Having made it through to the quarter final, it was nothing but hard work, focus and attention to detail for our six chefs. And to up the ante for the invention test, they all had to come up with a dessert. Yes, the dreaded pastry section. ‘If you have a weakness, we will find it!’ yelled Monica and I half expected her to follow up with ‘Now hit the floor and give me twenty press ups.’
To create a pudding of wondrous delight, the ingredients were apple, strawberry, Calvados, star anise and basil, among other things. Josh, who likes to play with people’s minds, decided he was going to make a vanilla cheesecake with strawberries and black pepper, and his deconstructed effort was unexpected and pleasantly so. Fast-prepping Darren whizzed up an apple semifreddo with roasted apple and chocolate caramel cream that looked very appealing, while Angela produced a smart looking lime meringue tart, dotted with apple.
The best pudding to my mind though came from Danilo, who made a light torta Caprese, made using chocolate and almonds, served up with a vanilla panna cotta and small buttons of strawberry dressed with basil. It was a very elegant looking dish indeed.
There were, as always, two stinkers in this round. The first coming from Jason, who poured practically a whole bottle of apple brandy onto his pan of strawberries and then made a very unappealing brown splodge that was supposed to be a mousse, or something. But it was Liam who had the greatest fall from grace in my eyes. He had so much promise and so much talent and yet, the pastry got to him and all he could do was poach and roast an apple. And he didn’t even do that right. ‘If you are going to roast an apple, roast it, don’t blow torch it,’ said Marcus, and bang – off they went, out of the competition.
The last test, the critics round, was a mixed affair for our chefs, who were aiming to please the little socks off William Sitwell, Tracey MacLeod and Charles Campion. Red-faced Josh decided that he wanted to make a plate of fish and chips, but without actually serving up any battered fish or greasy chips and as such, his halibut with charred cucumber and clams was left wanting. His lemon meringue soufflé with pine custard went down better, but William ‘No Square Plates’ Sitwell was irked by the wooden boards Josh used to plate up. Darren, who reckons being a chef is the closest thing to be being a rock star, tried to show his rock and roll kitchen credentials by serving up some wild rabbit, stuffed with offal and pancetta, but having been out of service for while (he’s a development chef remember) his timings were a tad rusty.
Not as bad as Angela’s timekeeping skills though, as she went twenty minutes over her allotted time when creating her black sea bass with pickled, braised and raw fennel. The one chef who did pull it all together was Danilo, who delivered a beautiful bowl of onion risotto with quail, asparagus and summer truffle. William and Charles were over the moon with this one, particularly with Danilo’s onion jus. ‘Gravy poured over risotto could just be the next best new thing,’ sighed Charles. His dessert of chocolate with salted caramel was also well executed and I can just imagine his boss, who is the Italian ambassador in the UK, saying ‘Oh Danilo, with this dessert, you are really spoiling us’. From Marcus and Monica, he just got ‘Good job, good lad’ but I can see this good lad going a long way in this competition.
That is unless Marcus tries to trip him up with another ‘buck’ rarebit or something equally obscure. We shall see.