MasterChef: The Professionals 2015 – week four

MasterChef: The Professionals 2015 – week four

by Food Urchin 04 December 2015

Danny Kingston talks us through the fourth 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.

If you didn’t know already, it was the last MasterChef: The Professionals quarter final heats this week and I’ll be straight up here, I have missed a lot of the action. Largely because I have been very busy. The festive season is now upon us and I’ve got caught up in the whole melee of buying presents early. All to prevent that same ol’ shuffling through Debenhams, shell-shocked at 5PM on Christmas Eve thinking, ‘She’d like a reindeer hot water bottle, wouldn’t she?’ Because my wife really didn’t like some of her presents last year.

Thankfully, I can always rely on a couple of smaller armchair TV critics to give me updates, as I come dashing through the door and plonking bags on the floor. Yes, my children are also ardent followers of MasterChef and some of their acute observations have been quite revealing and have also made me chuckle.

For instance, they have already formed strong opinions on a certain food writer – ‘Oh no, not Mr Stupid Face again.’ And certain dishes have eloquently been described as looking like ‘Pongo’s sick that he did in the park that day.’ However, they can also rustle up some very considered comments. Fin marvelled at the ‘amazing textures of cauliflower’ that was dished up by one chef last night. ‘He’s going to go far in this competition,’ he added, talking about another. Which left me wondering if he should be writing this piece up instead of me. But unfortunately, I wasn’t allowed to take him out of school today, so having caught up on the episodes this morning, I will do my best in his absence.

I still think I will drop in a couple of their remarks here and there, because they are funny.

Some of the chefs had trouble with filleting
Mark's squab pigeon went down a storm

Episode ten

Into the daunting unknown then came six more chefs, all lined up for the dreaded skills test. A test that must now equate with going to the dentist or having to fill your tax return in. Marcus’ trial was first and he was after a snazzy demonstration of fish filleting, with clean slices, abundant use of fish stock and plenty of mushrooms. Sous chef Scott, who believes that being a chef is the best job ever, equipped himself well but he did serve up a rather small portion that went straight down Gregg’s gullet like the proverbial pelican. Jamie from Devon entered the room all menacing-like, due to the black rubber glove that was protecting his newly tattooed hand and hacked at his fish, leaving far too much flesh on the bone. And Ian from Scotland pained Monica by carving his fish from tail to head and not head to tail. Silly boy.

For Monica’s skills test, the next three had to make crepes suzette and holy crepe, did this test flummox the first two. Vegetarian chef Helen, who is an artist first and chef last, made what seemed like twenty pancakes, before plating up one that she was finally happy with and smothering it with orange juice. Gastropub head chef Karl was a big bundle of nerves and energy, burning what seemed like twenty pancakes. Pancakes that contained no egg and no sugar, to be served with orange segments fried in oil. Then Mark came along, with his six years’ experience in Michelin-starred kitchens, and he simply kicked it out of the park by actually making crepes suzette. ‘Phew, at least one of them didn’t cock it up, hey Dad,’ said Fin. A purely innocent utterance, that I subsequently got the blame for.

The signature dish round came next and despite some of those, um, mess ups, it was all to play for. Karl’s venison loin coated in cocoa, served with salt-baked parsnip, beetroot and redcurrant jus, may well have been on the specials board at his restaurant but Marcus and Monica couldn’t really see what was special about it. And it was plain to see that Scott had been practising and practising his pan-roast rib of beef with burnt onion, ricotta and truffle. However, for the judges, the whole concept was a tad deflating. Helen tried to convince Marcus on the merits of marinated tofu with her Japanese-themed plate, accompanied with aubergine, broccoli and pea and nearly got there but not quite. As for poor Ian, he didn’t fare too well either, as his roast guinea fowl with fondant potato totally lacked flavour.

Jamie and Mark did very well though, with the former serving up some lip-smacking blade of beef with smoked champ and onion; and the latter, with a sumptuous plate of squab pigeon, artichoke puree, confit leg and a shimmering port sauce. The judges were mightily impressed by these two and so through to the next round they went, along with a visibly relieved Scott. Whereas my daughter simply wanted to know why Jamie had massive holes in his ears as he wandered out the door.

A simple prawn cocktail flummoxed poor Ryan
Marcus' mighty burger

Episode eleven

More chefs meant more chances to fluff the skills test and as the first three rocked up, they were required by Monica to serve up some langoustines with a Marie Rose sauce. Prawn cocktail in other words, so what could go wrong? Lots! Lots can go wrong when you make prawn cocktail by all accounts! Especially if you are Ryan, a chef from Scotland, who simply mixed some tomato sauce with oil and drizzled it all over his seafood. An act of heresy that left Marcus speechless. Bobby, born in Kerala but raised in London, did marginally better, having decided to go down the frying route, but it was young John from Sheffield who completely crumbled at the task. It took him the whole fifteen minutes to put some lettuce, the head of a langoustine and some avocado dressing on the plate. The Marie Rose sauce? Well it was non-existent. Not good.

Burgers came next and for the next three, this did seem to be the easier of the skills round. Marcus just wanted a good, honest burger and so did Monica. As for Gregg, he wanted three burgers and he got them, ‘the greedy little man.’ (Fin’s words, not mine). Polish chef Mateusz made the best burger, having remembered at the last minute to include the best ingredient of all time. Which is bacon of course. As for the other two, young Tom and mature Stuart, they did OK but fell down a bit in areas of seasoning and in the flavour department. So they did a little bit ‘meh’ really.

A lot of the chefs had their work cut out for them then in the signature dishes round. John in particular was looking to prove his worth but with his quail breast, stuffed lollipops and fondant root vegetables, I fear that he tried too hard. ‘All the life has been cooked out of these vegetables,’ said Marcus. To which John replied to camera afterwards: ‘It’s fine, no-one died’. Which is true, apart from your dreams John. Traditional Stuart, who has applied for MasterChef no less than four times, wasn’t given much quarter either and I felt that this was a shame because his plate of homely hogget with mash and sweetheart cabbage looked like a lovely thing to eat. But for the judges, he just wasn’t pushing boundaries. And Mateusz completely cocked up (oops, sorry) his lobster risotto, which I am sure would have been fine had he not paired it with scallop carpaccio. Raw and cooked rarely mix well.

Going through to the next round then were Bobby, Ryan and Tom, as these were the chefs that really did redeem themselves. Except for Tom. He got through by the skin of his teeth with roast duck and faggots. Ryan delivered the wow factor with his accomplished chicken breast and chicken ravioli with carrots, sweetcorn and creamed leek, but it was beaming Bobby who got top marks. His colourful confit sea trout with coconut, quail egg, buttered oyster and punchy coriander sauce made all three judges smile, although they couldn’t completely understand why. And now I’ve got to make the kids purple pancakes, so thanks for that Bobby.

The ominous green blob in the centre of Scott's pudding put the judges off
Tom was just one of the chefs to struggle in the invention test

Episode twelve

Before our six remaining chefs could get through to cook for the critics, they first had to get through the invention test, and the pastry section bandwagon of horror dragged on once more. The ingredients to choose from this time consisted of peaches, Champagne, pudding rice, coffee, ricotta, lemon thyme, matcha tea and some other stuff. Jamie was up first and having initially drawn a blank, he managed to serve up some green rice pudding and poached peach. Unfortunately, his rice wasn’t cooked through. Mark, who sports a beard almost as neat as Marcus’, scored much higher with his vanilla parfait, wrapped in a Champagne and blackberry jelly. It was ‘a fantastic dessert,’ according to Mr Wareing. Scott’s pudding was highly praised too: despite the presence of an urgent green blob (a custard) sitting square in the middle of his bowl, the judges liked the surprise of peach and jelly that sat underneath.

On the flip side, Bobby very nearly went crashing out of proceedings by trying to pair two creamy desserts together; another rice pudding married with ricotta and more of that green matcha. But luckily for him, he could rely on Ryan and Tom to really fudge things up. Fighting Ryan showed that in reality he was just winging it with his turgid vanilla panna cotta and Tom showed that, well, he didn’t have a clue what was going on. I thought it was particularly devastating to see Marcus try to mouth some sort of condolence to Tom, over contemplative piano. It was like Marcus was trying to say, ‘It’s not me, it’s you.’ Like I said, devastating.

Soon enough though, the critics turned up and they wanted feeding (don’t they always). Jay Rayner wanted a bunch of plates to lick clean. Charles Campion wanted technique, passion, excitement and surprise. And William Sitwell wanted magic, lots of glorious, technicolour magic. As they said all this, I was mindful enough to turn to my children and repeat: ‘What we do we say kids? I want, doesn’t get.’ Thus helping me instill a sense of manners, respect and decorum. Who would have thought that a bunch of food critics could help me do that! Ha!

Jamie's dessert had Jay Rayner lost for words
The winners

Anyway, the critics certainly got what they wanted. Especially from Mark who was up first. His pan-fried turbot with maple-glazed chicken wings and charred onion made everyone happy and Jay was more tickled that his chicken skin was crispy. Mark’s dessert of lemon and olive oil with strawberries didn’t quite hit the same heady heights but nevertheless, they all remained impressed with his execution, whilst Marcus was reminded of afternoon tea.

When describing his dish, Scott suggested that his cod with prawn, cauliflower, sea herbs and bacon dashi could be a bit of Marmite dish. The critics would either love it or hate it. But his quiet assurance as he plated up showed a lot confidence and overall, his pretty looking plate went down very well. And by the way, we all know that William ‘likes it salty’ now. So chefs, remember that in future, should Mr Sitwell walk through your restaurant doors. Scott’s dessert was also a triumph; a dark chocolate ganache with passion fruit and banana sorbet that warmed the cockles of everyone’s heart.

The damp squib (for surely, one had to be coming) came from Jamie and his voluminous lobes. He promised a canon of lamb to be served with lamb faggots and in the words of Mr Campion ‘a faggot can be either a gift or a disaster’. Sadly for Jamie, he lost the bet. His faggots were too tough and upsetting for the critics to consider anything else (although they did like his gravy). With his dessert, Jamie lurched from bad to worse. Plainly described as ‘Strawberries, white chocolate and rosewater’, it caused Jay Rayner to abandon his vocabulary and spit out a series of ‘bleurghs’ before reaching for his wine.

If Jamie was going to stay in, then Bobby would really have to mess up and at first, it did seem as if the writing was on the wall for this diminutive but bubbling chef. His concept of lamb rack with lamb neck, beetroot, goat curd and Jersey royals had everyone baffled at first. Particularly when everyone looked down at the vibrant and somewhat unfamiliar colours on their plates. But after just one bite, the critics were sold. Brilliant, unique and original were just some of the exclamations sent his way. He then hit them with a long awaited banana soufflé with peanut butter and chocolate sauce that blew them away. William, in fact, went totally When Harry Met Sally over it. So Bobby was through, to the chagrin of Jamie.

Bobby was the chef that my son was talking about actually, the one who will go far. And I think the boy is right, he is onto something here. Although I have to say I don’t agree with his observation that I look like Gregg Wallace. No I don’t agree with that at all.