensory than van Gogh did: his painting only managed to hit one sense. 

On the green team, captain Alvin comes up with an artistic concept, and his artistic concept is to get everyone else to have ideas which he then nods along with.

On the yellow team Steph has been made the captain, which she thinks she'll be good at because she used to work at a bank. She decides the team's three courses should evoke the different seasons, which seems pretty good compared to Alvin's vision, which involves leaves "trickling down".

Aldo and Julie take charge of the yellow entree. Julie intends to fill her tortellini with homemade ricotta, but that's where she's made her fatal mistake: she's not at home, she's in an art gallery. The best she can do is art gallery-made ricotta, which will throw the flavours out. "I'm on it like a fat kid on a cupcake," she cries as she works, presumably a direct personal attack on the author of these recaps.

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Meanwhile, the yellow mains are under the control of Sarah. "Our main course is evoking a bushfire, so it'll be all charred and beautiful," she says, possibly overrating just how beautiful bushfires are, particularly to people who live in the bush.

Alvin decides that the green team's dishes should have wacky names. Michael calls the main course "a bull in the new forest", a name which is powerfully evocative of…a bull in a forest. 

Jock asks Aldo how many tortellini he'll be serving per dish. Aldo says three. "Three?" repeats Jock, as if Aldo had just told him he was going to fill the pasta with human hair. Aldo needs to make 100 tortellini in 90 minutes, a feat never before achieved by human hands. Julie tells him to pull his finger out. And put ricotta in.

Back on the green team, everything is going well for Montana with her mushroom ice-cream, apart from the fact that she's making mushroom ice-cream. It's always a gamble to deliberately make a revolting dessert, but Montana has faith that nauseating the diners will pay off yet again for her.

Meanwhile, Michael is cooking more wagyu than he ever has before and begins to go mad with power.

On the yellow team, Sarah, who thinks bushfires are beautiful, is working side by side with Dan, who is a fireman and has a slightly different perspective. Dan is putting in a massive effort to talk himself into believing that a bushfire-themed main is a good idea. Sarah helps by bossing him around and looking sour.

Meanwhile, Aldo continues to be extremely relaxed about the tortellini while Julie panics.

Harry, working on the green team's entrees with Mindy, makes a startling confession: she hopes that the entree will be good. Mindy has the brilliant idea to put puree on the plates in such a way as to mimic the brushstrokes of the painting. This is genius because everyone likes to feel like they're eating paint.

But if the entrees are going well, the mains have hit a snag: Michael's wagyus are all different temperatures, epitomising the fickle nature of Japanese cows. 

Diners begin to arrive, looking forward to weird food in a weird environment. Aldo is overjoyed with his tortellini. "Suck it, Jock!" he screams. Well, he doesn't, but you can see it in his eyes that he wants to.

Meanwhile, the green team is meticulously plating up their entrees. "It's all about the visuals – customers eat with their eyes," says Mindy, who failed biology at school.

Entrees are sent out. Alvin loves the green team's effort. "It looks like a painting on a plate," he says, overlooking the fact that anything you put on a plate looks like a painting on a plate, as long as it's a still-life painting of that thing. 

The green entree is a small pile of leaf litter in a bowl. It resembles actual food in almost no way whatsoever, meaning the judges of course love it.

The yellow team's entree is served. It is three small tortellini sitting in a puddle of stagnant water, garnished with weeds. It's more food-like than the yellow entree, but the judges find that the pasta clashes with the green slop, and are offended that all they've been served is a really nice-tasting dish.

Meanwhile the yellow team is struggling to get its main course out in time, which could cost it dearly if it mattered, but nobody actually cares whether things are done in time in a service challenge, so it's irrelevant. The customers are getting a free feed, it won't kill them to wait.

The green main comes out. It is a tiny slab of beef accompanied by mushrooms hidden under a mouldy leaf. It combines the two essential requirements of the brief: a) an inadequate amount of food; and b) looking horrible. The judges are in raptures.

As the yellow main comes out, Sarah talks at length about how great it feels to have cooked a thing, and we come dangerously close to her telling us the story of how she's been waiting her entire life to make a dish inspired by a painting of a forest and how MasterChef has finally given her the confidence to make her dreams come true. The yellow main is a piece of meat with burnt twigs. The judges don't like how bitter the leeks are, and advise further counselling.

The green dessert emerges. It is mushroom ice-cream, which is disgusting, accompanied by chocolate twigs, because people love food that looks like wood. The judges don't like it, but they don't like it because there's not enough mushroom, which is the wrong reason. The right reason to not like it is that there is mushroom there at all.

The yellow dessert arrives. It is a log sitting in some dirt. The log and the dirt are made of food, but cunningly disguised so the diner isn't turned off by knowing their dessert is edible. The judges love it because it tastes good, which they've suddenly decided is a positive.

Time for the ego deaths. Jock announces first of all that the best dish of all was Billie's dessert, which was so good the rest of the yellow team do not deserve to be associated with it. The best entree was the green team's forest garbage. The best main was the green team's mouldy wagyu.

The greens win. "I'm so happy," says captain Alvin, as if he actually did anything. 

The greens now cook for immunity tomorrow, with a challenge that Andy promises will be "unlike any immunity we've had this season". Tune in to see the green team try to avoid being murdered.