MasterChef The Professionals Recap: Childhood Eel Friend

Tell Torode it was me. I want him to know.

It’s the final! 31 chefs has become three and we must now find our winner amongst Santosh, Alex and Bart.

PICK YOUR FIGHTER

Alex “Carmen Sandiego” Webb

The youngest of our finalists, and yet somehow not because he started out this competition cooking a plethora of things that felt like they came straight off the menu of The Titanic – slightly dated in both ingredients and presentation. As the competition went on though he began drawing inspiration from the multitude of restaurants from around the world – which did nothing to dissuade me that he is one of The Doctor’s many reincarnations who took a gap year from universe saving to become a chef for a bit. He had obviously come in with meticulously planned dishes because his only real missteps were the rounds in which he had to improvise but it was his reinvention of The Peach Melba that really put him on the track for the final and he become something of a Dessert Wizard with his Black Forest Baumkuchen.

Santosh “The Heart” Shah

Championing his personal take on Nepalese cuisine it was hard not to become enamoured with Santosh – he brought interest and intrigue to the show with ingredients like Jimbu, Kodo and Black Stone Flower – a type of lichen and monkey aphrodisiac. His dishes were not only packed with flavour, each one came with an explanation and insight into life in Nepal – thus fulfilling the BBC’s Reithian principles of Inform, Educate, Entertain. Santosh barely put a foot wrong at any point in the competition, his one minor mistake being the presentation of his rabbit leg but with an octopus dish that awoke the Kraken within Grace Dent and was dubbed “The most beautiful plate of food I’ve ever been served on MasterChef” it was a rare occurrence.

Bart “The Smile” van der Lee

I’m not sure that Bart was the oldest person in the competition but I feel fairly confident blindly saying he was – he had an air of earned respect and authority about him – like a Dutch Michel Roux Jr. He sailed through much of the competition, barely ever having to enter a cook-off situation because his food was of such an elevated and refined level. The competition did seem to take a toll on him towards the end and he had a few slip ups here and there – that time he set Marcus’ tongue on fire and not quite crisping up his sweetbreads enough. But his dishes always had an elegant simplicity to them that belied their interesting and often complex flavours.

The Last Supper

The finale of MasterChef is always a strange affair because the episode is without fail 25 minutes of Family and Friends VTs about the chefs, 10 minutes of cooking and menu explaining and then 25 minutes for the tasting and judging – to me it’s a format that needs readjusting, I’d rather have the VTs spread more evenly throughout the last few episodes than as a massive lump headlining the finale – or just condense them, they don’t *really* tell you anything new, the only valuable pieces of information being Alex cannot parallel park, we finally meet Bart’s childhood eel friend that he keeps talking about

is catching an eel a rite of passage in The Netherlands? Because this eel seems VERY important to him. While we’re on the subject of Bart’s childhood photos, none of them *denied* that he was raised by wolves

All I’m saying is that’s a photo of a bunch of children alone in the forest.
And then Santosh got the most illuminating VT in terms of his own personal journey and how as his culinary career progressed he lost more and more of his Nepalese culture and this competition is essentially an act of reclaiming and reconnecting with it. It’s a powerful statement, especially in a competition that has regularly come under fire for the way it treats non-European cuisines and it is VERY frustrating how this finale went down.

As ever the final task is to create a 3 course menu to serve to Monica, Marcus and Gregg at an obscenely big table for social distancing purposes

They could have done with a Wallace and Gromit style model train to take the food around the table.

In order to make their three courses they have a total of 3 hours and 15 minutes, which is probably why Santosh decided to bring the entirety of Portobello Market into the kitchen

For his menu he has a total of over 40 elements to make as well as contend with trying to wrestle a massive crab into a pot that is clearly too small

Crab Wrestling for the 2024 Olympics!
Because of the amount of work he has to do he is hoping that “1 of the million Gods will help me” – the only problem with that being that you then have 999,999 Gods rooting against you – or that’s what Greek mythology taught me.

The reason he has so many elements is largely because he decided to make a Trio of Starters to represent the diversity of Nepalese cuisine, which is nice *in theory* and perfectly Santosh but it’s clear that doing so impacted the quality of his dish and I’m not sure serving them like an order of American Sliders on a piece of MDF was the right call

Of all of them I think he should have concentrated on his Crab Chapatti that he served on a piece of Crispy Chicken Skin

That’s the one that grabs me as the most interesting but I have a fondness for crab.
The contentious member of the the trio is the Lamb Brain Poppadom and Pickled Kohlrabi

It’s much too strong for Marcus’s suddenly very delicate palate, Gregg however is much more fond of it because he hasn’t had lamb brain in over 15 years – I like to think he’s been playing some sort of Lamb Brain version of Whamageddon (Lambageddon?) and Santosh has just broken his 15 year streak – I don’t know how many people are forcibly trying to feed Gregg lamb’s brain but the man has livers for breakfast so it’s quite feasible that occasionally his wife tries to slip in a piece of brain.
While Marcus isn’t so fond of it Monica is there to champion Santosh and be his cheerleader.

He claws back some points with his main course of Black Spiced Short Rib with Sautéed Morning Glory, Gooseberry Chutney and a Potato Cannelloni finished with a Buffalo Sauce and a Paratha stuffed with Buffalo Paneer

It’s a risk doing short ribs in any TV cookery competition because the devils need HOURS of cooking times and the only way to really pull it off is to use the MasterChef pressure cooker which is famously inhabited by the spirit of some mischievous demon – apparently said sprite only has a vendetta against Gregg because his rib is the only one to be slightly too hard.
Marcus likes the bold flavours of his spice rub, made exclusively from black spices such as Black Cardamom, Black Mustard Seed, Black Cumin and the intriguing Stone Fungus, not be confused with Black Stone Flower which makes monkeys horny. Stone Fungus or She-gu to give it its proper Chinese name, is a mushroom more often used in traditional medicine.

For his dessert Santosh is making a Cardamom and Pistachio Cake with a Jaggery and Lotus Seed Crust topped with Charred Guava and a Guava Liqueur Syrup and a side of Coconut Ice-Cream for good measure

It sounds like it’d be an intensely smoky dish what with charring of the guava as well as the toasted cardamom and the Jaggery – an unrefined cane sugar and palm sap mixture very popular within the the South Asian area – but the pistachio and the sponge mixture manage to mellow those flavours out and create a very pleasant dessert.
Marcus is a bit of a party pooper and doesn’t like the guava because it tastes like an unripen pear – I’m just glad guava gets a redemption after Dave on Bake Off put in bread. Monica being Monica wishes there was more of a liqueur syrup, and he probably should have served a jug of it on the side, or just given Monica the bottle.

Overall it’s not Santosh’s finest hour – I think if he had swapped this and his tiffin dish from the previous episode he would be in a much stronger position.

While Santosh went all out with his ingredients and elements, Bart was going very minimalist and channelling his inner Mondrian because apparently he’s all about the minimal, Marie Kondo life and has plans to sell the house, buy an RV and travel with his family. Please, I beg of the BBC: FILM THIS! A man with a thick accent and a highly expressive face travelling in a motor home with his family? Sounds familiar…

Make “The Wild Van der Lees” a thing!

Hoping to bring himself some more luck he has his fairy wands at the ready as well as a home made gold medal at the ready

I hope they had a back up silver or bronze

For his starter course Bart is serving Seared Scallops topped with Pickled Watermelon Rind, Miso and Sour-grape Puree and a Sesame and Chilli Battered Oyster finished with a Sea Buckthorn Vinaigrette

It seems a bit big for a starter to me – everything is quite light and easily manageable but it’s a big starter portion, albeit very well presented and an interesting set of flavours that get resounding praise from all the judges. The one concern being the amount of vinaigrette on the plate – but that’s on Marcus for pouring too much on.

His main course is a much more traditional sounding affair of Wagyu Sirloin served with Aubergine and Walnut Compote, an Oxtail Stuffed Roscoff Onion and pickled chicory walnuts finished with a Barberry Jus

And no, they don’t mention the fact that they got three slices of meat from the 3 steaks Bart was cooking

His starter is LITERALLY as big as his main course. Although, props to him for getting the BBC to pay for THREE slices of Wagyu Sirloin and snaffling most of it for himself.
He was worried about his oxtail, which much like the short ribs, takes AGES to cook properly but he managed to pull it off and Gregg is delighted by “the slippery meatiness” – BAN THAT PHRASE. His Barberry Jus is, according Marcus, “more of a reduced stock” and to that I say: “it was a jus”.

Bart was especially excited for dessert because he was using a highly unusual ingredient to make his biscuits: Porcini Mushrooms!

How do we think he felt when he found out Jono was making a mushroom tiramisu which featured a Porcini White Chocolate Ganache?


His dessert is a White Chocolate Mousse and Fig Chutney with a Porcini Biscuit, Poached Green Strawberries and a Yoghurt and Marjoram Sorbet

It’s really stunning in its simplicity, it feels like a museum worthy piece of art – it’s so pristine and clean that it’s almost surgical. The Porcini biscuit is crumbled on top of the mousse and hidden within its centre which produces quite the reaction from Gregg

I haven’t seen someone that excited since Marcus ate the Black Stone Flower.
The balancing of the flavours earns him the most praise – the earthy, coffee-esque flavour of the porcini as well as the lightness of the mousse are in perfect harmony with the sharpness of his unripe strawberries. Marcus even goes so far as to say it’s Bart’s best dish, I think the Pigeon and Cherry Fertility Plate was better

But I’m merely going off of pixels so I’ll trust Marcus on that one.

It’s a strong set of dishes from Bart that do both his skill level and artistry justice.

And lastly we have Alex who has been mostly praised for the theatricality of dish because apparently we’re so starved for theatre in 2020 we’re making do with dry ice and a log. I personally find dry ice to be a severely dated gimmick and I thought there was more genuine theatricality in his Peach Melba than that smoking bowl of seaweed and potato crackers.

Alex’s real strength is knowing how to pace a menu, starting with the mostly raw Scallop Ceviche with Artichoke and Pickled Nashi Pear Tartare topped with a Yoghurt Foam and finished with a Watercress Oil

I’ve said my piece about ceviches and tartares on the show – they’re as much of a cop out as a salad BUT – there is more to this dish in its accompaniments of the foam and watercress oil as well as the unexpectedness of artichoke and nashi pears – a variety of Japanese Pear renowned for its juiciness and difficulty to transport due to the fact it bruises easier than a banana.
While Marcus is obsessed with the watercress oil, Gregg is all about “the slippery coldness” of the tartare – there’s far too much food being described as slippery for my liking.

While his starter was simple, he really pushed out with his main course and followed in the footsteps of Jono and just hollowing things out

It’s not quite a hollowed out lemon but I appreciate the effort.
He also started pouring out stones which had me concerned

but I needn’t have worried *too much*.
Pan-seared Trout topped with Parsnip Crisps, a bed of Parsnip Coleslaw, Parsley Gel and Parsnip Puree and finished with a mussel and caviar cream sauce

Hallelujah, a caviar sauce without fish eggs sinisterly bobbing around in it! I’m not crazy! It’s beautiful to look at, the fish beside the Ground Force style pond? Genius. What I could have lived without is the Mini Fish Pies sat on a gravel driveway

I’m completely OVER unnecessary side dishes. This series has broken me.
Everyone loves it but none more so than Marcus who has a very long, Pride and Prejudice style stare down

Get a room you two!

Finishing off his menu his take on the classic “Passion Fruit Martini” – I love that the show wont allow Alex to say “Pornstar Martini” but will allow Monica to scream “MONKEY APHRODISIAC!” It’s his most complex dish with him having to fill a mousse with a liquid passion fruit centre as well as perfectly temper the chocolate domes and not break them when demoulding.
He pulls it off remarkably well, I mean it’s just beautiful to look at

I will ignore the “scent of passion fruit” he served on the side.
To bring even more BANG to his dessert he serves up some party poppers filled with a passion fruit powder that goes EVERYWHERE and Monica doesn’t seemed too impressed to be covered in passion fruit powder

The only thing to be said about it is that it’s a restaurant ready dessert – if you put that in front of anyone, they wouldn’t be disappointed and the satisfaction of breaking that uber thin chocolate shell and finding the soft mousse and the liquid centre?

Sublime.

It’s a strange finale – I think most of the audience went in rooting for Santosh or Bart both based on their food and their emotional journeys on the show but it’s an undeniable win for Alex – that menu is up there as one of the best we’ve seen on the show – a trifecta of perfection

I hope this win really helps Alex in that quest for a Michelin Star because the dishes he served today are certainly worth it.

As for Bart and Santosh, I would hope that the BBC realises just how special they both are and that we see A LOT more of them – whether it be on Saturday Kitchen or a travelogue of Nepal and The Netherlands when we can all travel again – give Santosh the full Nadiya Hussain treatment – he deserves all of the nice things.

And that was that! Thank you all so much for reading these reviews and recaps that gradually got longer and longer – I hope they’ve been interesting and added something to show. And I’ll see you hopefully for a regular series of MasterChef in the near future because they’ve *allegedly* just finished the casting process.

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