Marc Mok, Cheese Tamer.
The semi-finals are starting and it’s all about dreams, ambitions and DAMMIT THE PROFESSIONAL KITCHEN ROUND IS BACK. But Anna Haugh is here to make it better. You win some, you lose some.
For the first round of the semi-final 5 of our semi-finalists: Madeeha, Marc, Kent Coast Claire, Tom and The Enigma That Is Stefan The Architect will have to create a single dish that they would like to see on the menu of their restaurant, food truck, cookery book or eternally seared into the eyes of any viewers.
And as a treat they’ve brought in the always lovely Anna Haugh to help judge this round
She’s really good at judging food and talking about it in a way that’s encouraging instead of harsh. She did openly laugh in Stefan’s face but at this point, who hasn’t?
In true Kent Coast Claire fashion she was of course paying homage to the Kent Coast (DRINK!) with her alternative take on that dish everyone seems to avoid on a menu: Surf and Turf which she has dubbed “Home Turf”. I really like her idea of wanting to write a journal about life on Romney Marsh, it makes a nice change to the usual “I want to open a gastro-pub but haven’t really given it much thought, yeah?”.
I think any sort of variation on Surf and Turf is going to be a hard ask on MasterChef because in the past John and Gregg have both had wildly varied opinions on pairing red meat and fish – they seem to flip a coin to decide if they like it or not. There’s also the fact it’s hard to make it not look like you’ve put two separate dishes on the plate which is what happened with Claire and her Herb Pancake filled with Ox Cheek being on the same plate as Monkfish wrapped in Prosciutto
I think the ox cheek is what’s really throwing everything off because without it you have quite a nice demi-Mediterranean dish going on with the Braised Endive (On-Deeve if you’re correct, Enn-Dive if you’re wrong. I will not be debating this.), Celeriac Puree, Gremolata and the Panisse, which aren’t really panisse and are closer to the Genovese origin dish that panisse is based on: Farinata.
What you can’t take away from Claire is the fact everything was superbly cooked and she showed a good variety of cooking techniques and she managed to resist the siren song of the sous-vide machine.
Also opting for a cook book appropriate recipe was Madeeha and her Tropical Fruit and Fresh Cream Layer Cake, and of course Madeeha being Madeeha had made an entire birthday cake for a 3 person judging panel
then proceeded to cut each of them absolutely mammoth slices of cake the likes of which you tend to only see in cafes in small villages with very little footfall as they try to get rid of much fresh food as possible to any passersby
which only had John looking on in fear as he remembers trying to get through even half a plate of Jim’s Brownie
I found it weird that John was lamenting the fact it might look like something you get for afternoon tea in a café as though that isn’t an entirely legitimate and lucrative sector of the hospitality industry, but it is fair to say that Madeeha’s final plate did look a little rustic
I agree with Anna that she should have cut it with a ring mould and served it as a mini gateau, but I also think nothing brings you more joy than a rollicking slice of cake that forces you to take a nap afterwards. She did at least try to MasterChef it up with a Passion Fruit Caramel and a Mango Sorbet and Curried Coconut Crumb on the side
which everyone seemed pretty impressed with as well as the texture of her cake, I mean look how fluffy it looked
It’s perfection. It’s the Vitruvian Man of cake.
Tom was also showcasing a dish that he’d like to put in a book. His belief is that every recipe book should have an iconic chicken dish, which basically means every recipe book is padded out with your bog standard Sunday roast chicken and an uninteresting variation on a chicken pie. Tom wasn’t being quite so relatable and was instead serving up a Sous-Vide Chicken Breast with Furikake Seasoning
Furikake being a blend of seaweed, dried fish and sesame seeds that originally started life as a preventative measure against the calcium deficit in the Japanese population in the early 1900s.
Alongside his water-bathed chicken breast he was making a Deep-fried Chicken Leg Ballotine, Sweetcorn Puree, Tuna Bonito Popcorn and some extra Corn served in butter flavoured with Kombu, a type of edible kelp
It’s a VERY accomplished dish, I don’t know if it’s a recipe book kind of dish, but you could certainly see it in a very upmarket restaurant. I do think the popcorn is kind of an eyeroll-y gimmick but it at least adds texture.
Marc had a very similar dish to Tom in that his felt like a very early prototype of Tom’s dish. He was taking classically French cookery methods and applying them to a Chinese palate, the main component was a chicken ballotine stuffed with snow crab, water chestnuts and the ominously non-descript Chinese sausage which was then for no good reason wrapped in sushi rice
It doesn’t go down marvellously well with the judges because of the overpowering spices in the sausage but also the sushi rice turns it into a bit of a mushy mouthful.
The accompanying prawn and broccoli bonbon goes down much better and he would have probably been better served by putting 10 of them on a plate and calling it street food
the true star of the entire episode though was his Pommes Aligot which is basically mashed potato blended with Tomme d’Auvergne Cheese until it has developed the elasticity of a Cirque du Soleil performer
Nothing with a 2:1 ratio of potato to cheese could ever be wrong, inject it into me. It is the vaccine.
Lastly we have Stefan being as Stefan as you could possibly get, and he’s really starting to feel the pressure of being an architect and everyone expecting him to make pretty food… Mate, I think we’ve given up on that horse already
Jane Devonshire has still not recovered from the purple potato ring – it haunts her.
His (deliciously pretentious) inspiration for this week’s dish came from his passion for urbanity and ecology so he was going to use common woodland flavours and prepare them with modern city techniques. This did just mean sous-vide-ing a pigeon, creating an unnecessarily weird looking puree and turning tiny little onions into cups of chimichurri sauce like a toddler catering to a tea party of fairies
The effort to fill each onion and then delicately place it onto the plate – this is art. Put it in The Tate. Give it the Turner Prize. SELL IT FOR MILLIONS.
The best thing about his dish of Sous-Vide Pigeon with Celeriac Fondant, Pickled Beetroot, Red Cabbage Puree, a Pigeon and Pancetta Bonbon, Braised Rainbow Charred, The Silly Onion Cups, Fried Mushrooms and a Red Wine Sauce is that he thought it could be served as street food. In what sort of G.R.R. Martin universe is anyone ordering sous-vide pigeon to go? Let alone Sous-vide Pigeon and the Technicolour Dreamcoat of Accompaniments he has going with it.
And how do you expect Stefan to serve the woodland cacophony? Well I think we all knew where this was going the moment we say him attacking his plate in the corner
but not even that quite prepared me for the unapologetic peristeronic murder scene that he had created
“We can see your personality on the plate” offered Anna, entirely meaning “unhinged”.
At least all of the flavours go together, but we know pigeon, beetroot, mushrooms and red cabbage is a match made in heaven but because Stefan did so many different techniques none of it truly shines and he probably would have been better off nixing the bonbon which must have heavily eaten his time and good God get rid of the puree. Just ban Stefan from pureeing anything, it’s for the good of humanity.
With everyone cooked and done it was time to harshly eliminate two of them. Tom and Claire are just about instantly put through to the next round
While John and Gregg barely even discuss Stefan before deciding to eliminate him before it gets to the point where he puts a drop of human blood in his food. This left a debate between My Favs Madeeha and Marc, so either way I was going to be *UPSET* and in my heart of hearts I knew Marc had blown it and I will be seeking vengeance for his elimination. John and Gregg will never know peace again. I am however very happy for Madeeha, who herself seemed to think she had duffed it up and was going home
and we’ll always have Marc’s Instagram account to follow at Marcmok.
Professional Kitchen Shenanigans
Sadly Covid hasn’t completely killed off the professional kitchen round and the BBC somehow found a way to make it work in a Covid safe environment. DAMMIT. This time instead of the paying public they’ll be cooking a set tasting menu for the staff of Trivet, run by former Fat Duck chef and ITV murder mystery series red herring, Jonny Lake
he looks like he did it, but he didn’t.
Each of the contestants will take on a different course, Madeeha has the starter, Tom gets the main course and Kent Coast Claire gets the Cursed Potato Dessert Course.
The starter was a Red Mullet and Pici Pasta dish, which I thought everyone was calling “peachy” and thought we were trying some ungodly fish and fruit combination again. Although it is only a matter of time before someone serves up a Peach Carbonara.
Pici pasta is a type of pasta originating from Tuscany – it’s basically a very thick hand rolled spaghetti and is very similar to Udon Noodles – the only difference being that Pici commonly uses semolina flour.
I think Madeeha definitely got dealt the most difficult task, the only real prep work she could do prior to the service was shaping her pasta and making upwards of 40 strands of the stuff when you’ve never made it yourself and fillet umpteen red mullet while going cross-eyed searching for the miniscule bones is a tough ask!
She also had to make a Verjus Butter Sauce in which she basically has to emulsify this Marcus Wareing amount of butter into acidic white wine
The rest of her dish all had to be done during the service from cooking the fish under the salamander, braising her artichoke and boiling her pasta which she doesn’t cope wonderfully with but holds her own for the most part with Jonny having to step in as she begins to lose her minds when the orders start piling up
I love that they were taking orders when they knew there were going to be 12 diners and it was a set tasting menu.
Once Jonny had helped her catch up she found a groove for the last few tables of 2 and her plates never looked untidy
but she did also have to worry the least about presentation – nobody is expecting wild artistry from a pasta dish.
Tom faired the best of the three with his Barbecued Pigeon and Various Persimmon Accompaniments that was needlessly complicated by the fact he seemingly had to stand over the grill, roasting each pigeon individually against the coals like a boy scout toasting marshmallows
He was also the most well equipped for the pressure of the kitchen, or at least knew what the atmosphere would be like given that he works in An Anonymous And Slightly Cheeky Well Known Chicken Restaurant. Jonny didn’t seem to have a single negative thing to say about Tom and just left him to plate up perfect dish after perfect dish
It was nice to see a non-comedic pigeon dish this episode.
Lastly we have Claire who was having to come to terms with the fact she wasn’t cooking anything from the Kent Coast with a dish inspired by the various potato dishes of Hokkaido, which is the potato capital of Japan
The face of a Kentish woman scorned.
The dessert is a Potato Mille-Feuille in which every layer has some form of potato whether it be the White Chocolate and Potato Puree, the potato caramel or the caramelised potato tureen topper
It’s a very dainty looking dish which Claire does somewhat struggle with and didn’t get off to the best start when her potato puff pastry refused to cook and she had this slightly cross looking chef breathing down her neck
it didn’t end up affecting her very much, other than the fact she started off a little rough with it and it flaked apart in her hands a few time but her real struggle was trying to get the rocher of Sake Gelato into the right shape because apparently these weren’t very good
They literally look great to me!
Nobody did truly terribly, Madeeha struggled the most but she was also juggling slightly more cookery processes than the other two but Tom was by far the most confident and natural.