The MasterChef Australia Back To Win competition began with 24 former contestants and three new judges. After months of challenge after challenge, it came down to Laura and Emelia going head to head in tonight’s Finale, welcomed to the kitchen by former contestants and the judges, who were all dressed to the nines.
Laura and Emelia both competed in season six, best friends in the competition but completely different as cooks. To win the trophy and $250,000 they went head to head in a service challenge. They had four hours to prepare a three-course meal of entrée, main and dessert for the judges and former contestants; that’s over 60 plates of food.
As a cake maker, Emelia was daunted by Laura’s service experience running a restaurant and decided to go down the classic route with her Frenchinspired and technique-driven menu. Emelia was eliminated in the Semi Final last time on her unbalanced dessert and it has haunted her since. She was ready to make amends and was full of self-belief tonight.
Her menu began with a light entrée of scallops, turnip and apple, a heavier main with beef short rib, crumbed and fried, plus onion with a Szechuan pepper sauce. For dessert, a pistachio financier, pistachio mousse, Davidson Plum and raspberry sorbet and meringue. She knew she would have to hustle and get cracking by cooking the beef short ribs for 50 minutes across six pressure cookers.
Laura wasted no time right from the start. She was driven today by her desire to avoid placing second, like she did in season six, her will to win was huge. Her menu had a native Australian ingredient theme. Her entrée was seared bonito with lilly pilly and fried saltbush, main was pork loin with muntries and three sauces, and she planned to finish with an adventurous dessert featuring Jerusalem artichoke and cumquat. Jock flagged that balancing native ingredients can be difficult, but Laura wanted to push herself and show just how far she had come in the past six years, from teenage contestant to accomplished chef and restaurateur.
With three hours to go, Emelia discovered her beef short ribs weren’t cooked, which threw her plans completely out the window. She needed the stock inside the pressure cookers for the pepper sauce and the beef itself. After setting them to cook for an additional 20 minutes, they still weren’t cooked and Andy suggested she might need to consider a plan B of a quicker cooking primary cut of meat. But Emelia wouldn’t compromise, having reverted to a plan B in the season six Semi Final service challenge that saw her eliminated. When she finally released the pressure cookers, her risk had paid off, but she found herself racing against the clock to crumb and fry her beef to make it on time for service.
Laura was inspired to use native ingredients throughout her courses, including a triple sauce for her main featuring a Masala jus, a native thyme oil and a sage emulsion. Laura broke down the Wessex saddleback pork and needed to leave just enough fat for the cut to retain its moisture, but not so much as to be fatty. She rendered down the fat before cooking the pork in the oven.
With so much on the go at once, she juggled to take a pan of Jerusalem artichoke caramel off the stove, which had its handle over the pork rendering, and accidentally grabbed it with her bare hand. The burn was instant and excruciating. She called for the nurse but managed to get the pork off the heat before having her hand treated. She had to carry on largely one-handed. Jock reminded her she needed to relax and focus if she wanted to succeed from here because she was clearly rattled and needed to be even more precise in the kitchen given her injury.
Pushing through the pain, Laura made it to service and plated up a beautiful entrée. The judges were impressed with the sophistication of the seared bonito with smoked fish emulsion eats with perfectly balanced native ingredients she had cleverly used as seasoning, including the lilly pillies, saltbush and Geraldton wax oil.
Emelia’s entrée also had a flawless tasting, it was bright, acidic and elegant, having used the lathe to create ribbons of pickled turnip and fresh apple and perfectly searing the scallops on one side. Pressing on with her main, she had to compromise by cooling the beef down in a blast chiller rather than in the pressure cooker and worried it was too dry. She raced through the crumbing and frying but the tasting went well. The beef was perfectly moist, and the stand-out was the complex pepper sauce.
Laura was worried her burnt hand had distracted her from the pork and she may have overcooked it, but the internal temperature was perfect and the pork was blushing pink when sliced. The triple sauce combination of thyme, masala and sage was challenging for the palette but in a good way. So with Emelia and Laura neck and neck after two courses, it all came down to dessert.
Emelia took the French tradition of a financier to the next level, surrounding it with pistachio mousse and a white chocolate pistachio coating. The memory of coming third in season six after her dessert was out of balance is inescapable and she worried that it could happen again because the pistachio components were very rich and needed the sour Davidson plum and raspberry to balance it out.
Laura took a huge risk with her unusual savoury dessert by using Jerusalem artichoke in her gelato, caramel and crispy skin and pairing it with cumquat gel. When an unexpected beeping came from her freezer she realised the door had been open, but couldn’t be sure for how long. She hoped the gelato hadn’t been compromised and pushed through with the final touch for her adventurous dessert, adding a chocolate crunch with wattleseed. As the judges tasted the final dish from both Laura and Emelia, they had just one decision left to make.
Having reached their verdict the judges commended Laura and Emelia on having cooked a three-course meal worthy of the Grand Finale, with nothing splitting their entrée and main dishes.
Melissa said that before the desserts arrived there was nothing in it, so this course was the one that ultimately decided the winner.
Laura was praised for her combination of Jerusalem artichoke and cumquat that was strange to behold at first, but delicious to eat with delicately balanced flavours that Laura is known for. Though Emelia’s classic flavours of pistachio and raspberry were much more familiar, they were equally as delicious and well balanced.
Acknowledging that it was always going to be the smallest of things that would decide the winner, Melissa delivered the final verdict: “Laura, your gelato and crumb had some textural issues; Emelia, your dish had none and that’s why Emelia you are the winner of MasterChef Back To Win.”
Emelia left the competition holding the MasterChef Australia trophy and a cash prize of $250,000 while Laura received a cash prize of $30,000 and Reynold also scored $10.000