Bells! Nuns! Action!

Nanjing Night Net

The worst day of George’s life … MasterChef George Calombaris

Good evening and welcome to Italy, said to be the final resting place of Carmen Sandiego and where gently ageing women lean out the window to sip their coffee and contemplate their former lives as international women of mystery … games.

For Masterchef, the adventure has only just begun. This is clear not just because Gary says so but because cameras have been handed to the contestants who won’t be cooking today in order to see if they are any better as unpaid TV crew than they are as unpaid chefs. Ermm, if I said it’s touch and go, you know that’s not a good thing right?

And now as Italian directors** say: Bells! Nuns! Aaaction!!!

(**ok visual stereotypes)

We’re on the streets of Roma which is Aus-talian for Rome, with the chefs getting wolf-whistled at and the judges briefly reprising what happened last night for those who didn’t see last night’s episode, or the first part of tonight’s episode or an ad for either episode… oh they always do it and we always mock it, let’s just move on.

George tells the four winners from last night that their challenge tonight, which is really today Italian time, is to buy food from the market in the square, then wander over to the restaurant Mercato off the square to cook lunch … for EVERYONE IN ITALY. Still, that’s nothing. The real challenge is going to be finding a Coles somewhere in this Italian market square.

Mindy tells us that she doesn’t normally cook Italians, which is a good effort for international diplomacy. Then Alice explains that when Gary said each ingredient can only be chosen by one contestant it means that once a contestant chooses an ingredient it can’t be chosen by another one, which is a good effort for basic comprehension.

The rest of the Top Ten will be playing the role of front of house, which is Italian for complaints department, except for Audra and Beau who are the dish-pigs. George and Gary say they have previously been dish-pigs, while Matt tells us he hasn’t, hence his silky hands. Of course Matt is a food critic which is well-padded c.v. for dish-hog, hence Matt’s rather rotund form.

The fantastico four are set loose and Julia heads straight for the beautiful eggplants and a conversation with a grocer that I hope is either (a) innuendo-packed or (b) a you say “eggplant” I say “aubergine” musical number, but instead we cut away to Alice who heads straight for a plant of a totally different kind – an English speaking chef’s assistant who is able to translate Italian into English into Large Plastic Glasses.

Wade is worried about the big issues, he suspects that his name doesn’t sound Italian enough, so he tries out the name Wadeo, pronounced Wade-o. With the addition of one letter he is now sure he doesn’t sound Italian at all, but does sound that much more xenophobic/American, so he decides against the change and tries to rub the name out from his menu board … only to learn a name like Wade-o sticks. As does semi-permanent chalk.

Mindy and Julia then do their best to confirm the Italian stereotype of men doing anything to hit on a woman – along with the Australian stereotype of thinking being ditsy is the same thing as flirting – as they ask the local providores to carry their supplies for them with a giggle. Alice is carrying enough stereotypes on her own though, so she just lugs her own produce back to the restaurant.

The kitchen is tiny so Wade-o takes a moment to come outside and tell us that the kitchen is full while sitting in a wide, open and empty square. This is a genuinely small kitchen though, which four chefs make even smaller, and four wannabe chefs, two camera crews and an unrealistic set of demands make absolutely tiny.

Then, in a first for MasterChef time gets away from the contestants while one of their core ingredients hits a snag. Only in Italy!

The dough is taking too long. Alice has the solution, throw it in the bin. George has the solution too, bring in someone who knows how cook and take over the pass for service.

It’s half an hour before service and Wade-o is helping his water to boil by attempting to cultivate an Italian bonsai tree, while a queue of incredibly patient looking (but oddly not stereotypically Italian) future customers stand outside looking for all the world like a bunch of people happy to wait for a meal they know they won’t have to pay for.

Mindy takes the time to explain to we cultural luddites how pasta in Italy is more al dente than we have ever seen. The pasta in Italy is so al dente that it picks you up, tosses you in boiling water and devours you like a surprisingly chewy demon … or it would except Julia can’t boil water, so the pasta might be even more al dente than the Italians have ever seen, or as we call it, uncooked. George contemplates why the show didn’t run a boiling water elimination challenge earlier, then offers to give each challenger one “helping out.” He slices some eggplant to help Julia, then slices off his thumb to help Wade-o, mostly so that he will feel better about himself as Wade-o is only now realising that he has to prepare his food during preparation, having previously understood this to be a time of self-contemplation and spiritual relaxation in which the chefs became at one with their food and ready to cook.

George then heads downstairs to explain his actions to Gary and Matt, who, like you and I, become concerned that perhaps this whole episode might just collapse and not happen. Only this time for realsies.

After the break a reassuring voice arrives in the form of Deb, who points out that there are only 120 people waiting in the queue, which is ok because she and the team have no idea what to do. Deb is Myteamsuxsis the Italian goddess of group reassurance.

Service begins and this disturbs Alice as it means she’ll have to start cooking and pleases Julia as this means she can apparently stop cooking. This seems confusing, but not as confusing as Alice’s dawning realisation that in cooking pizza and pasta she will have to cook pizza AND pasta. Despite the realisation, she chooses to ignore her pizza and serves up a pasta dish to George. Oddly, he seems strangely displeased that the pizza isn’t also ready. Alice mimicks George and his old-school traditions, while throwing in a few random “yes chefs” at mostly inappropriate intervals, and still George isn’t satisfied. Seriously, what does this man want?! Oh right, pizza.

Matt and Gary stand downstairs generally making a nuisance of themselves and noting that the entire sub-plot of this episode that had been planned, featuring the inept Aussie waiters dealing with the irate locals won’t make the cut at this rate.

Back upstairs, George dons his Evil Angel outfit and attempts to stand on Wade-o’s shoulder and convince him to steal some of Julia’s pizza sauce. Wade-o folds like the sort of pizza dough he wishes he had made earlier and nabs ladlefuls of the stuff, all the while mumbling to himself that is sure he will have the opportunity to make some more … sometime.

In an entirely unrelated turn of events, Julia’s pasta dishes are walking out the pass, and she’s running low. Thankfully she knows she has extra pizza sauce which can double as her pasta sauce. She’s sure she left it around here somewhere. Oh wait. I think I’ve seen this one before. Is this the one where Bugs Bunny ends up serving red house paint to Elmer Fudd?

Julia takes a moment to peacefully realise that Wade-o has been taking all her sauce, but that’s ok because he’s had such a tough day, what with his awful pizza dough and that terrible nickname he gave himself-o, plus one of those lovely men who helped her with the vegetables earlier has promised to kill Wade-o in return for a date.

Gary comes upstairs to find out what’s wrong. And by find out, I mean observe that the kitchen really is a sheltered workshop for untrained spider monkeys, before letting George know that he hasn’t seen one tenth of the orders from downstairs. He then withdraws with a demonic laugh.

A mere commercial break later George is talking about seeing it through and Wade-o has to make the tough decision to take his pizza off the menu as he has decided to actually make some tomato sauce for Julia. Of course we learnt earlier that actually taking something off the menu is nigh-on impossible didn’t we WADEO so we can expect another thirty odd people to order Wade-o’s pizza-o before service is finished-o.

George is a broken man. He admits to the camera that this is the worst day of his life. Gary is also feeling awful. Awful that he has been forced to sit downstairs and order one of every dish, aware that he is just adding to the workload, then force to not only eat them but do so critically and vocally. Matt is incapable of offering such a disingenuous regret as he is a professional dish-hog and wants one of everything, the pain is other people’s problems.

Gary and Matt work their way through the pasta dishes, noting that Wade-o’s is too heavy and Julia’s is just a bit meh. Meanwhile the people around them are noticing that the two men competing to wear more pink than each other (Gary has more square-pink in his shirt but Matt’s cravat is just more PINK) have now had four dishes served while they haven’t managed as much as a bread stick.

George takes another moment to camera in order to say note awful this whole situation is and how proud he is of his team and how he is firing his agent for not getting him one of the smug table spots for this episode. He finally passes the last dish and congratulates the four for getting it done, getting applause from Audra and the professional chef who we last saw at the beginning of service, which presumably means he’s either been cooking quietly and without complaint all service (yeah, like a real chef would ever do that) or syphoning off tomato sauce whenever no one is looking to sell on the black market.

Alice has had George on her case all service and she has found his relentless need for her to do her job and his demands that she achieve a basic level of hygiene and edibility really hard, yet strangely useful. She’s almost reached that point of enlightenment where she realises sarcastically calling him Captain isn’t actually endearing. Almost. So she just calls him captain once … in an accent. Oddly it’s like he doesn’t realise this is a step forward for her.

After the break George has advice for each of them.

Alice had it hard, produced popular dishes but needs brains in the kitchen. Alice nods, George is right, she should have cooked brains.

Mindy focused and got on with it which was great. It made for good dishes but also made for terrible television. Hopefully her competence isn’t catching.

Wade made the ultimate sacrifice (a phrase not at all belittled when it refers to tomato sauce) and George respects that.

As for Julia, if George were selecting one person to be in his kitchen after this it would be her … as long as George was still in Italy. ZING!

Then it’s time to select the two to compete for an Italian immunity pin tomorrow and it is Mindy (whose pasta was nailed) and Alice, who actually does the dance of Brains-from-Thunderbirds – invisible strings and all.

The exhausted chefs are now allowed to head back to the hotel to relax and get some sleep, which means packing and getting on a bus as the production heads for some Tuscan sun.

Tomorrow the contestants cook in the far more practical and realistic surrounds of kitchens built in shrubbery.

This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.