It was the Grand Finale that had it all: drama, tears, perfect scores, sportsmanship and, of course, a Heston dish for the ages. And after a three-round epic battle, it was Elena Duggan, the former high-school teacher from NSW, who beat out QLD coffee roaster Matt Sinclair for this year’s MasterChef Australia title.
Round one saw the finalists tasked with preparing a show-stopping entrée using ingredients specially selected by the judges themselves. Matt chose quail to be the hero of his dish, with Elena opting for marron.
Matt’s Quail with Corn and Chorizo Salsa and Pedro Ximenez Glaze hit all the right flavour notes, scoring 26/30 points, while Elena’s Marron Two-Ways, though well received, lacked the punch to truly compete, leaving her trailing by three points heading into round two.
The second challenge threw the rule book out the window, with the finalists being instructed to cook whatever they wished for a main course. Determined to close the gap, Elena cast the nerves aside and put on an incredible display to produce a Twice-Cooked Lamb, Lamb Jus, with a Macadamia, Garlic and Onion Puree, Pickled Beets and Vegetables.
Matt’s performance was equally assured, and despite Gary’s reservations, he trusted his instincts to cook a Crispy Barramundi with Brussels Sprouts and a Pancetta and Prawn Broth that wowed.
So spectacular were the dishes that in a MasterChef first, the judges awarded perfect scores across the board, leaving things delicately poised at 56-53 in Matt’s favour.
The stage was set for a spectacular final round, and did it ever deliver. Enter Heston Blumenthal, and his executive chef from Dinner by Heston, Ashley Palmer-Watts. The pair unveiled Verjus in Egg, a dessert that somehow managed to eclipse season seven’s mighty Botrytis Cinerea.
With 100 steps involved in its preparation, the finalists couldn’t afford to miss one, and both Matt and Elena had their share of mishaps. Elena added an element too early when making her jelly, forcing her to prepare another batch with half the required quantity of mixture. Matt, meanwhile, was left a panna cotta panic when his didn’t set, requiring him to start over.
With precious seconds left to plate up their creations, Elena assisted Matt with the liquid nitrogen step to help him over the line, in one of the most incredible displays of selflessness ever seen in the competition. Unfortunately skipping the penultimate sealing step proved to be Matt’s egg’s literal undoing, and all he could do was watch as it came apart on the plate.
Praising the taste of many of his elements, Matt’s dessert was nevertheless awarded 7/10 unanimously. But it wasn’t enough to top Elena, whose majestic creation scored 8/10 from each of the judges, and a stunning 9/10 from Heston and Ashley.
And so with a total of 86 points to Matt’s 84, Elena was crowned MasterChef champion 26, winning a cash price of $250,000 and a monthly column in Australia’s leading, premium food magazine, Delicious.
For his supreme efforts, Matt was awarded $40,000 courtesy of the new ANZ Travel Adventures card for placing as runner-up. And in third place, Harry Foster was also given $10,000 to help him achieve his food dreams.
Holding the trophy aloft to the applause of her family, peers and the judges, Elena was no doubt a worthy winner, capping off a MasterChef season that will live long in the memory as having all the ingredients of a classic.