KATHERINE FEENEY June 07, 2012
What goes down must come home, unless the locals eat it ... or them.
Tasmania has lots of old things. Like rocks. And flourmills made from rocks. One flourmill in a place called Oatlands is 175 years old. Tasmania was also the test market for the NBN, which is a new thing, but in a few years time will be as the flourmill – so old and antiquated it’s new. Or new enough for trendy hipster-types to exclaim, ironically, ‘oh, how vin-tage! I’d totally tweet about it on the interwebs using my iDevice but – oh shite! – there’s, like, no wireless internet or phone reception in this kooky cable-strewn place!’
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what MasterChef Australia is all about. Irony. Really, really, really clever, black-fly-chardonnay grade irony.
The not is perhaps best expressed by Ben. Ben is what’s known as a ‘Tasmanian’. That is to say he’s ‘from around here’. He is also a teacher. While amusing, this is not ironic – these Tasmanian creatures might do things a little different-like, but they can be taught.
Ben has learned to talk ‘Mainland’ for example, which allows him to communicate with most normal people and be somewhat accepted into civil society. We learn Ben is hoping that today his team will triumph because it would mean a lot to him and his family, especially his grandmother who is also his mother somehow. Anyway, she also made good scones which we will learn about too in time.
But first, we must hear some things said by the judges who appear dressed, as is the local custom, in either working-class flannel (George, Gary) or dubious floral (Matt). They tell us Tasmanians are obsessed with afternoon tea and that some 100 of them will be getting hungry in about two hours. To leave this place alive, the contestants must feed them.
Key to satisfying the Tasmanian Horde is fresh produce, they say. Presumably someone else will take care of the tea used to hose these creatures down with. They do get quite frenzied.
And then the kicker; fresh produce includes fresh flour. That’s flour milled in a mill in mainland speak. Sadly, this translation is somewhat lost on a blonde called ‘Jules’ who always thought flour grew on supermarket shelves. “I’ve never heard of milling flour,” she says.
Ben, the Tasmanian, inwardly fears she will not survive this day. His fears deepen once the contestants are introduced to one of his countrymen who is clearly a Tasmanian because he sports a peculiar purple hat and pirate earrings and because he is also called Ben, which is actually Tasmanian for man and one of the two names available to people in Tasmanian culture. As such, he may be fierce and quick to anger. He is also the master miller.
“We take the wheat, put it between the stones, get the whole grain out, and sift it – that’s how you make flour,” is what his mouth-words appear to say. “The most important thing is that you don’t let the stones get hot as in 30 degrees hot.” We feel someone will get it over 30 degrees hot, but that could be ironic, or just because the miller was speaking Tasmanian.
“On your marks, get set, go!” Gary yells in plain English, and the contestants, divided into teams by a quaint straw-drawing exercise local to these parts, rush off into the wild Tasmanian streets or into the bone and flour-crunching mill.
The blue team is first to flour. They have 30 minutes to grind and sift enough to satisfy the Tea Horde, and everything looks pretty simple. The mill Tasmanian seems calm, the flour is grinding, and then Filippo decides he knows what he’s doing. He doesn’t and suddenly there is a burning smell. Filippo is terrified; the Tasmanian is charging at him, speaking Tasmanian and waving his miller limbs. Filippo basically burned down the mill somehow, and now there’s only 20 minutes to go. The crew Tasmanian tamer is called. An uneasy calm descends as we cut to break ...
When we return Filippo admits he didn’t know what he was doing, Beau insightfully observes that burnt flour will make things taste weird, and the Tasmanian has been safely confined out of sight. The rest of the blue team are shown ‘foraging’ for food in the Tasmanian wilderness that somehow resembles fruit farms.
And then we’re back at the mill where everyone is intensely stressed and then elated because they milled 30 kilos of flour and Alice drops the word ‘patooties’ which she feels may be a local expression. It’s not, and the awkward moment of cultural insensitivity is supressed with a random montage of Tasmanian landscapes followed by a montage of the red team at an apple farm picking apples and marvelling at the fact that here, in Tasmania, apples really do grow on trees.
And then a shot of a lake, and we’re back at the mill where the blue team has been replaced by the red team, which includes Ben the teacher who, because he’s Tasmanian, knows how to make flour from stone. “It’s not difficult to mill flour,” he says, and everyone seems to agree up until the point when Treegan is spied jabbing the flour with a stick by the mill-man who, roused from his sedated slumber, charges again screaming “Don’t Jab! Resist the Stick! Get out of my Mill you Mainland Amateurs!” Or something. It’s too much for this time slot so we cut to shots of the blondes on the blue team gathering strawberries in a field and licking ice-creams.
The red team at the mill aren’t seen again until they have recovered from their mistake and have bagged 50 kilos of flour. Treegan, who is in a bizarre psychological state at this point, literally grabs her boob. Inadvertently this calms the mill-man, though the consequences remain mysterious as it’s time now to time warp to a place in Launceston where lies the large gorge of tea-mad hordes and a kitchen with just enough mod cons to manage their feeding.
“You must produce four beautiful pastries times 100,” Gary yells at the kitchen and the contestants who are in it. “Then you must transport the food to the gorge for feeding time!”
“Andrew, what are you going to make?!”
Andrew thinks, ‘I’m right-flipping here Gary no need to yell’, but says his team are going to make scones with two jams, jammy dodgers, tea-cakes and profiteroles.
Meanwhile his arch nemesis Amina says her blue team will also make scones, but with only one jam, as well as éclairs, sweet tarts, melting moments and that’s it.
“That’s it?” Gary questions.
“That’s it,” she answers, suddenly acutely aware that their team is lacking one distinct advantage: they don’t have a Tasmanian.
He’s on the red team, and making scones from a recipe his grandmother taught him. It’s all very sentimental because everyone knows Ben also learned how to cook from his mother, and so it is assumed that they are one and the same person. A close up shot of his teeth does much to confirm these suspicions. It’s peculiar, maybe, but then Mindy goes on to describe herself as an octopus, Amina says she’s a queen bee, and we are reminded that MasterChef is just all about loony adventure journeys of food and crazy and dreams.
Speaking of, the cake-making blonde from Brisbane called Julia has decided an auto-mechanic named Mario is just the right guy to take on her ‘famous’ recipe for melting moments biscuits. Why isn’t she doing them herself? Because she’s taking on the far more important and complicated task of making choux pastry that’s why! Also it works better when she has someone to yell instructions at, and Mario is hoping this will be his crowning glory. We sort of feel sorry for Mario at this point.
Cue comic relief in the form of Gary and George who have just been issued an apple from the woman at the Tasmanian tourism office and now must talk about it in Mainland. “Look it’s an apple,” says Gary. “They foraged it from a tree.”
“Amazing,” replies George. “Food comes from plants!”
Less amazing are the jams being cooked, the scones being made, the biscuits being cut and pretty much everything else being done in the kitchen at that point. This is established by way of rapid action sequences, shots of pained expressions, shots of Julia yelling at Mario, shots of Mario weeping silently, and shots of Ben the Tasmanian looking wild and unruly like only a Tasmanian can.
“There’s 30 mins before you need to be on the move and you are all in trouble,” Gary yells. He then has a quick powwow with George and actually says that everyone is in fact doing a good job.
“5 mins to go!”
People are packing and stacking and running around like crazy dream loonies, and the sense something terrible will surely go wrong builds and builds and builds and then goes nowhere as everyone piles into cars and tear off to the gorge for feeding time. Back in the empty kitchen, Gary and George share a peculiar, intimate moment that leaves George bent over double and breathing heavily. Cut to break.
And we’re back. Everyone is piling out of their cars at the gorge and the one demarcated as a ‘real Aussie bloke’ yet ironically named Beau observes that it looks like they’re in The Lord of the Rings. This is basically because Matt Preston stands before them in a floral shirt like a Misty Mountain in spring and says they shall not pass without first pleasing the horde.
And then, as the contestants stream into the kitchens with just ten minutes to spare, we see them. The people. The local people. The Tasmanians. The Tasmanians are coming.
Preston positions himself in the centre of the room and speaks loudly and clearly – “Welcome,” he says. “You are part of a MasterChef team challenge. We have taken one of your people captive. We will feed you, and you must choose a team to spare, and your Tasmanian will live to cook another day.”
The horde sits staring. Waiting. Hungry for scones.
And then the Great Feeding begins.
Julia produces towers of cakes and tells everyone of her baking prowess. Ben proffers plates of scones inspired by his grandmother/mother called Shirley. He meets another woman called Shirley. This is really not that strange as Shirley is Tasmanian for female and the other one of two names available on the island.
Outside, away from the chewing and stomping and howling of the horde, the judges are sampling the treats from each team. Everyone agrees the melting moments aren’t as good as when Julia makes them, that the apple teacake is boring, the jammy dodgers are crappy codgers and George can’t eat éclair for crap.
As the tense violin music plays, signalling the approach of almost certain death for someone, we discover that one of the Tasmanians found a piece of plastic in their tart. No-one can understand exactly what he is saying, but that doesn’t stop Kylie of the red team rushing over to tell her blue rivals their clumsy attempt at Tasmanocide has been foiled.
Their pained expressions are followed by some more face-words from the horde who, now finished their feeding, are preparing to retreat back into their rugged wilderness of fruit farms for the evening forage.
The teams assemble on a lawn to hear their fate.
One team won by a landslide, they are told. One team won 60 votes. The other team won 12. That doesn’t quite add up to 100, but some of the Tasmanians may have eaten each other. Reality can be brutal, as the team who lost are about to discover.
The red team!
The news forces Amina to actually collapse on the ground. She can’t believe it. No one can believe it. The Tasmanians probably can’t believe it, if they could understand it. The red team – the team with the Tasmanian – have lost the challenge. They lost it by a long shot.
“It’s tough,” Ben says, his wildness and Tasmanianess utterly diminished. “I really wanted to win this one. It hurts a lot.”
He resolves to call his wife Shirley as soon as he gets home.