We are now one third of the way through the titanic contest that is MasterChef: The Professionals folks. Which by my reckoning means that there are two thirds to go. Four more weeks of Michel Roux Jr’s encouraging comments and oh so slightly maniacal grinning. Four more weeks of Monica Galetti and her wide-eyed Haka glares coupled with that tough cop attitude. And four more weeks of Gregg Wallace ‘phwooring’ and gurning all over the place. Can we handle it? Yes, we can! But can the chefs? That is the question. Judging by the standards of the second round last week, things are certainly starting to heat up. Quite literally.
At the start of the week, our new bunch of eight equipped themselves quite well during the first invention test. Polish Maria raised an eyebrow with her combination of hollandaise and salsa and Liam’s cheesy sardines went down like a lead balloon but overall it was a good start. A much better start than Monica’s soggy shortbread if you ask me (but don’t ever let her know I said that).
For episode six, the first four out of the bunch, namely Kit, Steven, Vinny and Tom, all had to show off their fishy-mongery skills and dismantle a Dover sole; which is no mean feat. And the boys did just fine. Apart from Kit who started to skin his fish from the head downwards and not the tail upwards. I mean come on on, for flips sake; everyone knows what end to start skinning a fish!
Michel’s challenge to prepare a saddle of hare with red wine and a mustard velouté was taken on board gamely by all four chefs. Although I really, really wish that one of them had the balls to present their plate to Michel by saying “Here, hare, here.” But then you would have to be a fan of ‘Withnail and I’ to appreciate that one. The interpretation of a classic recipe was next and Vinny wowed with his fillet of lemon sole, proving that he was a big man with a light touch. However, Kit’s inventive tuna Niçoise just wasn’t up to scratch, so off he went.
I have to say, the next gang of four to turn up to the stoves in episode seven didn’t impress quite so much. A simple test to make gnocchi was grabbed at in ham-fisted fashion and Sean very nearly set the whole studio on fire. It was the same for Michel’s master class. After his demonstration of preparing John Dory and artichaut barigoule, the chefs fluffed up their plates in all manner of ways. Michel’s words, though kind, were also peppered with criticisms and it made you wonder if all four heads could fall at that point. However, redemption was on hand as Liam, Daniel and Maria smashed it with their takes on classic recipes. Sean on the other hand, could talk the talk but couldn’t walk the walk, so off he…walked.
In the quarter final round, the remaining six chefs all took their chances to show off their inventive skills with smoking, pickling and mi-cuit(ing) a plenty. Liam improved his chances at a rapid rate with his sublime salsify. Steven delivered elegance and style with his salmon, beetroot and apple and messy Vinny just nudged it with his salmon, seared to perfection. Young Daniel and Maria’s efforts unfortunately didn’t make the grade
The critics round, the one that would decide or influence as to who would go through to the semi-finals was an interesting and revealing one because during the judging, decisions often clashed. The critics would say “pot-ah-to”, the chefs would say “pot-ay-to” and I did begin to wonder at one point whether we should call the whole thing off and save Jay Rayner from the pain of having to eat anymore panna cotta (poor lamb). But this is a competition which must be fought to the bitter end and Tom’s herb crusted halibut and Steven’s bacon quinoa could not be ignored. The decision to put them through was the right one.
Like I said, we are one third through now, so have we already seen this year’s MasterChef winner? It’s hard to say and at present, I wouldn’t like to put any money down. Besides, things are set to get tougher and tougher and tougher and tougher yet. And it ain’t over till the fat lady sings.