Zumbo unleashes a beautiful world of pain

<i>MasterChef</i> Zumbo challenge
MasterChef Zumbo challenge

Sometimes, we must take pause to wonder: is Adriano Zumbo just a very talented pâtissier or, in fact, an elaborate prank played on the nation by a cake sadist? Don't dismiss this possibility and do consider the evidence: the guy charges ordinary Australians $150 for a dessert from his "concept store". Further, once or twice a year, he tortures several people horribly in plain view on national TV by assigning impossible tasks.

We've watched in disbelief before. Vale Alvin, road-kill felled by the V8 cake in season two. Adieu Alana, brutally crushed by the gingerbread house in season three. The history of MasterChef is written in the blood of Zumbo's victims.

Last night, the devil of the Brigade de Cuisine appeared again to cause his ritual trouble.

Before the devil did his worst, we endured a very confusing interval in which all contestants were required to cook something "French-inspired". Andy, who was beset by a very itchy neck, chose cream as a primary ingredient. Matt nodded approvingly and said, "there's nothing more French than cream". Nothing more French than cream? Andy scratched his neck. It didn't take a Francophile to see that there are, in fact, many things more French than cream. Principles of democratic equality, for example. Or smoking during dinner.

Quite rightly, Andy seemed perplexed. He spoke of his need to "flip my cream out" and declared "dessert is not my thing". Last night, scratching his neck and looking at Matt incredulously were his "things". Bless Andy and his dreadful dessert for these moments of bare sanity.

The foremost cream-flipping for this portion of the contest was effected by Audra who now progresses straight to finals week. Because ... oh, I don't know. It's getting terribly confusing at this juncture and just you try to understand it all when Gary is yelling "WORLD OF PAIN" every ten seconds, Matt is calling everybody French and George seems to have developed a strange compulsion to declare everything "beautiful".

Beautiful cake. Beautiful cream. Beautiful Matt. Patient Zero for this illness is Mindy who last night proclaimed galangal "beautiful". Now, I love the sour earthiness of this south-east Asian aromatic as much as the next bloke but, to be candid, galangal is not beautiful. It looks like a cross between a toadstool and old ginger.

Which, as it happens, is precisely the look achieved by some of last night's dumb cakes.

In three teams of two, the MasterChef kids went pastry freestyle. Zumbo did not assign a task. Uncharacteristically, he did not make a macaron entirely from ganache and the spirit of Christmas, then turn this macaron into the shape of a Basque separatist and smear it on his chest using only the pincers of a hermit crab lightly dusted in confectioner's sugar. No! He suggested that all contestants be "inspired" by Marie-Antoine Carême.

I know three tenths of bugger-all about Marie-Antoine Carême and in this way I am most unlike Julia who knows everything. With Carême's collected works stored on her hard-drive, she set about recreating these in sugar form and scaring teammate Alice into silence. Alice also claimed to know a good deal about Carême and, to this end, remarked that making a cake in his honour was "exactly like giving birth". Although I have not given birth, I'm going to go ahead and bet that (a) this is a pretty terrible simile and (b) Alice didn't pay much attention in sex ed.

The teams appeared to have seven weeks to finish their Carême cakes and at some point in the second month of broadcast, Julia finished her cake base before retiring. "I'm not going to sleep well tonight if I know I've got a base that's compromised," said our glorious Femme, apparently mistaking a pastry kitchen for Aerospace Defence Command.

Meantime, Mindy and Andy were busy assembling some sort of jumble sale on a cake stand. It was said to evoke an 18th century Parisian ideal of feminine fancy. For mine, it seemed to evoke more of an 18th century Parisian beheading but I'm probably being pernickety.

Kylie and Ben were busily preparing the only thing that looked like any kind of thing. Among all the cake monsters, theirs was the only blob that resembled something one could actually articulate. It looked exactly like an R2 unit from Return of the Jedi with colourful warts.

The cake whose manufacture had been "exactly like giving birth" was pushed before the judges and Julia remarked that this long procession was "more difficult that walking down the aisle to marriage". What does this mean? Are we to suppose that Julia's marriage is a particularly easy and natural one; a "cake walk" if you will? Or, do we deduce that Julia was married while wearing a cake? Or, can we most reasonably assume that at this point in the season, everyone has gone a bit potty and can no longer utter sentences that make sense? It's a beautiful world-of-pain and it doesn't get more French than that.

Speaking of absurdity, Julia and Alice's cake ended up looking like an abstract minimalist sculpture had mated with an angry parrot. What even was that cube on the top and what happened to Julia's normally impeccable circuitry? To give them their due, Mindy and Andy had made some little naked marzipan people to go with their Dead Parisian Lady blob. Frankly, I thought it was unAustralian not to arrange these little nude fondant people into lewd poses. But who am I to judge?

No one, that's who. Especially when there were seventeen people to judge on our behalf. Among this number was the captain of the Australian pastry team. Now I have never heard of the Australian pastry team and I suspect that it doesn't actually exist. But, really, at this point, any result would be a relief.

And so, the R2 unit with colourful warts was hailed as a triumphant blob and then, nothing happened. I'm completely lost. Something something everybody's families come tomorrow night. Something "cook the food they miss".

I have no idea. Someone will be eliminated. Probably. Other than that, it's a beautiful world-of-pain and it doesn't get more French than that.

This story Zumbo unleashes a beautiful world of pain first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.