In the final day of Masters Week, the contestants were joined by Curtis Stone via Los Angeles for a beef cut cook-off.
Split into pairs, the contestants bid on the cut of meat they wanted to use, sacrificing the amount of time they had to cook with their bids. Needing to plate up their beef dish along with two sides, the two teams that impressed the judges the least would head into a second round.
After a week of being challenged by various masters, Conor said he was mentally drained and felt like he had “done his run” before the challenge had begun.
“I think when Bento Box hit me it was a turning point where I was like, I’m not suited for every brief,” Conor told 10 play. “I was a broken mess… I think that really affected me.”
While he had proven that he had the skills to keep up in the kitchen, Conor admitted he didn’t feel like he was prepared for the emotional exhaustion of being in the kitchen.
“You have to be a good cook to be there but I think being strong of mind, those are the people who do really well on MasterChef and I went in tired for sure.”
Paired with Amir in the first round, Conor made a Greek stew, one he had prepared several times before. But with only 80 minutes to prepare the dish and two sides, the pair hoped they had enough time with the pressure cooker to make sure the meat could cool in the liquid, risking it drying out before it hit the plate.
After a warning from Jock, the pair gave themselves enough time to allow the meat to cool.
“The beef came out really well,” Conor said. “When [Jock] said that me and Amir pulled the beef and bit into it. It was so delicious and soft I was like, thank god we’ve dodged a bullet here.”
But when he plated the dish, Conor didn’t cover the beef with enough sauce and as luck would have it, by the time the plate reached the judges their beef had dried out.
Following the judges’ critiques, the pair knew they would both be in the second round, and were soon joined by Dan and Justin battling to stay in the competition.
“I think that was the point where I was like, I don’t even know if I have a second cook in me,” Conor said.
“Putting Amir into the bottom four, that broke me more than anything… With a two-person challenge and it’s your dish that you’re putting up, essentially it’s on me. To put Amir into the bottom was just heartbreaking for me. I don’t mind screwing myself over, but screwing someone else over… it broke my heart that he was there.”
In line with the theme of the week, the second round of the elimination tasked the contestants to cook something to showcase what they are the master of in the kitchen. Having wowed the judges with his Kalamata olive ice cream, Conor attempted a green olive ice cream with an orange semolina cake.
“I love doing ice cream, I think they’re a great holder of dessert and hold flavour really well,” he said. “I wanted to stick true to what I’ve done and… I thought this might actually be the best one I’ve done just because of the fruity profile of the olives.”
Though the flavour profile was there, because the green olives used were in brine, the texture of the ice cream was affected.
“I knew it was not working and I didn’t have the capacity to go and change my dish in the moment,” Conor said.
The ice cream machine has been having its moment in the MasterChef kitchen, inching out the hibachi as the star appliance.
“I didn’t realise how many ice creams we were doing,” Conor said, laughing. “I think we just loved ice creams! We all loved eating them, and the judges loved them as well so you start cooking towards the judges’ palates.
“If people are getting great feedback on ice creams everybody starts going, well if the judges like it we should probably be leaning that way.”
Though Conor really only began cooking more seriously during lockdown, his knowledge of food shone through, something he says he picked up in his decade of working front of house in the restaurant industry.
“Being around food and being interested in food, I’ve learned about food for so long,” he said. “I’ve also travelled to so many countries and my number one priority is what is going into my mouth as soon as I land anywhere.
“Food for me, it’s a passionate love but execution was new, so it was actually nice to test my knowledge and what I had within me.”
Following MasterChef, Conor has left the front of house behind and has started working in the kitchen of a sandwich shop, working towards his goal of opening a sandwich shop of his own called Sit Down Dora, named after his mum, with a hidden bar named Shut Up Mike in the back, named after his dad. Keeping busy, Conor said he’s also working on a modern Greek cookbook and is still getting used to people recognising him (and his mullet) in the street.
“Everyone’s been so delightful,” he said. “It feels quite normal, in a weird way. Working in restaurants for so long, I have so many people who I don’t know in my actual life come and say hello so it doesn’t feel awfully weird. It just feels quite lovely, to be honest.”
Follow Conor on Instagram @creamy_confusion
Watch the new season of MasterChef Australia, Sunday to Thursday at 7.30 on 10 or watch on demand on 10 play