It's been a whole week since we recappers last visited the world of MasterChef, and in our absence we missed Cassie's sad departure and the little salty pools of foam and gel her tears left as she exited the kitchen for the last time.
Tonight, the remaining contestants must face off in a re-invention test like no other. Instead of re-inventing a classic and delicious dish into a questionable array of “textures”, our chefs must instead turn their talents to the uninviting task of combining Moroccan and Mexican cuisines.
Now, there's a reason you haven't seen an Ahmed Gonzalez's Moroccan-Mexican Food Truck rolling up to your local hipster street party lately. In the past few years, Mexican food has been all the rage in Australia since we all forgot we weren't actually the same country as America, but Moroccan cuisine has languished in popularity since 1995, after we realised that a tagine was just a stew with apricots in it.
This disparity in culinary coolness means that challenge before the contestants is on par with trying to arrange a collaboration between One Direction and Montell Jordan. (For those of you who immediately understood that Montell Jordan's This Is How We Do It was Billboard's No.1 single in May, 1995. I'd suggest perhaps stop reading now and instead re-assess how you've spent the last 18 years of your life.)
The degree of difficulty in the challenge before them is not lost on the contestants, and when Rhys is asked if he's confident he responds in trademark Rhys style; a drawled “… so yeaaah” - which can mean many things, but in this case he is concerned that he doesn't have the requisite experience with either cuisine to correctly adapt them into a single winning dish. Nobody does, Rhys. Nobody does.
Bonny says this challenge is right up her alley. With no particular background in either cuisine or in fusion generally, the basis on which she makes this claim is anyone's guess, but we suspect it may have something to do with her candid interview being filmed some time after the results of the challenge were already known.
Luke tells us that he's choosing the camel because he's never cooked it before, which if you think about is probably a pretty strong case for NOT choosing the camel, but it's this kind of derring-do that has seen Luke in good stead in the past, both as a professional chef and as an amateur pirate.
As Marco and Matt go around the room all the contestants making dishes with “Moroccan technique, but Mexican flavours” are of the mistaken belief that that means something. It soon becomes apparent that Moroccan technique just means cooking with heat, and Mexican flavours means “with salsa”.
Rhett is cooking a camel liver tortilla, because in challenge where the desired outcome is Moroccan-Mexican fusion, he cleverly surmises that scores will be awarded at least in part for disgustingness.
Rhys is worried because he never cooked or even eaten Moroccan or Mexican food before.
Coop complains that Marco is making him nervous, but Marco tells Coop he's making himself nervous, which is something I'll bear in mind next time someone is standing three centimetres from my face, staring into my eyes and chewing malevolently.
Marco cautions Coop that one solitary quail may not be enough to satisfy both Marco and Matt, although in fairness if that's the benchmark then Coop is going to have to find a way to serve about 17 quails plus sneaking a couple of bucks in cash onto the plate so that they can get drive-through on the way home.
Now it's Nick's turn to have arbitrary criticism hurled at him and Marco tells him he is concerned Nick is using too many ingredients from jars and bottles. Judiciously, Nick chews off his own tongue to stop himself mentioning Marco's recent and well-publicised position on packaged stock.
Cooking continues apace and with only moments left, Coop is still haunted by Marco's words; the tiny seed of doubt having grown into a giant oak tree full of quails, all taunting him in high-pitched calls with the idea that serving only one of their number could potentially destroy his life and call forth The Apocalypse.
One quail or two? One quail or two? The question flicks back and forth in Coop's mind like the ticking of a time bomb. He experiments with putting two quail on the plate but thinks it looks “naff”, although to those of us at home it looks a bit more like a pair of giant bollocks.
The clock rushes headlong toward zero and the music builds to a powerful and dramatic crescendo. Finally Coop, still contorted with self-doubt, opts for one-and-a-half quails, which after all that's been made of it is actually quite a disappointing anticlimax.
The unflappable Rhett tells us his dish is great and he's confident, even though to the average person the idea of a Moroccan-Mexican fusion dish of chopped camel liver is pretty much the worst sounding thing ever in the history of food.
Rhys decides to serve his dish with a beer in the hope that the judges will be too drunk to notice it's awful. The gambit backfires as the Matt and Marco unfairly refuse to judge Rhys' dish on the quality of the beer it's served with. Rhys is asked whether he wants to go home and he again responds with a lackadaisical “… so yeeeah”, but in this case that just means he's destitute and homeless. (Although if Rhys is eliminated and looking for a place to stay, he should know that Helen Razer can be contacted through this website.)
Luke is up next and his dish of “Moroccan Something with Mexican Flavours No. 7” is a hit. It's the best dish that he has ever brought up to the judges. Both Luke and the parrot on his shoulder beam with pride. If he keeps this up he might even captain his very own ship one day!
Unfortunately for Michael, his dish has not been a success. Marco says that it not only looks awful, but also tastes like baby food. He qualifies his comment by saying that Michael shouldn't take it as an insult, although in reality that's pretty much the only way to take it, and the only identifiable positive is that Marco wasn't physically slapping him at the same time.
Rhett is up next, and despite his confidence he has missed the mark; the downfall of his camel liver dish being the surprising taste of camel liver – or to put it in Rhettspeak, his dish was perfect except for the errors in the judges' perception of its flavour.
Coop's dish is also criticised. Matt says it went to Morocco but not to Mexico, and although he could picture the quail peddled among the heady fragrances of a Marrakesh souk, he just couldn't imagine it trying to sell him a leather handbag through the window of a taxi in Tijuana.
Moreover, and as one final indignity, after all the warnings that one quail would not be enough, Marco and Matt just eat the one quail and leave the rest uneaten on the plate; the half carcass quietly mocking Coop from beyond the grave.
It's Bonny's turn in front of the judges and she puts down her dish of Chermoula, Morwong and Pebré, which I can assure you are foods and should not be confused with the Casablanca-based mariachi band of the same name. There is a long pause and Marco looks emotional, either overwhelmed by with the creativity of the dish in concept, or slowly and deliberately undressing Bonny with his eyes.
Matt observes that Bonny's strengths are her refined palate and her knowledge of world cuisines, notwithstanding that pebré is a Chilean sauce and not strictly Mexican (but that's ok because how many Mexicans and Chileans are really watching this anyway). It's all academic, however, as her dish is delicious – its inspired combination of flavours sending Matt into raptures and exciting Marco's pre-girded loins.
Judging is over and Bonny, Luke and Nick have the top dishes of the day. Bonny has won the challenge and tells us that she has finally proved herself in the competition. This is exact same thing she said when she won the Laksa tasting challenge last week, but in MasterChef as in mathematics, you can never have too many proofs.
Coop, Rhett and Michael are the bottom three. Rhett's gamble has paid off and the general disgustingness of his dish has been interpreted as “bravery” by the judges. Michael too is safe, and that means that Coop is going home.
With trademark bravery Coop fights through tears. Sarah is crying. Bonny is crying. Australia is crying too and it's starting to become abundantly clear that despite what the promotions for MasterChef: The Professionals would have had us believe, most of Marco's time in this competition seems to be be spent stopping people from crying rather than precipitating it.
The decision made, Coop makes one of the most dignified exits in MasterChef history, returning to his loving family, proud and uncowed; his time in the competition have proved him a talented and honest chef in the kitchen, and a favourite in Australia's hearts.