‘MasterChef Australia’ Recap: It’s The Final Cookdown

MasterChef Australia Season 11

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The promised day has finally come. It’s the MasterChef Australia season finale, after which one will leave in a brand new Holden Equinox, and two will leave in shame.

The families of finalists Tessa, Simon and Larissa have arrived to watch the most stressful cook of their lives from the gantry, as have this season’s eliminated contestants.

Chef Shannon Bennett has also made an appearance, here to mentor the top three for the final cook of this season.

To decide who will be crowned MasterChef Australia 2019, they must each serve a three-course meal to 20 diners. They have four and a half hours of prep before service starts, and each judge scores each course out of 10, for 30 potential points per course and 90 potential points overall.

As usual, Larissa is pushing herself to play with flavours that are “interesting and different”. Unfortunately, she runs into trouble almost straight away. Larissa has chosen to do marron for her main; however, Shannon thinks that just one tail isn’t generous enough. “It is another entree. Turn that into a main course,” he says, throwing her carefully planned menu into the ocean.

“God help me. Please, Lord,” prays Larissa. Taking on Shannon’s advice, she decides to give each diner two marron tails instead of one. However, since that is literally twice the work she had planned for, she is now extremely pressed for time.

She reduces the portion size down to one and a half tails when she realises it’s taking her eight minutes to shell just one marron, but there’s an omnipresent fear that it just won’t be enough.

MasterChef Australia Season 11

Tessa is also doing marron, but she’s serving hers as an entree. Her strategy is to play it safe, and go with ingredients and flavours she’s confident in. It’s a smart play, but also a bit like pulling a Bradbury and hoping Larissa and Simon fall over.

She’s largely on track, however her marron are too difficult to get out of the shell. She blanches them further, but unfortunately leaves them in too long. By the time she gets to peeling the crustaceans with two hours to go, the meat has gone mushy. “See that one? Don’t even bother. It’s overcooked,” says Shannon. 

Tessa’s family yell down encouragement from the gantry while she cries a bit, which is totally understandable. Though she’s behind now, she quickly picks herself up and decides she’ll just have to sous vide a bunch more marron.

She also hasn’t trimmed the wagyu beef for her main yet, which she then needs to sear before she roasts it for 45 minutes and rests it for 20, but it’s best to deal with one mind-numbing crisis at a time.

MasterChef Australia Season 11

Vegan smokehouse Simon is doing a vegetable entree and dessert, because of course he is. “Go handsome!” yells presumably his partner Georgia, though it could just as easily be the judges. He wants to be adventurous and “get the diners questioning everything they’re eating”, so he’s serving roasted beets and pureed beet leaf. 

Simon also makes a honey and vinegar mixture to “atomise”, which is a fancy way of saying “put it in a spray bottle and spritz at the vegetables instead of pouring it like a human”. I don’t know what he expects to get from this dream of a memory of flavour.

Even so, this potential misstep may not matter if Larissa doesn’t hurry up. Though she finally has her marron tail and bisque prepped for her main, she hasn’t even started prepping her entree of roasted bone marrow. This would be less of a problem if Shannon didn’t insist she scrape all the bones white. It takes ages to clean even one bone, and she has to do 20.

It’s a ridiculous, unnecessary step, but disputing Shannon’s professional advice would probably produce about as much stress as simply following it. Larissa’s still cleaning bones when the all-star guest list of MasterChef alumni and top chefs arrive with 45 minutes to go. “I feel sick,” she says as she watches them take their seats.

Larissa is still going at it when service starts, and Simon and Tessa’s entrees go out, so it’s a huge relief when she can finally make up a tester plate. However, Shannon has opinions about that as well. “The soubise, I really don’t see how that goes with bone marrow,” he volunteers, which would have been a great insight before she’d busted her butt making it.

Fortunately Larissa believes in the dish, and has had enough of Shannon’s unhelpful interference. She adds more lemon juice to cut through the fattiness with acidity, carefully plates up, and finally starts her service.

MasterChef Australia Season 11

The judges find Tessa’s Marron, Fennel, Bisque and Caviar beautifully restrained, her marron amazingly tender. It’s clever and technical cooking, the light, frothed bisque allowing the quenelle of caviar to shine.

Simon’s roasted heirloom beets with beet leaf puree is a nice concept, and the judges enjoy the purity of it. However it’s missing something, and they can’t taste the honey vinegar spritz at all.

Happily, they’re pleasantly surprised by Larissa’s roasted bone marrow with onion soubise. In fact they love it, calling it sophisticated, delicious and unique. The mustard seeds provide a lovely texture, and the onion puree goes beautifully with the marrow. Matt even goes so far as to call it a “genius idea”. Take that, Shannon.

Tessa scores 8/10 from George, 9/10 from Gary and 10/10 from Matt, giving her a total of 27/30 for the first course. Simon gets a total of 22/30, with 7/10 from George, 7/10 from Gary and 8/10 from Matt. And Larissa gets 9/10 across the board, tying her with Tessa for first place.

MasterChef Australia Season 11

Simon’s five-point trail has him deflated, his confidence shaken, but he soldiers on. “You’re a ten in my eyes!” yells Georgia. He’s proud of his sous vide lobster tail main, in particular his champagne sauce, and believes it could be enough to catch him up.

“You’ve got such beautiful flavours with this sauce,” says Shannon.

“Gary’s famous words to me as well,” responds Simon.

Meanwhile, Larissa submerges her marron in vanilla butter, again playing with the boundaries between sweet and savoury flavours. I can say from personal experience that vanilla works fantastically in savoury seafood dishes, so I’m rather excited.

Still, Larissa’s worried that her dish is small for a main, so adds some deep-fried cavallo nero for colour and texture.

She also throws an entire fridge’s worth of ingredients into her marron bisque to try to elevate it and bring out the flavour. Butter, cream, lemon juice, salt, tomato paste: everything must go in.

Tessa got her wagyu beef into the oven a bit late, but is feeling in control and confident in her dish. This all goes out the window when she slices into the beef to discover it’s practically raw. The fat isn’t rendered, meaning the beef will be chewy. 

Tessa shoves the meat back in the oven while she freaks out for five minutes. Amazingly those five minutes are enough to fix it, and her wagyu beef comes out beautifully cooked through.

MasterChef Australia Season 11

Simon’s lobster with champagne sauce is pretty good, with both the lobster and sauce enjoyable. Unfortunately, it’s missing some richness, and the crunchy carrots are a miss. He had hoped they’d add an interesting texture, but the judges think the dish would have been better if they were soft.

Tessa’s wagyu beef, celeriac puree and bordelaise sauce is “unbelievable” in presentation and beautifully cooked. It’s a safe, traditional dish, but she’s done a great job, and it tastes delicious.

However, the MasterChef judges clean their plates of Larissa’s marron with bisque. They love the colour and the taste, and it doesn’t even matter that there are only one and a half tails. The dish is generous in flavour and texture and packed full of exciting spices. “That is just rock and roll,” enthuses George. 

Simon scores 7/10 across the board, giving him 21 points for a total of 43/60. Tessa earns 9/10 across the board, giving her 27 points for a total of 54/60. And Larissa gains a one-point lead after being granted two 9/10s and a 10/10 from George, putting her at 55/60. 

MasterChef Australia Season 11

“You’re still in this. You are totally still in it,” Shannon tells Simon like a liar. Unless one of the women literally poo in their dessert, Simon has absolutely no chance of winning this, and he knows it. Still, he wants to finish off strong and decides to have fun and enjoy the experience rather than sit on the floor and eat stuff from the pantry.

Tessa is trailing as well, and worried about her chances against known dessert cook Larissa, but at least she’s in with a fighting chance. She’s doing a play on her favourite dessert, lemon meringue pie, once again trusting in traditional flavours that she knows work well. She hopes that they’ll be more reliable than Larissa’s experimentation.

For this course, said experimentation takes the form of adding szechuan pepper to a pavlova and serving it with sliced beetroot. 

MasterChef Australia Season 11

Larissa’s unexpected one-point lead has given her a lot of confidence, which is good because her dessert cook goes nearly as badly as her entree. First her meringues collapse. There’s no way she can leave them off the plate, but she has no time to do another batch. Then while she’s trying to figure out what to do about that, she discovers that her sorbet has frozen into a hard purple rock.

She feels as though she’s unravelling. A one-point lead means nothing if you completely bork your dessert. Larissa is paralysed with fear until her mum shouts encouragement from the gantry, kicking her back into gear and galvanising her to keep pushing on. Never underestimate the power of a yelling mum.

Larissa places her box of sorbet into some hot water and attacks it with an ice cream scoop, softening it to a good consistency. She also decides to handle her failed meringues by flipping her plating, making her sorbet the base and placing the meringue on top. It’s beautiful, and nobody would know it was the result of a mistake by looking at it. Despite all odds, everything’s coming up Milhouse.

Simon’s pumpkin seed oil cake with roast pumpkin ice cream is a smart, intriguing and modern winter dessert. It’s moist, not too sweet, and gently pushes boundaries. Still, the judges don’t rave, and he needs a rave if he’s going to nurture any hope of winning. Tessa’s lemon meringue with rosemary and ginger is a lovely crowd-pleaser, but it’s another safe dish. 

However, Larissa’s szechuan pavlova with beetroot and blackberry amazes the judges not only in appearance but in flavour. Her twist on the classic dish has paid off, elevating and enhancing it to a new, exciting level. “Wow,” says Gary.

Simon is enthused by his two 7/10s and 8/10 from Gary, his dessert earning him 22 points for a final total of 65. “So I’m winning now,” he jokes. He does win $20,000 though, which isn’t a bad consolation prize. Tessa is awarded two 8/10s and a 7/10 from George, giving her 23 points and a final score of 77.

MasterChef Australia Season 11

This means Larissa’s dessert needs a combined score of 23 points for her dessert to win. And she absolutely smashes it. “That was freaking beautiful, 10/10,” declares Matt, followed closely by George and Gary announcing 10/10s for Larissa as well.

With a total of 85/90, 22-year-old NSW restaurant manager Larissa Takchi has become Australia’s MasterChef for 2019, and the youngest winner in the history of MasterChef Australia.

Tessa gets $30,000, but Larissa takes out the $250,000 grand prize, the column in delicious. magazine, the Holden Equinox and the title of MasterChef 2019. Her invention and creativity with flavours throughout the competition has frankly been amazing, and it’s a very well-deserved win.

MasterChef Australia Season 11

Amanda Yeo is a Sydney-based writer, lawyer and MasterChef enthusiast who still thinks Reynold should have gotten an immunity pin for his 30/30 dessert in season seven. Follow her on Twitter: @amandamyeo.