Very Me vs My Brain at 2am energy.
If you want to watch a man run a marathon, cater a 14 person kitchen service off of a single camping table, survive an earthquake all while having a nervous breakdown, you’re in luck!
For this portion of the semi-finals the chefs had been divided into 2 groups, with today’s group being made up of Dan, Ryan of the House of Good Hair, Matt and Charith, who would all be tasked with creating their own pop-up restaurant dish which they would then have to make 14 portions of with their only equipment essentially being a glorified camping kitchen
as for who they were cooking for, they had invited the leaders of the pop-up industry along to judge them, including Anna Gonçalves who gave everything a resounding “meh” and very much seemed like she had been dragged along to this event because she has a blood debt to Monica Galetti
gotta shoot down the competition before they get too powerful I suppose.
With pop-up food, there’s a few basic options that your mind immediately goes to: burritos, pizzas, novelty deep-fried food on a stick and of course The 2015 Poutine Epidemic of the Food Scene. So of course, as guest diner Thom Elliot said, “You need to pick something special that people return to you because only you offer it.” – by the way, Thom Elliot makes that exceptionally novel food: pizza
the challenge lent itself perfectly to Charith and his desire to showcase Sri Lankan food, a cuisine that doesn’t have the biggest stage in the British food scene – and he seemed pretty comfortable and happy as he set about making his dish inspired by the “short eats” that dominate Sri Lankan street food. He was also making a lot of work for himself by opting to make two quite process heavy components – the first a sort of Mutton Spring Roll and the second a Fish Patty made using canned mackerel that shall haunt my dreams forever
less footage of stuff being de-tinned next year please lads.
In his rush to get the patties and spring rolls all done on time he wasn’t happy with the shape of the spring rolls, personally I think they looked as cylindrical as you could possibly hope for a spring roll to look, if a little more breadcrumb-y which is only ever a good thing
and they go down a treat with everyone, there’s one or two people who thought the slaw on the side could have been a little more mellow to add a variation in spice levels but we call them WEAK.
Given that he could easily have got away with doing just doubling up the spring rolls or the patties, I think it’s an almost superhuman feat that Charith got everything done in the 3 hours they had, especially given that he did it all on his own, because Dan was not coping particularly well with his own hefty workload. It admittedly didn’t help that he had a mixer going on the most ricketty table the BBC could have possibly found meaning on top of the cramped space he was having to prepare everything in earthquake conditions
and that wasn’t his only obstacle as he seemed determined to run a marathon while simultaneously putting together his Thai inspired dish of Green Papaya Salad, Larb, Flatbread, Mango Yogurt and a Tom Yum side soup. It’s fair to say he was a very sweaty man by the end of the day and his usually sculptural hipster Cabaret Emcee hair was rapidly dissolving
but it was all worth it because, even though he had to make a mad dash to sprinkle the all important peanuts on top of his larb, his dish was the star of the show
it goes down to unanimous praise from everyone – we don’t get Anna’s verdict so that’s probably an untruth. The thing that amazes everyone is that even though the dish was made up of 10 different components, each one got its moment to shine and could be tasted – it was a superbly balanced and designed dish and fully showcased the reverence for which he holds for the cuisine of Southeast Asia.
Matt in many ways had a very similar dish to Dan in that he had a lot of components going on in his burrito – including the obligatory weird floral ingredient, this time coming in the form of Magnolia Petals which apparently have a ginger-y flavour to them. It was a dish that very much suggested that he had been possessed by The Spirit of Fire Master Nic as he banished himself to the outdoors to barbecue what looked like an ancient tome of witchcraft made entirely out of meat
who knew that beef short ribs opened up like a book? What other secrets is the bovine world hiding from us?
The short ribs weren’t the only things he was barbecuring because while his very being was commandeered by the vengeful psychic phantom of The Fiery Meat Man he was compelled, seemingly very much against his own volition, to barbecue some oysters
thankfully they were able to exorcise him before he was compelled to sacrifice an egg yolk in some awful way to appease The Eldritch King of The Grill – he has many names does Fire Lord Nic.
The Burrito isn’t met with an abundance of enthusiasm because amongst the other dishes it does seem a touch ordinary, even despite the slightly unusual ingredients which don’t seem to add much beyond being able to tell people that there’s magnolia petals in their burrito, isn’t that whacky?
I will say though, the boatload of wild garlic yoghurt that everyone got did sound rather lovely and the pulled short rib beef in oyster sauce is the sort of thing you could almost smell through the television but at the end of the day it was kind of just a burrito. There was a strong line of critique that everyone would have preferred a “normal salsa” in it as opposed to his Gherkin and Spring Onion Salsa which… No. If someone gives you gherkins, you take them with great reverence and respect the glorious pickle gift.
Lastly we have Ryan who largely works within the realms of classical French cookery, a cuisine that doesn’t really lend itself to serving things in small trays to be eaten with wooden cutlery. Nonetheless, within seconds of the challenge starting he obviously had a large pot of carrots, onion and celery on the go
it’s his emotional support mirepoix, it will appear in every challenge.
Ryan’s dish opens a whole can of worms because yes the dish’s name is traditional and very much not related to the slur, but the word is still a slur and there is a certain amount of tittering any time anyone gets to say it, and there’s no real reason to keep using it when you have much more fun options: Meatball, Rissole, Frikadeller or my personal favourite: Scrapple. If we can stop calling Pollock “Pollock” and revert to “Colin” we can switch to Scrapple.
His dish was a very simple one, especially when you compare his 2 line description to the veritable novel that Dan was writing
and if you’re wondering what sablé potatoes are (shout out to whoever typed it and couldn’t be bothered to find the acute accent) they’re basically tiny little chips which are then coated in breadcrumbs – it’s a God Tier novelty snack, the likes of which I would buy 2 of and then tell everyone about for the next week or so. Plating wise, I would personally have kept a few of the potatoes more separate from the sauce
just to give them a lingering crunch and to not make you feel like you’re eating them against a rapidly depleting gravy clock.
Most of the diners really love it, I think they did find the concept of scrapples as a take-away food a little hard to get their heads around but I think that worked in Ryan’s favour. Anna, naturally, didn’t thoroughly enjoy the dish and screamed into The Meh Void.
A Pop-up Dish Ranking
- Dan’s Frantic Thai Dash Around A Warehouse
- Charith’s Long Process Short Snacks
- Ryan’s Non-problematic Scrapples
- Sometimes a Burrito Is Just A Burrito
A Final Effort
In order to decide who gets eliminated just before Finals Week and can’t write “MasterChef Finalist” in the Instagram bio (the real trophy) the chefs have to cook a single dish, with only one request from Marcus
Please don’t encourage them, we’re but a few series away from someone serving you a Catherine Wheel of Langoustines or a Roman Candle that fires out croquettes at an alarming velocity in the name of ~theatre~.
Out of all the chefs left, Dan is the one that’s the hardest to predict – he has the constantly buzzing nervous energy that could result in absolute bombastic genius or… Ugly Soup. This time the pendulum was swinging over a dish showcasing his love of Japanese ingredients and flavours, with the centrepiece being a langoustine poached in duck fat. And in order to prepare for their star turn on the plate, Dan had arranged them into a chorus line all too similar to the cockroach chorus line in CATS (2019)
that’s what was missing from that horror show: all singing, all dancing jazz prawns.
The dish was a very light dish featuring both the langoustines and raw ebi shrimp (ebi meaning they had been partially butterflied, as you would usually see on top of sushi), salmon roe and of course avocado because what is a salad with The Green Menace lurking somewhere in there? He was also slaving over the creation of a cup made out of shaved runner beans, which took him a while to pull off
and then was completely hidden by everything else on the plate
I think it’s maybe a dish that was prettier in person because I find it to be a little bit of a melange – especially with the Spring Onion and Dashi Butter Sauce poured all over it, but it’s certainly something I would order on a restaurant menu, I think it sounds a very interesting dish and the judges seemed thoroughly pleased with it.
Charith was steadfastly staying in his happy place of Sri Lankan food, this time going for a duality of curries – the first being a Snake Bean and Jackfruit Seed Curry and the second, more standout option, being a Prawn Curry based on the ones favoured in Negombo, a city in Sri Lanka with a very well established fishing trade
the snake bean curry is one that his mother used to make at home and I think it very much came across as quite a homely curry – a very comforting sauce with some pretty basic vegetables in it, it’s just not what the judges were really looking for, although they did enjoy his use of the jackfruit seeds.
His prawn curry however, is where it’s at – once you get around the slightly overcooked prawns that is. He would probably have been better off focusing exclusively on the prawn curry and then made some sort of a rice dish because Marcus Wareing couldn’t quite comprehend curry without rice, which was only made slightly worse by the fact his quinoa and coconut flatbreads were just a tad undercooked. It’s a crying shame really because so much on the plate was absolutely brilliant, that sambal butter for instance needs to be on every shop shelf going
put it in the home cleaning section for all I care, JUST GIVE IT TO ME.
The last of our main courses was from Ryan who was once again going classically French with a stuffed saddle of lamb – rolling it up with a sort of mincemeat farce and some apricots. He was also pairing it with a few Middle Eastern components, namely Imam Bayildi made from a thoroughly cubed aubergine
if the whole cheffing thing doesn’t work out, there’s always aubergine carving to fall back on.
As with any rolled and stuffed meat, there was a slight panic towards the end of time as to whether it was cooked or not with Ryan having to shove it back into the oven for however long he possibly could just to ensure it cooked through, which thankfully it had
and yes, I do regret to inform you that we are indeed serving things on top of pebbles again
there was literally no need for the potato rosti and the imam bayildi to be on a separate pebbly side dish, much like the door in Titanic, there was more than enough room, that yoghurt and cumin mousse isn’t taking up that much space.
It’s the sort of dish that’s almost designed to make Marcus love you: it’s slightly French, it’s lamb, there is indeed potatoes and it’s almost clinically clean in aesthetic. And sure enough, Marcus very much looked like he was about to sign the adoption papers and welcome Ryan into The Wareing Family
or you know, eat him alive and hope to absorb some of his youth.
Rounding us off with a dessert was Matt who was kind of making an anti-dessert as he took the concept of a Queen of Puddings and dragged it backwards through a hedgerow. At first when he said he was transforming the the dessert by making it into a tart, I was a little disappointed, I was expecting something a little more rabbit-out-of-a-hat-y from Matt. And then of course continued after the pregnant pause with the fact he was currying it too. Immediately everyone’s alarm bells were going off, but he was being sensible about it, he wasn’t about to sprinkle the whole thing with madras curry powder, instead he was using the leaves of the curry plant, which is much more aromatically curry-ish and so makes sense that it could be paired alongside quite sweet things. This is afterall only a few steps removed from Chilli and Chocolate that haunted MasterChef menus for the entirety of 2009.
Of course there was more to it, with him substituting the usual breadcrumbs for the crumbs of a naan bread, more specifically a Hogweed Naan Bread because Matt’s gonna Matt. Oh and the meringue topping was laced with enough fig leaf to make it slightly green which did only add to the effect that The Galactic Space Turtle had indeed returned with a vengeance
for those not in the know, here is the original Galactic Space Turtle, which was once upon a time intended to be a fish pie
I do think this is Matt’s best and cleverest use of niche herbs – here it actually felt like everything served a purpose in the dish and felt like a necessary component. It is absolutely the sort of plate of food that you could win the competition off the back of, so Inevitable Winner Daniel From Portugal™ might need to come hard with his next bowl of nonsense.
A Last Ditch Effort Dish Ranking
- Ryan’s Bid For Marcus’s Love
- Matt’s Queen of Anti-puddings
- Dan’s Langoustine Showstopper
- Charith’s Unbalanced Curry Dyad
When the episode started, I was sure we were about to lose Dan, especially given his general franticness, but he certainly proved himself this episode and with Charith being the only one to bear the brunt of any real criticism for his two curries, it was very sadly he who got eliminated
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed his showcasing of Sri Lankan food and I can only hope for bigger and better things for him in the future.
And so, we find out tomorrow which of our 7 remaining chefs shall be the next to fall
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