MasterChef 2021, Episode 1: Crab and Avocado Buckaroo

The Semi-finals will require the chefs to craft Gregg another waistcoat out of ham.

It’s back! Perhaps marginally too early but at least they’ve worked out a Covid safety plan that doesn’t require anyone to sit in a cupboard!

Signature Dish

I think I’ll just have to accept that MasterChef has moved on from the days of The Mystery Box – it was always such a good round that very quickly brought to light who was good and who was… less good. It also gave us some classic dishes such as Mince Stuffed Mushrooms, Cod and Pear Rice, Cointreau Curry and Rosewater Meatballs – gone are those sweet summer days.
Instead we’re truly knee deep in a new era of MasterChef where people are churning out restaurant-y dishes in the first round that would probably only have been seen in the final about 7 years ago (I blame MasterChef: The Professionals personally).

Nobody exemplifies the shift more than Tom with hair that I feel like I need a physics degree to understand

I’m convinced he holds the secrets of the universe in every follicle.
Currently he works at a restaurant but before you freak out he’s just that guy at Nando’s who shows you to your seats and watches the drinks machine like a hawk – nobody who ordered water is getting a coke on his watch!

His dish is a Confit Salmon with Aubergine and Miso Puree, Tomatoes in a Coriander and just to go all out he is making a Squid Ink Crisp to sit on the side like an ominous looking raincloud

It’s not a dish that wildly excites me – I find it to look a bit cold and unapproachable, the most intriguing part of the whole dish for me was the Charred Lemon Ponzu but mostly because of the look of panic when Gregg asked him if he had ever been to Japan

he absolutely thought he was about to be accused of cultural appropriation on national television – it’s fine Tom, you can use the ponzu without getting cancelled.
Despite my misgivings, John and Gregg both love the dish and his ability to balance the flavours so successfully and not allow a strong ingredient such as miso overpower the rest of the dish.

Ross was also going very ~upmarket~ by making a lobster thermidor (with chips just to be relatable) – if the BBC’s paying you might as well make them buy you a lobster

Although Ross calling it a “lobster thermidor supper” does imply he makes this himself quite regularly – how much does fibreglass manufacturing pay and should I switch career? All Ross really had to do was successfully cook his lobster and the rest would pretty much be forgiven, my personal favourite part of a lobster thermidor is the fact it always looks like something you’d see an alien race in Star Wars serve up as a comedy beat and yet will cost you at least 1 limb in most restaurants

The lobster is well cooked and the chips are… well they’re chips, what more did we expect? The only thing lacking for John is a hit if mustard in the béchamel sauce.

Continuing the seafood trend was coffee shop manager Mike (as qualified for MasterChef: The Professionals at that guy who made toasted sandwiches at a garden centre) who was making Scampi and Chips, except he wasn’t using scampi, he was using cod cheeks – which reminds me of the only good joke in My Family in which Susan was making a Duck a l’Orange except she didn’t have duck so she was using mince and she didn’t have oranges so she was using pears. Also, if your cod cheeks aren’t in an omelette I DON’T CARE.
He was also choosing to spice up his chips with madras salt as an unexpected twist – Tom points at the Peri-Peri Fries on the Nando’s menu.

He almost has a bit of a disaster with his Not-Scampi because he was putting all of them in the fryer at the same time but he managed to reroute and plate up a decent dish

His chips aren’t spiced enough because he panicked and didn’t want to over-spice them, meanwhile Madeeha is cooking with 5 whole chillies and Dominique is spooning in her third tablespoon of Scotch Bonnet Chillies. His not-scampi were successful though as was his tartar sauce that he used his son as leverage for – this will become a recurring thing with Mike so remember it.

On more familiar MasterChef territory Dominique had given herself hell of a lot to do by making a Caribbean Platter consisting of Courgette Fries, Jerked Cauliflower, Salt Cold Fritters and that Caribbean classic: Macaroni Cheese with Vienna Sausages? The best part was John Torode talking about Vienna Sausages as though they were a gourmet ingredient while Dominique opened a £1.15 can of them

With so much to do Dominique didn’t leave herself quite enough time to really think about plating and like someone who has made too much stew and used up all of their Tupperware she just began putting everything into every single little container she could get her hands on

The highlight is everything except the mayonnaise being put in a bowl and it being left to congeal into a very sad puddle on the side – Dominique, consider yourself a MasterChef Icon.
John and Gregg both admire the heat she managed to bring to her Cauliflower and the salt cod fritter but the Mac and Cheese is a little too thick for John but he is WILD about the Vienna Sausages – I’m willing to bet my life on the fact that John Torode never walks down the tinned food aisle of a restaurant out of principle.

You would have thought that a Caribbean Platter would be the largest amount of food cooked this evening but you’d be wrong! Enter this year’s Cinnamon Roll Whomst We Must Protect, Madeeha! Who will spend most of the competition cooking enough for at least 27 people if her leftovers are anything to go by

I’m sure the production crew were THRILLED.

She has recently quit her job in order to pursue a career in food and has decided that now that she’s married and had kids she wants to live her life – which does sound like a bit of a read to be honest.
Her specialities mainly lie in Indian-Pakistani cuisine but she’d debuting with Hakka Chicken, a Chinese recipe from the Hakka People, a migratory Chinese population – their cuisine and culinary techniques are far reaching and has often melded into being used in Taiwanese food, Indian and Pakistani dishes, the Chinese word for the Hakka People literally translates to “Guest Families” so I think you get the picture.
She spends a significant amount of her time apologising to everyone seemingly for just existing

I hope she manages to build up more confidence because she seems like a really delightful cook, her Hakka Chicken and Vegetable Fried Rice went down well enough

Rice Tower, down your drinks!

There were no outright disasters but alas only two can go straight through to cook for a set of MasterChef All Stars and I think the decision to give the wins to Tom and Madeeha was correct, if only for Madeeha’s reaction

Give her the win now to be honest.

This does of course mean that Dominique, Ross and Mike will have to cook for the remaining two spots.

Favourite Ingredient Redemption!

In order to redeem themselves the remaining three chefs will have to create a dish using their favourite ingredients using a limited larder in only 50 minutes and I personally feel like Dominique who had chosen lamb was set up to fail, although her choosing to do lentils as a side dish is entirely on her. She was never going to get it all well cooked in 50 minutes and while everything was well spiced and seasoned, the lamb was, to be blunt, still bleating

and if that wasn’t enough reason to send her packing then the fact she used a metal spoon on a non-stick pan was certainly reason enough

Instant disqualification!

Although, in Dominique’s defence, she did at least cooking something, unlike The King of Life Hacks Ross who was making a Crab Tian, which is just a fancy way of saying that he was layering things. What were his layers? I here you ask! Well, the first was brown crabmeat, the second was avocado and the third was white crabmeat

So yes, Ross had just spent 50 minutes playing Crab and Avocado Buckaroo and hadn’t even had the decency to toast the bread!

Elsewhere in the kitchen and Mike was still trying to brand himself as a forager by claiming Chestnut Mushrooms were his favourite ingredient

He was at least planning on cooking something though by making Gnocchi in a Mushroom Sauce accompanied with Tarragon Oil in what he was hoping would be a Tarragon Remeption Story…
Gnocchi is a brave choice consider it has scuppered the plans of many a MasterChef contestant in the past and I did think he was destined for gloopy doom when he spooned out his sauce that was a distinctly ominous shade of grey

But he did the MasterChef classic of hiding it under some fried mushrooms and cracking enough black pepper over it to at least cause John Torode some mild paraesthesia.

It’s by far the strongest of the three dishes even if the tarragon oil was a let down… Mike, maybe just accept that you and tarragon don’t have a future together. It’s fine, let her go.

It’s inevitably Dominique that is sent home first because apparently undercooking lamb is a bigger crime than not cooking anything at all. She came, she cooked tinned sausages, she went home. It’s a winner’s story if you ask me.

The Winners’ Chamber

In order to decide the first of our quarter finalists the cooks will have to cook a two course meal for The Best MasterChef Winner Ping Coombes and Thomas Frake who won last year and has unfortunately not been able to use his MasterChef crown as leverage into a restaurant gig.

You would think that the cooks would really have learnt from the mistakes of the first round and come back swinging with a big hitter? Not if you’re Ross who is straight back into cooking a Smoked Trout Tian that he promises will be “a completely different flavour sensation” than this Crab and Avocado Tian – this secret, game changing ingredient? Sesame Oil, which only tastes of peanuts if you haven’t ever tasted peanuts. But he’s not stopping there because he’s also adding incredibly badly chopped onions

It’s no wonder that he cuts himself within a matter of seconds is it nd we have yet another grotty plaster to battle with.
As for his Tian, well everyone tries their best to be nice about it, except John who falls just short of picking out every bit of roughly chopped onion out of spite

I mean, at least he actually toasted his bread this time?

Ross’s main did promise bigger things, a Curried Mussel Chowder should be rich and bold and it was looking good up until the moment he proudly declared “I’ve decided not to use stock, it’s just milk and cream!” and Gregg looked like he was mob boss that was having to call a hit on his own son

The Greggfather.

Ross’s Curried Mussel Chowder may have looked vibrant but as was expected with the lack of stock it didn’t manage to really push through

and the overwhelming flavour of it became the smoked bacon and chopped coriander leaves which is pretty damning for a dish that promises none of that in the title.

While Ross continued to commit the same sins, Mike had finally come to his senses and called off his fruitless relationship with tarragon but he is still hellbent on branding himself as a forager with the blackberries he and his son picked together that he will be using to make a sauce as an accompaniment to his Venison, Celeriac Gratin and Butternut Puree

The dish had the potential to wow everyone, as venison frequently does, but there were quite a few tiny errors littered throughout with his under-seasoned meat, the gratin that needed 5 minutes longer and the MY SON’s Blackberry Sauce that was a little thin looking. But at least it was cooked.

Mike did at least set himself apart by making the only dessert of the episode with his Earl Grey Panna Cotta with Half a Baked Peach and Some Hazelnuts

thankfully it looks like the poltergeist that usually haunts the fridges hasn’t returned, we have yet to see if the one in the ice-cream machine has been properly exorcised though.
Gregg found his portion to be a little too firm and John snidely told him that his was perfect – it becomes increasingly obvious that these two do not like each other.

In some delightful production work one of the producers obviously got Tom’s menu plan and made sure that he would end up cooking for Thomas Frake because his starter was Battered Monkfish, which just so happened to be one of the dishes that Thomas served in his winning final menu – not sure what it says about Thomas that someone is cooking it in only the second round they’ve been in.
To jazz it up that much further he is once again dipping into East Asian cuisine by adding yuzu to his mayonnaise

which gets unanimous praise and I think it’s safe to say that Gregg enjoyed

Thank God he has already done Strictly.

With Tom having cooked two quite refined dishes I had expected him to continue in that vein and while his dish of Pork Collar with Cauliflower Puree and Apple and Fennel Kimchi still had that air of overly expensive restaurant food, the presentation was a little more rough and ready,

although bless him he did try and wrangle that kimchi into a mould

I think those ring moulds have been used more times in this episode alone than the entirety of the last Professionals series – and you know how much professional chefs love needlessly moulding food.

John may have been apprehensive about the Apple and Fennel Kimchi but as it turns out it was a complete revelation and the dish was so good that rumour has it Ping is still licking the plate.
I have to hand it to Tom, it’s very rare nowadays that anyone cooks a dish that feels unique or distinctly theirs but this dish truly did feel like something fresh and new.

Last up is Madeeha who was taking us on a whistle-stop tour of her childhood in Saudi Arabia with a starter of Mutabbaq, a very popular street food across the Arabian Peninsula, it very much resembles a samosa except it’s square, the Arabic word “mutabbaq” literally means “folded”. She is stuffing hers with chicken mince and tomatoes and serving it alongside a hot sauce known as Zhoug made by blitzing jalapenos, coriander and parsley, a process judging by her harrowed expression she doesn’t like very much

Who amongst us hasn’t had an existential crisis while blending herbs and spices?
With trying to juggle both the process of making four individual mutabbaq and her Rogan Josh main she did unfortunately burn one of her starters

But it’s not worry because Madeeha had 26 more portions.

The dish is a one that is very close to her heart and holds a lot memories of time she spent with her father who sadly passed away 2 years ago and while serving it she gets very choked up and emotional – which felt like a very genuine response to the situation – the worst part of which nobody could hug her because of social distancing and she had to just hug herself

It’s Wooby Faced St. Ross all over again!

It was at least a relief then that everybody loved the dish, can you imagine if they didn’t?

For her main course Madeeha was pulling out the big guns with a Lambshank Rogan Josh that certainly pulled no punches

I think it was a good idea on her behalf to not serve it with rice and instead opt for the Crush Madras Potatoes, it just shows that little bit extra skill and I am HUGELY glad that she had bucked the trend of just serving any and every Indian dish in a balti pan. Although there is still room to work around with that smear of the Rogan Josh sauce that makes it look like her lamb shank has crash landed on the plate.
Everyone loves the dish and the only person to have a complaint is, one again, Gregg Wallace – they have to purposefully be giving him the weakest plates, right?
John on the other gleefully eats the whole thing and gives us this delightful piece of TMI

At least someone is sanitising.

At the end of it all it wasn’t really a tough call at all as Ross’s plans to make numerous Tians are scuppered and Mike is sent back to forage in his back garden, which means are first quarter finalists are Tom and Madeeha

A worthy duo, I think.

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