MasterChef 2020 recap: The umami challenge boots out one of our favourites

MasterChef is going through a "cubist" period.
MasterChef is going through a "cubist" period. Photo: NETWORK 10

It's a sensory challenge tonight, not to be confused with "sensual", which would be a tough challenge for all of the contestants I think, but especially Callum.

The first round is the infamous "cube challenge", a taste test where the contestants are blindfolded and fed one-inch cubes of random ingredients and have to guess what it is based on flavour and texture alone.

Reece is up in the gantry after winning immunity on Tuesday, which is lucky because the cube challenge booted him out in his previous season. He tells the contestants his advice is to go with their gut instincts. My advice would be to say everything is "star stuff" because no one can argue against Carl Sagan.

Everyone puts on their blindfolds, which are actually just sleeping masks and makes this episode less "60 cubes of food" and more "50 Shades of Grey". Maybe this is a sensual challenge after all.

Callum is first, his cube is orange and looks like a carrot. What a surprise, it is a carrot. Brendan is next with a green cube that looks like a Granny Smith apple – he guesses right. So on and so forth: Poh gets a banana; Laura guesses beetroot, her most hated vegetable, for those playing at home; Reynold gets an orange.

But trouble comes for Tessa in the form of a cube of celery. She says it tastes like celery, but it doesn't have the stringy texture, so she guesses celeriac. Wrong on account of the cube-cutters using the least-eaten part of the celery, but nevertheless she's off to round two.

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The contestants continue to taste their cubes without much drama, aside from a gratuitous close-up of Callum stroking a pineapple cube and a "hilarious" joke by Jock, who tricks poor little Brendan by saying his guess of "zucchini" was wrong because it was a "courgette". Brendan is too vulnerable and sweaty to realise this was a cruel linguistic joke and you can visibly see his heart breaking behind his lucky t-shirt.

Surprisingly, the contestants are all very good at this taste test, with no one making a mistake for ages. Even Emelia correctly guesses radicchio, which is just "radicchilous".

Reynold easily guesses lamb during one round, but the next round gets befuddled by another cube of meat, which he says is dry, smoky and bland. He thinks it's ham but it's not salty enough, so he says turkey. Turns out he and his cube are both hams – off to round two.

Brendan gets unlucky over a cube of lime, which he thinks is pomelo, so joins Reynold and Tessa in round two.

The game continues until there are 10 cubes left, which are supposedly the 10 hardest. Callum thinks that this might mean there are seagull eggs and tarantulas in the cubes, which is a weird place for your mind to go to, but possibly he's been watching a lot of David Attenborough.

No spiders were hurt in the making of his cube – he correctly guesses star fruit, which everyone is very impressed by. Five out five star fruits for Callum. They keep guessing correctly until Emelia gets a white, crunchy and watery cube. She thinks it might be daikon radish, but it is kohlrabi. So Emelia is the final one into round two.

Jock says this is "where the rubber meets the road", which he has said before and always makes me imagine him as one of the embarrassing biker dads in Wild Hogs.

For round two the judges reveal five pantries, each representing the five basic tastes: bitter, salty, sweet, sour and umami. For some reason Jock explains what umami is to the contestants like they don't all have successful cooking businesses/haven't got to the top eight of a high-pressure cooking competition/know nothing about food.

The challenge is to cook a dish using something from each pantry in 60 minutes. They can make whatever they want, but it must be balanced.

Tessa starts off very confident and says she is going to "hone in on her strengths", which she says is southeast Asian cuisine. She wants to make scarlet prawn crudo with beef fat oil and a sweet and sour dressing. None of this sounds very southeast Asian to me, but I'll take her word for it.

Brendan wants to make (no surprises) dumplings. He says he feels embarrassed after he botched his dumplings up in the last cook because he has a dumpling business (Face to camera: Bumplings, in Perth, open now) so he wants to redeem himself and his reputation. After the several hundred dumplings he has cooked on this show, I think Brendan can sleep easy knowing Australia already thinks his dumplings are amazing.

Reynold has his eyes on a duck, so is going to do a pan-fried duck breast with pickled raspberry beetroot. He says he is still rattled from round one though and his brain is "clouded and cluttery" and he "doesn't know what he is doing". This was exactly how I felt last night after one too many chardys, and do not advise attempting to cook duck breast in that state. Someone give Reynold a Berocca!

Emelia is playing to her strengths and making a dessert, but says she has to think outside the box for this cook. She doesn't usually use umami in her desserts, but she decides she's going to go Aussie Aussie Aussie and add Vegemite into her chocolate parfait. Jock says it's a bold move, but obviously he has forgotten about the Cadbury x Vegemite collab.

Brendan is questioning whether he should be cooking dumplings for this challenge. He says he is just making them "for his pride and reputation", but they are not going to meet the brief about balance. He decides to dump his dumplings and switches to lobster noodles with seafood broth. Reece is looking very concerned for his bestie up in the gantry, but Brendan says he "feels clearer and happier".

The judges chat about what everyone is cooking. Jock says this cook will "expose any of the cooks that don't truly understand balance". Melissa agrees while casually hoeing into a bunch of grapes.

Melissa asks Tessa why she hasn't been cooking much southeast Asian food lately if that is, indeed, her strength. Tessa says she has wanted to show the judges that she can cook a variety of cuisines, but it hasn't really paid off, so she's going to show her strength now. Melissa tells her to shake off every other cook she's done that might be weighing on her, which is what I do every time I try to cook pavlova yet my failure still haunts me.

Reece is yelling commands to Brendan from the gantry: "cut your lobster head!", "work faster!", "make me a sandwich!". Despite this, Brendan looks pretty focused and confident. He is going to add umami flavour from the lobster shell, prawn shell and pipis, and a bitter oil from the rocket. Andy says he has "nowhere to hide", which is one of the judges' favourite tropes that I never understand. What does this mean? How does one "hide" in their dish? Do you just cover it with leaves and dress it in camo? Please explain, Andy!

Emelia is working on her chocolate Vegemite parfait, which she has made into a cube in what I like to think was a sassy middle-finger to that stupid taste test. She will be serving with poached rhubarb and sheep's milk sorbet. She plans to balance it all with a bacon fat caramel, which will be bitter from burnt sugar and salty from the bacon fat. She says she knows it seems "weird", but I am honestly loving everything about this dish.

Reynold humblebrags that the last two eliminations have resulted in him cooking the best dishes he's made in the competition, so he is feeling the pressure. Melissa asks what he is doing and he says he is just "free flowing". This is exactly what someone who is always perfect says when they pretend they are making it up as they go along but actually have every element perfectly planned.

Reynold says he watched a Youtube video once where someone made a smoked date puree, so he is going to try and copy it and chucks his dates on the hibachi. Reynold in a Youtube cooking video rabbit hole is exactly what I pictured Reynold doing on his days off. That and working on his biceps.

The judges are gossiping about whose dish sounds the best. Jock is not sure about Emelia's chocolate Vegemite parfait, but Melissa thinks she can pull it off. Andy likes Reynold's flavour combo in his duck dish. Jock says that he thinks Tessa is onto a good thing with the crudo. "Put it in my mouth," says Jock, and it's like he is just asking to be called "Daddy" every episode now.

With 15 minutes to go Emelia starts making her bacon fat caramel, adding walnuts for a "bitter edge". Her yoghurt sorbet hasn't set properly. She tells Jock she's "not going to think about it", which is how I also tackle my problems.

Brendan has a taste of his rocket oil, but doesn't think it's bitter enough. He runs over to the pantry and grabs a random leafy green and says he's going to add it to his oil. Reece, who thinks he is god up in the gantry, is not happy about this and asks him what he thinks he's doing. Poh tells him it's not a competition to make the most bitter thing, "just make it balanced".

Brendan is very confused by everyone's two cents and just repeats "bitter, bitter, bitter" over and over again like he is willing it into existence. He decides to leave it how it is and not add anymore bitterness. He says he "needs to back himself", but his instinct was to add more bitterness, so really he just needs to stop listening to the peanut gallery.

Reynold plates his duck, which has a nice crispy skin. The gantry are all impressed and so he plugs his Instagram. Reece tells Reynold to get over himself, jokingly, but also seriously.

Brendan tosses his noodles through the rocket oil. He tastes his broth and thinks it's too simple. He has literally been tasting this thing for the last half an hour and at two minutes to go he decides it needs more? What was that thing about needing to back himself?

He decides to add mushrooms, which will "make it more umami". Not sure it needed more umami with all the lobster and prawn heads, but sure, make life-changing, rushed, illogical decisions under pressure. What can possibly go wrong?

Melissa forgets to yell from her diaphragm and can't get through the countdown, but time is up and Tessa is first.

Tessa says she is pretty confident, which she has said a million times already. Jock loves it, the prawns aren't overpowered by the other flavours. Melissa says it's "sunshine on a plate". Andy says it's "one complex crudo dish".

Reynold brings up his pan-seared duck, which he has plated in true Reynold fashion with petals of pickled beetroot, an artful line of bacon and kombu sauce and barbecued kale leaves.

Jock says it's not the most interesting plate, but very well balanced. Melissa says it looks like a scene from a Japanese shogun movie, but says it was "not really joyful". Andy says Reynold ticked all the boxes.

Brendan is up next and says he is not sure if his lobster noodles are perfectly balanced. Brendan tells the judges that he doubts himself a lot. Jock tells him he's earned his place here, and Andy says that what he does is "phenomenal". Brendan says the judges have made his time here worthwhile, and everyone starts weeping, me most of all. His noodles look really beautiful, but this emotional edit does not bode well for Brendan.

Andy says it was a delicious bowl of food, but the bitterness got lost among the noodles. Jock says it was an "umami bomb" and any other day that would be fine, but not today. Not even a single bangin' or crackin'. This is not looking good for Brendan.

Emelia is last, and says she is worried this was the wrong time to take a risk. But Jock thinks the chocolate Vegemite parfait was clever. Melissa says the texture is so velvety and "a luxury to consume". Andy says the balance is really good and she has hit the brief.

So the judges go out to break the news and all of our hearts. Tessa wins the dish of her day with her "confident! cooking!". But the dish that missed the brief had "too much umami" (everyone side-eyes Brendan). Yep, it's our man.

Melissa asks Brendan how he's feeling. HOW DO YOU THINK, MEL!? Brendan can't speak and says he "doesn't feel anything". Me too, Brendan :(

Melissa says his dumplings have been the best the MasterChef kitchen has ever seen. She says he is such a "special" guy, which is what no one wants to be called when going through a break up.

Brendan manages to stammer that he will miss everyone so much and has made some life-long friendships. Reece, poor darling Reece. He looks like a recent widower. RIP Breece, your banter balanced my bitter heart, at least. 

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