MasterChef: The Professionals 2021, Episode 16: Starfish Overlords

That’s a pretty accurate summary of Marcus Wareing.

And thus we enter Finals Week with a flash of fire, a puff of smoke and bleary-eyed exhaustion.

Look Ma! I’m On TV!

Before they get to The Auspicious Chefs’ Table, our 6 chefs have to be brutally whittled down to a quartet and in order to make that decision they must each cook a dish inspired by someone they love or admire WHICH IS DEFINITELY A DIFFERENT CHALLENGE TO THE MEMORY CHALLENGE, DON’T THINK ABOUT IT TOO MUCH.

Given that Daniel has mostly just been cooking the dishes his family likes – admittedly mostly by reducing them to their most basic parts and piling them into bowls, he reached a point where he was having to cook his grandfather’s second favourite dish. Quite what the dish originally was, I don’t know because the show never told us. Unless chorizo gel, quail eggs and puffed pork skin bobbing around in a cold pea soup is a traditional dish of Serra da Estrela

And yes, those peas on top were indeed each individually peeled by Daniel because we are very much witnessing a man going through one Hell of a mental breakdown – I’m tempted to set up a Kickstarter so we can all do a quick whip-round and buy him a 3 day spa retreat. Also worth noting that even with Daniel, a Portuguese man, standing in front of him saying the word “chorizo” VERY correctly, Gregg still managed to pronounce it at least 6 different incorrect ways, which is indeed a new MasterChef Record.

The judges do mostly enjoy Daniel’s bowl of soft textures but that’s also precisely its biggest problem, there’s nothing to really bite into when you eat it – I can only guess he ran out of synonyms for toast so couldn’t serve a few slices of bread on the side.

Also potentially setting himself up for textural woe was Aaron, who the show has suddenly decided is cooking dishes inspired by his family and definitely not the incredibly wealthy billionaire that he’s the private chef for… My Dear Show, he’s cooked lobster, veal and duck – that aint family cooking and it was only getting more expensive as he was the Obligatory Turbot Candidate of the challenge, roasting it and serving it alongside a pair of purees. The first a white one made with lemon and cauliflower and the second a black one made with lentils and squid ink – the colours representing the Yin and Yang of his relationship with his girlfriend. He’s very quick to clarify that’s she’s the light and he’s the chaos

The presentation is delightfully cringe and I’m so glad he just went for it, could have done without the multiple dabs he did when the dish went down an absolute storm with the judges though.

Prior to tasting the dish, Marcus had some concerns about the denseness of the lentil and squid ink puree, just the fact it was lentil and squid ink puree should have set off anybody’s alarm bells, but in true yin yang style, it was all balanced perfectly with the lighter lemon and cauliflower puree. I shall not be deigning the cauliflower couscous with a comment as cauliflower continues to be the worst thing to happen to carbohydrates since the Irish Potato Famine.

The only other chef to attempt a main course was Liam who was recreating the first dish he cooked for his girlfriend’s parents – and he did stress that she she was his GIRLFRIEND, and yet Gregg proceeded to call his GIRLFRIEND’S parents “the in-laws” and Liam looked adorably flustered and as though he wanted the world to swallow him whole

which isn’t the biggest change in Liam’s disposition, let’s be honest.

And it was certainly one Hell of a dish to cook for the first time you meet your girlfriend’s parents because instead of cheating and buying a rotisserie chicken from tesco like a normal person, Liam of course roasted a corn-fed chicken stuffed with Black Truffle, pomme puree consisting of 50% butter (aka The Marcus Wareing Special) and a tiny little spring pea tartlet

I imagine the presentation is a sort of diorama of the experience – Liam represented by the lengthy slice of chicken and his girlfriend’s parents being the tartlet and the buttery, buttery, buttery mashed potato. His girlfriend is obviously the creamy chicken sauce that brought them all together. Hey, if Aaron can present a dish in the form of a Chinese Philosophical Concept, Liam can make a roast dinner into a Mike Leigh stage play.
There was also a chicken skin cracker on the side which I’m presuming wasn’t part of the dish when he served it to his girlfriend’s parents because he is still with his girlfriend

My boy, that’s a medical emergency.

The judges love it, obviously – there’s truffle and enough butter to clog the arteries of Tuvalu. It’s absolutely the sort of dish that he could very much win the competition off the back of, or at least Marcus’s misty-eyed speech about how Liam has single-handedly inspired every chef under the age of 25 into being better at their jobs, YOU BUNCH OF SLACKERS.

And so to the desserts where we find ourselves in the throes of a Frangipane Fracas between Ryan and Matt, the latter very much doing his usual thing of putting as much of a hedgerow into his dessert as possible – this time showcasing meadowsweet to give it an almondy flavour instead of using almonds like a normal person and flowering currant which he was turning into a vinegar gel to absolutely nobody’s enjoyment. The part of the dish that do go down well though is his peach stone brulee – which might have garnered more praise had he not served the whole thing looking, once again, like a particularly threatening species of marine life

which might explain the decision to have everyone set it on fire prior to eating it – BE GONE FOUL BEAST!

I believe we may have just officially declared war on the entire Echinoderm kingdom. I for one surrender and welcome our new Starfish Overlords.

The dish was also served alongside an Amaretto Sour and… a balled up tissue?

and if you wanted to know how hard they were bussing Matt out of the competition, the cocktail gets absolutely no mention and there is not a single shot of Marcus Wareing necking it in one gulp like you know he did. I know the balled up tissue was the magic piece of combustion paper, you don’t have to tell me.

Ryan’s Lime and Lemon Verbena Frangipane Tart was a much more elegant affair

however, not much more wildly successful than Matt’s offering. The addition of the Italian Meringue on top, along with the lime gel, making the whole thing too sweet even for Gregg, which is a death blow to anyone’s MasterChef career and then Marcus swooped in to deal the finishing blow by accusing the tart case of being “too biscuity” and not soft enough – I suddenly understand why Daniel’s bowls of soft textures are going down so well with Marcus…

Lastly we have Dan who seems to be slowly finding his feet in the competition – it’s only the final week… His dessert, inspired by his cousin Jake, consisted of a Milk Tea Sponge, Honey Ice Cream, a potentially highly cursed custard crumble and Gimmick of the Year: Miso Caramel – all of it presented looking slightly like a crashed Tie Fighter from Star Wars

it’s the aesthetic peril of giving a dish jagged tuile fortifications.

Flavourwise, the judges thought it was first class, there were just a few quantity issues – namely in that there wasn’t nearly enough miso caramel for the amount of sponge there was – he really should have split the sponge and layered it all. But he at least had the honey ice cream on top of it all.

An Inspiring Dish Ranking

  1. Liam’s Truffle and Butter Bribery
  2. Aaron’s Turbot Cringe
  3. Dan’s Milky Tie Fighter Wreckage
  4. Daniel’s Bowl of Soft Textures
  5. Ryan’s Cloying Frangipane
  6. Matt’s Hedgerow Echinoderm

As it turns out, there are no winners in Love and Frangipane and it is thus Matt and Honorary Series Boyfriend 2.0, Ryan are eliminated from the competition

it’s a real deadly blow to the MasterChef Finalist Tropes as, in one fell swoop, we lose both Forager Extraordinaire and Trendy Looking Guy Who Cooks Classic French Food And Is Now Marcus Wareing’s Self-insert Contestant.

So Chef, Much Table

And so we come to The Auspicious Chefs’ Table where Dan, Daniel, Liam and Aaron will get to cook for such renowned chefs as Lisa Allen, Nieves Barragan and Daniel Clifford Being Insufferable

I’m going to assume he thought it was earlier in the competition because I don’t really think you can say that about the Top Four contestants who have all, by this point, proved themselves as very worthy chefs.

As usual, each chef is in charge of a different course – Dan gets the starter, Daniel gets the fish course that nobody ever really wants, Aaron gets the main course and Liam is on dessert.

For his starter Dan, a man known to panic under the slightest bit of pressure and run around a kitchen like a sweaty bat, was of course making things incredibly hard for himself by choosing to make a trio of dim sum pieces – of course featuring a pork and prawn dumpling as is mandatory in MasterChef dim sum plates. His other two components were much more rarely sighted within the realms of MasterChef – the first being a Turnip Cake that only takes a leisurely 80 minutes to cook, it’s not like he’s on a time limit or anything… His final component was Chicken Feet which he was serving in a fermented black bean sauce and then knowing everyone was going to pull faces the moment they read the words “chicken feet” – he hid them away from the world beneath a rice noodle sheet

to be fair, he had also diced the chicken feet up quite finely so we also luckily weren’t treated to shots of Gregg Wallace wafting around a gelatinous chicken foot while pulling a face, thus starting another Twitter spat with an East Asian dignitary. I will never forget or stop talking about The Rendang Incident.

Dan’s dim sum goes down incredibly well, with the Chicken Feet being most of the diners’ star piece of the dish – and with Dan mostly doing it to try and introduce people to an often maligned ingredient, I think he should be very proud of himself for that. They also marvel at the fact he gave himself a lot of work to do and got it all out on time but if those rice noodle sheets had caused him much more problems he could at least rest safe in the knowledge that Ollie Dabbous was on hand and looked ready to perform some table magic for everyone

Never trust a man that wears more than 1 statement ring, he will ask to guess your card if you so much as glance at him.

Following Dan’s class act was going to be hard but if you thought anyone was going to be able to do it, it would be Daniel cooking another bowl of fish – he was born do it! Of course the star of the dish was yet more Turbot which he appeared to be cooking in the Get Your Own Back gunge pool

at least he wasn’t furiously peeling peas this time?

The turbot was being served in a Mussel Liquor Sauce and this sauce caused him so much trouble as all of the chefs got a real bee in their bonnet about how much they were looking forward to the mussels in this dish. Forget the Turbot and the Prawns, it’s all about… mussels? And so when none of them could really taste the mussels, they all got VERY disappointed. It also didn’t help Daniel that the chefs he was cooking for weren’t quite as taken with his Bowl of Nonsense aesthetic as Marcus and Monica have been

and if you’re wondering what Daniel’s exhaustion levels are, he spent a considerable amount of time badly trying to balance his turbot on top of 2 prawns while Monica looked on in perturbed frustration as he failed to see the logical solution of placing the prawns slightly further apart

Can somebody please get the man a nice glass of a warm milk, every David Attenborough nature documentary he could possibly wish for and a beanbag chair? He has not slept a wink in WEEKS

that is the man on the brink of accidentally serving Monica and Marcus his car keys.

Daniel may have made Aaron’s job on main course slightly easier but with him needing to barbecue his Turkish Saddle of Lamb, the british weather was not on his side – the cut from Daniel wilting his lettuce in a pan to Aaron having a thoroughly miserable time in the rain and looking every bit the piece of wilted lettuce himself, was a piece of editing worthy of Thelma Schoonmaker

but he managed it, with the help of a fire-risk gazebo and his lamb did look like the most divine bit of meat

and there is of course the Imam Bayildi and the “strained yoghurt” (?) on the side too, all based on a trip to Turkey he did with his girlfriend as he fully embraces the late-stage family man rebranding.

The one thing I would have changed about the dish is of course the fact nothing is seemingly allowed to touch one another when in the presence of Aaron – the chefs disagree and think it looks artistic and Michelin Star quality. Please, someone save us from this abstract minimalism culinary epoch. As for how they felt about its flavours, they rave about it something silly and it’s clearly the dish of the day in their eyes – of course it was, it was a lamb main course and this is MasterChef.

It was up to Liam to end the meal on a high note and he was a little out of his comfort zone, admitting that pastry isn’t his ideal place in the kitchen. But nonetheless, he was going bold with his dessert that he was basing on his time in Scotland, focusing on the iconic scents of the Scottish Highlands: Pine and… Tobacco? We’ve had tobacco on the show a few times, most memorably in an ice cream that Gregg described as “like licking an ashtray…. but I liked it?” (Katy Perry’s next hit, right there!) Liam’s use of tobacco was going in his aerated chocolate as he set about making a dessert that felt more like the bottom of a Pick’n’Mix cup than a restaurant dish – you know, except everything tasted a bit like burning Christmas tree plantation.

Due to the fact he was mostly serving little squares of things, including the aforementioned Tobacco Aero, a pine marshmallow and a Brown Butter Ice Cream that Liam was deliberately making as chewy as possible, none of it leant itself particularly well to arranging on the plate

I don’t really understand why they can call Daniel’s bowl of fish “unrefined” and then marvel at Liam’s little pile of bits and call it “strikingly artistic” – except maybe the marshmallow that has been skewered with an ungainly branch of pine – I was disappointed that nobody seemed to try and eat the marshmallow while holding the pine branch – although I refuse to believe Gregg didn’t.

The dish is a little muddled – everyone quite likes the tobacco chocolate and weird butter-Starburst hybrid but it all falls apart when it comes to the pine vinegar that he got a little too trigger happy with – it did at least give us this incredible soundbite though

I’m a little bit angry I didn’t get to write “bullied by the vinegar” first. How dare you Ollie Dabbous, you stay in your lane of potential magic tricks and let me have the nonsense sentences.

A Chef’s Table Dish Ranking

  1. Dan’s Temporally Impressive Dim Sum
  2. Aaron’s Family Man Holiday Lamb
  3. Wherefore Art Thou Mussels?
  4. The Sugary Burning Scots Pine

Nobody gets eliminated after the Chef’s table, which is probably a good job given that the frontrunners both had the weakest courses, which sets them up nicely for a little redemption arc going into the final two episodes.

And so, we’re down to a final 4, which worked out as a very nice arrangement on the Elimination Wall

And if you’ve enjoyed this recap of the MasterChef: The Professionals’s first Finals Week episode and would like to support the blog, you can leave a small donation via my Ko-fi HERE.

One thought on “MasterChef: The Professionals 2021, Episode 16: Starfish Overlords

  1. jillsleight

    2021 year of the miso caramel apparently.

    Also, I’m not too on any social media anymore but I did see your tweets and wanted to just tell you how wonderful you are. I enjoy your writing so much, it’s like a warm hug every time. Hope you’re well today (and tomorrow, and always)

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