Few people would have put their money on Andy Allen being crowned Australia’s next MasterChef. By his own admission, even a fortnight ago the apprentice sparky seemed like an outside bet at best. Yet with a lot of hard work and determination, the 23-year-old Novocastrian mounted a late title bid that saw him deliver restaurant quality dish after dish, culminating in a finale performance that’s as good as this competition has ever seen.
Facing off against Audra and Julia in finale, two cooks who between them have been responsible for some of this season’s finest fare, Andy certainly had a culinary mountain to climb. And with hot entrées to prepare for 35 hungry MasterChef fans in round one, the going wasn’t about to get any easier, even with brofriends Ben and Beau assisting him on plating duties.
Yet in true Andy fashion, he kept a cool head when those around him were occasionally losing theirs, creating a Seared Tuna with Cauliflower and Squid Ink Puree dish of vibrant, modern flavours that was a resounding hit with the judges. It may not have been enough to beat the total score of 25 points enjoyed by Julia’s Rare Seared Beef Fillet with Horseradish Cream, but with 23 points it edged Audra’s Egg net, Ma hor and Sambal Prawns and secured its relieved and overjoyed maker a place in MasterChef’s final two.
And so the final battle came down to Andy and Julia, with two further challenges standing between them and a date with destiny. For the first, each contestant had to prepare an authentically Australian main that could legitimately be labelled our ‘national dish.’ Each calling upon their childhood memories, Julia chose to make a Rack of Lamb with Lemon Myrtle and Macadamia Crust, Lemon Fondant Potatoes and Vegetables, while Andy opted to put a fresh spin on a classic seafood basket.
Both had their issues – time being Julia’s enemy and plating up Andy’s. Unfortunately the former was the more insurmountable problem as it resulted in Julia’s protein being undercooked, while the triumphant flavours of Andy’s dish easily overshadowed any reservations he had about its presentation. The two point deficit he carried into the second round soon seemed like a distant memories as a stellar series of scores, including a 10 from Gary, gave him a round total of 28 to Julia’s 21 and a five point lead going into the final challenge.
And what a challenge it was. As soon as the great Christine Mansfield lifted the cloche, it was obvious that what the contestants were in for was no picnic, but rather a Gaytime… Gone Nuts. A dessert to rival the majesty of Peter Gilmore’s Snow Egg or René Redzepi’s The Snowman, this complex take on an Aussie classic had even Dessert Queen Julia breaking a sweat.
Yet once again, Andy showed that there’s really nothing he can’t achieve if he sets his mind to it. Despite never having attempted most of the techniques before, he succeeded in beating Julia at her own game by not only recreating the flavours of Christine’s dish, but also its delicate construction.
22 points in the final round didn’t look likely to be enough for Julia to reverse her second round setback, and so it proved, with Andy winning the day and the title with 27 points. Exhilarated, emotional and almost lost for words, the MasterChef 2012 and people’s champion celebrated his victory with the chefs and friends who’ve shared his incredible journey. And at the last, no one could deny he deserved it.