MasterChef 2020 recap: A Chin Chin curry causes the sweats and fires a favourite

Tonight, is the night, when four become three.
Tonight, is the night, when four become three. Photo: NETWORK 10

Last night's very shouty twins challenge plonked Poh, Sarah, Brendan and Reece in the bottom four, which means one of our faves will be leaving tonight. Get your tissues ready.

As they walk in, Poh says she is in "battle mode". Sarah also says she has her "fighting spirit back". Brendan, who does not have a violent bone in his body, says he has had a chat to his mum on the phone.

"How much anxiety will I cause today?" wonders Poh.
"How much anxiety will I cause today?" wonders Poh. Photo: NETWORK 10

Jock says that this will be the hardest pressure test there is. It's not forced-to-watch-an-episode-of-the-new-Big-Brother-hard, but challenging because they won't be getting the recipe to this dish.

The dish will be from a special guest who started at Nahm in London before heading up Thai fine-diner Longrain and then "revolutionising" Thai dining in Melbourne at Chin Chin – it's executive chef Benjamin Cooper. Melissa calls him a "Thai food master" because he's had 20 years of cooking Thai food, which apparently means it's fine that he is not a Thai person.

Benjamin says that his dish is really spicy and "a bit feral". Benjamin does not explain what this means, but I take it to mean the contestants must cook the dish while drunk on cheap champagne, dressed up like a day at the races, and serve it with their shirts missing and their make-up all smudged.

Benjamin removes the cloche to reveal his jungle curry with rice and roti. He says there are 30-40 chillies in the dish and it's one of the hottest curries he cooks at Chin Chin. I hope Jock has prepared himself a glass of milk and a moist towelette.

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The contestants have a taste of the curry and are pretty smug they don't have to wait in the usual Chin Chin line for their lunch today. Poh notices that there is no coconut milk and Benjamin explains that jungle curries are stock-based with a broth-like sauce. He also says that "fat is your friend", which is what I like to hear after three months of lockdown and 3000 blocks of chocolate.

Brendan has started sweating, perhaps from the excessive chillies, perhaps from the fact that they have to use every ingredient that is on the table. There's all types of fresh and dried spices, Asian herbs, betel leaves, rice wine vinegar and more. Obviously Coles has no branding on this table.

Time starts and they have 90 minutes on the clock. Brendan starts hacking up a chicken for the base of his stock. He says he's used to cooking Chinese food, but not so much southeast Asian cuisine, so today he will be relying on flavour and instincts.

Sarah, who has Malaysian heritage, says this is her type of food. Poh also has a Malaysian background, but is also often a crazy person, so she has decided to make her stock with just chicken and salt. I don't know what type of stock she thinks she is making, but it is not a good one.

Poh makes her roti and covers it in ghee to rest. She can't remember why you are meant to do this, but I trust that being coated in fat is a great way to rest anything. Benjamin asks her what stock ingredients she has added to her pressure cooker. She tells him just chicken and salt, and he has a great poker face that doesn't reveal that this was the worst decision ever. Though Poh has questionable kitchen logic, she was not born yesterday, and realises her mistake.

I do not own a pressure cooker but apparently once you turn it on you can no longer open the lid until the pressure cooker thinks the food is done. Poh has been held hostage by a pressure cooker before and it caused her to fail a challenge, so she should be the first to know that when the robots all turn on us, the pressure cookers are not be trusted.

Benjamin tells the contestants that "what you smell is what you will end up tasting". This is not a good thing to realise if you live in a very farty household.

Brendan decides to taste a tiny scud chilli to see how hot it is. He immediately gets the sweats and has to have a swig of water and a snack from the pantry. Brendan decides to start with just eight chillies, even though Benjamin is right in front of him telling him that he literally uses 30-40.

Brendan has been puzzled about a jar of pickled rhizome for a few minutes now – he keeps picking it up and whispering "pickled rhizome" into the wind like god might tell him how to use it. For those playing at home, rhizome is a culinary root known as krachai in Thai, and an essential part of a jungle curry used both in the paste and added freshly sliced on top. Brendan decides to add it to his paste and thanks god for nothing.

Meanwhile, his bestie Reece is plodding along quite well. He's made his stock, gathering his ingredients for his paste and has fried the lard into oil because "fat is our friend". Even Callum is surprised by Reece's savoury capabilities and gives some friendly sass from the gantry saying that Reece probably wishes this was a 19-layer chocolate cake.

The lard is perplexing Sarah, so Jock uses some interpretive dance movements to tell her to "layer the flavour". She realises that the curry paste is cooked in pork fat, so fries it up and puts her paste in the pan to cook off. For some reason she chooses this moment to do some more shopping, going to the table to pick up some eggplants, herbs and, if it were me, a bag of chips for later. But when she comes back to the pan, her curry paste is all dried up and burnt. She throws the pan in her sink dramatically and says "she is really mad". Sarah is a gentle angel, so this mild scene of exasperation must mean she is really raging inside.

Andy and Melissa find the pan in the sink and ask Sarah what's wrong. She tells them about her misguided shopping trip, but that she has some leftover curry paste so will use that and hope it's enough. Narrator: it wasn't enough.

At thirty minutes to go Melissa gaslights the contestants by yelling that "it's a simple challenge – just rice, roti and curry." Just a million ingredients and no recipe, how hard can it be?

Brendan decides to start cooking his curry and says he's feeling a bit stressed. Benjamin comes over and says he wants to give him some advice: "bring back the cheekiness". He then tells him to "smile more". I don't know about Brendan, but I can tell you that women really love hearing this said to them by strange men.

Poh also starts her curry by frying the paste and then adding her bland chicken stock. She says it tastes nothing like Benjamin's, which is not a surprise, but is just going to keep adding things until it does, which is a crisis method I am familiar with.

Khanh has let his hair down and looks like Rapunzel up on the gantry balcony. He's worried about Reece, who hasn't started cooking his curry yet. Reece says he knows the curry shouldn't take that long to cook so doesn't want to start too soon. He wants to trust his gut, so please keep your thoughts to yourself, Rapunzel.

At 10 minutes to go, Benjamin says that at his restaurant this would be the time he would start cooking the curry. This means that everyone except for Reece has cooked the curry too soon. Poh says she is devastated. Sarah says "what in the world" like an 80-year-old in a 30-year-old's body. They can't start again so they just keep going.

So Reece has pulled a Callum, and is suddenly in the lead. He starts to cook his curry. The clock starts counting down and Sarah is still trying to balance her curry. She tries to make it punchier by adding vinegar and the rhizomes. Brendan races to get more chillies. The gantry start having a mental breakdown and are yelling uncontrollably at the contestants, which must be great and not at all annoying during the important final seconds of a stressful elimination cook.

Brendan serves his curry first, and says he is very proud. Benjamin says the consistency of the broth is really good, but thinks it could have more chilli. Jock says he is "gobsmacked" because it is very close to Benjamin's. Benjamin looks a little offended by this. Andy says he has "pulled one out of the bag". Pulled what out of what bag, we will never know.

Poh arrives next and says she is "freaking out". She tells the judges that she over-caramelised the paste, but she should have just shut up and hoped no one noticed! I mean Andy certainly wouldn't have. Poh says she hopes it tastes "decent enough", which is how I would describe a pie from the petrol station, not a MasterChef's fine-dining curry recipe.

Jock says it looks and smells different to Benjamin's. Andy says the "rice was lovely", which is not an ideal compliment. Benjamin says the sauce has cooked too long so the chilli has become "unpleasant". Melissa says some hits, some misses. Has the Pohllercoaster come to a stop?

Reece is up next and spends the whole time walking up to the bench with a depressive monologue about how that was really hard but at least he didn't give up. He tells the judges that all he thinks about is cakes (totally normal) and he is worried he hasn't done enough. This is news to me, as it seemed like Reece had the best cook today?

Jock says it's the worst roti he's had today, but the curry itself is the closest to Benjamin's. Benjamin says it's a "party on the palate". Andy says it takes us on a journey and Melissa can't stop smiling. So the trick to a good curry is just to think about cake the entire time you are making it.

Sarah serves her curry last. Benjamin says the broth is too thin. Melissa says it is missing the "feral element". Andy says the "nuts and bolts" were the broth, but that was a miss. Jock says it's a shame because she is so good and if anyone was going to nail it, it should have been her.

Jock says that the best dish of the day should consider themselves a force to be reckoned with. He tells Reece it's him and Reece looks like he just won the award for most voluminous hair. He can't believe it. His bestie Brendan is safe, too.

So it's down to Poh and Sarah, and Melissa says it was a really tough choice. She says Sarah's curry was too thin and Poh's was too thick, but Poh's was balanced and punchy so she is safe and Sarah is going home.

Poh illegally touches Sarah's shoulder, because f##k social distancing. Andy says this decision "hurts all of us". Sarah says it's been a privilege to have walked and worked among legends. She wants to leave on a positive note, so says, "be kind and have fun". What a treasure, but Sarah leaving because her curry wasn't "feral" enough sounds just about right for 2020.

Read more of our MasterChef recaps here and follow Eloise Basuki on Twitter @eloise_baz.