MasterChef The Professionals Recap: Chilli Facts with Ariadne

Marcus Wareing daintily sipping cocktails is my 2020 highlight.

After four weeks of Quarterfinal play-offs they really get going don’t they? We’re almost at the end of the Semi-finals and by the end of it we’ll have lost two more chefs but first they have to navigate a Michelin Star Masterclass and a Chef to the Death!

Special Guest Star: Aktar Islam

The chefs are given a masterclass by Aktar Islam, the owner of Opheem a Michelin star restaurant renowned for championing the true opulence and history India cuisine – he himself spends his alone time reading about the recipes from The Sultan of India in the 1300s

Excuse me The BBC, where is that documentary? We’ve had enough of Lucy Worsley doing Victoriana dress-up. GIVE ME AKTAR ISLAM BACK IN TIME RIGHT NOW.

He shows them two of his classic dishes the first being a twist on Aloo Tuk

a spicy deep fried potato snack popular in the Sindhi region of Pakistan and Western India. I love that no matter where in the world you go there is a very popular, very localised potato snack. Maybe carbs are the key to world peace?
His second is a take on Pork Maas, a curry hailing from the Karnataka region on the West Coast of India where pork is much more commonly eaten

It’s a fried and marinated in a multitude of spices, a pomegranate molasses and served with a coconut sauce and Luke being The Most Yorkshire literally can’t help but drool over the the massive hunk of pork meat. That was when he managed to between asking Aktar every question under the sun – I genuinely thought it was going to reach a point where he would exhaust every feasible question and eventually asking Aktar about his favourite colour, how many children he has or how he likes his coffee in the morning. God bless the little swat.

So with that everyone has to set about making an Aktar Islam inspired dish, and if you thought this was going to descend into 4 white people muddling around with Indian spices you would be CORRECT!

Nobody is more adrift than sweet baby Alex who has grabbed every onion in sight from the special Aktar Pantry and is making a dish that requires more diagrams than the art of Alchemy does

Alex, mate. This should have been the first sign that things were going awry. His starter is entitled “A Celebration of Onions” and his composed of Braised Roscoff Onions and Pickled Onions with an Onion Foam, Crispy Shallots and a Spring Onion Sauce. If you’re thinking “Wow, that sounds like a plate of side dishes” you’re right

There is literally nothing of substance for anything to grip onto – and don’t you dare try and convince me that a single braised roscoff onion counts. The best thing was Aktar’s mild horror as Alex set the plate of what appears to be the bottom of your vegetable chiller in front of him

Aktar tries his best to come up with anything to say about The Onion Fiasco is “It’s a plate of a lot of things thrown at it but I’m getting nothing from it at all” and it didn’t get much better for him with his main course of Tandoori Cod with Cumin Cabbage and Crispy Prawn Panisses served with a Prawnhead Sauce

Oh and also, there’s a bit of that well-known Indian dish: Prawn Sashimi

Most of the dish is better than his onion starter, which is damningly faint praise, but everyone wishes they would stop cooking fish in the waterbath. It just tastes better fried.

Similarly lost at sea but somehow remaining sane is Bart who isn’t very familiar with Indian spicing and flavours but has travelled within North Africa and Indonesia – after running through the minefield of a conversation about how this will help him in an Indian cuisine challenge, during which Aktar looked incredibly uncomfortable

I hope they paid him well for this.
Bart eventually reveals he will be making Panch Phoro Spiced Butternut with Crispy Ginger, a Butternut Puree and a Fenugreek Pistachio Crumble served on a Whole (deseeded) Chilli

Panch Phoro is a spice mix made of cumin, fenugreek, brown mustard seeds, fennel and nigella seeds.
It’s not Bart’s usual level of refinement because he was clearly struggling with the parameters of the task but the dish mostly goes down well, except for Marcus who is almost reduced to tears by the heat

Well there goes Bart’s chances of winning!
Both Monica and Aktar are perfectly happy with the spice level and note that if you eat the dish as a whole it’s lovely – which should be obvious because that’s how you’re meant to eat food? I now have visions of Marcus sitting down to a roast dinner and eating everything individually like a madman.
His second dish was a Pan-seared Chaat Masala Monkfish with Carrot and Tamarind Puree, Green Tomato and Okra Chutney with a Kashmiri Coconut Sauce

He claims the sauce was Kashmiri but everyone was slightly confused by it clearly being the sauce of a Thai Red Curry – it’s a healthy 6 on the Problematic Scale but it mostly gets a pass for being a piece of fish that wasn’t cooked in the waterbath – we’ll take any small victory.

Luke was much more comfortable with the challenge because Sheffield has a lot of curry house take-aways and he wants to recreate these flavours and can I remind you that Aktar literally opened the show by saying “I want to make people realise there is more to Indian cuisine than a British curry house.” WERE YOU LISTENING LUKE!? You asked so many questions!
Luke’s first dish is a spin on Aloo Gobi with a Cauliflower Bhaji, a Cauliflower Crumb and Torched Yogurt

The cauliflower crumbs have been roasted in mutton fat because Luke is a Yorkshireman, lest we forget.
The dish is perfectly fine but it’s hard to differentiate everything because it’s layered in a tiny eggcup of a bowl and so it kind of just becomes a homogenous cauliflower lump – which in many ways could be seen as a metaphorical critique of the way this challenge has dealt with Indian cuisine.
His main course of Kashmiri Chilli Cod with a Jersey Royal Saag Aloo and Garlic Prawns met a similar fate

Unsurprisingly the jersey potatoes – they’re cooked in mutton fat because Luke is Luke. Were they told they had to put a pointless prawn on the plate? Because only Bart refrained from having a totally alien prawn taking up residence on an otherwise fine plate of food.
It’s a dish littered with technical errors and misjudgements – such as cooking the cod in the waterbath and deveining the wrong side of the prawn – can someone explain that to me? Did he devein the underside of the prawn? Was Luke ok today? It seemed like the competition really got to him and he just sort of checked out about halfway through the task.

While the others battled their way through the challenge Philli was having a whale of a time because not only is she a consultant for take-away delivery adaptations but she has also designed Indian ready meals for supermarkets – not sure that’s the best way to introduce yourself to Aktar Islam but sure! While Philli has travelled extensively in Asia, it’s mostly been in Japan and Indonesia “BUT I WAS INDIA FOR A HOT MINUTE” she screams as Aktar furrows his brows in concern.
Her first dish is an Indian twist on Cauliflower Cheese with a Chilli Paneer Cheese over Cauliflower Rice and roasted cauliflower with a Beurre Noisette

The dish is resoundingly popular with everyone – the handling of textures and flavours is very deftly done and I have to give props to Philli for actually making cauliflower rice sound more appetising and less like a masochistic punishment.
Her next course is Tandoori Monkfish with Roasted Fennel and Shallots with a Coriander and Coconut Sauce and wouldn’t you know? There’s an entirely pointless grilled prawn on the side

When did prawns become a side dish?
Despite the crustaceous invader it’s hard to deny that the dish is clearly the best plate of food served today and bore the most similarities to Aktar’s cooking and leagues ahead of the slightly muddled attempts of the other 3.

It’s not surprising then when Philli is obviously safe and straight through to Finals Week while everyone has to cook again.

Cook for Survival

In order to secure a place in Finals Week our remaining three chefs have to cook 2 courses – a main and a dessert- in 90 minutes and at the end one of them will be eliminated.

First up is Alex who apparently didn’t the memo to STOP WATERBATHING FISH and is serving up a Waterbathed Nori Wrapped Cod and White Bean, Clam and Seaweed Cassoulet with a side of Potato Crackers topped with Taramasalata and it all look sinisterly gorgeous, like a haunted forest in a Disney film

And then of course it’s ruined by the cassoulet which is alarmingly similar in colour to the water after you’ve finished washing up at Christmas

Apparently it tasted wonderful though – I personally think something more delicate would have fitted better but I am but a humble recapper with a vendetta against beige food. The cod lacks a little bit seasoning but the cassoulet brings it in bags so Gregg doesn’t mind. Gregg, you’re meant to eat food together – if he had salted that poor cod you’d turn into a lunk of Medieval meat!
And then there’s his dessert inspired by his time working at the hotel that invented the Peach Melba (I love that in the Victorian era you could put ice cream and any fruit in a bowl and claimed you had invented a pudding). Is there a restaurant that Alex *HASN’T* worked in? Because the whole time travelling culinary Doctor Who theory started as a joke but now I’m not entirely sure if I’m joking anymore?
His take on the Peach Melba is a Vanilla Parfait with Poached Peaches, Raspberry Gel and Candyfloos served with a Peach Cocktail (DON’T WORRY MONICA, IT IS ALCOHOLIC)

It’s a very pretty dish and I don’t believe for a moment that it isn’t already on the menu of the restaurant he works in. It’s VERY restaurant-y and looks like something they could have made in that series of Great British Menu where they were celebrating the Great British Empire (IN 2006! How times have changed) Everyone loves the spin on a well-known classic and there was booze and candyfloss involved, so how could they possibly complain?

Bart was next and in much higher spirits than he was in the previous round but is still trying to prove that he can cook with chillies and spices by making a Roast Lamb Loin with Black Garlic and Black Pudding Puree, an Artichoke Barigoule and a sauce made of Sesame Seeds and Pul Biber Chilli Flakes

The sauce looks lethal but Pul Biber Chilli Flakes are derived from the Aleppo Pepper which is very mild – less spicy than Tabasco and Piri Piri but slightly spicier than Jalapeno or Chipotle – it’s fruity which is why it works so well with lamb in Middle Eastern and North African dishes. This has been Chilli Facts with Ariadne. I wonder if I could turn that into a podcast?
It’s a solid dish from Bart – rich and warm, Gregg describes it as “A tickle heat” which is a phrase I now demand be banned from ever being uttered again. I am now on a quest to try that Black Pudding Puree though – anything to have more black pudding in my life.
I was worried about Bart’s dessert, mostly because he introduced it as “Funky” and I don’t think I ever really want my food to be described as “funky” and then it turned out that his dessert wasn’t that funky – it’s an Almond Cake infused with Smoked Tea and served with Kombucha and Ginger Sorbet

It’s a little… unappealing? It just needed some brighter colours somewhere – I appreciate that he tried with the little orange fruits which SHOCKINGLY aren’t Kumquats and are actually Cape Gooseberries – unfortunately I’m fresh out of gooseberry facts other than that they’re called gooseberries because the English are terrible and translations and just assumed the “Groseille” (The French term) meant goose – it didn’t (obviously) it stemmed from the Dutch word “Kroesels” and meant Curled Berries. I’M SORRY I LIKE ETYMOLOGY.
The judges love it and look beyond its rather beige appearance and his deft handling of divisive and strong flavours, Kombucha is certainly an acquired taste.

And then we Luke who cooked perfectly lovely dishes but I’m sure when he heard Bart talking about Kombucha and Pul Biber Chillies and Alex making some sort of Disney landscape it may have psyched him out slightly and his confidence must have just faded away because by the end of it he look harrowed

He probably shouldn’t have been as upset with his food as he was because his Fillet Pork with Celeriac Puree with Pancetta Laced Cabbage, Brown Butter Mash and a Cider Jus is a perfectly fine plate of food, and extremely well cooked

it’s easy to dry out a fillet of pork because it’s a relatively fatless meat (could have bathed in mutton fat though) but he handled it well – it’s just that you could possibly find this in most mid-priced gastro pubs.
His dessert was much more exciting and a celebration of his childhood memories of eating rhubarb dipped in sugar (it’s a Northerner thing). He’s honouring it with a Vanilla Mille-Feuille, Rhubarb Puree, Poached Rhubarb and a Rhubarb and Ginger Sorbet as well as Raw Rhubarb Dipped in Sherbet

It’s certainly colourful – and anything with that amount of rhubarb runs the risk of making you pucker so hard you turn yourself inside out. There is still enough sugar to at least make it a pleasant eating experience but like Alex’s Onion Celebration there isn’t much to cling onto, the Mille-Feuille needed to be significantly bigger or he could have served a shot of vodka on the side – it’s an acceptable tactic.

It’s not a very hard decision to decide who goes home, Bart and Alex were on such a high and while Luke didn’t cook badly his main course was just that touch pedestrian and thus our local Sheffielder was sent apacking.

I’m worried about the next group because I’m far too emotionally invested in Victor, Santosh and Jono so tonight we pray.

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