MasterChef recap: It’s all smiles (and a few tears) as queen Julie returns

Judges Jock, Melissa and Andy return, bigger and brighter than ever.
Judges Jock, Melissa and Andy return, bigger and brighter than ever.  Photo: Supplied

And so we return, to Australia's Thunderdome. The place where dreams are made – and, more entertainingly, destroyed. MasterChef Kitchen Headquarters. The very sight of it sends a thrill through even the most jaded terrine fan. This year, of course, the show has a twist: all contestants must catch and kill everything they cook.

No, just kidding: sadly nothing so exciting is happening this year. But it's still pretty exciting, because this year is FANS VERSUS FAVES, with some of MasterChef's most popular contestants returning to compete against the newbies. And the Faves include three previous MasterChef champions, including Julie Goodwin, Kitchen Queen and the legend who kicked the whole thing off. There is also Sashi, who has since his victory built a career as a restaurateur, and Billie, who has been taking a break from food – not from eating it – to have babies and walk around fields in slow motion.

MasterChef Faves Julie and Sashi return.
MasterChef Faves Julie and Sashi return.  Photo: Supplied

As the twelve new contestants enter the kitchen, one is immediately struck by how bland their dress sense is. Jock explains to them that they are the best twelve home cooks in the country, which is reasonably inaccurate but it's nice to boost their self-esteem isn't it? One woman is already crying, which is way too soon. She is never going to make it if she doesn't pace herself: she'll blow a tear duct. Andy gives her a hug despite not being asked to.

Then in come the other twelve contestants: the Faves, a nice mix of champions, almost-champions, and people who were not actually very good but we quite liked watching. The three champions, plus Sarah from S6, Alvin from S2, Tommy and Minoli from S13, Aldo from S10, John from S7, Mindy from S4, Michael from S3, Christina from S5. You remember them all don't you? Of course you do! They're the FAVES! You couldn't possibly have completely forgotten who the hell these people are.

Melissa, who has arrived at the kitchen disguised as a banana, asks Sarah what drew her back to the MasterChef kitchen, Sarah, displaying her professionalism, doesn't say "money". Julie tells Jock that she's brickin' it. Jock tells Julie that he's brickin' it. Everyone bonds over their mutual brickin' it experience. The judges express their deep gratitude to Julie for coming back, making it clear to everyone else who the star of the show is so they better not get any ideas.

But, despite appearances, MasterChef isn't a show about people standing around talking and occasionally doing slow-motion montages: it is technically a show about cooking. So after the initial eight-hour preamble, it is time for the contestants to take some edible objects and combine them in interesting ways.

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The contestants will be cooking a dish that showcases their strengths. The best dish from each team will receive an immunity pin. The next best dish, from either team, will also receive an immunity pin. The cooks will have 90 minutes to chuck together whatever nonsense pops into their heads.

Jock and Andy visit Sashi, who is cooking fish. He confesses he is scared of going home early – that's how terrible his home is.

A Fave named Daniel expresses his delight at having a really sharp knife in a frankly unnerving manner. We flash back to Daniel in the Northern Territory, where he fishes on rocks and works as a fireman. He says he absolutely loves being a fireman, which makes him grossly inappropriate for MasterChef, a show specifically for people who hate their jobs. Melissa visits his bench and publicly shames him for not speaking French. "I've been a fan of MasterChef as long as I can remember," says Daniel, meaning he can only remember back to the age of about thirteen or so.

Jock and Andy visit John, who is famous for making a white chocolate velouté and ruining everything for everyone in Season 7. They mock his pain and John laughs on the outside while crying inside.

Meanwhile, Queen Julie Goodwin, MasterChef Legend and Empress of Sauces, is making a Lebanese feast and boasting about her family, which is a much better family than yours. Julie confesses it's intimidating to be back given how high the standard of cooking has risen over the years on the show, although the positive is that most of the cooks who raised that standard aren't here.

The contestants run frantically around the kitchen. "It's more hectic than a commercial kitchen," Mindy lies. The judges gather to explain to each other the basic premise of the show. It becomes clear that this season will be one of the most confusing of all seasons, due to constantly switching between past and present. Is this Tommy cooking Vietnamese cuisine in 2022, or in 2021? It all blurs together in a delicious waking nightmare.

Julie Goodwin, Mistress of Flatbread, cuts her finger. A victim of sabotage from jealous rivals? Almost certainly. Meanwhile Montana from Brisbane reveals that she makes easy recipes on TikTok, a brave move given that this will instantly make the show's audience hate her.

Over at Billie's bench, the former champ is making a lamb shoulder, and adding anchovy croquettes just in case the lamb shoulder tastes too good. This shows her experience: the newcomers to the kitchen will lack the tactical nous to add in something revolting to balance their dish out. Meanwhile Christina confesses that she is "definitely not the same cook I was in Season Five". In fact, she is now Stephanie Alexander, which gives her a huge edge.

An enormous amount of cooking is going on. There are 24 people all making their own dishes, which means an awful lot of activity and an awful lot of uninteresting details. We get a little insight into some of the Fans, memorable characters such as Cabbage Lady, Dentist Who Calls Herself Quirky, and Venezuelan Woman Who Will Be Accompanied By Cliched Music Throughout The Series.

People keep on cooking. Some of them cook in big pots and some of them cook on grills. Some of them cut things up on wooden boards. It's truly fascinating, take my word for it.

The first real moment of drama arrives when Tommy realises his oven isn't on. This seems like a rookie error, but to be fair Tommy hasn't been on MasterChef for nearly a year: it's a long time since he's had to remember complex culinary techniques like turning on the oven.

Jenn the dentist, who has already made clear her intention to explain how dentistry is different to cooking every single time she opens her mouth, releases her pressure cooker, screaming obscenities at all and sundry. Meanwhile the judges are yelling the countdown and suddenly time is up.

It is an emotional moment as 24 incredibly diverse people realise that they have applied heat to food and thus produced a meal of some kind.

It is time for the tasting. But it is NOT time to describe every single dish because god there are far too many and this recap is already too long. Suffice to say that Julie's is great, Melissa flirts inappropriately with Alvin, Sashi's dish is not as disgusting as it looks, Jenn talks more about being a dentist, Daniel isn't happy and with good reason, Harry's dish is a triumph despite being called "burnt cabbage" and looking like literal garbage, and the judges go on and on and on and on and on.

The MasterChef Fans class of 2022.

The MasterChef Fans class of 2022. Photo: Supplied

In the final washup (as opposed to the final washing-up, performed by staffers), the immunity pins are won by Tommy, Harry and Christina. These three are now the frontrunners in the race to be the first person to be humiliatingly eliminated after stupidly refusing to play their pin.

Exciting times ahead! And isn't it wonderful to have it back.