‘Unless You’re On The Bottom, You Don’t Appreciate The Top’: How Poh Climbed Back From A Horror Week To Make The Dish That Stunned Katy Perry
It’s been a tough week for MasterChef fans, who have watched the judges throw all sorts of crazy twists at the contestants.
Cooks who rarely falter have been close to breaking point, or edged just past it, after last minute bench swaps, recipes being taken away mid-Pressure Test and the arrival of some tiny, yet not completely welcome Mystery Boxes.
Twists Week has been an especially tough one for Poh who was captain in the service challenge that her team very narrowly lost, and had a horrible time in the next day’s Pressure Test recreating Darren Purchese’s pavlova -- two cooks that left her questioning if she belonged on Back To Win.
Speaking to 10 daily via phone, we asked Poh whether she’s been watching the last few episodes of MasterChef, or whether it’s been too traumatic to relive Twists Week.
“No, I watch it all the time and it is traumatic!” she laughed. “Both!”
Reflecting on the challenging Pressure Test that she struggled through this week, Poh let out a long groan.
“Ugh, that was awful, I think that was one of the worst feelings I’ve ever had in my life -- It would have been such a horrible way to go and I feel so sorry for Amina,” she said.
“Having the recipe taken away was just like… really cruel, don’t you think?”
The cruelty of the Pressure Test left its mark on those who experienced the horror of having to create the multiple elements of the Purchese pav without any measurements, temperatures, times or even ingredients written down.
While the following day was a non-elimination Mystery Box cook, Poh was still rattled from the stressful trial-by-fire.
“You can see that my face is really puffy in the [Mystery Box] cook and it’s because I could not stop crying, I was getting really teary in between and, not on screen, but that morning when I woke up,” she told 10 daily.
“I was still so frazzled by that Pressure Test, it really shook me big time so I thought, 'I have to just cook something that’s just so simple that it allows my brain to have a breather,'” she said of her winning scampi carpaccio and fresh fig dish.
It’s a pattern we often see on reality TV competitions, particularly Australian Survivor, where contestants are much stronger after an uncomfortable trip to the lowest rung in the tribe or, in this case, the kitchen.
“Unless you’re on the bottom, you don’t quite appreciate the top and, being on top, it doesn’t make you analyse what you have done right, you kinda get a little bit cocky and go, ‘Oh, I’m killing this!’
"But when you’re on the bottom you go, ‘What am I doing wrong?’” Poh explained.
“When I get home, I like to write what went wrong, the style of cuisine I chose to cook and why that wasn’t a good decision, or was it me just pushing that time frame a bit too much again -- it does make you a little more contemplative to move forward strategically.”
Poh’s decision to keep it simple during the Mystery Box cook paved the way to success and gave her the little sprinkle of pep she needed to get through the following day’s immunity challenge.
But while this week’s top five (Sarah Tiong, Reece, Reynold, Simon and Poh) were still nervously anticipating what kind of sadistic twists were around the corner, they definitely weren’t expecting a pleasant surprise in the form of international superstar, Katy Perry.
Poh had positioned herself very accidentally in the best possible place for Katy’s entry, up the back of the kitchen where the double doors opened up right onto her workspace.
“It’s so funny because the way the light hits my face, it’s as if I’ve seen God!” Poh laughed, describing the stunning footage of the moment she clocks Katy.
The contestants had earlier been instructed to make a dish that incorporated both hot and cold elements -- an homage to the MasterChef Australia theme song.
“I actually love the song and it has a soft spot in my heart for sure --and it totally describes me in the competition, so I love it,” Poh said of the 2009 tune.
Before she knew who she’d be cooking for, Poh decided to go for a dish that has a lot of sentimental value to her -- a coconut pandan lace crepe filled with duck rendang and turmeric coconut sticky rice served with a chilled cucumber and sweet chilli pickle.
Poh first made the dish in Season 1 during a dinner party challenge where icons of the Australian food industry were the guests of honour.
“I made that dish really to impress [chef] Cheong Liew, because he’s Chinese-Malaysian as well,” Poh said.
“So I took that dish home and I turned it into one of my signature dishes. I really love that I could have that full circle sort of feeling as well, coming back again.”
Although Poh thought she may be in trouble when Katy (a few months into her first pregnancy) first had a little taste-test of her rendang and, after choking and spluttering from the amount of heat, asked, “Poh, are you trying to kill me?”
“I was like, ‘Oh god, I don’t want to induce any premature labour on the kitchen floor, I was pretty worried,” said Poh.
“I thought, being American, she’d be really used to hot sauce and stuff like that and then when she started choking I thought, ‘Oh, maybe she’s not a spice person and I’m totally mistaken.’”
But the dish housed the perfect amount of spice for Katy, who was most impressed that Poh had managed to convert her to the wonders of duck meat -- and that it was the dish that most took her by surprise.
“She did love it, and for the reasons I thought she might -- she is Southern and they just love pushing those salty, sweet, sour flavours. I thought like, even though she might not have had Malaysian before or much of it, I just thought that flavour profile really appeals to an American palate.”
After a true ‘Poh-ller coaster’ week where it looked like she might be going home, Poh redeemed herself, winning immunity and a bit of a breather on the gantry this Sunday.
But the best reward of all? Knowing she’s catered for one of the world’s most famous foetuses.
“When that baby is born, I'll be like, ‘Yes, child of Katy Perry and Orlando Bloom, you have eaten my food!” she laughed.