Okay, hands up, I’m a sucker for reality cookery shows. One of my favourites is MasterChef: The Professionals. It’s on UK television and the format is pretty much replicated throughout the globe in one form or another. Interestingly in the French equivalent, it’s diners who choose the winner not the four resident judges, who are all renowned chefs with Michelin stars aplenty.
The series starts with the judges setting the competitors a skill’s test. Now, I’m what you might call a better than average home cook. My friends’ joke that I have a “Michelin” star – I wish – but I’m always shocked at how many of the contestants don’t know or understand the basics. I appreciate not all are classically trained; some are “self-taught” like one of my favourite chefs, Raymond Blanc. Of course, Raymond had the benefit of a childhood in France and a mother who showed him how to cook.
Understandably, and sadly, some of the chefs fall prey to nerves and their skills desert them. However, the kitchen is a very pressured environment and, if you can’t take the heat, then get out of the kitchen or, in this case, the competition.
Having faced the skills test, contestants then have an opportunity for redemption with their “signature” dish. Something tried and endlessly tested which should delight the judges. Unfortunately too many hide behind chemistry-set cookery with foams and water baths, neither of which impress the judges.
Too many competitors talk about “pushing boundaries,” being daring, and experimenting with interesting flavours. Down this path lies disaster. I say this as a seasoned watcher of the programme and someone who’s accurately picked out the winner from the first round every year, save one .
My one failure was 2013 where I had predicted Adam Handling would win. And he would have done so if Michael Roux had not expected more from him than the other two finalists. Yes, he was Michael’s favourite too. However, he’s not fared too badly since and has garnered plenty of awards for himself and his restaurant.
Each year a particular technique or ingredient seems to pop up. This year it’s honeycomb which has cropped up in sweet and savoury dishes aplenty. Now I like honeycomb, it’s easy to prepare and can offer an interesting taste and/or texture in desserts which it did yesterday evening for one of the successful semi-finalists. But guys, with lamb and fish, really?
We’ve just gotten past my favourite bit of the programme – the head-to-head semi-finals – where two (or three) contestants take part in the day’s service in a notable restaurant with a well-known chef. This culminates in them cooking the chef’s signature dish for them to taste and critique. Then it’s back to MasterChef HQ to cook two kick-ass, show stopping dishes to show not only what they’ve learnt from the previous days’ experience but also from taking part in the show. The winner makes it into the last round.
This year’s programme has re-awakened my desire for a blow torch. Sadly my beloved has forbidden me to buy one. Quite rightly, he fears I’ll burn down the kitchen. Given my history, can you blame him? I could buy a small domestic version, but where would be the fun in that?
I appreciate I have avoided the elephant in the room. Who’s going to win the title this year? I think it’s still all up for grabs though I do have a favourite. Who is it? Ah, that would be telling!
Christmas Day Postscript: Just watched the final episode on iPlayer and, I was right, my favourite chef Mark Stinchcombe won. Scott and Nick were worthy opponents but Mark’s a star now and one to watch for the future. Mark, if you need an editor for your first book, just get in touch. It’d be a pleasure!
Images courtesy of BBC MasterChef: The Professionals