Wednesday, January 25, 2012

MasterChef: He Found God, In A Wiltshire Field, And You Did Not

It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife. is it not, dear blog reader? That's what this blogger has read, anyway. I think it was in the last issue of Top Gear magazine. Either that, or, you know, Spank Monthly. 'All set for the drama?' asked the lady BBC continuity announcer as the latest episode of yer actual Keith Telly Topping's beloved MasterChef began. Well, if truth be told, no actually as this blogger had half-an-eye on the National Television Awards over on ITV at the same time to be honest. (Well done Matt, well done Karen! And, what, exactly, is Gary Barlow's 'Outstanding Contribution' to television for which he won an 'Outstanding Contribution to television' award?) Anyway, back to MasterChef. The, always tricky, mass-catering challenge this year took place in the lovely city of Bath at the climax of the eight-day-long Jane Austen lookalike competition, or whatever it's called. Be still my throbbing ribs, you're in danger of bursting.
At this event, lots of let's not beat about the bush here, people, weirdos (a significant proportion of whom appear to be American, just in case you were wondering) dress up like extras from some half-forgotten BBC Regency costume drama of the 1970s and swan around Bath whilst being sniggered at by Goths and Skins and Rastas. Probably. Whatever. Good on them, you know. Everybody needs a hobby. I can't tell you about mine. Official Secrets Act, and all that.
So, this meant sticking our ten MasterChef finalists in a tent in the middle of a field just off the Royal Crescent to do their cooking. Yer actual Keith Telly Topping has stayed down there on several occasions (in a hotel on the Royal Crescent, not a tent) when attending his own decidedly odd events in Bath (Doctor Who conventions, normally). And, at least the Austen people could content themselves in the knowledge that, if all else failed, there's a couple of really nice curry houses just down the road. Some good pubs, too. Nice city, Bath. 'These guys wanted literary drama, not real drama,' said Gregg Wallace in an opening montage which, as with poor wretched Matthew's trials and tribulations the night before, effectively spoiled any potential drama in knowing who won and who lost the episode's competition by including a shot of Eamonn walking away from camera, clearly Goddamn pissed-off and throwing something on the ground. Hard. If that didn't tell you which team had lost before the event even started then nothing would. Still, let's go through the motions, eh?
The ten finalists were to be divided into two teams of five - each would have to provided four dishes for the hundreds of The Yesterday People there assembled, one of which needed to be a vegetarian option (and, hopefully, unlike drama queen Jacqui last year, a vegetarian option which people actually wanted to eat) and one of which had to be a dessert. Ashvy, Big Scouse Jay, Andrew, Afsaneh and Big Eamonn were in one team. They were the losers, remember, because whichever team had Big Eamonn in was going to lose from that shot of him looking Goddamn pissed-off and throwing something on the ground. Hard. Come on, keep up! The other lot were, obviously, Tom, Shelina, Aki, Emma and Jonathan. 'They're going to have to use some sense. And sensibility,' said Gregg with almost no comic timing whatsoever. Nice try, mate. No cigar. Don't give up the day job. As in previous years, John Torode spent the next two hours prowling around the gaff like a caged tiger occasionally bellowing some totally unhelpful advice at anyone who had the misfortune to be in his general vicinity. Like, you know, 'go quicker,' and 'hurry up!' That sort of thing.
The episode, of course, was being filmed in Bath, rather than Port Merion which was a shame because the jacket yer man Torode was wearing made him look like a dead-ringer for Number Six. Andrew's team's dishes were stuffed chicken fillets with pumpkin purée (Big Jay's work mainly), mackerel with delicate pastry heads and tails (a little piece of conceptual near-genius from Eamonn), a - very unsuccessful - veggie option of cheese stuffed savoy cabbage and mushroom stuffed tomatoes with a sort of beetroot ... mush on the side (err, no thanks guys. Have you got anything without everything I hate in the whole world in it?) Their dessert was supposed to be a baked apple with quince sponge and custard but Afsaneh curdled the custard so they served it with a dollop of cream instead. The other lot, lead by a rather flappy Shelina, were prepping Salmon en croute with spinach, roast duck with ragù (Jonathan was mainly responsible for this, described by John as 'the best dish of the day'), a veggie option of ravioli with pumpkin and tomato sauce and a pud of pana cotta and figs. At least, that was the general idea, but the pana cotta didn't set (not helped by somebody knocking a jug of it over when they were trying to cool it down). In the end, they presented it as a sort of very runny custard and figs with a blackberry or two thrown on top almost as an after thought. There were several dramas almost worthy of yer actual Ms Austen herself along the way. 'I think the way it's going we'll be lucky to get a corn beef salad,' Gregg noted at one point. It was difficult to work out to which team he was referring. 'I can smell burning,' he said a bit later. That was the Salmon en croute. As it was served Gregg added: 'Some of the salmon's got burned bits on it.' 'Yeah, that's cos they burned it,' John replied, like Eric Morecambe delivering a punchline. The Special People swanned around like peacocks, said how, like 'rilly great' everything was (except for the stuffed cabbage and beetroot which was horrible and nobody liked) and, generally, gave the impression of being terribly nice ladies and chaps but maybe not the sort of people you'd want to have a pint with down the Boater and discuss who's going to win the Premiership this year.
Both teams, in the end, produced three good dishes and one proper twenty four carat horrorshow, although one of the proper twenty four horrorshows was, clearly, a bit worse than the other one. Gregg came up with the episode's required bit of innuendo: 'John, which team is capable of pulling it off?' In a sense, they were all winners - although, in a much more literal sense only five of them were as Andrew's team were told that they'd, in fact, lost. Which seemed to be a surprise to them, but not the audience who'd earlier seen Big Eamonn looking Goddamn pissed-off and throwing something at the ground previously. Hard. You felt for Jay, in particular, who had worked like a Trojan all afternoon, as John was at pains to note.
And for Eamonn too, who was, visibly, Goddamn pissed-off. Ooo, proper vexed, so he was. He walked away from camera throwing something on the ground. Hard. Which would have worked far better as a dramatic moment if the viewers hadn't already been spoiled that it was coming up by its usage at the end of the previous episode and the start of this one. Ashvy just burst into tears. When they found out that the prize for winning would have been to work with Jason Atherton, Eamonn was even more cross, Atherton being one of his heroes. Andrew lay on the ground with his head in his hands looking almost as forlorn as Matthew did the night before. Jay, stoic as you'd expect a big tough Scouse security man, just stood there and said nothing. Meanwhile, Shelina's team were all celebrating like they'd just scored the winning goal in the cup final. Then they found out that they were to prepare a five course dinner under Jason Atherton's direction at the Royal Crescent hotel. Top gig. Their punters were to be a 'group of guests each with a connection to Jane Austen.' That, in fact, turned out to be some (very) distant descendants, some actors who'd appeared in Austen adaptations and some other people who appeared to have no obvious connection to Austen but who weren't about to turn down a freebie on licence fee payers money. Most of them were dressed ridiculously (particular ly the town sheriff who turned up like he'd wandered off the set of Rob Roy) and, whilst I'm sure they're all very nice people and all that, they came over as thoroughly obnoxious and unlikable as yer average bunch of rich people assembled at a five star hotel to get a free meal on the BBC.
The courses went as follows: Aki cooked the starter of Cornish crab salad with nashi pear and cauliflower purée. She flapped; she ran around like headless chicken with her arse on fire; she was late; she needed help from Jason. And then, somehow, the dish got served (after the guest had spent the previous ten minutes whinging about how pure-dead 'starving' they all were). And, it was a huge hit. The guests, who'd been on the verge of mutinous a moment earlier, were all suddenly 'oh, isn't it amaaaaayzing?' I hate rich people, dear blog reader. Particularly hypocritical rich people on a freebie. They bring out the very worst of this blogger's prejudice. And, indeed, his pride. Sorry, I'm channelling Gregg Wallace here. Listen, it's my problem, I can deal with it, okay. And, I will, come the revolution. Next up was Jonathan's fish course. Jonathan had never cooked a fish dish before and he was, he confessed, 'terrified.' So much so that he needed some persuasion from Jason. Heh. Persuasion, do you see? It's a ... oh, never mind. Nevertheless, Jonathan managed to knock up, with Jason's help, a very nice looking pan-fried cod with pearl barley and squid. Which was nice. And a sort of green frothy gloop over the top. Which looked like something from The Kraken Wakes. If this had been a John Wyndham festival rather than a Jane Austen one he'd've been fine. A couple of the guests expressed their dissatisfaction at how 'wet' it was. But, of course, as soon as Jonathan walked in the joint they were all 'ooo, fekkin amaaaaayzing, ooo, fekkin fan-tastic!' Gertcha. Mutter, mutter, come the glorious day, comrades. Next was Emma. The delightful Scottish MasterChef contestant, that is, not the classic 1816 Jane Austen novel. I digress. Emma's meat course was Irish ox tongue braised in stout (begorrah bejesus, where's me shillelagh? Yeah, that's more James Joyce than Jane Austen, isn't it?) with a horseradish purée. Then it was Shelina who had all sorts of issues with her apple cider truffle and doughnuts (great concept for a pudding, mind!) She whinged whilst making it, whinged as she plated it up and whinged as she waited to get ushered in to meet the great and the good. She might have been whinging even more if she'd heard some of the disgraceful slavver that was coming from the mouths of some of those in the room. The woman who moaned orgasmically 'mmm-mm-mmmmm!' just needed to be hit, really hard, in the mush with a wet haddock, frankly. And as for that individual who started talking about the trifle as being 'close to a religious experience...' Just give me a rock hard baguette, I know just what to do with it. Finally, we had Tom whose dish of bitter chocolate parve sponge with mango sorbet and chocolate tweels saw him falling back on his plastering day job experience when making the tweels, shagging up his sponge ('the one thing I didn't want to have to do again') but, in fact, coming out with flying colours. So, to a greater or lesser degree, they all did very well. Then, just as the episode was about to end, India Fisher delivered a little sting in the tail.
For 'personal reasons' Jonathan, who'd looked like one of three or four potential winners of the whole competition up till that point, had decided to withdraw. A pity, although it is, of course, to be hoped that whatever the personal reasons were which caused his withdrawal, they weren't anything too serious. Next episode is on Wednesday of next week when Jay, Eamonn, Andrew, Afsaneh and Ashvy have the chance to redeem themselves. Cooking doesn't get any tougher than this.

Wasn't dear Una Stubbs delightful on The ONE Show on Wednesday night? This after Jenny Agutter was on the night before - it's obviously cosy, warm, big sister nostalgia figures for fortysomethings week on The ONE Show. Ah, but Una - from acting with Cliff in Summer Holiday, to Till Death, Worzel Gummidge all the way up to Sherlock in one ten minute interview. Lovely.
Doctor Who and Coronation Street were among the winners at Wednesday's National Television Awards. The ceremony, which was held in London's O2 Arena, saw Doctor Who stars Matt Smith and Karen Gillan both taking home the 'Drama Performance' awards. However, the show lost out to Downton Abbey for the prize of Best Drama. So, will this see an end to those allegations, from glakes, that 'Doctor Who under Steven Moffat is no longer popular with normal people' type comments? Not, of course, that those who vote in the NTAs are even remotely 'normal' per se. Not even close, really. I mean, take yer actual Keith Telly Topping. For one. The Lord Thy God Steven Moffat himself was organising a 'virtual' Mexican Wave on Twitter in celebration at Smudger and Kazza's victories. Elsewhere, Coronation Street won the Serial Drama award, while Katherine Kelly - who left the soap this week - took home the Serial Drama Performance prize. EastEnders won the prize for Best Newcomer, which was taken by Jacqueline Jossa. Host Dermot O'Dreary lost out to Ant and Dec, who won the Best Entertainment Presenter award for the eleventh successive time. Let's face it, they're just going to rename that the Ant & Dec Award For best Ant & Dec of the Year in future. Other winners ranged from the thoroughly deserved - Alan Carr for best chat show and Outnumbered, which beat Miranda and Benidorm to win best sitcom - to the less obvious: Michael McIntyre's Comedy Roadshow won best entertainment programme, beating Harry Hill's TV Burp, odious oafish dating show Take Me Out and Dynamo: Magician Impossible. Comedian Leigh Francis' alter-ego Keith Lemon won best comedy panel show for his quiz Celebrity Juice, triumphing over Have I Got News For You, Mock The Week and Qi. And, if anybody can explain to yer actual Keith Telly Topping exactly what 'outstanding contribution' to television Gary Barlow has made which justifies his outstanding contribution to television award, I'd be very grateful. One series as a judge of The X Factor - when it regularly got walloped in the overnight ratings by Strictly - does not, to me, seem overly 'stand up and give me an award' ish. I'm not knocking the chap's contribution to music, that's fine, but telly? Maybe I'm just rather old fashioned.

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