MasterChef recap: Risotto, aka 'the death dish', strikes again

Red team leader Montana, aka the TikTok star.
Red team leader Montana, aka the TikTok star. Photo: Supplied

The eleven remaining contestants visit Hotel Fitzroy in Melbourne, only to receive a nasty shock: the judges are there, ruining the contestants' plans for a nice relaxing lunch together. Jock informs them that the hotel has an Italian restaurant upstairs and a Japanese restaurant downstairs. The contestants' job is to build a German restaurant next door to complete the Axis.

Once again you have been misled by one of my little jokes! Actually they're going to split into teams, one to cook a three-course menu for the Italian restaurant, one to cook a three-course menu for the Japanese. Sarah, who had the best dish on Burning Stuff Day, gets to pick which team she wants to be on, which is what MasterChef calls "an advantage". She chooses Japanese. Everyone else is assigned an apron at random – red for Japanese, brown for Italian. The red team has six cooks and the brown team five, so the former must cook for 40 diners while the latter cooks for 34. Or to put it more accurately, both teams must cook for three diners: the judges, because it doesn't matter at all whether the restaurant patrons like the food or not.

On the brown team, Julie suggests making a risotto, which as all MasterChef fans know, is a definite sign of insanity. The Italian restaurant is immediately filled with enormous vultures perching on the cupboards, just waiting.

Meanwhile, Montana is made captain of the red team, so naturally Sarah takes control while Montana stands at the back trying to be as quiet as possible. The red team has a lengthy discussion about what dishes to cook, its captain fulfilling her duties by letting them.

Meanwhile the judges meet to tell each other things they already know, a crucial part of the process

Upstairs, Julie notes that cooking risotto for 34 people is quite different to cooking risotto at home, where she usually only caters for between 28 and 31 people at a time. This will require careful measurement to avoid the fate of previous risotto cooks on the show, all of whom are now dead.

Back downstairs, Montana notes, for the sixth or seventh time this episode, that there are "a lot of strong cooks" on her team. As captain, it is her responsibility to get these strong cooks working in harmony, which she does by shutting up and doing what Sarah tells her to do. She is unsure what her team is making for main course, but as captain she makes the firm decision that the others will probably figure it out eventually. Jock and Andy pop in to ask Montana how it's going. Montana asks Dan how it's going. Dan tells the judges. Andy is confused. Jock tells Montana to maybe look up the definition of "captain" in a dictionary and then start again.

Billie is in charge of the brown team's dessert, and she is combining chocolate, pistachio and beer, a cunning move because if people hate pistachio and chocolate the beer will ensure they don't care. As she works on the dessert, captain Tommy has a brainwave: why not make the entrée main and the main entrée? He asks Julie if that's OK. Julie agrees. "I actually think that works better," she says in a voice of pure terror. Michael thinks it's a great idea too, and Keyma agrees to not have a speaking part in this episode. The brown team gets back to work, all feigning confidence as best as they know how.

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Meanwhile the judges meet to tell each other things they already know, a crucial part of the process. Jock notes how difficult it is to prepare a meal for so many diners, and the judges all agree that it's lucky the teams only really have to prepare a meal for three. They make a pact to continue pretending that the other diners in the restaurant mean anything at all.

Melissa pops into the red kitchen to find out how Montana is dealing with the burdens of captaincy. It turns out she's dealing with them pretty well, mostly because she hasn't taken any of them on. Melissa gives Montana some helpful advice on how to run a kitchen, drawing on all her years of experience of being a food blogger. Filled with new confidence, Montana heads back into the kitchen determined to say "Strong cooks" more than ever.

Back on the brown team, Julie expresses her wish to avoid traumatising the rice, insisting that all the cooks avoid mentioning the rice's troubled past in earshot of her saucepan. "You need to give it a bit of love", she observes, wondering whether she dare manifest the love between a woman and a risotto in a family timeslot.

Montana, by now quite mad with power suggests a small change to Sarah's entrée. Sarah, straining to hold in her fiery rage, clenches her teeth and agrees. Montana and Sarah share a passive-aggressive hug.

It's almost time for service but the brown team isn't ready. If this were a challenge where that mattered, they'd be in big trouble. Tommy has screwed himself over by attempting three different seafoods in the entrée, a task fit only for Aquaman or possibly Marvel's Namor the Sub-Mariner.

Finally food begins trickling out to the patrons of the Hotel Fitzroy, who little suspect that the chefs are cooking only for the three judges and couldn't give a crap whether the public gets a decent meal or not. And so it comes to pass that the judges chow down on the red team's entrée, which is small pink cubes with bits of something green. "Not a bad entrée," says Jock in his usual wildly hyperbolic way. The portions, however, are not big enough, and the judges watch their stomachs begin to bloat.

Out comes the brown team's entrée, which is tiny puddle of brown water with white lumps sitting in it. "Smells pretty amazing," says Melissa, but unfortunately this is one of those dishes that has to be placed in the mouth. Even more unfortunately, the fish is raw, which is bad because they were supposed to be cooking Italian, not Japanese. The judges love the broth, but "I love the broth" as always is code for "Let's try to find something to like about this garbage".

The reds present their main, which is beef and mushrooms with string on top. The judges love it, and the redemption tale of Montana, the girl who just stood by and watched cooks screw up but who learnt to be a girl who just stands by and watches cooks do good things, is complete.

The browns present their main, just as Julie remembers why making risotto is a terrible idea. The risotto has mushrooms and truffles fresh from the snout. The rice is overcooked, which apparently is something rice is not supposed to be. It's problematic because in many ways rice is quite an important part of risotto.

Just in case anyone cares, dessert is also served. The brown team's semifreddo is fine except for the parts that suck. The red team's cake and sorbet is very good and Melissa says "glossy".

In the end, the brown team's decisions to stop cooking the fish too soon, keep cooking the rice too long, and make a bad dessert have cost them. Not for the first time in history, Japan has proven to be better than Italy, and Montana now knows that the ability to make exaggerated hand gestures while talking does indeed lie within her. The red team cook off for immunity tomorrow, when dear friends become deadly enemies. Which, again, is a lot like what happened between Italy and Japan.