MasterChef: The Professionals 2015 – week two

MasterChef: The Professionals 2015 – week two

by Food Urchin 20 November 2015

Danny Kingston casts his witty eye over the second week of Marcus’, Monica’s and Gregg’s chef competition.

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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.

I don’t know about you but I am a big fan of rarebit. Give me a big, thick wedge of toasted bread, slathered with a tangy, cheesy sauce and grilled until it bubbles and you will make me a happy man. I particularly like its versatility and the ways you can vary this treasured snack and mix things up. The infamous ‘Dolgellau’ rarebit springs to mind, which uses crumbly caerphilly instead of regular cheddar. The ‘Harold Bishop’ rarebit is also a good one; made extra savoury by adding a dollop of Vegemite and traditionally eaten with the cheese on the bottom side of the toast. But best of all has to be the ‘Rabbit Rarebit Rabbit’ rarebit, which is an actual rabbit dish and features no cheese or bread at all.

Can you tell that I am making stuff up yet?

I’m sure Marcus Wareing was also making stuff up on MasterChef: The Professionals this week. For when the first three competing chefs rocked up to the kitchen for the skills test, he asked them to rustle up a ‘buck’ rarebit. A ‘buck’ rarebit? What the hell is that? I’ve never, ever heard of it and the poor blinking souls who faced the task certainly hadn’t. So I thought it was rather cruel of Mr W to slip them a red herring at this stage in proceedings. But I suppose it is necessary to separate the wheat from the chaff and if adding a simple fried egg to a rarebit is going to trip people up, then so be it. Because that is what a ‘buck’ rarebit is. Who knew.

Marcus' buck rarebit
Marcus' buck rarebit
Monica's perfectly butchered rabbit
Monica's perfectly butchered rabbit

Episode four

First up to try this feat of derring-do then was Darren, a development chef for a global food brand and who therefore must be a bit of a Willy Wonka in the kitchen. However, he omitted to oil and rub garlic on his toasted bread, which Marcus didn’t find funny at all. What did make me giggle though was Gregg’s protestation that he wasn’t asked to look after Darren’s egg as Darren dashed off to the salamander. ‘No Gregg, you leave his egg well alone,’ said Monica with her eyes, as she glanced quickly across.

Alex, with his five star country house hotel and Michelin star experience was next and, despite a good start, he fell headlong down a hill like Jack with a pail of water and ended up serving plain ol’ egg on toast; a far cry from the luxury breakfast they were looking for. London-based chef Anthony didn’t fare much better either. He burnt his toast, cracked his yolk and tried to fry his spare egg in a saucepan, leaving Marcus agog. But I do have to say, it must be hard to concentrate with all that techno music blaring in the background.

Monica’s test for the next three, asking for a demonstration of their butchery skills on a skinned rabbit, sounded like it was going to be an easier round. But in the wise words of Gregg, it was rather a ‘tricky’ one. Private chef Angela floated onto the screen brimming with confidence yet was quickly undone when she realised that she cut through the saddle. Still, Marcus felt that she had done a good job. Italian Danilo, on the other hand, really ballsed up his attempt, working so fast (too fast in fact) that he very nearly cut his fingers off. And that wouldn’t have been good. Especially since he also had aspirations to be a rock guitarist.

Polish Bartosz, who touches food and makes magic happen, also found the task difficult because he had never touched a rabbit before. Like in his entire career. Luckily for him, Marcus gave a massive clue by comparing it to a jointing a chicken. So Bartosz just closed his eyes, felt around for the joints and executed the job fairly competently. It would have been even better if he had got the rabbit to levitate though.

Having coming through battered but essentially unscathed, it was time to show off their signature dishes and in this round, it was Darren who impressed the most. His plate of Scottish langoustines , some pan fried, some enveloped in tortellini and dressed with peas, broad beans and asparagus was met with universal delight. His bisque certainly passed what is now known as the ‘Gregg’s guzzle with a wine and finish off with a finger’ test.

Angela did very well too with her seared cannon of lamb with lamb belly crackling and lamb sauce. The rest of the components on her plate didn’t quite pack the flavour punch the judges were looking for but it got a thumbs up, much to her tearful relief. And Danilo came flying back into contention with a beautiful looking bowl of tricolour pasta filled with burrata, decorated with flowers, scallops, peas and courgettes.

The guys who had to walk were Anthony, Alex and Bartosz. Anthony’s risk strategy of introducing honeycomb to smoked duck and bone marrow did look amazing but in the taste department, it all amounted to style over substance. Alex, I have to admit, was unlucky as he overcooked his sea trout and despite cooking some lovely looking vegetables, the fact remained that he overcooked his sea trout. And that is just not allowed. Smothering plaice in yoghurt and nuts and deep frying it isn’t allowed either, which is exactly what Bartosz did. Not that he seemed too worried about getting the boot. He didn’t seem bothered with the competition full stop. Maybe he’s got a rabbit in hat somewhere else.

Bartosz hadn't worked with rabbit before
The judges seemed more relaxed than the contestants
Liam's lovely roast turbot

Episode five

We were treated to numerous, glorious sights at the start of this episode. Big burly men, all tattooed and chests out and during the first minute, I was thinking about penning a letter of complaint to the BBC for showing hairy nipples before the watershed. Then Gregg appeared and started cooing about Marcus’ ‘magic fingers’ whilst pointing his own up into the air and suddenly, I couldn’t help thinking how marvellous it would be to make a viral video about it. Funny how your mind can switch just like that.

For the skills test, which was to show off scallop three ways, there was definitely evidence of brain wandering, culminating in brain farts for the first two; namely Richard from East Kilbridge and the abundantly inked Josh. Rather than go for clean flavours to highlight this sweet tasting bivalve, Richard decided, much to the dismay of the judges, to dump a load of cream everywhere. And Josh got it wrong in every way according to Marcus, which left him feeling rather emotional. Thankfully Gregg was on standby to shout ‘CHIN UP’ at him. He’s good at that is Gregg. Shouting I mean.

Then in wandered Liam with his loud socks and well, he really blew the first two away by mirroring Marcus’ courgette flower stuffed with scallop mousse, scallop tartare and pan fried scallop. I say mirrored, it wasn’t exactly the same but he really did make an impression; the biggest so far in the skills test.

As for the chefs lined up to create a sabayon with fruit for Monica in her test, they didn’t make much of an impression at all. Instead of making a light, whipped Italian dessert using eggs, sugar and Champagne Nick, Jason and Chris all made big cock-ups. Self-taught Nick made an undercooked omelette. Caribbean chef Jason made a grilled, burnt splodge. And gastropub Chris really made a fool of himself by saying that ordinarily, he makes sabayon for ice-cream all the time. To which Marcus replied, rather fiercely, ‘You don’t make sabayon for ice cream’.

So for the signature dishes round, some of our chefs really did have to shine and curiously, a couple of the guys decided that honeycomb was going to be just the right sort of ingredient to elevate their plates. Josh was adamant that honeycomb was a traditional accompaniment to lamb and Chris suggested that honeycomb and hake was a marriage made in heaven. Yes, honeycomb is the new wonder ingredient folks. Honeycomb goes with everything! Or not, as the case may be, because both Marcus and Monica shot the notion down in flames.

They also didn’t like Richard’s overloaded plate of scallops, with butternut puree, apple, bacon and lemon emulsion. It looked ‘flabby’ according to Marcus, much to Richard’s disappointment. Nick also looked down in the doldrums too, because despite hitting top marks for presentation, he overcooked his John Dory! Blimey, when will these chefs learn?!

Clever Liam did very well though with his pan roasted turbot and crispy squid with a basil and courgette puree. So did Jason, who showed that Caribbean-style food and can be refined and delicate in the right hands. I have to say, his stuffed Jerk chicken did look really nice. As such, it was Chris and Richard who were shown the door on this occasion, never to be seen again. Ever.

Darren's rabbit dish left the judges wanting
The critics for week two

Episode six

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.

Angela's time was up