Off the grid

Hard to resist … Edna Staebler’s butter-fried chicken in milk gravy. Photo: David ReistIn that moment when you pull the plant from the rich earth, the edible root attached, you get the heady realisation. Yeah, I can do this! I can live off the land and off the grid.

It’s the dream of every gardener, as well as people with a penchant for conspiracy theories and alien-invasion novels. I am both.

If the world descended into turmoil and everyone had to fight for survival, could we do it? Could we rise like a Jack Reacher hero? A proper Jack Reacher, someone over five foot five who can protect our borders from the hordes of city dwellers who lack the survival set to live off the land.

I know these are heady thoughts to be having standing sockless in Blunnies and a dressing gown on a frosty morning with a dirt-clad horseradish bulb at my side as I look to the east for signs of thermonuclear activity, or for my neighbour, who went out large on alpacas and is probably ruing that day.

If I do a stocktake of what I could live on, say this happened today (you never know, New Zealand has been awfully quiet and I’ve noticed more and more Kiwis in my workplace – just saying), we have: one 200-kilogram pig, which would get a lot of attention as she is a known resident and full of acorns, top of the new, post-apocalyptic food pyramid (let’s see how quickly the vegan turn paleo now that only the strong shall survive); six chickens for eggs and to eat when they get older (mental note: get a rooster); three geese – would need to set a trap as they are ever suspicious, but they would be pretty special for dinner, plus warm bedding; 20 young Texas longhorns, not mine but possession is way past nine-tenths of the law now, a whole lot of goodness there; one deer, and I would eventually get over the idea of sanctuary and see her for what she is, pure flavour.

All this protein would last at least a year, and on top of that I’d have wine from the 2.5 hectares of grapes, so I get to be merry 24/7, and with the alcohol have a source of biofuel, plus heaps of acorns – the pig would no longer need them – so I’d work out how to make flour and more biofuel from them.

I would have to extend the vegie garden and orchard and work out systematically what food could be foraged from the 16 hectares. And, of course, we’d have treats such as truffles, only we’ve eaten the pig, bugger, and the dog is too stupid to find them. No matter, I’d have all the time in the world to sniff them out myself.

At work recently, we’ve been talking around the coffee machine about Mennonites, Huguenots and Anabaptists. Just quietly, I thought we were discussing aliens from the latest Star Trek movie, Into Darkness, which is totally awesome, but no, my confused look led my colleague and part-time food stylist, David Reist, to clarify that these were dispossessed protestants from around Switzerland who fled their homelands in the 16th century due to being persecuted for their religious beliefs. Something to do with pacifism, adult baptism and just not toeing the party line. Interestingly, the Catholics weren’t the culprits here, they were up to their necks in other business; it was all about the Protestant Reformation. Or something like that. The main point is this band of Anabaptists hit the road and is now spread over the world.

We all know the Amish – the wooden barns, horses and braces – well, the Mennonites are sort of the same, a bit more liberal, but they live in large communities and they look after the land where they live. Phew, I finally got there.

Reist is from this heritage and has fond memories of fantastic food markets where all the produce is traded, so he brought in a book for me, Edna Staebler’s Food That Really Schmecks (1968). At which point I ask him again: ”Are you sure you’re not an alien species here to probe us?”

I’m pretty sure you won’t find this book locally, but it’s an instructive almanac on how you’d go about living off the land. The recipes are all pretty unadorned with exotics, as you’d expect. They use a lot of protein (yay), as well as other food from the farm – milk, cream, butter, lard (yep, they love lard), and loads of vegetables.

There is also lots of preserving, and little wastage. I love the bit where they discuss their favourite chicken offal: ”My little sister loves the heart.” So this is like gold for me in my mood of self-sufficiency.

The humble chicken (note to self again, buy a rooster!) gets a lot of attention. One of Staebler’s favourite dishes is butter-fried chicken in milk gravy, and it’s a dish I can’t resist, being from Huguenot roots, if tenuously – nine generations back. The only thing better, she says, is the same dish with dumplings. So that’s what I’m cooking.

Staebler recounts her mother cutting up ”a nice little yellow hen” into drumsticks, thighs, wings, back, breast, neck and giblets, then covering them with boiling salted water and cooking them slowly until tender. Then her mother ”lifted out the pieces, drained them, and dropped them into melted butter in her big iron fry pan, turning them carefully until all the skin is crisply, delicately browned”.

Sounds perfect, but I would suggest giving the whole chicken a three or four-hour brining in a 10 per cent salt solution before you cook it, and skip the salt in the water.

From here, make the milk gravy. To summarise, add a few aromatics such as onion, leek, celery and carrot, herbs and pepper to the stock you’re left with from cooking the chicken, then reduce it to two or three cups full. If you find yellow fat on the surface (not likely these days), Staebler advises skimming it off and setting it aside to make cookies.

Add a cup of milk to the reduced stock with four or more tablespoons of what we’d call a roux (cook four tablespoons of flour in four tablespoons of butter until mealy looking). Cook the stock until it thickens. (Alternatively, make the roux, and add as much stock and milk as you think right.) Add a couple of handfuls of parsley, finely chopped, and pour over the chicken pieces and some boiled potatoes.

Edna Staebler suggests adding dumplings to the dish, made like this:

2 cups flour

1 tsp salt

4 tsp baking powder

½ tsp pepper

3 tbsp melted butter

1 egg, well beaten


Sift the dry ingredients. Work in the melted butter, egg and enough milk to form a moist, stiff batter. While you are frying the chicken and before you add the thickeners, drop spoonfuls of the dumpling mix into the boiling broth. When they are cooked (they will probably float), scoop them out.

Add the dumplings to the gravy, and ”purr as they and the fried chicken disappear into your happy family”.

What a lovely, simple recipe. Serve with maple-glazed carrots and welshkahn oyster puffa (corn fritters) and you have a pretty good attempt at a Mennonite meal.

Bryan Martin is winemaker at Ravensworth and Clonakilla, bryanmartin苏州美甲学校.au

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They’re a choux in

Secret’s in the choux pastry.Eclairs have outlasted many boutique food trends, but have never quite made it to first place, playing second fiddle to macarons, friands or tartelettes. That is, until now. With eclairs sporting their luminous fondant coats and bold-flavoured fillings, they are enjoying the front row window of many boutique patisseries in Paris.

Fauchon, the Parisian specialty food store at Place de la Madeleine, uses eclairs as a whimsical background for its creativity. Don’t be surprised to see the doleful eyes of Mona Lisa following you from her sweet pastry canvas.

Other notable Paris patisseries, such as L’Eclair de Genie and L’Atelier de l’Eclair have savoury eclairs in their repertoire.

But the traditional eclair, and incidentally my favourite from my 1960s school tuckshop, is a simple affair. The case is made with choux pastry dough, piped from a pastry bag in a log shape, and baked until it is crisp and hollow inside.

You fill it by piping the filling in or splitting the eclair lengthwise. The classic filling is a vanilla pastry cream.

If you want to be adventurous, I have included some creative fillings – cumquat, lime, strawberry and chocolate. If you’re using a fruit paste, prepare it and the chocolate ganache first, then the pastry cream, then the choux pastry, and finally the coloured fondant icing.

For the best flavour, chill the finished eclairs for an hour or so before serving. Use a large pastry bag with a size 13 or a 1.5-centimetre piping nozzle to pipe the pastry.

Debbie Skelton is a Canberra food writer, debsravingrecipes.blogspot苏州美甲学校Chocolate ganache

125g dark chocolate, broken into pieces

25g butter

125g pure cream

Place the chocolate and butter into a medium-sized heatproof bowl. Heat the cream in a small saucepan and bring to a rolling boil. Pour the scalded cream over the chocolate, stirring until the chocolate is melted and the cream is incorporated. Cool in the fridge.Silky fruit pastes

You can use whatever fruit you like. I used six cumquats, halved; three limes, two of them juiced and one chopped up; and a punnet of strawberries, sliced.

For each fruit paste, place the fruit and four tablespoons of sugar in a saucepan. Add at least three tablespoons of water for the kumquats and lime pastes. The strawberries need less water.

Bring to a boil, with the lid on, then reduce the heat. Stir occasionally to ensure it doesn’t burn and add the water as needed to loosen the mixture. Cook the fruit down until you have a jammy sauce. This will only take three to five minutes.

Push each paste through a fine sieve to extract a silky fruit gel. Cool in the fridge.

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Serena survives scare to reach semi-finals

World number one Serena Williams survived a huge scare on Tuesday to reach her first French Open semi-final since 2003, defeating unseeded Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3.

Williams, bidding to win just her second title in Paris, 11 years after her first, looked down and almost out at one stage against the 2009 champion.

Despite coasting through the first set, she then dropped serve for the first time in the tournament, being broken thrice in the second set, trailed 0-2 in the third and fought off two break points that would have seen her slip to 0-3.

But she battled back, winning six of the next seven games to secure victory in a shade under two hours.

Victory extended Williams’ winning streak to 29 matches as she moved into a semi-final clash against Italian fifth seed Sara Errani, the runner-up to Maria Sharapova last year.

“It was very difficult and I am very tired,” said Williams.

“Svetlana played very well. She has won this tournament before so I am happy to get through such a tough match.

“Against Sara, it will be another tough match, she’s a great fighter.”

Williams, who had dropped just 10 games in reaching the last eight, eased through the first set with breaks in the second and sixth games, sealing the opener with an ace despite the challenges posed by a tricky, swirling wind inside Court Suzanne Lenglen.

The 27-year-old Kuznetsova took a medical timeout off the court and the treatment worked wonders as she broke for a 2-0 lead in the second set.

The wily Kuznetsova, who had defeated the American at the same stage in 2009 on her way to the title, fended off two break points to go to 3-0 and broke again for 4-0 before Williams clawed one back for 1-4.

But the American then dropped serve for a third time to slip 5-1 down as the Russian forced the errors with a clever mix of power, angles and drop shots.

It was a realisation that, unlike too many others on the tour, she was not going to out-bludgeon the world number one and that the key was to keep her moving.

Williams, however, dug deep, got back to 3-5, and had break points in the 10th game but a scrambling, netted backhand gave Kuznetsova the set to level the tie.

It was the first set the top seed has dropped in the tournament.

Kuznetsova kept the 31-year-old American on the back foot and was 2-0 up in the decider and had two points for a 3-0 lead.

The Dubai-based Russian couldn’t make that last push and was made to pay as Williams broke back for 2-2.

The world number one was quickly 5-2 ahead and she claimed the tie with a rasping cross-court forehand.

Errani reached the semi-finals with a 6-4, 7-6 (8/6) win over Polish fourth seed Agnieszka Radwanska.

It will be the third semi-final appearance at a Grand Slam for the slender Italian, who stands at just 1.64 metres, after she also went to the last four at the 2012 US Open.

Radwanska, the 2012 Wimbledon runner-up, had won the pair’s last three tour-level meetings.

But she was playing in her first Roland Garros quarter-final, a match which featured 11 breaks of serve.

“There was a lot of pressure because I have a lot of points to defend. That’s a new experience for me,” said Errani, who came into the French Open with a 0-28 record against top-five players.

The remaining quarter-finals take place on Wednesday when Sharapova tackles Serbia’s Jelena Jankovic and Victoria Azarenka, the Australian Open champion, faces Maria Kirilenko.


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27 ways to make winter bearable

Unfortunately, humans haven’t evolved with the ability to hibernate so we need to deal with winter. Luckily, Good Food has patented a 27-step process to make winter so cosy, delicious and rewarding that you may end up cursing the sweet, green shoots of spring.

1 Acquaint yourself with hot, healthy breakfasts

A hot breakfast makes you feel toasty and ready to charge out the door. Also, I’m pretty sure that if breakfast is healthy you can eat cake for the rest of the day. Porridge with poached fruit and yoghurt is my go-to winter breakfast and it’s easy to vary to keep yourself interested (see recipe). Black sticky rice pudding made with coconut milk is brilliant too, and don’t forget simple pleasures such as a soft-boiled egg with buttery toast soldiers.

Porridge for one

½ cup quick oats

1 tbsp flaked or desiccated coconut

1 tbsp chia seeds

½ tsp cinnamon

1 Jazz apple, grated

1 mandarin

¾ cup boiling water

Brown sugar, to serve

3 tbsp Greek yoghurt

Mix oats, coconut, cinnamon and apple in a cereal bowl. Grate the mandarin zest into the bowl. Cut the mandarin in half and squeeze its juice into the bowl, too. Add the boiling water and stir. Stand for a few minutes while you make your coffee/tea/the school lunches. Sprinkle with brown sugar and top with yoghurt.

2 Start a tasty tradition

Invite a few friends for Scrabble, and cheese on toast. Do Christmas in July. Have a Friday night football and pizza roster among a few households.

3 Winter gardening

At this time of year the garden’s sleepy and slow, and plants don’t die under a baking sun just because you forgot about them for a week.

It’s a good time to … plant onions, garlic, lettuce, spinach, rocket, Asian greens, fennel and strawberries and herbs such as tarragon, thyme and mint. And if you’re convinced it’s too cold out there, buy a box of mushroom compost and put it in a cupboard.

4 Join a cooking class

Cooking classes are entertainment as well as education – you don’t need to promise to cook what you’ve seen. Just go, eat, flirt with the chef and, who knows, you might be inspired to put some of the kitchen tips into practice. See what’s cooking at Trupp Cooking School (truppcookingschool苏州美甲学校).

5 Have a basic one-pot oven dish at your fingertips

The oven can be an unblinking enemy in summer, pouring heat into an already hot kitchen. But in winter, I get Aga envy, say ”hearth” with a longing sigh, and love recipes that include the words ”preheat oven”. Try Karen Martini’s amazing braised lamb stew with barley and vegetables (our cover photo), find the recipe at goodfood苏州美甲学校.au.

My other 10 minutes-then-kick-back winner is adapted from a Brigitte Hafner recipe.

Chicken and chorizo hotpot

1 large chicken, cut into eight pieces (or use drumsticks or marylands)

1 fresh chorizo or other spicy sausage, thickly sliced

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1 onion, sliced

2 red capsicums, thickly sliced

2 carrots, sliced

1 tin crushed tomatoes

¼ cup white wine

Flaked salt and pepper, to taste

3 bay leaves

Handful black olives,

A few big glugs of extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 190 degrees. Toss all ingredients, except olive oil, in a baking dish, making sure the chicken ends skin-side up. Drizzle over olive oil. Cover with foil and cook for 90 minutes or so, removing foil after 45 minutes. Serve with crusty bread or polenta. (You can also chop up potatoes and add them to the dish and then you don’t need bread or polenta.)

Serve 4-6

6 Become a super souper

If you’re sick or sad, home-made soup is both medicine and hug. Make a big batch of soup then freeze half of it. Make cup-of-soup mixes by dehydrating finely chopped ingredients such as onion, silverbeet, parsley and bacon – use a slow oven or a dehydrator. Freeze. Rehydrate a tablespoon of the mixture in a mug of boiling water with rice vermicelli and a dash of soy sauce or a spoonful of miso.

7 Tidy and organise

The kitchen version of the odd sock is the container without a lid. I have no idea how this happens but happen it does and it’s infuriating (please say it’s not just me). Your mission: unite all containers and lids then recycle or chuck anything that doesn’t have a partner. Do it. Let go. The missing bits are gone. They are not coming back.

After that, you may feel the urge to tackle other projects such as putting your herbs in alphabetical order and getting to the back of the fridge and pantry to see what’s lurking.

8 Drop dinner off to someone

When you hear about a friend stuck indoors with the flu, make a pot of soup or casserole and drop it on their doorstep. You might even have a couple of care packages in the freezer for this purpose. The gesture is as healing as the meal.

9 Make hot drinks

A cup of tea in front of the TV is OK, a glass of wine is nice, but mulled wine and an episode or three of your favourite show is winter bliss. It’s quick and easy and that nice Jamie Oliver has put a recipe on the internet for us all to try – you’ll find it.

”Hot toddy” is fun to say, as well as drink. Pour whisky, a squeeze of lemon juice and a dollop of honey in a mug. Add recently boiled water, a clove and a slice of apple (that’s your snack for afters).

10 Get cheesy

Baked camembert is unspeakably daggy but there are never leftovers so it must be good. Turn the oven to 180 degrees, unwrap camembert and put it in a ramekin or snug ovenproof bowl (or, if it’s in wood, leave it there). Pierce the top with a knife and stuff in a peeled garlic clove and a sprig of rosemary or thyme. Bake for 15 looooong minutes. Thinly slice a baguette (rub slices with olive oil and throw them in the oven too, if you can be bothered) then dip it into the melty cheese. And no matter what they tell you, it’s not compulsory to wear a cable-knit jumper.

If you liked that, you’re ready for fondue. Fondue sets are fun but you’ll be amazed to learn you can also melt cheese in a saucepan – just return it to the heat for more stirring as often as you can stand. Use the traditional mix of gruyere, emmental and raclette, plus a little corn flour and kirsch or just use comte, my all-time favourite cheese, with white wine and garlic.

11 Invest in a great pot

Don’t you hate it when people speak of spending as investing? But anyway, cast-iron pots such as Le Creuset or the cheaper Le Chasseur are all you need to turn lamb shanks and oxtail into sustaining, please-let-me-come-over dinners. Then there’s copper. I didn’t get the whole copper cult until my last, lucky birthday. Oh my goodness. My copper roasting tin is fierce and gentle at the same time and everything I put into it tastes amazing.

12 Be a better baker

People who make their own puff pastry – even only once in their lives – have more friends and better sex. Or they should. Give it a go. All that rolling and folding is therapeutic and, even better, you can eat the scraps. Try Karen Martini’s rough puff pastry on goodfood苏州美甲学校.au … it’s perfect for making in winter since a cold kitchen actually aids the process.

13 Cure, smoke, transform

Curing and smoking sound totally professional but they’re really just old-timer techniques to sustain the masses through winter. As Heston Blumenthal says, curing is a great way to transform the texture and flavour of food – start with salt, sugar, dill (or other herbs and spices such as cumin) and salmon fillet and give it a go. The longer you cure it (just pack the ingredients around the fish, cover with cling wrap and whack it in the fridge for a day or so), the more flavour is created. Turn to Adrian Richardson’s great book, Meat, (Hardie Grant, $39.95) for more ideas and information.

14 Be naughty

You’re not getting into bathers any time soon so do something you shouldn’t. Devour a whole bar of chocolate. Eat the fat. Finish the tub of ice-cream. For this moment, consider winter a free pass to indulge.

15 Do something scary

We’ve all got stumbling blocks. Pick one to conquer. Open oysters (carefully), cook mussels, rabbit or duck. Bake bread like no one’s watching. Be brave!

16 Have people over for brunch

Brunch is an easy alternative to the dinner party. Buy bagels, smoked salmon, nice jam, lovely fruit, squeeze some oranges, and get the coffee sorted. Spruce it up by making croissants or crumpets or pancakes if you like but it’s really not necessary.

17 Go to a (different) farmers’ market

Farmers’ markets are the best places to see what’s really local and seasonal and to get horse’s-mouth advice about what to do with it. See for some of the best. If you’re already a regular at one market why not see what’s cooking at another?

18 Cook something overnight

Beef cheeks, ribs, shin and even cubed beef in a bourguignon-style stew can be cooked overnight at about 120 degrees. This can work especially well if you’re doing Sunday lunch. Place baking paper over the meat to make sure it stays moist.


Warm up from the inside Spice up your winter with a new condiment, such as Korean chilli paste (gochujang), aleppo pepper or native pepperberries or myrtus berries (native to Chile but now grown in Tasmania).


Make edible presents Feeding other people is the biggest pleasure of cooking so bake shortbread, make piccalilli or package up spice mixes or flavoured salts. Give them away now or store for all those moments you wish you had a little something to bestow. Make a green-tomato chutney or use some new-season apples to make apple, golden syrup and pecan chutney (recipes goodfood苏州美甲学校.au).

21 Cook something complicated

Clear a weekend and make something silly or ridiculous or just plain complicated, something you’ll put on Facebook, something you may never make again. A croquembouche, that infernal V8 cake or pate en croute spring to mind.

22 Dress up your table

Make an occasion of it, even if you’re not having anyone over. Throw a cloth over the table (creases are chic), light a couple of candles, buy a cheerful bunch of flowers, put out some napkins. It’s amazing how little it takes for a meal to feel special.

23 Marshmallows

Open fireplaces are really for marshmallow toasting. That whole ”keeping the house warm” thing is a decoy. It’s also possible to toast marshmallows over a candle. Slow, but possible. S’mores are the evil American upsize on the concept: place a toasted marshmallow and a square of chocolate on a graham cracker (use digestive biscuits) and top with another biscuit. Marshmallows can also be placed on a biscuit and grilled in the oven, then topped with the chocolate and second biscuit.

24 Have a winter picnic

Rug up, brace yourself, get out there and wait for the words ”I’ve never felt so alive!” to issue forth unbidden. If you have an outdoor area, consider buying a brazier (try bunnings苏州美甲学校.au) or chiminea to make the concept more appealing (and to enable the marshmallow activities of No.23).

25 Buy a new book

Of course you don’t need it but isn’t it beautiful? I’m excited about Kathy Tsaples’ just-published Sweet Greek and Anissa Helou’s upcoming Levant: Recipes and Stories from the Middle East. The antidote to buying more cookbooks may just be Julian Barnes’ griping The Pedant in the Kitchen. Jay Rayner’s A Greedy Man in a Hungry World will offer enough foodie myth-busting fuel to last you well into your anecdotage.

26 Cross town to visit a great food store

In Melbourne, this might be Oasis Bakery in Murrumbeena, Mediterranean Wholesalers in Brunswick, USA Foods in Moorabbin, Aztec Mexican in Tullamarine or Rob’s British Butchers in Dandenong.

In Sydney, this might be Fiji Market in Newtown, Pontip Exotic Fruit and Vegetables in Haymarket, the Sydney Fish Market (tourists flock there but lots of locals have never been), Lucky Mart Japanese market in Artarmon and Salt Meats Cheese in Alexandria.

27 Commit to one new recipe a fortnight

It’s a rare cook who doesn’t get stuck in a rut every now and then. Break out by committing to one new recipe every two weeks. You know all those cookbooks you’ve got? Open them. And if you’re overwhelmed, check out Eat Your Books online. It’s unlocked thousands of recipes I never knew I had.

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Faithful to a fault, but Baz’s Gatsby misses the point

Whatever sins he has committed with The Great Gatsby, Baz Luhrmann is innocent of one charge at least: he has not betrayed the book. He has, rather, been faithful to a fault.

Much of the criticism of the film has been about Baz’s alleged failure to honour F. Scott Fitzgerald’s text, one of the most revered books in modern American literature and one so popular it reportedly still sells half a million copies per year. But in terms of the characters, essential dialogue, and key moments (and even many incidental ones), Baz is scrupulously faithful to the source. The problem isn’t one of fidelity so much as finesse.

I came out of the film slightly dazed, impressed by its vaulting ambition but feeling like I’d been assaulted by a pumped-up raver decked out in dayglo and glitter. It was bold, brash and utterly lacking in subtlety – in so many ways the opposite of Fitzgerald’s slender and perfectly wrought story.

Talking to friends afterwards, I railed at the excesses of some of the key scenes – and none more so than the moment when we meet Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan) for the first time. (They thought the scene a highlight, so what do I know?)

Entering the drawing room of the Buchanan mansion, Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) is engulfed by floor-to-ceiling diaphanous white drapes as they billow from one side of the room to the other in an unseen, unfelt (yes, there are limits even to 3D), and yet somehow the opposite-of-understated breeze. It was grotesque, over-the-top and, I was sure, an utter travesty of the scene as rendered by Fitzgerald.

So I went home and re-read the book, trying to salvage the memory of its slim economy from all that grandiose excess. And guess what? The scene that had so offended mine eyes that I very nearly plucked them out (well, very nearly ripped the 3D glasses off from my 2D glasses so that I might cover mine eyes in despair) was not so very different to Fitzgerald’s vision after all.

”The windows were ajar and gleaming white against the fresh grass outside that seemed to grow a little way into the house. A breeze blew through the room, blew curtains in at one end and out the other like pale flags, twisting them up towards the frosted wedding cake of the ceiling, and then rippled over the wine-coloured rug, making a shadow on it as wind does on the sea.”

In retrospect, I suppose it was a blessing that Baz didn’t throw in some vivid green astroturf, a plastic bride and groom hanging upside down from the ceiling, and a small boat darting across the Axminster in his quest to out-Fitzgerald Fitzgerald. All in glorious 3D, of course.

The made-for-poster image of Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jay Gatsby standing at the end of the dock, holding his hand out across the water as if to stroke Daisy from afar, felt similarly overstated. And yet, there it was in the book: ”He stretched out his arms towards the dark water in a curious way, and, as far as I was from him, I could have sworn he was trembling.”

The debauchery of Myrtle’s Manhattan apartment – the scenes there have a kind of chemically-induced delirium-cum-tedium about them – is foreshadowed in Fitzgerald, too. ”I have been drunk just twice in my life, and the second time was that afternoon; so everything that happened has a dim, hazy cast over it.” 

Baz does ramp it up a notch, though, and in light of the general tone of an Oxford Street urinal that hovers over proceedings in the flat, it’s strange that he makes nothing of one of the book’s most intriguing non-sequiturs.

Leaving the apartment with the ersatz art photographer McKee, Nick is invited to lunch.  

”All right,” I agreed, “I’ll be glad to.”

Next thing you know, and with nothing more than an ellipsis from Fitzgerald to help us join the dots, Nick tells us:  

“I was standing beside his bed and he was sitting up between the sheets, clad in his underwear, with a great portfolio in his hands.”

(It’s not a euphemism, is it, that ”great portfolio”? Dear God, imagine what THAT would have looked like in 3D!)

The two parties at the Gatsby mansion are practically storyboarded by Fitzgerald, albeit in a skeletal, rather impressionistic style that becomes ever-more fleshy in Baz’s hands. Even the terrible car accident that seals the collapse of Gatsby’s fantasy of repeating the past (another exchange lifted almost word for word from Fitzgerald) is rooted in the book.

Well, some of it anyway. The graphic wounds are there – ”when they had torn open her shirtwaist, still damp with perspiration, they saw that her left breast was swinging loose like a flap” – but the tumbling of the flame-haired woman through the air like some fleshy Catherine wheel is purely Baz’s creation. Is it mere coincidence this has been one of the most vilified moments in the film?

Clearly, then, the issue is not that Baz has been unfaithful to the book. It is that he has been inflateful to it, pumping up every slim moment to the point where it practically explodes off the screen.

Such a slim tome seems hardly capable of bearing the weight of Baz’s ambitions.

The book is 145 pages long. The movie runs 142 minutes. It cost (so it is rumoured) between $130 million and $150 million to make. That’s roughly a million dollars per page per minute. No wonder it buckles a little.

But really the biggest problem with Gatsby lies not in scenes or dialogue or even character, most of which Luhrmann gets more or less right. The great failing is one of tone.

Fitzgerald’s book is deeply melancholic from beginning to end, a parable about old money versus new money, and how cruelly the odds are stacked in the former’s favour. It is the most class-conscious of American stories.

In the end, all Tom Buchanan has to do to see off the threat that is Gatsby is to expose him to Daisy as being Not Like Us.

In the crucial scene where Tom reveals what he knows of Gatsby’s sudden wealth, Daisy finally collapses back on the old certainties, however repellent she might so recently have found them.

“Please, Tom! I can’t stand this any more.”

 Her frightened eyes told that whatever intentions, whatever courage she had had, were definitely gone.

This is a crucial scene in both book and film, in which the struggle is not just between two men for a woman’s affections, but between two ways of being in the world. Baz gets it right, as perhaps he should. There is, after all, something of the arriviste about his films, which have never hesitated to shimmer and sparkle even when they were made on a diamante budget rather than diamond (his first feature, 1992’s Strictly Ballroom, cost just $3 million). And there has always been something of the Tom Buchanan about the attitude of the film-making and reviewing establishment towards him and his work.

Where the film comes horribly unstuck is in its point of view on all this spectacle. If The Great Gatsby is a parable, Nick Carraway is the lens through which we see it unfold – but in book and film he is cut of very different glass. He is old money in Fitzgerald’s hands, but of the somewhat faded variety, slightly distrustful of a world in which he is both insider (he was at college with Tom) and outsider (he lives in an $80-a-month shack set between Long Island mansions). He recognises, with a deep ambivalence, the venality and shallowness that lie just beneath the surface of all that breeding.

He sees, too, the effort involved in Gatsby’s fantastic act of self-creation – ”The truth was that Jay Gatsby of West Egg, Long Island, sprang from his Platonic conception of himself” – and while he doesn’t entirely approve of it or trust it, he can’t help admire the thrusting spirit that makes it possible. America was built on just such acts of reinvention.

”They’re a rotten crowd,” Nick tells Gatsby when everything has fallen apart. ”You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together.”

“I’ve always been glad I said that. It was the only compliment I ever gave him, because I disapproved of him from beginning to end.”

In the film, Tobey Maguire’s Nick pays Gatsby the same compliment. But nowhere in the scene is there a hint of the caveat that follows. This Nick has never disapproved of Gatsby. From beginning to end, he has gawped in wide-eyed, besotted wonder.

Had he – and, more to the point, had Baz – been able to pull his gaze away for just a moment, to be just a little less dazzled by all that razzle – to be a little less at “the service of a vast, vulgar, and meretricious beauty” – things might have been different.

Then, perhaps, all that faithfulness to the book might have produced something more than an empty echo.

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Cinema culture richer after rise of indigenous voices

Bringing indigenous issues to the fore: Season two of Redfern Now is in production. Photo: SuppliedAs Ivan Sen’s new feature film, Mystery Road, takes centre stage on Wednesday as the opening night film at the 60th Sydney Film Festival, it’s timely to reflect on the rise of indigenous filmmaking in this country.

When I began my career in film and television in the 1970s, a white (English) man played the central Aboriginal character in the TV series Boney. Films such as The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, Walkabout and The Last Wave, ostensibly Aboriginal stories, had white directors (Fred Schepisi, Nicolas Roeg and Peter Weir).

This year, Aboriginal director Wayne Blair’s The Sapphires continues to roll out to record crowds around the world. Here in Australia, we will see series two of Redfern Now and another prime-time Aboriginal drama series, The Gods of Wheat Street on ABC TV. Feature length films such as Catriona McKenzie’s Satellite Boy and Warwick Thornton’s The Dark Side, along with Sen’s Mystery Road, mean we can confidently say, within a generation, Australian indigenous filmmakers have become a force to be reckoned with worldwide.

More profoundly, Aboriginal writers, directors, producers and actors are now firmly at the heart of contemporary screen practice. They are using film and television to document their cultures, promote social change and entertain and these productions are now mainstream.

Filmmakers such as Blair, Thornton, Sen, Rachel Perkins, Darren Dale and their creative collaborators have repositioned the on-screen presence of indigenous characters, taking them from peripheral to central roles.

Why is it that Australian indigenous stories are being so well received in Australia and on the world stage? What is it that makes their work distinctive and rich? What sets it apart?

The Australian Film Television and Radio School (AFTRS) journal Lumina took an in-depth look at these questions in a series of essays by Australian writers and filmmakers.

It noted the rise in appreciation we are witnessing began to bubble up in 2005 – a watershed year for Australian indigenous filmmaking that began with Beck Cole’s Plains Empty, Thornton’s Green Bush and Tom Murray and Allan Collins’ Dhakiyarr vs the King screening at the Sundance Film Festival.

This was followed by Green Bush and Wayne Blair’s The Djarn Djarns winning the Panorama Short Film Award and the Kinderfest Crystal Bear, respectively, at the Berlin International Film Festival. Then Sen’s Yellow Fella was accepted into Un Certain Regard at the Cannes Film Festival, thus completing a string of international achievements that well and truly heralded the arrival of Australian indigenous film on the world stage.

In 2007, Sally Riley, then head of the indigenous branch of the Australian Film Commission, wrote: ”We’ve come a long way, but we still have a long way to go. I was asked recently when indigenous filmmakers would become mainstream. ”Mainstream” implied feature films. Of course, there have been several features made over the years: Tracey Moffatt’s Bedevil (1993), Rachel Perkins’ Radiance (1998) and Ivan Sen’s Beneath Clouds (2002). To develop a sustained series of features is a long- term process involving substantial script development, finance and production.

”I’m confident we will see the films rolling out in the next couple of years. Warwick Thornton, Beck Cole, Wayne Blair and Romaine Moreton … have been funded for feature film script development.”

Since then, we have seen feature films thrive in the ”mainstream”, from Thornton’s Samson and Delilah to Perkins’ Bran Nue Dae and Blair’s The Sapphires.

At the same time, ”mainstream” indigenous television content is on the rise with documentaries and dramas such as First Australians, Mabo and Redfern Now lighting up living rooms across the nation and rating in big numbers.

The development of Australian indigenous screen practice has not been an overnight success. It is the culmination of decades of groundwork by countless individuals and a range of organisations, with various state funding bodies, government film agencies, indigenous media associations, the ABC and SBS and training institutions such as AFTRS all playing a role.

The creation of programs specifically to develop indigenous filmmaking talent – including the establishment of the then Australian Film Commission’s indigenous branch and SBS and ABC indigenous units in the late 1980s and a significant funding boost to indigenous training programs at AFTRS – have been supported by governments at both state and federal levels.

This support is unprecedented anywhere else in the world and we, the audience, are all the better for it.

Sandra Levy is chief executive of the Australian Film Television and Radio School and editor of Lumina.

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Heads in the sand is no way to face cancer risks

What if medical science offered you and your closest family members the opportunity to virtually eliminate your risk of developing certain cancers? In this case, there would be no invasive surgery involved, just a regular screening program and, perhaps, simple treatment. The only thing you’d have to do is take a blood test to identify whether you, and therefore your blood relatives, had the genetic characteristics which put you at risk.

As an oncologist dealing every day with the burden of cancer, I had always imagined this kind of offer would be too good to refuse. The recent decision of Angelina Jolie to resort to surgery to minimise her hereditary risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer only reinforced this assumption.

But I was wrong. And now I have many complicated questions as to why some patients ignore risk factors, even if this means denying close family members the knowledge they need to access screening services that may save their lives. Consequently, this raises the more difficult question of whether an individual patient’s rights should override those of family members.

I work with bowel cancer, nowadays a mostly treatable condition. One particular genetic risk factor, known as Lynch syndrome, makes some people especially vulnerable to a range of cancers, particularly bowel cancer, but also cancer of the stomach, ovaries and uterus.

Advances in medical science means we can and do test for Lynch syndrome and have very effective screening and treatment programs which dramatically reduce a Lynch-positive person’s risk of dying from bowel cancer.

Yet when we carried out a study of patients at risk of hereditary bowel cancer, we found that one in three people did not or could not act to reduce their own cancer risk, and so did not pass on a similar opportunity to family members.

We had spent three years screening patients with colorectal cancer at major NSW hospitals for features suggesting Lynch syndrome. Patients identified were then offered blood tests to confirm it. As bowel cancer is treatable, every patient stood to gain by following up with regular colonoscopies to identify and remove any abnormalities before they developed into further cancers. A positive identification also gave them the opportunity to inform family members, some of whom have a one in two risk of having Lynch syndrome.

Does this mean medical science has raced ahead of society and its structures? I think so. I am frustrated that patients don’t or aren’t able to act on results that show they are at high risk of Lynch syndrome. Even if they aren’t in a position to act on the results, it’s a shame that their family members aren’t given an opportunity to know about their own risk.

Health budgets are increasingly strained as the population ages, so what might poor compliance rates like these suggest when future funding is handed out? Might funding for cancer prevention strategies be questioned if the number of people ignoring medical advice undermines the effectiveness of the strategy itself?

In the case of the Lynch syndrome research, there were some explanations for individual failures to act. Some patients were elderly and had other medical conditions including dementia.

Perhaps reasons like fear and fatalism mean the good news about bowel cancer has not been sufficiently publicised. Unlike a lot of cancers, bowel cancer is cured by surgery when detected early. The key to improving survival from bowel cancer is identifying people at risk and detecting the polyps that lead to bowel cancer. We need to do more to ensure patients understand their risks and the options they now have to reduce those risks.

University of NSW Professor Robyn Ward is head of the Adult Cancer Program at the Lowy Cancer Research Centre.

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Commercial property: Market wrap

Brighton property sells for $3.2 million. Photo: Jessica ShapiroSales


A retail freehold in a blue-ribbon Brighton shopping strip has sold at auction for $3.2 million on an extremely sharp yield of 2.6 per cent. The fiercely contested auction by Fitzroys associate Mark Talbot of 46A Church Street attracted seven bidders. The sale may set a record for the highest amount paid for a single-fronted property in the street and may be the lowest yield so far this year for a shop in one of Melbourne’s major retail strips. The property is leased to established multistore tenant Browns Bakery on a three-year deal returning $86,357 plus outgoings and GST. Mr Talbot said several shops of a comparable size within the immediate vicinity were currently returning rents of about $120,000 per annum plus outgoings and GST, which helped underpin the value of the offering.


A private investor paid $925,000 for shops 1 and 2 at 83 Station Street. Part of the retail/commercial strip on the north-eastern corner of Station Street and Railway Place, the shops sold for a yield of 6.8 per cent, according to ICR Property Group agents Guy Naselli and Raff De Luise. Both buildings, covering about 150 sq m, were together but with two separate titles. They return a combined rental income of $63,000 per annum net from long-established tenants and leases.


A three-level, free-standing brick Victorian building at 64 Burwood Road sold after auction for $1.8 million. Gross Waddell sold the property on a yield of 5.62 per cent. Part of the building is used as accommodation but the ground floor is leased to Japanese Restaurant Ocha 2 Go. Rental for the 363 sq m building is about $101, 236 per annum.


A former bank premises at 765D Hawthorn Road has sold for $850,000. The property was sold with vacant possession by Gross Waddell. The ground floor has a contemporary office with reception, boardroom, three separate offices and a strongroom. The first floor has two offices and a kitchen.Leases


Hip hamburger venue Huxtaburger is set to open a new store at 201 High Street. CBRE retail services team Zelman Ainsworth and Max Cookes negotiated an eight-year lease for a third instalment of the popular eatery in a 90 sq m shop at the foot of Caydon’s latest residential development Trilogi. Earlier this year Huxtaburger II opened at Fulham Place in the CBD following the success of its original store in Collingwood.


A timber flooring wholesaler has agreed to terms on a new lease at 863 Princes Highway, 500 metres from a new IKEA/Harvey Norman megacentre. The property includes a showroom, warehouse and office in a modern 600 sq m building with significant exposure to a main road frontage. Savills Australia’s Daniel Kelly said the tenant took a five-year lease at a rental of $65,000 per annum net. The lessor was a private investor.Movers

The Australian Property Institute has appointed Tony Gorman as its new national president. Mr Gorman replaces Phil Western, who held the position for two years. Mr Gorman, from the API’s WA Division, has held positions on several API boards and committees.

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Fresh take a class above for campus

The revamped Morris Hall was designed to create multiple spaces for learning.Morris Hall, at Melbourne Girls Grammar, in Caroline Street, South Yarra, appears to be new. But within the brown brick shell is part of the former school, designed by architect John Scarborough in the 1970s.

“It was solid and well built. But it didn’t provide the required facilities for the school’s youngest (prep to year 4 students). The previous arrangement centred on traditional classrooms, many quite small,” says architect Sally Draper, who worked in association with DP Toscano Architects on this project.

Given the constraints, in terms of space and budget, Draper used as much of the original structure as possible, including some of the timber windows. While the concrete frame was retained, a new brown brick facade was added, with steel and timber louvres to diffuse western sunlight. To add texture, as well as reflect the school’s history, the external walls feature cast concrete “crossletts”, a crucifix form that also features on the school’s crest.

“We wanted to use this crosslett to create a visual link to the school’s main campus (Anderson Street), but it also adds a tactile layer to the building,” says architect Shahab Kasmai, associate director for Sally Draper Architects.

Designing a school for young children requires great skill and understanding, from a teacher’s perspective, as well as the girls.

“The idea of creating a ‘home’ environment was at the forefront of our minds. The environment had to be comfortable, nurturing, as well as fun,” Draper says.

The brief documents given to Draper are testimony to the objectives met: “A home for the mind and the heart”, as well as “an environment that speaks to our senses”.

While the Morris Hall campus is obviously not a home, the spaces have been arranged to evoke familiarity. Public spaces, such as the art, music, library and gathering spaces, are towards the centre of the three-level building, bedrooms or “learning spaces” towards the periphery.

“We wanted to create a sense of transparency throughout each space, but allowing for flexibility,” says Draper, who designed the four main learning spaces to accommodate up to four teaching staff each. A typical corner of a space is given over to broad step like seats, ideal for informal reading. Another area is dedicated to block building or computers.

And unlike some school environments, where youngsters quickly thrash their surrounds, at Morris Hall shelves are beautifully arranged, even different-coloured scissors have their own container. “The children are extremely proud of the school. They felt very included in the process, with windows created to allow them to see the building progress,” Kasmai says.

Rather than simply create brightly coloured spaces for the young children, Draper has taken a more sophisticated approach.

There are bolts of colour in places, but the emphasis has been on creating light-filled spaces. Terraces lead from each learning space and a trellis breezeway creates a link between levels. Sustainability is also high on the agenda, with vegetable gardens and cross ventilation at all levels. Exterior spaces are as considered, with a wave-like wall, designed by landscape architects Taylor Cullity Lethlean, providing seating nooks. A quirky tree house by Fitzgerald Frisby, adds to the sense of exploration.

“For a school campus, it’s relatively modest in size. Outdoor areas had to be designed for all weather conditions,” says Draper, pointing out the polycarbonate roof over one of the terraces.

Broad steps leading from this terrace also allow teaching outdoors.

“The design had to embrace the entire site, with the outdoors as enjoyable as a child’s own backyard,” Draper says.

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MasterChef recap: when Tim Tams go wrong

Dan serves salted caramel and chocolate tart with Tim Tam ice cream. Nicky serves savoury Japanese egg custard with salmon and shiitake mushrooms.

Samira served koshary rice with chickpeas and nuts with fried onions.

It’s already 7.06pm and there are only 24 minutes until we enter the MasterChef house. I’m entering my house, late on a Tuesday after drama club for one child and maths tutoring for the other; there’s still homework to be done and permission notes to be signed; dad’s at touch footy and I’m starting to regret volunteering to write a MasterChef recap. What? I’ll need to file by midnight, that’s when I’m usually watching it after everyone’s in bed, the washing’s done and I finally get a little me time.

“Come on,” I shout, in a George-like fashion, madly clapping my hands. “The clock’s ticking and there’s only 20 minutes to go, let’s cook!”

I open the fridge. All I can see is a tray of defrosted mince (but there’s no way I’m cooking cottage pie tonight, thanks Michael), a carton of eggs, three nights worth of leftovers and half a bottle of red wine on the bench top.

The kids get a special Tuesday night leftover buffet, I drink the wine, and we’re ready for the recap.

Tonight they’re doing what every Australian does at the end of the day, says Matt. What? Polishing off half bottles of wine and eating leftovers? No, looking in the fridge, says Matt, and thinking what the f**k’s for dinner? Or is that just me?

Michael, Kelty, Dan, Nicky, Samira and Neha are up for elimination. It’s the first dark day of MasterChef, says Gary. (What, the first two weren’t bleak?)

There are only two things that will get you through tonight, says Matt, the dream you hold and the joy you get from cooking for friends and family. It appears that actually being able to cook isn’t important this year, it’s all about the joy.

The contestants enter the MasterChef pantry to find their own actual fridges and contents of their own pantries on display. We’re given a little tour of their lives. Dan’s university roommates like pug dogs, Nicky has a sumo fetish, Kelty misses his kids. (No he doesn’t. What stay-at-home parent wouldn’t kill for a few months away on their own?) Only Samira and Neha have fridges clean of clutter. While I promised myself I wouldn’t buy into the boy versus girl thing, any woman worth her salt knows that fridges covered in useless s**t make your house look messy.

But it’s what’s inside that counts. Dan has Tim Tams, Neha has eggs, Michael has a human head. (Is it just me who thinks he has serial killer tendencies and is glad that he didn’t get the liver in last night’s challenge, worried that he might have served it with fava beans and a nice chianti?)

Back to the kitchen. Nicky is ready to do something that makes his fiancée happy. It’s a family show remember Nicky. The gallery upstairs screams orgasmically when Dan reveals he’s going to cook salted caramel and chocolate tart with Tim Tam ice cream. Everyone falls asleep when Kelty says he’s going to cook Irish stew. Neha talks herself up when she says she’s cooking an egg curry but she hates eggs because her mother used to shove them down her throat when she was a child. No wonder her gag reflex is so good.

Most people seem to have forgotten the boys versus girls thing. Noelene’s maternal instincts kick in and she’s offering Kelty, who she caned in the Awful Offal Challenge of 2013 the previous night, plenty of advice; Vern’s turned on Michael, saying his steak is rubbish, and that’s almost as bad as telling another man his penis is small; Jules has given up destroying the joint and is barking instructions at Michael at every chance, and you know he just wants to tell her to shut the f**k up you two-faced bitch.

And the judges chime in. If Dan dare disrespect the Tim Tam he’ll be heading back to the University of Canberra quicker than the Gonski Review will be implemented.

Thank God for a quick ad break. I scrape the leftover leftovers into the bin, get the kids into bed, open another bottle of wine, all in time to watch Lynton riding a mechanical engine in a Castrol Magnatec commercial; a stay-at-home dad, one with more confidence in the kitchen than Kelty, serve his daughters Latina fresh pasta (note to self: that’s a good idea for tomorrow’s dinner); and an ad for the Cyclery in Fyshwick, a bike shop cum café across from the office, where just at lunch time I noted they had barramundi on the menu, do you want that recipe Samira?

Back to the action. Michael’s gone AWOL. At first I worry that he’s off somewhere making a suit out of the excess skin that George has shed this season, but he’s only out in the herb garden, frolicking. One minute to go. Dishes are being plated. (Really, who plates at home?)

Time for the elimination.

Now if we were on Channel Nine, we’d cut to Tom Waterhouse, who would offer us odds on who might get eliminated tonight. Think about that Ten.

Nicky Serves: Savoury Japanese egg custard with salmon and shiitake mushrooms. Finally he’s cooked something, says Gary, adding they’re the best version of Chawan Mushihe’s tasted on the show. Has someone cooked Chawan Mushi before? Mythical Tom says 50-1 Nicky will go home.

Kelty Serves: Traditional Irish stew and no soda bread. Who doesn’t have bicarb soda in their pantry? Haven’t you ever done that volcano experiment with your kids, what sort of stay-at-home dad are you? George says fine but aint amazing. While we rankle at his grammar we have to agree. Mind you Kelty’s cooked tea in 15 minutes, not counting the extinguishing of the first pressure cooker, so as a parent you have to admire that. Gary says it will depend on what the other contestants do and mythical Tom says a wary 3-1 Kelty will go.

Michael Serves: Eye fillet and roasted body parts, sorry vegetables, and a hollandaise sauce. His arrogance makes us want to poke him in the eye  fillet but his steak slices cleanly and is pinker than a baby’s bottom and we writhe in pain when the judges says his meal is close to perfect. Mythical Tom says put your money on this favourite at evens to stay.

Samira Serves: Koshary rice with chickpeas and nuts with fried onions. We don’t want to like her but when she tells us about her battles with post natal depression, anxiety and only being able to leave her house once she rekindled her love of cooking we soften a little. Tonight’s sob story is brought to you by Huggies. An outside chance of going at 10-1.

Neha Serves: Spicy egg curry and rice. Talks herself up again by saying it’s a mutated version of what her mother used to serve. Matt loves it. Safe at 20-1

Dan Serves: Salted caramel and chocolate tart with Tim Tam icecream. The women in the gallery are still orgasming at the recipe’s name. Gary says it looks pretty good but it’s rock hard. He’s talking about the dish, not Dan. The women are still orgasming.  Mythical Tom says 2-1 Dan will go. You can paint a horse with hair colouring but you can’t make him run.

The six contestants line up to face the firing squad. Dish of the day goes to Michael who lives to kill, I mean cook, another day. Nicky and Neha are safe too.

The judges reveal the bottom three. They say Samira’s onions were burnt; they tell us something we don’t know, that Kelty is boring; and that Dan looked good but was rock hard. (And really what is wrong with that, as we cut to the women in the gallery who look shattered, realising that they’re going to have to grate all their cheese on the other Daniel’s abs now.)

And drumroll … it’s Dan, the 19-year-old student from Canberra who’s the first to leave the kitchen for 2013. Cut to Daniel, Lynton and Xavier who realise their chances of being the first crossover contestant to appear on both The Bachelor and MasterChef have just increased.

Matt tries to soften the blow by telling Dan that it’s hard to go so early in the competition but he should be able to tell from the reactions of the other contestants that he made a big impact.

“If there’s something to hold on to, it’s you’ve got the skills, you’re young, if you really want to follow your dream you can do so.”

In typical Gen Y fashion Dan says “Yep”, and that’s the end of it.

Tomorrow night, the promo goes, the gang’s off to the Barossa Valley … tomorrow night? Tomorrow night? Bugger, what will I serve for tea tomorrow night? That Latina pasta is looking pretty good.

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