MasterChef Australia The Cookbook Volume 1 - recipes and tips from the 2009 TV series

Learn and enjoy, from novice cooks to the pros

By Robyn Lewis
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MasterChef Australia - The Cookbook , Volume One

MasterChef Australia - The Cookbook , Volume One [©Random House]

 

Whether you love or loathe the MasterChef TV series, there is no doubt that is it having a big impact on home cooking across Australia. Look no further than the increased sales of kitchen knives and utensils, appliances and chef’s aprons.

I think the MasterChef phenomenon is great – not because I especially like the elimination style (think Donald Trump’s The Apprentice), or judges/hosts Matt Preston, George Calombaris and Gary Mehigan pacing themselves for the lengthy ad breaks – but because anything that has us cooking better, and making the most the amazing bounty of our land and oceans, plus the hard work of our food producers, should be applauded. Loudly.

As the MasterChef 2010 series unfolds, children around the nation are as glued to the TV as some of their parents, doing what hasn’t happened since the 80s – watching a program together. And talking about it. Stories of kids then rating their parents’ ‘plating up’ skills are doing the rounds, but more common are those of children begging to have a go at cooking their own salt and pepper squid or roast chicken rather then nagging for takeaways. ‘Let’s cook something’ is the new kid’s catchcry; Friday night’s masterclass is obligatory viewing in many a family home.

MasterChef Australia The Cookbook Volume 1 features many of the recipes of the 2009 series, and reconnects us to those who reached such familiarity that we know them best by their first names: Julie, Poh, Chris, Justine….  Many of the recipes from the current series are available for downloading from the MasterChef website (and you can follow their popularity in real time on facebook) but the 2009 recipes seem to have disappeared; this book brings them back, and presents them in an easy-to-use format (and I’ve checked, they are not all the same as those in an unofficial pdf, which also lacks the how-to sections).

In the week following its release it shot to number 1 and became the fastest-selling illustrated cookbook in Australia ever – no doubt thanks in part to the marketing machine behind it and the enthusiasm of the massive audience who watched Julie Goodwin become Australia’s first MasterChef – but also because the book and its recipes are actually good.

It also achieves something that many try and few succeed in doing – have something of value for both the novice and the experienced cook, written in a style that manages not to talk down to the former nor bore the latter. I cook a lot, and I’ve picked up tips in it that I wish I’d learned years ago (pre the era of decent how-to cookbooks, or celebrity chefs with their own TV series). I’d bet than more than one professional chef has, too.

I’ve also seen a many cookbooks that fail to explain a recipe fully, whether to ensure that mere mortals can never cook it as well (yes, sadly there are authors who appear to deliberately leave out ingredients, or skip over crucial steps in the method, and editors who let them get away with it), or from laziness or neglect, is hard to know.

Others appear simply thrown together to meet the Christmas or Mother’s Day deadline, or to cash in on a recently-concluded TV series of the chef on the cover. So I will admit to a degree of scepticism when I first saw MasterChef Australia The Cookbook Volume 1 hit the shelves, which evaporated as quickly as water in a hot pan when I started reading it.

The book begins with chapters on Stocking Up – what staples you should have in your pantry, and how long you should keep them (a lot less than some of my ‘back of pantry’ items!) – and Gearing up: the basic utensils. Yes, the equipment on the show looks fabulous, but you don’t really need it all, not to start with anyway, and this chapter will help you prioritise (it also doubles as a handy wish list for about-to-be-married or gadget-mad foodies).

Then follows Chopping up – the first test for the 50 aspirants in the 2010 MasterChef series was chopping onions, for as chef George Calombaris says, ‘if you can’t chop an onion (he means properly), how do you expect to put food on a plate?’ You’ll soon know and see from the pictures the difference between dice, julienne and macedoine.

Then comes Plating up, a phrase non-chefs were almost unfamiliar with before Masterchef hit our screens. Sure, some of us can serve food attractively, but we all eat with our eyes and if nothing else we’ve been shown on TV how the pros like Justin North do it. This section in the book is a bit skimpy, although the copious photos of finished dishes in the remainder help, and browsing any modern cookbook [such as Jacques Reymond’s Cuisine du Temps] will surely give you ideas for fabulous presentation. Even a family meal can look so much better with a garnish, and please, no dribbled sauce or greasy fingermarks on the plate!

A section on Basics follows: stocks, sauces, mayonnaise and homemade pasta (no jus, however – look it up on Wikipedia instead). Then Vegetables, again starting simply with a photographic guide to 8 different potatoes and what to use each variety for (hurrah), the difference between spring onions and shallots (this book will be an essential practice manual for next year’s aspiring contestants), and how to skin a tomato, then through perfect chips and mash to some delightful Asian vegetarian dishes.

The bar is gradually raised as we work though the book: eggs and cheese, poultry (which starts with how to joint, roast and carve, through to Poh’s rending with coconut lace pancakes, and duck, quail and pigeon in a variety of delicious sauces), followed by an excellent seafood section. Here, with pictures, are instructions for filleting a fish (something nearly half of this year’s 24 finalists admitted never having done – one even confessed to never previously handling a whole fish, hard to believe in this island continent), plus photos showing how to prepare a squid, a crab and extract a lobster’s meat so that it can be cut into medallions.

There are ‘pressure test’ recipes from Monday night’s nail-biting elimination rounds, Friday masterclass recipes from the likes of Emmanuel Stroobant and Manu Feildel, and the contestant’s own favourites, like Tom Mosby’s easy but fabulous looking lemon snapper in a chilli and ginger sea, based on his Torres Strait heritage. MasterChef Australia The Cookbook Volume 1 is worth it for this section alone – with seafood becoming scarcer and more expensive, we need to make the very best of it.

The Meat section is similar, if shorter – how to make (and cook) sausages and the perfect steak (with tarragon salt) by Julie, soon elevates to sous vide techniques for kangaroo and roasting a whole suckling pig. [But if it’s meat guide you seek, go for Hugh Fearney-Whittingstall’s The River Cottage Meat Book instead.]

Lastly come Desserts and sweet treats, again a mix of the contestant’s own recipes from the humble scone to inventions like Chris Badenoch’s beeramisu and Kate Rodrigues’ Aussie mess, and a selection of chef’s specialities.

These culminate in the highest bar of all: Matt Moran and Andrew Honeysett’s chocolate tart recipe, mastery of which cemented Julie Goodwin’s win over Poh Ling Yeow when the latter ‘winged it’ and neglected to warm her bowl in the oven for 5 seconds in step 7, thus failing to temper her chocolate correctly.

Lesson to anyone contemplating auditioning for MasterChef 2011: study this book, and practice from it, too. Please no more ‘but I’ve never cooked or made mayonnaise/pavlova/pork/fish’ excuses.

For the rest of us: read, cook, enjoy and learn, and thank goodness we don’t have the pressure of Big Matt towering over our shoulder, George yelling ‘you haftrr go, go, go!’, the big clock ticking as we frantically plate up in the last seconds, and Gary with his final ‘time’s up, stand back from your benches’.

Feeding anyone would be a piece of Black Forest cake after that, and with the tips and recipes from MasterChef Australia The Cookbook Volume 1 in hand, the next generation of cooks and chefs will be something to behold indeed.

 

MasterChef Australia The Cookbook Volume 1 is published by Ebury Press, Random House (Sydney, 2009; sc, 262 pp) and retails for RRP A$39.95. Subscribers of VisitVineyards.com and Winepros Archive can click here to purchase MasterChef Australia The Cookbook Volume 1 from our bookpartners Seekbooks at 12.5% off RRP (postage extra).

 

This year's recipes can be downloaded from the MasterChef website at www.masterchef.com.au (at least for the 3 month duration of the series).

 

Regions

  • Sydney (NSW)

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May 17th, 2010
 
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