Tonight, the semi-finalists for MasterChef Australia 2023 – Rhiannon, Brent and Declan – were given a challenge that would test even the most seasoned professional chef. Each contestant had to serve 20 diners and the judges, an entrée, main and dessert – almost 70 plates – on their own.
The season’s former contestants all returned to the kitchen to cheer them on, as Shannon Bennett mentored the contestants through their cook. Rhiannon and Declan each had four hours to prep, while Brent had an extra 30 minutes after he won the advantage in the Curtis Stone cook along.
Brent kicked off with a menu that was true to his cooking style. His entrée was charred octopus, XO sauce and pickled daikon, which the judges agreed was perfectly executed. His main course was pork belly, pork sauce and charred salsa. While Shannon expressed concern about his method to cook the pork, Brent delivered a dish that the judges agreed was full of flavour with perfectly crispy pork crackling. His dish was crowned the best main dish of the evening. For dessert, Brent kept it simple, creating a toasted coconut ice cream with pickled mango and tapioca pearls. Upon tasting, the judges enjoyed his dish, pleased with the texture of the ice cream, but noted it was a touch too sweet, overall.
Rhiannon worked to inject her signature deep flavour into every course. She created betel leaf scallop, Thai green gel and bitter melon for entrée and cooked the seafood to order for each plate to ensure warm scallops. The judges were impressed, commenting on the beautiful presentation and execution. With no complaints, the judges agreed that Rhiannon delivered the top entrée of the night. Her main dish wasn’t as strong, as she struggled with her first potato concept for her Massaman style beef short rib dish and created a sauce that was over-spiced. She was complimented on her tender ribs and crispy potato pivot but knew she had to redeem herself with her dessert. Rhiannon made lemongrass panna cotta, tropical fruit and finger lime syrup and her efforts paid off as she impressed the judges with the texture and flavour of the dish.
The judges were cautious of Declan’s ambitious menu. His entrée was an elevated take on prawn toast, creating caviar topped scampi. Ultimately, the judges were disappointed in his dish, commenting on the overwhelming aromats in the scampi mix. Playing to his strength with his main, Declan opted for blue-eye trevalla with green curry, steamed rice and Thai eggplant. He cooked his fish to order with crispy skin, but despite having perfectly cooked fish, his curry was overcooked and lacked vibrancy.
While Rhiannon delivered the best entrée and Brent the best main, Declan had to bring the judges a perfect dessert to remain in in the competition.
After learning to master choux pastry throughout the season, Declan showed off his skills making choux buns with a pandan coconut crème pâtissier, charred pineapple and tamarind caramel. The judges commended his effort in delivering 23 plates of the dessert and agreed his choux was 10 out of 10, however his custard was undercooked, leaving it chalky in texture and taste. With this in mind, and in comparison to Rhiannon and Brent’s dishes, Declan fell short of the finish line and finished the competition in third place.
The judges acknowledged that Declan would leave an incredible legacy that will inspire others just like him.