Thursday, February 23, 2012

MasterChef: Their Law

MasterChef, dear blog reader. It's been a bit good this year. You might've just noticed. We've had the usual array of slips, spills and bellyaches. We've had Matthew's gateaux that wasn't. We've had Ashvy getting all lippy with yer man Torode. We've had the story of the - allegedly - sabotaged truffle (or, was it?) And, of course, we've had one of the TV highlights of the year so far, Ovengate. It's been a rip-roaring roller coaster of emotion, allegations of back-stabbing and, you know, pastry. And tonight, it got really interesting!
John and Gregg, we knew in advance, were to lead the contestants in their first foray into fine-dining in large numbers. They had to prepare a 'delectable' three-course meal for over two hundred and thirty guests at The Right Honourable Society of the Middle Temple (and they're known as 'a right one or two other things' an'all, I'll have you know), one of the historic Inns of Court at the very backbone of the British legal system. Guests at the dinner included some of the most high-ranking (be very careful how you say that, dear blog reader) legal figures in the land. So, a bunch of lawyers, in other words. Big deal. Working under the head chef, the contestants had to cook in pairs, with each team delivering one course. That was the basic set-up. The task was to prepare, so India Fisher told us in husky voice-over at the start, 'food fit for the legal profession.' So, that'd be what? Hot tongue? A nice bit of cold shoulder, followed by a special course of sour grapes and tripe? 'Guys, it has to be perfect,' Gregg said as the super six got themselves ready for a day slaving over a hot stove for the benefit of some blokes in wigs and capes who looked like Batman. Why? Why, exactly, does it have to be 'perfect'? They're only a bunch of judges and shysters, for God sake, they're not the Queen of Sheba. Who the hell says that they're better than the likes of us scum from the council estates who can make do with the merely adequate? 'If the food is not up to standard then the people her will be quite prepared to give an opinion,' said one horribly snooty woman, snootily, to camera with a twisty face that just made you want to go out and start an armed revolution. Well, let 'em. I'll tell you what, dear blog reader, if yer actual Keith Telly Topping had been cooking for these clowns, he'd've given them chips and gravy and they've bloody well liked it. And, if one of them had so much as implied 'ooo, I don't like that,' I'd've dragged them, by their wig, straight into the kitchens and told them that they were getting a freebie on licence fee payers money - you know, all those annoying little people who pay their flaming wages - and to shut their trap. Or sue me, whichever they prefer. (Thinking aobut, it'd be the latter, really, wouldn't it?) Up the workers, baby. Where were we? Oh, yes back in the kitchen. Where Big Sweaty Eamonn and Mad-As-Toast Bouncing Aki were proving to be a rather winning combination on the starters. They cooked fillet of sole Balmoral with pastry fleurons, samphire, champagne velouté and shaved truffle. Which Tom managed not to throw in the bin this time. Allegedly. They worked very well together and, noted India, their 'team work paid off' as they managed to get all of their dishes out on time. Albeit, the stern-looking head-waiter whinged to Gregg Wallace that they was 'only just' on time. An inch is as good as mile, matey, what you complaining about? Tom and Andrew had a much harder job with the main course, tournedo of beef with an oxtail confit, carrot, shallots and asparagus parcels, woodland mushrooms and almondine potatoes. They needed help from Eamonn and Aki with the preparation of the latter and Aki provided one of the episode's best lines when noting: 'I feel like a little ant climbing up a Mount Everest of potatoes.' Nevertheless, despite seeming on the verge of crashing and burning at least twice during the prep, with a bit of help from the others Tom and Andrew got their plates out. Shelina and Jay (who looks like just the kind of chap who might've been up a'fore a beak or two in his time!) appeared to be the stars of the show, overcoming some difficulties with mousses (or, should that be mice?) that wouldn't set to deliver chocolate and orange liqueur mousse, poached pears in a port syrup and crème brûlée. Albeit, they were only ones who got one or two whinges from some of the ungrateful sods eating their freebies. One woman in particular wittered on about how the mousse was 'too runny.' At the end, after everyone had finished, and before they all went off for a well-earned beer they indulged in a group hug, with Big Eamonn telling Big Jay 'we don't do this oops North!' Seriously, I hope one of them two lads wins the damn thing, they're so refreshing.
Then, the contestants returned to the MasterChef kitchen for one more fine-dining challenge. They had ninety minutes to create two elegant courses which could proudly sit on any fine-dining menu, and this time their food was to be tasted by two-Michelin-starred chef, culinary legend, MasterChef: The Professionals judge and all-round nice chap Michel Roux Jr.
As usual. I only mention that because, when he walked in the room both Aki and Shelina seemed totally shocked with the open mouths and the jazz-hands and all that malarkey. Which would seem to prove that they've never watched the damn show before since Michel always turns up at around this point each year. Shelina made a lobster curry (oh, yeah!) with spiced peas and potato badger whilst her pudding was a deconstructed kee-lime pie with lime mousse and ginger jelly. Michel wondered during preparation how one makes a lobster curry which can be presented as 'fine-dining' per se although in the end all three judges thought she'd made a pretty good job of doing exactly that (and they liked the taste too). The big problem came with her dessert. Michel liked the taste and texture ('it plays great music in my mouth!' he said, rather poetically) but, as John bluntly noted, 'it looks Godawful.' Shelina did not like that one little bit. Oh no, siree Bob. Incandescent, so she was. It's something this blogger has noticed about her a few times during the competition but, tonight was the most obvious example. She's fine when she's being praised - witty, gregarious, ever so humble, even - but, the slightest bit of negative critique and she gets all stroppy and discombobulated talking about having put her heart on the plate and various other clichés. It happened in the interview in the dressing room where she looked like she was ready to deck the next person that dared to question her nosh. Her eyes were scary. Like sharks eyes. Cold eyes. Dead eyes. You touched a raw nerve, there, guys I think. (Of course, it's worth pointing out here that the only reason we know about any of this was because of the editorial decision to include that interview segment in the final episode by the producers. If they'd left it on the cutting room floor - where it probably belonged - then we'd've all been non-the-wiser. As it is, tonight dear blog reader, I shall dream of Shelina's crazed blood-soaked vengeance on those who wronged her food, those eyes blazing in the carnage that follows. Or something. No, not really. I usually dream about other stuff, to be honest.)
Next up was Andrew who seemed to be playing with fire when he told John and Gregg that he was including whisky and honey in his sauce again. After last week's red mullet fiasco one might've thought he'd've been sensible and left those two elements well alone but Andrew, with - he noted - a definite point to prove, said that his dish could be subtitled 'an apology to Tom Kitchin.' He was cooking crusted roast grouse with yer actual neeps, savoy wrapped sausage, bacon crumb and that old whisky honey sauce. 'Daring' said John. was that daring as in 'that's a very brave decision, we wish you luck' or daring as in 'are you bloody insane, matey?!' In the end, it turned out to be the former, most definitely. The judges loved it. They also loved Andrew's pudding of chocolate and black olive caramel tart with rosemary ice cream. 'Genius' was how Gregg described it. Michel said some very nice things about it and little Andrew, bless 'im, var nigh burst into tears. It had been quite a performance, it wiped out any lingering memory of his horror in Kitchin's Kitchen, as it were, and saw Andrew safely into the next round. Eamonn who, of course, likewise had something of a horrorshow when cooking for Tom Kitchin, also produced one of the greatest comebacks since Lazarus. He'd been on fine form in the two rounds in-between but he ratcheted it up a notch here with a rib and tenderloin of pork in a stout and cider sauce, with a celeriac purée. The presentation was, Michel said, 'bordering on naff!' which he then assured Eamonn he'd just about got away with. But, thereafter, it was one great comment after another. 'Can we just stop there,' Eamonn said with a big beaming smile on his mush after John called his dish 'excellent.' But, if they had, he'd've missed the best bit. Eamonn's dessert sailed heavenwards on a virtual wings of delirium. Liquorice poached Williams pears with blackberry sorbet with lime chantilly cream and a shortbread biscuit. If nothing else, it gave Gregg his requisite moment of Carry On-style innuendo for the episode when he bellowed 'I love a ripe juicy pear!' So do we all, Wallace, so do we all!
There have been suggestions that Jay's been a bit guilty of playing it safe in one or two previous rounds. Here, he said, he was going to 'get edgy.' When bouncers say that to this blogger, normally, it's a queue to curl up into a little ball and hope they don't kick one in the unmentionables too hard. In Jay's case, it meant he was going to do pan-fried halibut with chorizo tomatoes, a crab and potato salad and smoked bone marrow. It was praised for the taste and the textures although the presentation could, perhaps, have been a bit more refined. 'Ups and downs,' said Gregg. The dessert was dark chocolate and hazelnut torte with orange cream, candied peel and caramelised orange segments. Again, John and Michel were a bit sniffy about the way it looked (although the taste was, again, praised). Gregg merely noted, like the blokey-bloke he is, that 'it might not be Roux-refined but it's got fat-bloke-licking-the-plate written all over it.' Works for this blogger, frankly! And then some. Tom said that he'd be disappointed if he went out in this round since he loved fine-dining so much. 'It'd be like losing at home,' he said in a rather neat little football metaphor. His main dish was roast sirloin of beef, calves' liver with shallots, pickled beetroot purée and roasted garlic cream and the dessert was a fascinating-looking sweet cherry and chocolate ravioli with hazelnut butter and pistachio ice cream. In both cases, however, although decent, they weren't quite right, particularly the main in which the beef was undercooked. Tom confessed he'd given himself a bit too much to do and hadn't quite pulled it off. Still, the pudding, at least was a hit - Gregg virtually had to be held back by the other two from diving in and scoffing the lot. Bless 'im, that lad really does love a good pud!
And, so to Aki. 'I try to be different,' she announced before the round. Well, she's certainly been that. Some viewers, apparently, find her a bit annoying. I don't. A bit bizarre, possibly, but she's a fascinating chef to watch because you're never quite sure whether you're going to get something brilliant or something devastatingly bad. In this episode, it was the latter, sadly. Clam steamboat with dashi jelly, smoked chicken oysters, seafood and vegetables. Sounded great. Looked good. Tasted, as John said, 'like chewing on a cigarette butt.' She'd overdone the smokiness of the smoked chicken, it would seem. Badly. All three judges noticed it. 'Unpleasant,' said Michel. 'Like eating a bonfire,' added Gregg. There was still a chance that her dessert could save her, of course. It was a curious mixture of styles, sticky toffee pudding with toffee sauce, nitrogen frozen miso ice cream and deep fried kinako. Aki's world came crashing down, however, when even Gregg didn't like it. 'Tastes like a very sweet banana,' he said. it wasn't a compliment. Aki left the competition as she'd started it - putting a smile on viewers faces. It's been a curious, but very entertaining, ride. Next week, it's the final five versus the food critics. Charles Campion looks like he wants to take a bite out of someone. Can't hardly wait.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This was a fantastic week. Bye to the lovely Aki and wishing her the best.