After 63 episodes, 23 eliminations, a floating cake and countless uses of the word “journey”, season nine of MasterChef Australia tonight came to a sizzling end.
With a spray of a confetti canon, Diana Chan was declared the winner over fellow finalist Ben Ungermann.
At the end of a 2.5-hour, three-stage cook-off, the 29-year-old accountant from Victoria won by one point to claim the title, plus $250,000 in cash and a column in food magazine Delicious.
“It’s feels unreal,” she said after the announcement. “I can’t believe this is happening.”
Ben didn’t go home empty handed, though. They kicked him a cheeky $40,000 for his efforts, plus another $10,000 second-runner-up Karlie Verkerk.
Here’s how the finale unfolded.
Round One – Mystery Box. 60 minutes. 30 points.
To kick things off, Diana and Ben had to chose their favourite mystery box of the season, and whip up a dish using at least one ingredient within it.
Diana chose the box set by Peter Gilmore, and served up abalone with Chinese broccoli and nasturtium leaf juice. “Grand finale cooking at the highest level,” said Matt Preston. “Absolutely love it,” said Garry Mehigan. “Simplicity, elegance,” said Geroge Calombaris. “You take something really pure and beautiful and you make it even more pure and more beautiful.”
Ben, meanwhile, used Elena’s box from way back in week one to create lemon myrtle ice-cream (surprise!) with a macadamia shortbread, roasted and pickled grapes, candied Kaiserfleisch and a goat’s cheese mousse. He also attempted to add a slice of his own finger, but the Channel 10 nurses insisted on bandaging it up instead. The end result was “spectacular”, according to Matt, if a little short on the mousse.
Final score: Diana = 30; Ben = 26.
Round Two – Rules schmules (OK, so that’s not the official title), 60 minutes, 30 points.
The premise of this one was essentially ‘go nuts’. With an open pantry, open garden, they had to create three identical plates of any dish of their choosing.
Diana went with a oatmeal prawns with vegetables in a creamy sauce, a dish inspired by her southern Malaysian heritage. While it was “delish”, according to Gary and “restaurant quality” according to George, Matt felt he needed more sauce.
And guess what Ben picked? An ice-cream. A cardamom coffee ice-cream with butternut three ways and a Dutch spice biscuit, to be precise. It proved to be deep, well-balanced and “unbelievably yum”.
Final score: Diana = 27; Ben = 28.
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Round Three – Follow along at home, because this is a competition for home cooks after all. Six hours. 40 points.
Tonight’s championship clincher came courtesy of chocolatier Kirsten Tibballs. It was an edible still life, three pieces of fruit that were of course more than just three pieces of fruit.
“I didn’t think after last year’s Verjus in Egg, by Heston Blumenthal, that we could get it any more difficult but it has,” judge Garry Meighan today told news.com.au.
“Even George Calombaris and I went, ‘Wow, this is a tough one’. I reckon I’d run out of gas halfway through.”
(Seems fair, then.)
After a teary ‘I definitely don’t got this’ moment each, both somehow plated up the absurdly complex dessert.
Ben nailed his stems and layers – his fruit were the most fruit-looking, but Diana flavours were “perfect”.
In the end, that’s what counts right?
Final score: Ben = 36; Diana = 35.
OVERALL SCORE: Ben = 89; Diana = 90.
While Chan was the bookie's clear favourite ahead of tonight's broadcast, host Gary Mehigan insisted to news.com.au that it would be closer than most would expect.
"This is the most level playing field we’ve had for a MasterChef Australia Grand Final for a number of years," the Maribyrnong Boathouse owner said.
Still, like most of us, it's not exactly the final two Gary would have picked.
"I thought ‘I’m not sure that [Ben will] going to go that far’ and he has absolutely proven me wrong," Mehigan said.
"I always felt Diana was strong and a clever girl but I didn’t have either pegged as the final two."
Don't tell Sarah, but Garry had her pegged as the winner.