SPOILER ALERT! MKR for 2018 is over and the winners have been crowned. From funky, alcohol-infused dishes to authentic Vietnamese cuisine, the last teams standing in My Kitchen Rules's ninth season — Queensland couple Alex and Emily and Melbourne mums Kim and Suong — delivered extraordinary food both contemporary and traditional.
Pete Evans said of Alex and Emily, "They draw upon all different cultures from around the world. You name it, they put it into their dishes in their own unique way, but it still makes sense."
Manu Feildel said of Kim and Suong,"The flavours that they bring to us are unbelievable because they use those beautiful herbs that are so strong and full of flavour, fragranced and perfumed and that into the food just makes it magical."
So which team's kitchen ruled for 2018?
Alex and Emily have been named Season 9's MKR winners on the Seven cooking series. "It's so surreal, we can't believe it," said Emily.
Along with the title comes $250,000, which the pair told WHO they will use to to start their own restaurant. "This is our ticket to making our dream a reality," Alex added on the show.
Kim and Suong applauded the victors. "This has been a journey of a lifetime," Suong said, "and we are so proud of them and very happy for them."
If you want to drool once more at their menus, here they are:
Alex and Emily's Love from Miami:
First course: Tuna Tartare with Cumin & Harissa Oil
Second course: Jamón Wrapped Lamb Brains with Caper Mayonnaise
Third course: Moroccan Lobster with Cauliflower and Citrus Tahini Dressing
Fourth course: Pork Belly with Sprouts, Apple and Calvados Sauce
Fifth course: Penicillin (Alex: "This is a twist on one of our favourite cocktails called the Penicillin, lemon, honey, ginger and smoky whiskey.")
Kim and Suong's Secret Garden:
First course: Wagyu in Mustard Leaf
Second course: Quail with Vietnamese XO Sauce
Third course: Tiger Prawns with Red Sauce
Fourth course: Vietnamese Beef Stew
Fifth course: Coconut Crème Caramel with Citrus Salad
For Alex and Emily, their top priority for the night was staying emotionally balanced and in control. On the other side of the Kitchen HQ wall, Kim and Suong focused on creating their master stock, the base for four of their five menu components. "We know how good Alex and Emily is," Kim said, "but I suppose we are pretty much the same level. I think it's going to be a very good battle." Suong added, "That's what we want."
Teams seemed even with the first entrée. Guest judge Guy Grossi said of Alex and Emily's tuna tartare, "You've got to start with something that's elegant and simple so you can build your menu and this ticks those boxes." Fellow guest judge Liz Egan said Kim and Suong's take on street food "bursts with flavour" and "I can't fault this dish. I loved it."
In the second course head to head, Liz said Alex and Emily cooked the brains "perfectly," a point the other judges and Group 1 diners Josh and Nic shared, even if offal-adverse Emma couldn't bring herself to like it. For Kim and Suong, they needn't have fretted about their dish. "I just have to say wow to the way this quail has been cooked," Guy said. "It just has a lovely tinge of pink to the bone and the flavour of that quail is absolutely delicious." Group 1 diner Roula said, "I think the quail wins this round."
With the third course, Pete praised Kim and Suong's prawns as being the star of their dish while giving them a little knock for their plating: "They're juicy, they're plump and they're just coated with that delicious red sauce that's really vibrant. It's a really good dish even though it doesn't look pretty." Although the judges thought Alex and Emily's shell presentation was a fun retro touch, they weren't so sure it was the catch of the day. Guest judge Karen Martini wondered about combining the protein with the vegetables. "Lobster has such a good, full flavour," she said, "and then to add cauliflower and harissa, which are quite gutsy, I think the integrity of the lobster has been lost." Manu told the table he had seen the cook and there was harissa butter left over that he was hoping would be poured back onto the lobster.
The stress was starting to show for Emily in preparing the fourth course with her juggling ingredients, forgetting to turn on equipment and crying once more during plating, frustrated with Alex's instructions. "I love you, it's OK," he consoled her. Kim and Suong, though confident with their beef stew, started to foreshadow dessert woes, which they reminded the audience had been the weakest part of their past menus.
Back in the dining room, that fourth course proved exciting for the judges. "How good does that crackling look?" asked Liz of Alex and Emily's pork belly as the diners tucked in with smiles and guffaws. "Very good time management to get the pork belly cooked," explained judge Colin Fassnidge, "and then they've pressed it and they've cooled it so the pork's cooked perfect, the crackling's crisp. I liked the acidity in the apple puree. It's a great dish following on from their menu." Karen said, 'They have really done an outstanding job here."
Kim and Suong's beef stew ellicited "yums" and head-nodding across the judging table with Manu emphasising the addition of slowcooked beef tendon as a selling point. "It has this magical symphony of flavours of spice and just all these lovely little tones and nuance going on," Guy said. "That sauce, I gotta say, is one of the best braises I've had in a long, long time. Magical dish." Added Pete, "This is just a celebration of flavour, and the depth of flavour they have got into that sauce is wow."
In the break room, Suong shared her disgust at overcooking the crème caramel. Kim tried to lay out a strategy but Suong just wanted to air her frustration. Both approached the situation differently, leading Kim to ask, "Why are we even arguing?" After voices were raised, Kim and Suong apologised to each other. "I'm not leaving this competition without making a beautiful dessert," said Suong.
While Alex and Emily stayed on track for their own "Pencillin" confection, Kim and Suong re-did their caramels. At tasting, Kim and Suong were up first. "So pretty, isn't it?" asked Liz of the coconut crème caramel with citrus salad. "What a lovely dessert." Component-wise, Manu wondered if the crème caramel was overcooked, and Colin could "give or take" the tuille, but Pete said they "definitely finished with a light and refreshing dessert."
After Manu explained how to pour whiskey over the dry-ice rim of Alex and Emily's dessert to get the smell of smoked whiskey wafting, Guy said, "This is just a show-stopper." Karen called it a "categorically stunning dessert. Presentation, 11 out of 10, it's ingenious, it's fantastic, you've got that lemon cream, ginger crumb, ginger jelly, whiskey caramel—it's just a celebration of their menu and a stunning way to finish." Pete said, "This is Grand Final cooking right here."
At the results reveal, Kim and Suong received 52 points out of 60. "You gave us rustic home cooking full of love and incredible flavour,” said Guy.
Alex and Emily's menu received 55 points out of 60, with Liz scoring the team a 10 and gushing, “This was a Grand Final menu in every way."
As Emily explained to WHO on the eve of the Grand Final of why she and Alex applied, "I have watched MKR for years. I fell in love with a team years ago, Dan and Steph, and they were the winners, and I just thought they were amazing and I watched them have this rollercoaster of a experience and they really got me hooked, and every single year I was just totally obsessed. I loved all the personalities they would cast each year and I just got excited about seeing picked home cooks taking a shot at throwing themselves into an environment that's completely crazy but exciting at the same time."
Added Alex, "The whole reason we went on MKR is if we got chance to win $250,000 we'd put it towards our own venue, something that was our own, and keep doing what we love doing."
To hear more from the final two teams, pick up 'WHO' on newsstands this week.