The last of the musketeers to compete for final’s week were Cockney Scott, bearded Mark and Andi, who I have now decided looks remarkably like the hip hop DJ Tim Westwood. These three also headed north and found themselves travelling in the back of a cab around the dales of Lancashire at six o’clock in the morning, probably wondering what the hell was going on. But it soon became apparently that they would be doing a session at Michelin-starred Northcote, owned by chef-patron Nigel Haworth and run by head chef Lisa Allen.
With eleven years at the helm, it soon became apparent that Lisa wasn’t the type who would not take fools lightly. This place was her baby and one that she had nurtured and given that she was about to let three strangers roam about in her kitchen, it was obvious that this all represented a big risk for her. Actually, it was more than obvious; she actually said ‘this is a big risk for me’. So she made it quite clear that our chefs had to keep their focus and to be switched on at all times. One slip and they would soon be turned into escabeche.
Bearded Mark, as always, took this all in his stride though. Having been given the task of preparing starters; a venison tartare with pickled mushroom, goat's curd, sorrel leaves and hazelnut, he was more than able to match the freshness, elegance and precision that Lisa required. He might have complained that he wasn’t used to plating up in the way she asked but he still did very, very well. I might say that he found it all too easy and if I were Scott, I would have been tempted to kick him up the backside at some point, to send him sprawling.
But Scott was in enough trouble anyway, having been given wood pigeon glazed in onion sauce to cook. Once Lisa had run through the accompanying garnish of legs, stuffed with chicken mousse, cabbage, girolles and chives with him, he simply gulped and said ‘I’ll do me best.’ Just like Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins. And he did do his best. Despite a couple of undercooked moments, Scott eventually came out on top.
Andi, who works at his best with his head on the block, had a slightly different service to the rest. Insofar that it was a very shaky one and as he struggled to assemble a dessert of peaches and cream, resplendent with fresh redcurrant, redcurrant granita and mascarpone ice cream. I was yelling at the TV to ‘get the man a brandy or something!’ to calm his nerves. In the end, Lisa had to jump in and save him. Because of that, I suspect that Andi would be happy to never work on pastry again. Still, after service, at she least gave him consolatory wink that it was a very hard test.
He did redeem himself the next day though, when asked to reproduce Lisa’s signature dish, which was another pudding funnily enough. She rather liked his take on her tempered chocolate roll, filled with chocolate mousse and dressed with salted sheep’s milk ice cream and pulled sugar. So all was not lost. She also commended Mark and Scott’s efforts too, admiring their passion and individuality. For plates of food that looked totally different to her own, which I thought was a little too nice of her. But I am sure they all learned something.
So, after absorbing all that talent, like a veritable sheet of kitchen towel, they were back in the kitchen once more. Once more into the breach and all that. And for the first time we saw a speck of worry behind those glasses on Mark! Which did endear him to me once more – I was beginning to think that his style was becoming a touch too swanning. Maybe he has been proverbially thrashing underwater all along, whilst gliding along the surface. Despite the nerves, his dishes were up to the very high standard that he has been displaying throughout. A plate of plaice with textures of cauliflower, pickled, roasted and pureed and used as scales was clever and inventive and his coconut panna cotta delivered just the right amount of ‘wobble’ that Marcus was looking for.
It was Scott though who really shined and surprised everyone I think. He has been doing pretty good throughout but his John Dory with oysters, cockles, cucumber and Cornish potatoes hit a whole new level. The judges were beside themselves at the quality of his dish. Then he hit them again, with a honeycomb mousse with apple, raspberry and a verdant sorrel sauce. Marcus and Monica were left dumbfounded by it, such was its brilliance. It was quite ominous in fact that Marcus should announce that ‘people should start worrying about this guy’.
Which couldn’t have been good for Andi’s confidence, because despite a fairly good effort with his main, a playful dish composed of sea trout with crispy skin, mussels, samphire, cockles and broth, he had quite the disaster with his dessert. Unfortunately the shakes returned and as he plopped out a flabby looking chocolate delice, his passionfruit parfait just couldn’t save him and alas, you could tell that it was game over for him. And so could he. And an entire nation all cried. Because we all liked Andi.
The seething cauldron of finals week now beckons then, where the chefs will have endure the most intense pressure of their entire lives. But listen up chefs – Mark, Nick, Danilo Scott and Mark – it will be nothing, absolutely nothing compared to the pressure of losing the MasterChef Notebook of Extreme Importance. I can tell you that right now.