Skill and thrills as chefs put to the time test

Sadly the only thing about Jenny's cooking that is on fire.
Sadly the only thing about Jenny's cooking that is on fire.
Out for a duck ... Akuc under pressure.

Out for a duck ... Akuc under pressure.

The old staple, the skills test, returns but, let's face it, the key MasterChef skill is yet to be formally tested. Many present and former contestants excelled; not one has failed. When, oh when, will crying be tested?

Alas, it is not to be today, when Marco and Matt chose instead the more predictable test – a contest of three rounds, to cook with a decreasing time limit in each.

As the crew of professionals arrive at the kitchen, Bonny (who, if you missed the subtle-as-a-sledgehammer clue in the opening titles, is hearing impaired) confesses she is nervous walking into the locker room. I suspect that is because the boys have been flicking towels at her – and as for her assertion that she needs to prove herself, a few choice farts probably wouldn't go astray. You go, girlfriend.

Luke, meanwhile, has decided that he needs to show more of what he's capable of. How about starting with showing us what's under your bandanna, Luke? What have you got to hide?

Each round of today's cooking contest has its own "hero ingredient". I believe the producers are amiss in not making one of them a sponge, to symbolise mopping up the flood of tears on the kitchen floor.

In round one, there will be just 30 minutes to cook a dish with the "hero ingredient" of duck. "What can you do in 30 minutes," asks Sarah, who has evidently forgotten such culinary delights of cheese on toast, two-minute noodles and banana smoothie. To be henceforth known as "Slow-cooked Sarah", she adds that "you can't even order pizza in 30 minutes".

The makers of the two worst dishes are consigned to the compost heap. Akuc is terrified at the prospect of cooking duck in half an hour. Frankly, Akuc, think about what would happen if the duck was alive. Half an hour with it, and you'd probably have a fair few bite marks. Count your blessings, OK?

Marco warns the chefs that there is "no excuse for your dish not to be amazing". Marco has clearly never watched MasterChef before, because on this show, there's an excuse for EVERYTHING.

Coop makes a random comment about a time limit but is never seen again in this episode.

Cassie decides to make a coconut jelly for her sweet and spiced duck. "I always like to put a bit of me, which is gastronomy, into the dish," she says, deciding that her 19 years of life is the equivalent to messing around with science. Cameron is back to being smarmy and tries to suck up to Marco by telling him that he was tired of disappointing him.

We manage to get some faux fear (and not fear of pho) when Akuc pulls her duck out of the pot to think it's not cooked. Never fear, Akuc, it'll be fine.

Cassie scoops her "coconut jelly" onto her plate, although I suspect she's simply stolen hair gel.

Bonny, with two tough duck wings, and Luke, with his not-so-pink duck, are forced away into the locker room to reflect on their culinary sins. Bonny, now's your chance to show Luke what you can do!

Vegetables are the core ingredient for the second round, and Cameron is keen to tell us that he just loves cooking vegetarian dishes. I do wonder though if Blondie is as good with vegetables and vegetarians as he is at tempering chocolate.

Cassie forgets she is using some of the most mundane foodstuffs and decides to cook something risky, in order to "wow the judges". The wow is apparently supposed to come from chocolate and wild rice. No, it doesn’t make sense to me either.

Rhett decides on simplicity, and "cooks" a carrot salad. In true MasterChef style, this later becomes "carrot cooked two ways". Frankly, it looks "boring" to me.

Back to Cassie and the young gun is overwhelmed. "Who puts chocolate with vegetables anyway?" she asks to no one in particular. Clearly, you do, Cassie. If only you'd thought with your head, instead of not at all.

Rhett is slammed in judging for not being brave, which is pretty harsh because he did at least use purple carrots. Akuc makes eggplant salad, Sarah's dish is imam bayildi, popular in Turkey, while Tracey makes frittata, Nick, silken tofu and cous cous and Michael (who hadn't been seen until now) made tomato consommé. Cameron has a minor lover's tiff with Marco over the seasoning of his crispy artichokes.

As an aside, judging by this limp display of vegetarian dishes devised by professional chefs, it's no wonder that many vegetarians are up-in-arms at the lack of choice they face when dining out.

And now we return to Cassie, who has titled her creation "a garden of vegetables with puffed earth". I am not sure what that is, and, to be honest, I'm not sure that Cassie knows either. She's told her dish is "jarring" and "lifeless".

Cassie and Rhett are forced into culinary purgatory to sulk with Luke and Bonny.

Round three dawns and the ingredient is shellfish. Akuc giggles at the prospect of cooking shellfish in such a short amount of time; her giggles are so infectious that I giggle and, thus, I miss the next part of the show.

Now, having resumed my composure, the contestants are running around the pantry, looking for shellfish. Four of the chefs are cooking scampi; Akuc is cooking pipi. Cameron chooses not to cook his scampi with pomegranate emulsion and boldly declares "there’s no reason why Marco or Matt couldn't like this one". Famous last words.

For once Cameron is on the money – Marco and Matt do like his creation, doing nothing to deflate his ego. Tracey, though, who presumed she was safe, is forced into elimination after complicating her scampi. Michael joins her because his "pretty" dish has shell particles in it. The judges briefly remember not to judge a scampi by its looks.

Tracey is disgusted at the decision to send her to elimination but refrains from an Anthony-style outburst. The chefs will tomorrow battle Jacques Reymond, who is the age of all six contestants combined, and a team of his who each look about 16 years old, in a key battle of age versus beauty.

This story Skill and thrills as chefs put to the time test first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.