Episode nine means invention time and for our six quarter finalists, they were presented with a plethora of sweet ingredients to deal with. So yes, the chefs were being made to work in the dreaded pastry section. Again.
Joey didn’t seem to be too phased though. She took one look at the pineapple, banana, coconut, nutmeg, rum, white chocolate, ginger, hazelnut and passion fruit on display and then calmly proclaimed that she was going to make a simple passion fruit curd tart with a pineapple and mint salsa. Which went down very well with the judges. ‘This dessert would not look out of place in a three star Michelin restaurant,’ cooed Marcus.
For the others, it was a bit more of a challenge. Dean certainly felt that his Achilles heel was exposed and yet his set custard with hazelnut crumb and chargrilled pineapple also scored highly. Gavin, who was used to his pastry chef bossing him around at work, did look slightly out of his comfort zone but his light ginger panna cotta with passion fruit curd and crushed candied hazelnuts showed a good understanding of flavour. Joe, who is not professionally trained, was let down by his turgid white chocolate sponge, yet the judges still thought he showed promise.
Alex, however, was given no quarter. He might have managed to chill out but his tropical trifle didn’t score him any brownie points at all. Falling foul big time of Monica though was Josh with his take on banana and custard, that quintessential British dessert. Perhaps it was bad enough that he tried to sous vide his ‘nana, leaving it squashy on the outside and still hard in the middle. No, I’d say it was his cheeky excuse that his tuiles were just a little caught around the edges that did it for him. ‘There were burnt Josh!’ exclaimed Monica, ‘and you don’t put burnt tuiles on a plate.’ Oops and ta-ta Alex and Josh.
The last big test then of course was the critics round, and once again we were treated to the familiar repartee of our esteemed food writers Mr Rayner, Ms MacLeod and Mr Campion, who one day I hope, will get his simple roast dinner. Because that is all he ever seems to want.
Gavin was up first and, having been around the block a few times, at least knew what it was like to cook for food critics. You could almost read his face as saying ‘Yeah, I know what a bunch of flippin’ dirty birdies they can be’. Which of course is a watered down way of saying things. Gavin did well though. Jay was worried about his tomfoolery with spherified chardonnay to accompany fillets of John Dory and beans in chicken emulsion but it was all met with approval, especially his oyster veloute and oyster beignets. And Gavin’s dessert got tops marks too; a white chocolate dome that was filled with salted caramel and set with poached apricot and meringue. Boy, it did look good.
Joe, who was up next, didn’t do quite so well. By chirpily adding bits of wood sorrel here and a dash of lemon thyme there, he kept his guests waiting for their duck breast and pearl barley and they were none too happy for it. His blackberry sauce was definitely given a wide berth. ‘Don’t do it!’ said Jay to Tracey, as if she were about to pour something radioactive across her plate. His dessert consisting of a chocolate ganache with a gingerbread and cardamom crumb did better, but only just, and he looked quite alone when he entered the chimney of despair afterwards.
South African born Dean decided to play it safe for his turn by giving his version of lamb, pea and mint. Admittedly, it was a clever version, as he made cubes of mint jelly and served up a healthy dollop of Israeli couscous, but Tracey thought that it didn’t quite have the slam dunk they were looking for. ‘There is a crying need for a roast potato on this plate,’ said Charles, disconsolately. Dean’s deconstructed cheesecake again did better, scoring more points I think for the way it looked but in the tasting Jay described it as being a bit ‘Will-o-the-Wisp’. Or hardly there. Which couldn’t be a good thing.
Last of all was Joey, whose principal method of letting the ingredients speak for themselves was really beginning to shine here. Bravely, she made the critics a salad consisting of white crabmeat, apple, chilli and shallot, along with crab croquettes and a pea and mint soup. All very clean and simple stuff but apparently, it all worked very well. Mr Rayner even wanted to become her friend, which is high praise indeed. He never seems to want friends. Her dessert, again a simple notion of coconut panna cotta with rum-poached cherries and granita worked wonders on the critic’s palates. ‘Flippin’ heck,’ said Jay. ‘That Joey is a star.’
Joey certainly lit up like one when Marcus and Monica announced that she had got through, along with Gavin and Dean. I couldn’t help but notice her pensive face though, when Joe was told that he was out of the competition and had to leave the room. Was something going on there, a fleeting romance maybe?
Or was it me?