Masterchef: The Professionals 2015 – week three

MasterChef: The Professionals 2015 – week three

by Food Urchin 27 November 2015

Danny Kingston talks us through the third week of MasterChef: The Professionals.

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Danny is a food adventurer, home grower, supper club host and writer of the entertaining and quirky epicurean blog, Food Urchin.

Danny is a food adventurer, home grower, supper club host and writer of the entertaining and quirky epicurean blog, Food Urchin.

So, you’re doing the skills test, your head is bent down, your brow is furrowed and beaded with sweat. You think you are on the right track but your head is spinning. Eyes dot back and forth furiously, ingredients come in and out of focus, fingers desperately fumble amongst pots and ludicrously sharp knives and all you really want to know is ‘How am I doing? How am I doing? Am I doing this right?’

Well, chefs of the world (well, those who are considering entering MasterChef: The Professionals), the answer is simple: look up at the judges as you work. If they are nodding, smiling, winking at each other, then don’t panic; you could actually be on the right track. On the other hand, if Monica’s eyes are wide, wide open, if Marcus has his head in hands and if Gregg is gurning and choking like the proverbial frog, with a bluebottle caught in his throat, then run. Run through the nearest window in that studio and jump and run screaming down the street.

Yes, I do like watching the judge’s facial exhortations during the skills round. They are often very funny but not quite as amusing as the ambivalence of the chef who serves up a dog’s dinner, where hopeful smiles soon melt into pools of despair. I wanted to hug a couple of the chefs this week. Some others, I just wanted to give a kick up the backside. But which ones?

Jamie was a bit nervous during the fish filleting
Watercress soup
Marcus' perfect watercress soup

Episode seven

I’d say that Jamie from Colchester deserved a bit of cuddle, simply because he looked so young and his inexperience definitely showed during Monica’s fish filleting trial. Chef de partie Alex needed a hug just to help stop him from shaking, such was his nerves. And Josh, who I thought rather looked like the actor Nicholas Hoult, he could have done with a friendly pat on the back and a whisper in his ear that sea bream fillets do need to be pin-boned before cooking. Because no one wants to choke on a fish bone. Especially Monica.

For Marcus’ skills test (I shall dispense with the imaginary embracing of chefs from here on in), it did get a little bit better. The next three had to match his watercress soup with poached egg, a dish that Marcus executed wonderfully, whilst Monica stroked Gregg’s head. Gail, a head chef from Glasgow showed she had nineteen years worth of experience under her belt but was let down by a lack of seasoning. Junior sous Dean, who works in a Michelin starred restaurant, really hit the mark by getting to grips with fresh almonds, which must be this series’ star ingredient. Sadly, gastropub head chef David didn’t really know much about fresh almonds and unfortunately spent too much of his time working out what to do with them. As such, according to Monica, his soup was ‘not a great soup’. Bad times.

During the signature dish round, Gregg shouted himself hoarse (I do worry about his vocal chords) but you know, time is of the essence in this competition and I did get the impression that some of the chefs could have done with ‘five more minutes!’. Jamie would have taken it I am sure, just to reconsider his sous vide hake and lemon foam. For in the words of Marcus, it was a ‘basic dish done badly’. Mr W was also fairly withering about Gail’s laksa, as in his opinion she really hadn’t done justice to Scotland’s finest produce, the mighty langoustine. Reflections on Dean’s dish were a lot more positive and he got an all round thumbs up for his chicken curry with raisins and sweet potato fondant. Nervous Alex also showed that behind the self-doubt, there was an imaginative and skilled cook. His halibut with brown shrimp and fennel puree may have been missing some components but it still looked very good.

However, it was Josh who really took this round by the scruff of the neck by delivering a big, bold, brave kick ass plate, in the form of lamp rump with heritage carrots, pickles and an intense shiny sauce. Marcus was very happy to be smacked around the chops by that one. The judges were not so happy with David though as his dark chocolate and pistachio parcel really did fall flat and so he was asked to leave. Along with Jamie and Gail.

Joe was feeling confident
Gavin not so much

Episode eight

Larry the Lobster (for that is the name of all lobsters) was the star ingredient for Marcus’ skills test in this episode. He was after an all round demonstration from his chefs, to show that they could make a seafood filling with ravioli and a delicious sauce to accompany it. Josephine, or Joey as she likes to be called, stepped into the arena first and there was a veritable hush from the judges as she went about her business. Which of course meant that she did very well. Sean, twenty-one and head chef in a gastropub, showed that he was man who liked to get his hands dirty. I mean like, really dirty; he was not above using his fingers all the time when evidently a spoon should be doing the job. And gutsy Joe, a private chef, showed off some very interesting methods in his approach. He will probably look back in horror for spraying Gregg and co with his bisque but hey, it made me laugh.

Monica’s skills test involved boning out a pig’s trotter and stuffing it with a chicken mousse, a testament to that famous dish by Pierre Koffmann. Now I wasn’t sure about this one and neither was Gregg (we are in rare agreement!) because it looks like one hell of a task, but the chefs gave it their all. Gavin, a head chef with eighteen years’ experience, went down the channel boning route and very nearly got there, but his hasty foil wrapping did not hide some of the slashes in his trotter skin. John who works in ‘feign dining’ didn’t get anywhere fast with his trotter and really should have stepped back to have a think. Hotel chef Scott managed to do it though. Alright, he didn’t bone it out fully but he did get a fair amount of stuffing into that pig’s foot. Like I said, tough work.

The signature round for this one was full of promise as the chef’s lined up to describe their visionary delights. I would say that all of them fulfilled that promise. Apart from three of the chefs that is. At the top end of the game was Joe, who produced a very elegant looking combination of pork fillet with maple glazed carrots, butternut squash, asparagus and radish with a white wine and tarragon sauce. Marcus was really impressed, as he was with Joey’s pan fried sea trout with almond puree. Her swapping of starch for protein did cause some consternation but if she’d used fresh almonds, I suspect that would have been a different story.

To finish off for the main contenders came Gavin with his classic and accomplished rack of lamb with pomme maxim and roasted baby artichokes.

The guys who had to walk were John, who was ultimately let down by his pancetta foam to accompany his hake; Scott, who made a loveless scotch egg and underseasoned quail; and Sean, who tried to make a caramelised white chocolate mousse with truffles and freeze-dried raspberries. Marcus thought that it had ‘huge potential’ but in the end the execution wasn’t very good. I would add in Sean’s defence that the kitchen was rather hot and would have had an effect on his pastry work. But what’s that saying again? If you can’t stand the heat…

passion fruit tart
Joey's impeccable passion fruit tart
The winners

Episode nine

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?