Did they have to dress the servers up as The Silence from Doctor Who?
Finals Week begins with a catering challenge and my personal favourite round of the entire series!
For the first challenge of Finals Week the remaining 5 contestants will have to cater a banquet in honour of the people who kept key workers, struggling families and the homeless fed while the government failed in its basic duties. They didn’t quite say as much but the implication was there. This means each of the cooks would have to make 25 individual portions of a dish they have devised themselves in a kitchen helmed by John Torode who has put his chef’s whites for the first time
You know things are getting serious when this happens! It’s like Captain America picking up his shield.
Kicking off the proceedings was Madeeha with an Aloo Tikki, a potato cake that she is stuffing with spinach, paneer and apricots and serving alongside a Sweet Potato and Chickpea salad as well as a Pomegranate Chutney and a Yoghurt Drizzle. The dish is based on her late father’s recipe and serves as a nod to the lockdown of Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War. As you can imagine with emotions riding high and her father’s passing being as recent as 2 years ago she gets very emotional and has a bit of a cry while frying the potato cakes
John steps in and lets her go and compose herself before they have to add “seasoned with tears” to the menu description and once she’s all back to her regular joyful self she manages to successfully plate up all 25 portions on time
The diners all commend the balance of spices as well as the perfect cooking of her potato and it was a very strong start to the banquet.
The second starter was in Tom’s hands and he was opting for a much lighter option in the form of Prawn Wantons in a Coconut Broth. We all remember the wanton bloodbath of The Professionals last year so with Tom having to make both the filling and the dough as well as fold each one is a tough ask, but if he did get frustrated he at least could fall back on how often he got to hit something with a pot
I wonder if things would have gone differently for Laura if she was given the opportunity to clobber something with cookware?
His main dilemma was whether he would give everyone 2 or 3 wantons with him eventually deciding that they’re all heroes but they’re not 3-wantons-heroes so everyone gets 2. I mean Madeeha only gave them 1 potato cake each, so he’s practically Chuck Feeney.
I was personally worried about his broth because it being primarily made of coconut and aromatics it did look very anaemic and a little sad with the wilted pak choi lounging in it like Cleopatra bathing in donkey milk but marginally less glamorously
but he at least had the foresight to add chilli oil and some crispy shallots to give it the boost of colour that the dish desperately needed
It was a very good choice of dish to serve right before going into the heavier main courses – it’s fresh and light and exactly what you need. There is 1 complaint about the pastry being slightly thick in places but when you’re one person making 50 wantons with John Torode breathing down your neck I think we can call that a win for Tom.
Laura was first up for the main courses and had chosen to riff on Peking Duck, a favourite of her kids. She was turning her duck into three separate components: Shredded Duck Leg, Glazed Duck Breast and a Duck Toast. It was a lot of work to give herself, too much in fact as she gets very waylaid while cutting out her bread disks
which did seem like an inordinate waste of bread – I’m 90% sure she could have got 3 disks out per slice but I’m sure the kitchen probably does use the 25 weirdly perforated pieces of bread for something. Anything. Holey Bread and Butter Pudding anyone?
We also know that Laura doesn’t cope brilliantly under the stress of catering for a large amount of people – we all remember the narrowly avoided Scallop Coup from last week. With Laura seemingly taking forever to cut out 25 bread circles John has to step in at some point to help shred her duck legs which I think only made Laura more nervous and she promptly cuts herself and I wont be using a gif because they actually showed the knife going into her finger AND NOBODY NEEDED TO SEE THAT! not even Holby City is that graphic!
Once Laura has been fully bandaged and John has worked out his stress by tearing 14 duck legs to ribbons Laura can plate up her Duck Trio along with the weird pea green ovoid
the final plating is a little rougher than everyone else’s efforts, and yes I am including Alexina’s Bakewell Wotsit that was glued together entirely by gels, icing and prayers amongst that
Flavour-wise, she nailed it though! The shredded duck doesn’t have the crispy texture that some of the diners were expecting and to be honest looking at her workload she probably should have just served a slightly larger portion of the glazed duck breast and forgone the shredded leg entirely.
Unsurprisingly the next main course was Mike who was, even more unsurprisingly, cooking a dish consisting of mostly brown! His dedication to not cook a single green vegetable beyond the occasional token cavolo nero has to be admired. The main component was a Braised Short Rib that he was desperately trying to properly cook in the short few hours that they had and almost completely ballsing it up by being slightly over confident that it wouldn’t overcook when left to its own devices. Readers… it overcooked
Only marginally in some places. I don’t really blame him for pulling the whole “out of sight, out of mind” technique because he was contending with a very badly behaved Potato Dauphinoise
Shout out to Liz on MasterChef 2016 who trolled everyone for 2 weeks by constantly pronouncing it as “Dolphin Nose Potatoes”. An honest to God, MasterChef icon.
Mike’s dish is as Mike as ever
I think it would have been more interesting to put him in charge of desserts because I think we’ve reached a point where his dishes are beginning to all look the same. You can’t convince me that he didn’t cook this last week. It’s obviously very good, Mike is an incredibly talented cook but I don’t know if he’s very diverse? But hey, if he gets a kick out of roasting big chunks of meat, who am I to stop him? It’s 2021, find your joy wherever you can.
Bringing the banquet to a close was Alexina and her reinvention of the Cherry Bakewell. It gave her a fair amount of trouble as her idea involved baking crème patissiere inside a sort of pastry prison and she overfilled them fairly considerably
I haven’t seen baked goods hulking out this badly since Sura’s attempt at a Battenburg on Bake Off last year
That being said she did manage to bring it all back from the brink of disaster and produce a pretty enough pudding that was more than a little bit aided by the generous offering of highly boozed up cherries
It does look a bit like Syd the Sloth from Ice Age wearing lipstick though.
She gets rave reviews and more than one of the diners declaring it the standout dish of the banquet. Order is restored, Alexina Supremacy continues apace.
Truly Inspired Dishes
Now for my personal favourite round of the entire competition in which they all have to make a dish inspired by someone that they admire and I would be remiss not to mention 2016 icon Steve who created a dish inspired Hannibal Lecter that looked exactly as you expect
Nobody this year is quite as unhinged which means I still haven’t got my dream Dario Argento inspired dish. Although with Alexina drawing inspiration from the ballet we were halfway to Suspiria!
Her specific inspiration was Francesca Hayward and if you want to know quite how uncultured I am, my first reaction was “OH MY GOD! IT’S VICTORIA FROM CATS (2019)!”. I was fully ready for the weirdness but of course Alexina was talking about Francesca’s more credible ballet career. Which means I’m going to have to sign up for MasterChef and cook a dish inspired by Idris Elba’s gummy looking cat body myself.
There is of course the Pavlova which is already inspired by a ballerina and where Alexina is drawing a little bit inspiration from with her meringue work and the stacking of her Aniseed Genoise Sponge and Grapefruit Curd which she was also serving with a Campari and Grapefruit Jelly and a Milk and Honey Ice Cream
I love that John had the audacity to ask if the jelly was ok while it was obviously leaking out of the bottom of the meringue pyramid and I don’t blame Alexina for mentally adding him to the kill list
besides the jelly having a meltdown and the genoise sponge being slightly more solid than expected both John and Gregg love the dish and the balance between the sweetness of the meringue and the fact GRAPEFRUIT IS DISGUSTING WHY MUST YOU DO THIS TO ME ALEXINA? One day I will come to respect that some people like grapefruit, today is not it.
Laura was also drawing inspiration from the arts. Her dish was based around the acclaimed American saxophonist and pioneer of Free Jazz, John Coltrane who allegedly had a rather extreme sweet tooth and if you want to know how bad it was, it’s why Bleeding Gums Murphy in The Simpsons is called Bleeding Gums Murphy.
In order to honour Coltrane’s terrible tooth decay Laura was putting together a very dainty Apple and Custard Tart with Caramelised Apple Balls, Orange Tuiles and a few Meringue Kisses for good luck
It’s very pretty, I’m not entirely sold on the Meringue Map of Mordor that it’s sitting on – I think the dish would have had that elevated, clean and chic look without it. I’m also greatly enjoying the fact Laura just likes serving circular things between this, her duck toast, the fish pie and the crumble sandwich I can only assume someone got hell of a bargain on ring moulds at Lakeland.
As for the taste of her pudding, John loves it and Gregg tossed a coin and got tails which means he doesn’t like sweet things today. Sorry Laura, it’s the luck of the draw these days.
The last of the artistic inspirations was Tom and his love of Hayao Miyazaki movies which are very well known for the prominence and care they give depictions of food so I thought Tom was just going to make us the Bento Boxes from My Neighbour Totoro or Calcifer’s Breakfast from Howl’s Moving Castle or if you want to go really niche and weird the Herring and Pumpkin Pie from Kiki’s Delivery Service.
Sadly Tom was forgoing all of that and instead drawing his inspiration from everyone’s favourite weirdo, No-Face from Spirited Away which basically meant everything on his plate was going to be either black or purple including his very dark chocolate Brownies, the sweetened beetroot, the Blackcurrant Gel and the What-I-Shall-Only-Refer-to-as-a-Smear-and-Nothing-Else
It’s stunning, like a dessert going through their Blue Banana goth phase and writing really concerning poetry exclusively in red ink. Everyone will be hard pressed to beat it for Dish of the Series – it’s really remarkable cooking. Also particular shout out to the Black Sesame Ice Cream that sat on the side looking extremely sinister
it reminds me of the mutations in the film Annihilation – it’s not physically moving but it feels like it is.
Breaking away from everyone else and going for a more historical subject was Madeeha and her inspiration of Zahīr ud-Dīn Babur, who was Genghis Khan’s 10 times Great Grandson, and founder of the Mughal Empire. The dish was Manti, which is a type of dumpling that is popular throughout Turkic cuisines and bares a strong resemblance to the Jiaozi dumplings of China that most people are probably more familiar with. The main difference being that Manti are primarily stuffed with minced lamb or beef with Madeeha opting for the more common lamb version and serving it alongside Chana Dal, a Tomato Broth and a very controversial Garlic Yoghurt that completely and utterly broke John Torode’s ability to function
I don’t know if it was intentional or not but I do like the fact she gave the dumpling the shape of Babur’s turban that he wears in the most famous portrait of him
Despite the aesthetic appeal of the dish the judges aren’t massive fans of it, John can’t get his head around the amount of garlic and Gregg is completely thrown by the (apparent) absurdity of Madeeha serving a dal with a broth while entirely ignoring the fact the dal was drier than a usual dal and the broth was there to add the necessary moisture. But apparently the lentils were a little underdone on top of that so, it was a rare miss for Madeeha but at least it looked nice!
Last up we have Mike who in his desperate bid to not cook a single green vegetable had opted to make the most beige dish he possibly could and then attribute it to Sir Captain Tom “The Walkman” Moore. One thing is for sure, I will never forget the Posthumous Tribute Partridge
The fact the dedication to beige went as far to refuse to put carrots on the plate lest they curse him with their lurid, inaccurate orange appearance was my personal favourite moment of the episode. Although according to the World Carrot Museum, a place that exists for real, carrots were a pretty big staple of the British diet after both World Wars, Bacon Jam on the other hand… It’s fine to say you don’t like carrots Mike. You’re 27 years old, your parents can’t force you to eat them anymore!
The judges both love the cooking of the partridge – it’s soft and tender and my mouth did water a little bit looking at it. I just want to go back to a time where someone could cook me a tiny little gamebird. The one negative they have is the fact his gravy is a little over salted, although what is gravy without enough salt to brine a whale?
It was a pretty undeniable fact that Madeeha had come up short on this particular challenge and with John and Gregg looking for even the slightest mistake to send someone home it was inevitable that she would be eliminated
She has been an utterly fantastic contestant and has brought a whole host of new and interesting dishes to the competition and if you want to keep track and see what amazing things I’m sure she’ll go on to do, you can follow her on Instagram at madeehaqureshi_maddieg.