Wednesday, March 07, 2012

MasterChef: A Comedy, Tonight

Only four exceptional amateur cooks - Shelina, Tom, Andrew and Jay - remain in the culinary battle to become this year's MasterChef. Which is, of course, exactly what usually happens when you get to episode twelve of yer average fifteen-part series of MasterChef. Just in case you're a newcomer to the format, dear blog reader. This time around, judges John Torode (the Aussie one who shouts a lot) and Gregg Wallace (the baldy one who likes cakes) asked them to tackle one of the hardest culinary disciplines - pastry. You mean, what most people's mums do without even thinking very hard about it? Okay. Firstly, once India Fisher had huskily delivered her usual husky intro, they headed to the eclectic Sketch in Central London where the contestants had two and a half hours to produce their own pastry masterpieces for a special afternoon tea celebrating the best (and, one or two examples of the very worst) of 1970s British TV comedy. For two of them it wasn't going to be nearly enough time. The four were tasked with creating one savoury and two sweet cakes or pastry items each for their guests, who included stars from The Goodies, Butterflies, one of the greatest comedy series of all time Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads? and one of the very worst, Are You Being Served? One of the Goodies in question, perhaps inevitably, turned out to be odious Bill Oddie whom this blogger considers was last - even remotely - funny sometime around 1977. Let it be noted that yer actual Keith Telly Topping used to think Bill was, like, the funniest bloke in all the land that ever was. When yer actual Keith Telly Topping was ten. This is, incidentally, the very self-same Bill Oddie who, just a week ago was whinging like a big stroppy drama queen during an interview with The Lady magazine - no, me neither - about the horrid and manifest unfairness of life in general and the BBC in particular. This story was quickly picked up on by a pair of national newspapers with absolutely no sick anti-BBC agenda whatsoever painted, thickly, all over their disgusting, scummy, Tory faces, the Daily Torygraph and the Daily Scum Mail. Bastions, both of totally truthful and accurate reportage. Anyway, in this interview, it would seem that the loathsome nasty Oddie claimed that he had been, effectively, banned from the airwaves by the BBC over some alleged 'incident' which occurred during the filming of an episode of Springwatch. An incident the nature of which Oddie 'refused to discuss' any further. Quite why they continue to have him on programmes such as this if that were the case, he didn't explain. Thus, these two organs of balance and accuracy in all things claimed that you wouldn't likely be seeing Bill Oddie on the BBC any time soon. Oh, if only wishing made it so, dear blog reader. Anyway, the food may have been woeful in the 1970s - although, personally, this blogger is still quite partial to a nice fish finger sarnie - but the comedy was 'vintage.' (And, in many cases, also dreadful.) Bollocks to all this cozy nostalgia, ladies and gentlemen, the seventies were - for the most part - utter crap, as we've previously discussed on this blog. So the pressure was therefore on for the contestants to put a smile on the faces of 'the legends that made the nation laugh.' And Bill Oddie.
Also there nabbing a free bit of nosh on the licence fee payers expense were Oddie's old mucker Tim Brooke-Taylor, Alison Steadman, Wendy Craig, Nicholas Smith, yer actual Captain Peacock his very self Frank Thornton, the great Rodney Bewes (sadly minus his time machine), George Layton, lovely Lynda Baron and various random Hi-Di-Hi-ers and 'Allo 'Allo-ers. 'I'm free,' said Gregg Wallace, with far better comic timing than John Inman ever managed in one hundred and eighty seven thousand episodes of Are You Being Served? (Not the actual figure, dear blog reader, it just felt like that.) Before they got started all of the contestants were interviewed about their hopes and dreams. On the subject of perfection, Shelina claimed: 'I'm not so perfect.' Yes, dear, we've noticed. Particularly whenever anybody's had the nerve to criticise your grub even slightly and you've given them a look with the cold, dead eyes of the ghost of Fanny Craddock. So, they were off. Jay offered to knock-up a salmon and broccoli tart, a chocolate ganache with raspberries and a Lancashire custard tart with strawberries. Tragically, he blew it. I mean, totally. He was twenty minutes late with his custard tart and didn't even get the ganache out at all. 'Fumin', mate,' he told Gregg with the sort of facial expression that you usually see when someone is two inches away from your boat in the away end bellowing 'you're gonna get your fakkin' head kicked-in.' One sensed that they might as well have stopped the episode there and then to save Jay from further punishment since there didn't seem any way on Earth he could come back from that. Still, as a purely academic exercise, Shelina's spicy scones (one rather expected Lord Timbo and The Oddie to drag out that routine from Bunfight At The OK Tea-Rooms over whether it was 'sc-ons' or 'sk-ones') with coriander cream cheese and mango relish, followed by exotic fruit tartlets with cardamom crème patissière and carrot, ginger and pecan cake all went down very well. So did Andrew's three dishes, all made whilst both he and Gregg made plenty of use of the word 'quirky.' They were: Savoury scones (or skones) with mozzarella and pancetta jam, carrot cake with thyme icing and raspberry marshmallows with white chocolate dipping sauce. And, we also learned that Andrew is actually allergic to eggs. Fortunately, he didn't eat any of his own food here and suffer the consequences with the swelling of the windpipe and so on. Phew. Lucky escape. 'There's some lovely dishes if they can get 'em up' said Gregg contributing this episode's nice juicy sample of positively filthy doube entendre. Tom, meanwhile, was having something a 'mare. He was fifteen minutes late with his trio - despite Gregg seeming convinced that he'd have no problems when he whipped out a icing bag early on. 'You know someone's serious when they get out an icing bag,' he said. Being 'serious', however, isn't always a good thing. Ask Bill Oddie. Indeed, but for Jay being even more late than Tom, it might have been the Yorkshire plasterer who was in the deeper trouble of the two. Tom's three dishes - Strawberry and rhubarb macaroons, coffee, walnut and chocolate gateau and duck red current pie all, eventually, made it out. Albeit, John thought the former undercooked. There followed various fatuous comments by the Octogenarians who, let's remember, were getting a freebie on my licence fee! Not that I begrudge them this, of course. Well, most of them. Thankfully, it was soon time for their afternoon nap and we left them to it. Safe and secure in the knowledge that, if there's nothing else to do on a boring Wednesday afternoon in November, on the G.O.L.D. channel it's always 1973.

Then it was back to MasterChef HQ for the most intimidating test of the final fantastic four's pastry skills; each contestant had to cook two absolute show-stopping desserts in two and a half hours. John and Gregg were to be joined by three of the world's finest pastry chefs to judge their results: Jocky Petrie, Damian Allsop and Claire Clark, who has an MBE for her services to food. Bill Oddie, incidentally, is an OBE. If they make him an earl, as well, that'll mean he'll be an earlobe. Yes, I know that was a joke from an episode of The Goodies, circa 1977. (Royal Command, as it happens ... I told you, I was fan. When I was ten.) Between them these esteemed judges have been responsible for the desserts at some of the world's very finest three star Michelin restaurants, it says here. Would our four amateurs be able to impress such distinguished and discerning guests? John got the ball rolling with one crass cliche ('no time for the faint hearted') and Gregg, like Gary Lineker sniffing about the penalty area closely following up to stick away the rebound with yet another ('this is a day for heroes'). Andrew was cooking chocolate, orange and coriander tart with chocolate-hazelnut mousse, pear and fennel ice cream and candied fennel. Which John considered 'complex, interesting, exciting, left-field' but he didn't, actually, say that he liked it and the three guest judges were all rather sniffy about. Andrew, who'd already got a bit emotional - for which read 'blubbed like a girl' - when talking about winning the competition for his wife and son then moved on to Thai mango tart with coconut sorbet and tropical fruit salad. Again, it was praised for its technical proficiency but rather underwhelmed everyone in terms of how it actually tasted. Even Gregg Wallace, for God's sake, wasn't bowled over by it and it was a pudding. That's, surely, got to be a first? 'All of the bits, I love, but I didn't like them all together,' he said. Blimey. That was a turn up. Andrew looked like he was about to cry again. Shelina, bless her, was having another good day at the office and, therefore, didn't have the excuse to give us (or anyone else for that matter) the scary, serial-killer eyes. Her two dishes were mango millefeuille with dulce de leche caramel slice and white chocolate sorbet and passion fruit tapioca with palm sugar ice cream and baked ricotta slice. Job done. Safely into the final and, frankly, on the evidence of the last two or three episodes, the likely winner, I'd've said. If she does win, mind, Christ help anybody who goes into the restaurant she's likely to open at some stage in the future and say 'well, I didn't like that for a start.' Customers should be advised in such circumstances that a meat clever in the scalp often offends. Right, next up was Tom - who, frankly, only had to produce something moderately all right to get through. Tragically, his first dish wasn't even close to 'all right' or anything even remotely like it. A 'deconstructed' (oh no, the dreaded word again) lemon tart with lemon and lime ice creams, bits of meringue and honeycomb. It produced a bunch of nasty facial expressions from the guest judges (and that was just looking at it, they got worse, if anything, when they dipped their spoons in). John Torode summed it all up. It looked, he said, 'like somebody made a tart and dropped it!' Needing something pretty special to wipe out the memory of that little disaster, thankfully Tom's next dish was a bit more like it, his own take on chocolate and mint delice with a pistachio base and crème de menthe caviar. I'm minded, at this point, of Billy Connolly's legendary routine about the two Scotsman who get drunk on crème de menthe in Rome. 'Green hughie ... Hughie Green' and all that. And, the punchline about it being not wonder they carry the Pope around on his chair if that's what he drinks. Anyway ... Tom's first dish, however, had been so epically, monumentally bad that, one sensed, Jay was suddenly back in with half a shout. Two proper decent plates and he might even sneak into the final three. Which, as previously noted, this blogger would've rather liked since Jay (and, Eamonn earlier) have brought a very welcome sense of fundamental reality to the sometimes highfalutin, vainglorious excesses of some of MasterChef's madder moments. First up was a pineapple tarte tatin with white chocolate and coconut rum sorbet. It was all right. Decent. But nothing startling. The Scottish one of the guest judges grumbled about his tarte having a 'soggy bottom.' Think yerself lucky you're getting fed on my one hundred and forty five notes a year, you miserable tight-arsed Scostman, you. Second dish was the excellent-sounding tiramisu doughnuts with coffee and chocolate sorbet. Gregg loved it. I mean, really loved it. ('I'm a very happy boy!') Everybody else was a bit more laid back about it. John declared himself frustrated that Jay hadn't pushed himself as far as he might have. 'He had a real chance here today,' John said and, you got the impression that if even one of the two dishes had been really spot-on, Jay might've got that third spot from Tom. But, he didn't. Again, there was a philosophical and dignified exit in marked contrast to a few shenanigans from others earlier in the competition. And so we reach the final three. It was Shelina's turn to start the waterworks at this point. We also reach the final three episodes, to be shown next Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Now, the fun and games really start.