Wednesday, February 15, 2012

MasterChef: Heartbreak In The Kitchen

Yer actual Keith Telly Topping's beloved guilty pleasure MasterChef continued with its eighth series on Wednesday evening, dear blog reader. If you weren't watching it then I jolly well hope you had a good excuse and something well earth-shattering to keep you away from British TV's most addictive cookery show. Otherwise, I shall be expecting that you've brought a note from your mum. We were now down to the final seven contestants and, before the episode was even half over, we had seen another reduction in that number. Judges John Torode and Gregg Wallace, taking a break from their new found techno fanbase encouraged the remaining cooks to 'celebrate the produce of the British Isles.' Or, as India Fisher rasped, sexily in the introduction, 'bring the best out of the Great British larder.' Fnaar, fnaar. It was just one step away from 'having a poke in pantry,' trust me. Anyway - British nosh. Oh, good. So, that'll be chips, then? Yer actual Keith Telly Topping likes a nice plate of British chips. The contestants were pointed in the general direction of a larder packed full of ingredients: locally sourced vegetables and fruits, and produce with a Scottish emphasis, including Scottish lobster and spider crab, North Sea razor clams, North Atlantic red mullet, oysters and langoustines and, of course, Highland beef. Gregg demanded that they make 'something that screams 'Rule Britannia' at us.' At that point I was praying somebody would make a chicken tikka masala. Tragically, no one did although in one or two cases, it might've been better for them if they had. To judge their efforts John and Gregg were joined by an old friend of the show, the Michelin-starred Edinburgh chef and, occasionally, very angry man indeed Tom Kitchin.
You wouldn't like him when he's angry, dear blog reader. The contestants had just ninety minutes to create a dish which showcased the Scottish produce - and, perhaps surprisingly, there were no takers for deep fried Mars Bar either - with one of the chefs facing elimination at the end of this particular challenge. And, we knew from the trailer at the end of the previous episode that someone was going to, quite literally, break Tom Kitchin's heart, rip it, still-beating, from his chest and throw it into the bin with the words 'you won't be needing that anymore.' Or, something like that anyway. Which, as noted last time, is always reet good for a laugh. First up was Aki who, for once wasn't her usual bundle of bouncing energy but told the viewers that this was 'a serious business' and that she was under 'a ridiculous amount of pressure.' Well, you were the one who signed up for the programme in the first place, chuck, don't whinge. Besides, you're on national telly! The contestants had been instructed to 'think outside the box' by Tom Kitchin but, in Aki's case, most of her cooking is already outside the box anyway, so that was a pretty pointless instruction.
She started off with, as John noted, five times more ingredients that all of the others put together and every time the camera caught her during preparation she seemed to be pulling odd faces. She was either concentrating really hard or she was having a stroke, one or the other. Her dish was 'an English picnic.' Or, at least, Aki's mad-as-toast version of one, containing a Cheddar and onion tart, black pudding croquettes and a salad with cabbage and apples and all sorts of weird stuff going on in it. Tom Kitchin, astonishingly, liked it. 'It works in a strange and crazy way,' he noted. Much like Aki her very self, one could suggest. 'I want to hate this. But I don't' said John through gritted teeth. Gregg was a bit more sniffy. 'I didn't come on here to have a picnic,' he said. Oi, you're getting fed for nowt on licence fee payers coin, Mister Wallace, show a bit of Goddamn gratitude, baldy! John added: 'How Aki's brain works, I have no idea!' but she was through to the next round easily enough and ended up bouncing around the kitchen just like normal! Thank goodness for that, we were all getting a bit worried for a while there. Andrew declared that as a half-Scot himself, he thought he should do quite well in this round. But, frustratingly (and Gregg could barely conceal his own frustration over this) as with a few times in the past, Andrew simply over-reached himself. One sensed when he told John and Gregg what he was planning to do and they both had looks on their faces that suggested they'd been clonked in the collective mush with a big wet red mullet that this might not go well. His pan-fried mullet in whisky and honey, pearl barley risotto, pickled girolles and razor clams brought a less than ecstatic response from all three judges. 'In my mouth I've got a floral sweet oaty-fish-biscuit' said Gregg. Which doesn't sound too bad to this blogger but, you could tell from Gregg's boatrace that it wasn't a compliment or anything even remotely like it. Tom declared himself to be one of the world's biggest fans of using whisky in cooking but here it was 'just not right. Too many flavours,' he concluded, a charge that's been laid at Andrew's door before. John was even more blunt. 'It just doesn't work,' he said, flatly. 'I've never had whisky and fish before. And I will ask the rest of the world to, please, never do it!' 'I got roasted,' Andrew confessed afterwards as he sat looking thoroughly miserable in the dressing room.
Big Jay's dish was fillet of beef with braised red cabbage with carrot pureé with rosemary and walnut. 'How will you make it look beautiful?' asked John. 'I'll cross that bridge when I come to it,' replied Jay. Quick as a flash John was back in for another bite of the cherry. Or, in this case, the wanut: 'Try and cross the bridge before you come to it.' It took a few moments for Jay to realise what Gregg snapped instantly, the feasible impossibility of what Torode had just asked of him to do. 'How'd y'do that?' he asked wearing a broad Manc smirk! 'I dunno,' John confessed as Gregg gave him a look that seemed to wonder whether John had been on the cooking sherry before the director shouted 'action!' All three judges felt that Jay had, perhaps, played it a little safe but that there were far worse dishes on display elsewhere. 'Too much butter in the pureé,' Tom felt. 'The walnuts are saving the dish.' Emma, who confessed that she'd probably survived by the skin of her teeth three times in a row wondered how many lives she had left in the competition. 'You've done a double whammy on me because you've given me Scottish produce and a Scottish judge,' she noted, Scottishly. Her dish was supposed to be beef with a mushroom, onion and garlic tart, pearl barley sauce, ceps mushrooms and pumpkin pureé. In the end, the tart didn't make it onto the final plate as Emma didn't feel it had worked. Which was a pity because, without it, the dish felt incomplete. 'No texture,' said John who felt that all of the time and effort Emma had put into the unsuccessful tart could've been used more effectively elsewhere. Gregg felt that something simple, perhaps a bit of mash, would've given the dish the added dimension needed. Tom (Rennolds, that is, not Kitchin) cooked a fillet of red mullet with scallops and a warm fennel and tomato salad dressed with mint. 'A good effort,' said the other Tom.
John liked it - particularly the subtle hint of mint which, he confessed, he hadn't expected. Tom was through. So was Shelina who cooked - again - the dish of the day, a fish and seafood medley of crab-stuffed courgette flower and pan-fried mullet. Tom Kitchen almost cracked into a smile as he ate it. Almost. 'Combines skill and a real understanding of cooking,' he said. Shelina almost fainted. Almost. And so, by process of elimination, we got to Eamonn, who'd been getting better and better over the last few rounds to the point where he was starting to look like a decent outside bet for the MasterChef title. Was he the man to break Tom Kitchin's heart? Surely not? But, he must be since none of the others had. But, how? His dish of langoustine on a Cullen Skink sauce with roasted veg and potato purée sounded great. Prawns and tetties, what's not to love? Immediately, though, Gregg looked worried. 'You've overdone it,' he said. And then came the moment that had been trailed at the end of the last episode. Tom Kitchin looking stern and said 'you've broke my heart.' Adding that when he'd seen what Eamonn was intending to cook he'd, mentally, marked him down as a potential winner but, what he'd served had been a disappointment. Oh, corks. Poor Eamonn just looked sick. Tom Kitchin left the, ahem, kitchen at that point leaving John and Gregg with the difficult task of sorting out the winners from the losers. Shelina, Tom and Jay were straight though. Aki, despite a few grumbles from Gregg, also made it leaving the exit choice between Andrew, Eamonn and Emma. In the end, it was probably Andrew and Eamonn's successes in the Spanish kitchen last episode that swung the decision in their favour and away from poor Emma. 'Three times in a row she hasn't delivered,' John noted, sadly. Emma was out. Both Eamonn and Andrew looked emotional and, as Andrew said, they had both, clearly, dodged a bullet.
The remaining six survivors, having been told to 'pack your waterproofs,' then travelled to the Cumbrian countryside for a lesson in just how exciting British ingredients can be. Expert forager and Michelin-starred chef Simon Rogan has made his name using foraged and locally-sourced produce at his Cartmel restaurant, L'Enclume which, India Fisher told us, has been described as 'The Fat Duck of the North.' The contestants were taken out to the fields, shoreline and hedgerows of the local area to find the edible treats that are on offer. Jay looked a bit doubtful but declared himself a new convert to the concept of, you know, cooking weeds! Their task was then to work in their most challenging conditions yet - a temporary kitchen set up in a local farmer's barn. They had to create a lunch for Simon's twenty five guests, including the local food producers and farmers with whom he works. With a range of locally-sourced and foraged ingredients to choose from, the contestants had to impress with dishes that showcased the wonderful produce. It didn't start well with Shelina, essentially, bullying Eamonn out of the venison dish - let's be charitable and call it her 'forceful personality', eh?! - and then telling John that she planned to make a venison stew. John patiently explained that wasn't going to work since the meat was free from fat and would, therefore, most likely dry up in a stew. So, having had Plan A knocked on the head, Shelina went to Plan B and produced seared and roasted venison with a foraged sloe berry jeux and parsnips and cabbage. This worked very well, to such and extent that one of the attendees, a local jam and preserves producer, described it as 'divine.'
I say, steady on, dear, it's only a bit of meat! Tom's dish was rack of lamb with a pine nut crust, with roasted parsnips and pickled red onion and a minty jeux. Most of the punters liked it. The local undertaker really liked it. John liked it. Gregg didn't. What the hell is the matter with Gregg Wallace this week? Has he been kidnapped and replaced by a lookalike impostor who's suddenly gone off his grub? It was most curious. Gregg instructed Andrew not to repeat the mistakes of the last round. 'Don't go weird,' he said. 'We don't want twenty angry farmers!' Andrew's dish was hay and herb smoked herring with clams and shrimp. Disappointingly it didn't sell many but Simon liked it, John liked it and the impostor posing as Gregg Wallace proved that he actually might have been the real Gregg Wallace after all by saying: 'He's nailed it!' Now, that's more like the Gregg we know and love.
Jay chose a partridge dish, pan-fried with lentisl. Jay said he was going for a rustic sort of platter. 'What do you know about rural?' asked Gregg. 'You get nervous when you run out of concrete!' Again, the dish went down well with everyone. 'Really delicious,' said John. Eamonn needed to pull something out of the bag, and he did - despite having been elbowed aside in the rush for the venison. He'd volunteered to do one of the two dessert courses and came up with calvados caramelised apples served on pain perdu (that's French toast to you and me) with foraged wild berries. Again, this was an outstanding success although, as Eamonn himself said after listing the ingredients, 'what's not to like? I'd eat it!' As John noted, both Eamonn and Andrew had wiped out the horror of the previous round and put themselves right back in the game. But what of poor Aki? Having initially planned to do apples, before Eamonn got there ahead of her, instead she went for a chocolate hazelnut toffee brownie with caramel custard. Eventually. Because she changed her mind about three times by the time she started cooking. She got flustered, she got her whites all messy and got told off by John - and appeared rather sulky when replying to his instruction that she shape up ('promise me from now on you'll work cleanly?' 'Yes, John'). That's most unlike the timid little Aki we've seen previously. In fact, she frequently resembled a headless chicken and then, just to top it all off, we had the episode's - and, indeed, possibly, the series' - big talking point. Ovengate. So, who was it that turned down the oven heat, effectively ruining Aki's brownie? Shelina, in best snitchy form, pointedly asked Tom if he'd done it (she used the word 'sabotage' at this point). Tom's reply was rather peculiar: 'I've been at it all week.' Meaning ... your guess is as good as mine. No one was admitting anything and Aki let the matter drop but her brownie, as a consequence, perhaps, of this bit of jiggery-pokery flopped big-style being the one wholly unsuccessful dish of the event. As John and Gregg noted at the end, Aki's future in the competition appears to depend solely on her next dish. But then, one could say that about all of them. Oh, and, I'm still not entirely sure what that random shot of a cat was all about!
Next week, the final six will be feeding some lawyers - hopefully including something that will make them all really ill - and then, hurrah, lovely Michel Roux is back as a guest judge. Looking forward to that one.

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Last night’s episode can only be described as continual mismanagement – not the usual description for an outstanding food program. Michelin star chef, Tom Kitchin was impressed by Aki’s British dish, as it worked, with its sleek presentation with a slight oriental flair. His opinion was the most important as he was the guest chef. But John and more so, Craig, panned a unique dish which Tom Kitchin had already declared worked!

Later, in the Highlands, at a local farmer’s barn, a supplier for the L’enclume restaurant, all the contestants should have lost points due to poor management and teamship in planning the menu. In the makeshift barn kitchen, Shelina pointedly discarded Eamonn’s choice of a venison dish, since she wanted to do venison. There was no discussion. Eamonn than agreed to do a desert using apples, an ingredient which Aki had already chosen and taken! Shelina made a poor decision with her recipe choice which would not have worked and ultimately cost her points. John stepped in and corrected the error saving Shelina from losing face and points in the contest. Then the entire team let Aki down by turning down the oven when her dessert, caramel brownies, was baking. Shelina initiated a pointed finger scenario, not very laudable, for a contestant. She had been my favourite as the best chef and still is, but my opinion is not important. However, it does question whether the entire episode should be discarded to prevent any impact on all the individual contestants’ current ratings.

Caroline said...

Last night’s episode can only be described as continual mismanagement – not the usual description for an outstanding food program. Michelin star chef, Tom Kitchin was impressed by Aki’s British dish, as it worked, with its sleek presentation with a slight oriental flair. His opinion was the most important as he was the guest chef. But John and more so, Craig, panned a unique dish which Tom Kitchin had already declared worked!

Later, in the Highlands, at a local farmer’s barn, a supplier for the L’enclume restaurant, all the contestants should have lost points due to poor management and teamship in planning the menu. In the makeshift barn kitchen, Shelina pointedly discarded Eamonn’s choice of a venison dish, since she wanted to do venison. There was no discussion. With her decision foisted up him, Eamonn agreed to do a desert using apples, an ingredient which Aki had already chosen and taken! Shelina chose a venison recipe which would not have worked and ultimately cost her points. John stepped in and corrected the error saving Shelina from losing face and contest points. Then the entire team let Aki down by turning down the oven when her dessert, caramel brownies, was baking. Shelina initiated a 'pointed finger' scenario, not very laudable, for a contestant. She had been my favourite as the best chef and still is, but my opinion is not important. However, it does question whether the entire episode should be discarded to prevent any impact on all the individual contestants’ current scores.

Anonymous said...

Yep, the tension mounts... is there a saboteur amongst the contestants...

By the way Shelina's snitchy comment has a history. Remember when her white truffle ended up in a bin? Off a table top Tom had been cleaning?

Tom takes the competition very seriously and stated he was very happy with the results of the Tom Kitchin round. But he got very lukewarm "good cooking", where as Aki and Shelina got the bit of a "wow".

Does the ex-plasterer have a dark side...? Will it be aprons at dawn? LOL

Anonymous said...

Yep, the tension mounts... is there a saboteur amongst the contestants...

By the way Shelina's snitchy comment has a history. Remember when her white truffle ended up in a bin? Off a table top Tom had been cleaning?

Tom takes the competition very seriously and stated he was very happy with the results of the Tom Kitchin round. But he got very lukewarm "good cooking", where as Aki and Shelina got the bit of a "wow".

Does the ex-plasterer have a dark side...? Will it be aprons at dawn? LOL

Anonymous said...

Caroline (comment above) is a moron.