On last night's MasterChef Australia premiere, the 24 returning contestants — the very best chefs MasterChef kitchen has ever seen — met their idol, guest judge Gordon Ramsay, and then the new judges for the season, Andy Allen, Jock Zonfrillo and Melissa Leong.
We're not exaggerating about the "idol" thing either: many contestants were quite literally gushing over him. Someone said that they could "die now" because Gordon said their dish smelt delicious. And he'd done his homework, able to chat with everyone about their last appearance on the show, and all the good things he knew about them.
Some had worked pretty closely with Jock and Andy before — Laura Sharrad's worked in Jock's Orana restaurant in Adelaide, while Ben Milbourne met Andy in the MasterChef kitchen in season four, before going on to star in two SBS foodie series together — so felt the added pressure of their scrutiny.
The twist to the season came pretty early — there would be only one immunity pin for the entire season. Their challenge was to cook a finale-winning dish in 90 minutes. Does that mean we won't see any Immunity Challenge cook-offs this year?
Meanwhile, Poh Leong Yeow, season one runner-up, was casually informed by Gordon that she was the favourite, "no pressure" — but she forgot, and fessed up to forgetting an integral element of her main, the chilli sauce for her abacus beads in chicken anchovy broth.
The judges chose four dishes as standouts — three desserts, and one main, Laura's Native Winter (yoghurt granita and native fruits), Reynold Poernomo's White Noise (coconut frozen ganache and jasmine gelato), Emelia Jackson's Pistachio and Strawberry Eclair, and Dani Venn's A Taste of Sri Lanka (roti, curry and mud crab).
But it came down to Reynold versus Dani, and Dani came out on top. "Oh my Gordon!" she exclaimed to the camera. Now, with this one plus the two pins she won in season three, she's the only person in MasterChef Australia history to hold three immunity pins.
There were hugs all around for Dani, and hugs and high fives whenever someone presented any dish, and people scrambling to get a taste — a symbol that not only was MasterChef shot in a pre-social distancing time, but also that this is the wholesome isolation watch we all needed, with people supporting each other making yummy food.
Reflecting on the win in a video on the MasterChef Instagram, Dani beamed: "I can't believe that I got the only immunity pin of the season. This is so incredible, such a good start, and Gordon Ramsay gave it to me! Oh my gosh, this is a pinch-me moment."
Sharing a photo of the winning dish to Instagram this morning, Dani further explained how she felt in the moment, referring to a number of co-stars past and present, like Ben, Poh, judge Andy, Hayden Quinn and Jess Liementara. "I am seriously overwhelmed at the moment, it was epic. I laughed so hard at the funny one liners, teared up with @ben_milbourne and @_jesslemon_ , felt the same as @hayden_quinn questioning why I was there, felt pain when @pohlingyeow forgot to make her chilli sauce and also felt a shiver of pride when @andyallencooks walked in the kitchen as if he was my second son! (HAHA).
"It was a pinch me moment when the judges and Gordon loved my Taste of Sri Lanka so much. Sri Lanka is a special place to me, I experienced and learnt so much there, it really is an incredible cuisine and I thank all the Sri Lankan people I have met over the years who have shared their knowledge and love of spice with me! When all this is over, please go and visit Sri Lanka, eat the food, experience the incredible warmth of the people there, it is a stunning country and I can not wait to return one day."
Go Dani! We cannot wait to see what she serves up next.