How Masterchef Can Teach You to Cook

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Photo courtesy of Grant Cochrane /

To a beginner cook Masterchef can seem scary and like its too far above your current level of skills.

But it doesn’t have to be.

Masterchef, essentially, is about creativity in the kitchen. Each of the contestants know enough about combining food flavours, tastes and textures to be able to create some really amazing meals because they know how to exploit these combinations and push the boundaries. But if you don’t know what the food boundaries are how can you make something spectacular too?

Well, you’re actually in a unique situation. By not knowing what combines well together beginner cooks can experiment with flavours that seasoned chefs will cringe at. These chefs can be hardened in their ways of thinking and not willing to take the plunge and try something new. And in experimenting your heart out you can begin to not only learn new skills, but you’ll find food combinations that you like, that you want to do again and that you can present to family and friends as special dishes.

The way I look at Masterchef is that I can learn something new everyday. The way I want you to look at Masterchef is the same. Take in what they cook, how they cook, and then make it your own. If you want to start by following recipes, then do that, and follow the recipes that you know or that are suited to your level of ability. But keep in the back of your mind those things you saw on Masterchef and throw a couple of experimental ideas into that recipe (like a new flavour combination, a new cooking technique or a new tool).

In each of the Masterchef episodes below I’ve found instances of where creativity and pushing the boundaries can help you as a beginner cook. Even if you’re not so beginner, you can always find an idea that will spice up the way you cook.

But above all else, be open to new ideas and just begin to create!

Jaffle Iron Challenge- Season 7, Episode 8

In this episode Reynold, Jessica and Ashleigh are given a jaffle maker and an open pantry. If you’re not familiar with jaffle irons, they are a toasted sandwich maker the squeezes the bread together in triangles, and you can get one for less than $20 from your local supermarket or at Kmart and Target. They are great for making cheese and tomato toasted sandwiches, but my favourite is vegemite and cheese – yum!

Reynold wasn’t familiar with this machine and because he didn’t think only in terms of sandwiches he pushed the boundaries and made an apple pie. He created an amazing and very simple dessert from an ordinary machine, complete with sauce. You can recreate it by buying a tin of pie apples, and adding some cinnamon and sugar to them, placing them in the bread and pouring over some bought caramel sauce (or make your own sauce as its so easy).

I also learnt from Ashleigh that orange, ricotta and cardamon is a great combination of flavours because Gary walked over commented on it. Its those little comments that can help you to understand the food flavours and then next time you’re using an orange and need something to make it better, you can remember and add a little cardamon to spice it up.

After watching the jaffle iron challenge I put my leftover Mexican beans
into bread with lots of cheese and teamed it with a tomato and avocado salsa. 

Fundamental human tastes Mystery Box – Season 7, Episode 11

The 5 fundamental human tastes are sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami. Umami is harder to explain, but sweet, salty, sour and bitter usually speak for themselves. In this mystery box Marco Pierre White has chosen dates and muscat wine for sweet, lemon and yoghurt for sour, endive and cumin seeds for bitter, for salty anchovies and pigface (no idea what that is!), and for umami a pork chop and parmesan. According to Jessica, umami is the taste of savoury foods.

While those are the flavours that Marco chose for this mystery box, at home we have a lot of choice. Bitter foods are coffee, dark chocolate, tumeric. Salty foods are anchovies, olives, soy sauce. Sweet foods are most fruits and anything with sugar in it. And sour, besides the lemon and yoghurt Marco chose is vinegar and rhubarb. Combining these tastes together in meals is what makes a meal ‘balanced’ as Gary, Matt and George are always on about. Watch the episode to get some great ideas on how to combine them.

Black and White Immunity Challenge – Season 7, Episode23

The Black and White Immunity Challenge has been in my head for the past week. I loved the idea of it because the limitations they placed on Anna and Callum (a limited ingredient list) meant that both had to push the boundaries to apply the food rules they knew to something they wouldn’t always use.

Before they even get to the black and white challenge, watch carefully how Ava explains how to properly cut an onion, and how Gary explains to take apart a chicken. These are skills you’ll need later, but you’ll need to slow down the footage of Gary – he’s so fast!

Back in the black and white challenge, Anna chooses the black table when everyone expects her to choose white. They all want her to choose white because its got the easier ingredients, but I love it how Callum says the white table gives you foods to create around something, but the back table gives you a food to create the hero of a dish. Personally, I was hoping for the black table, and that’s exactly what I would have chosen. With muscles, which are quicker to cook than the beef, you could spend some time using some of those fantastic spices to create a dish that tastes amazing. I’m also thinking that there has to be a way to melt the liquorice down to create something from that – I just don’t know what!

I really loved the way that Callum was able to dish up a plate of food that still had colour to it, despite only being able to work with black ingredients. If you take a closer look, not all of the black ingredients have black insides. Eggplant is white on the inside, muscles are actually pink inside, goats cheese is white and the blackberries will give a really deep rich red colour when cooked. There is so much more choice on this table, whereas the white table contains only foods that are white, pale yellow or pinkish (like uncooked chicken). There are no contrasting colours here so it would have been more challenging to make a great looking dish from the white side. It shows you that you don’t always have to do what you know, and that a challenge is good for your continued improvement.

One last tip – the other contestants think Anna is crazy for not choosing the white table because there is no oil or butter. Did you know that you can dry fry foods? Dry frying means you cook it without oil or butter. This could work for proteins, but not something really sticky – so use a non stick pan. You can also dry fry spices and nuts. If you need something to loosen the pan then throw in a tablespoon of water or stock. Its actually a much lower calorie way to cook (and I found this tip in a weight loss book years ago).

The Dollar Mystery Box – Season 7, Episode 26

Matt starts off this challenge by saying that all great chefs can spin gold out of straw. I love that expression and it embodies everything I’ve been trying to get across to you in this post. You don’t need to start from fancy ingredients or make your meals look the same as on Masterchef. All you need to do is watch Masterchef with your mind focused on learning, pick one or two ideas from each episode and try them out for yourself at home, using your ingredients in your style, so you can make your own gold!. 

I also love the fact that Masterchef finally did a budget friendly episode. I am definitely an advocate for cooking budget meals (see my post on Budget Saving Tips and Budget Lunches You Can Take to Work), but I don’t want them to taste like they are bargain bin meals. That’s why I’m always keen to pinch a few ideas from Masterchef (or MKR – see my post on TV Show Inspiration or 8 MKR Mistakes You Don’t Have to Make at Home).

What I love about this challenge is that both Matthew and John have taken foods that they make at home and tried to make them from the budget ingredients they were given. I’ve never thought of cooking cannellini beans in a sugar syrup to make them sweet – but you can bet I’m going to try it at least once! And I thought Matthew’s idea of putting lemon curd inside the meringue was brilliant, though it was his caramelised pear on top that I thought was awesome and that’s the bit I really want to try myself.

 So, while you’ve been watching Masterchef the last couple of weeks, what have you learnt? What are you going to experiment with? What will you keep in the back of your mind when you make your next meal? Let me know in the comments.

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