MasterChef 2022, Episode 10: The Great Almond Desert of Southern California

Covid era package holidays have got a bit strange.

It’s the 4th week and the riddles of the MasterChef Kitchen slowly unravel: When is a taco not a taco? What happens if you cook a premature dessert? Why aren’t Poached Pears illegal?

Audition Time!

We’re entering our fourth week, which does mean that it feels like Pookie and Eddie both cooked a whole year ago – it’s very Drag Race: The Never Ending Season vibes, who will be The Jorgeous? Time will tell. And apparently this isn’t the last group of contestants, which really begs the question as to whether we can call them “quarterfinals” if there’s five of them?

But it does mean there’s 9 new contestants to get to know and if you’re wondering who my early fav is, I often pick them based on how much meme potential they have, so when Vanessa pulled a face that looked EXACTLY like the Lisa Simpson meme, I was all aboard the Vanessa hype train

and thankfully she didn’t disappoint with her Jerk Chicken, Pickled Cabbage and Rainbow Salad topped Roti

the plating slightly confused John and Gregg because they took one look at it and could only see a taco like it was culinary Rorschach test. And because of its (apparent) taconess, John thought it lacked sophistication which I don’t think is true? It looks pretty, according to Aroma Expert Meg it smelled great and I could see this being served in any number of cafés. And in fact, a very nice restaurant near me called Cornerstone recently posted a very similar dish, so there’s that. It might not be what you expect when it comes to high-end fine dining, but I don’t think that should explicitly be the aim of MasterChef? If you want to cook like you’re opening up a casual, beachfront café, that’s valid and I support you.
And while John Torode discoursed about the sophistication of the not-taco, Gregg had demolished the whole thing and could only look at his plate like a cat that ate its Dreamies too quickly

so I think we chalk that up to being a success for Vanessa.

John did however get all of his fine dining wishes from Evy who created a very dainty Butternut Ravioli topped with Seared Langoustine Tails and accompanied by a bisque and baby spinach

at first I thought the decorative leaves were all the baby spinach in the world and I was about to go all Meg Ryan in You’ve Got Mail on Evy for listing it as a key ingredient

but there was more lurking beneath the ravioli.

Both John and Gregg admire the ambition of reaching for fine dining food, and for a homecook she did extraordinarily well, but there’s a few issues with the pasta being uneven and her langoustines needing some butter. John and Gregg’s relationship to butter is tumultuous and I cannot make sense of it.

Evy wasn’t the only one doing pasta, as she was joined in the venture by dental nurse Carly, who I am obligated to support because she’s from Sheffield – and she’s delightfully charming. Unlike Evy who made her ravioli the focal point of her dish, Carly was making tortellini as an accoutrement to her pan-fried sea bass. The dish was a slightly confused plate of food, and Carly had clearly put technique before concept (which, I fully get and don’t think is necessarily a bad thing) so the thankless tortellini was joined by fennel puree, leeks and shiitake mushrooms

her sea bass is cooked perfectly though, the slight shifting of the skin being completely forgivable. The pasta is a little too thick, John all but yeets the mushrooms off the plate and her white wine sauce was a little too sharp. So maybe not the strongest dish for Carly, but for all the stress of having to get used to cooking in the alien environment of a TV kitchen, I think she did pretty well.

Jamahl was also cooking sea bass, but his was being covered in panko breadcrumbs and sesame, which was enough for John to deem it “Asian” – I have touched that hot kettle too many times already this series. John and Gregg did have a few worries about the concept of Jamahl’s dish given the *le sigh* Asian Sea Bass and the fact he was serving it with a Fondant Potato (or onfsnt potatp if you’re me trying to type this up before you’ve had a coffee) as well as a minted pea puree, pickled radishes and a ration of white wine sauce

if you squint, it’s kind of a take on fish and chips with the coated fish, the pea puree, the vinegary radishes and the fondant potatoes – so conceptually, great! It just didn’t reach a technical high – his sea bass was perfectly cooked however the breadcrumb coating wasn’t crispy and John had more difficulty cutting through his fondant potato than Vanessa did a completely raw butternut squash

Vanessa is both incredibly charming and highly threatening – she and Ioan can have an arm wrestling match to settle the biceps war.

It was a bit of a seafood heavy episode, with James taking on the risky task of cooking scallops – and because he’d made the BBC shill out for the scallops, he was having to make his Black Pudding croquettes with the cheap black pudding

this does of course mean that MasterChef is back in its Scallops and Black Pudding bag – James however wasn’t going the full retro hog and doing Pea Puree (remember when that was the most groundbreaking MasterChef would get? Simpler times.) Instead his scallops were being served with Crispy Shallots and an Apple Caramel that John and Gregg were a little apprehensive about

I very much appreciate the fact he wrapped the scallops in bay leaves because it makes them look like the Pokémon Sewaddle

and if there’s a simple way to my heart, it’s to make your food look as much like a Pokémon as possible.

The dish mostly goes down very well with John and Gregg who are both surprised by how good the apple caramel is and they appreciate the dish as a whole, but do think the scallops needed a touch more colour to them. My biggest issue is the plate he used, it’s clearly a starter (scallops evolved exclusively to be on starter menus, we will not debate this) and I think a smaller plate would’ve just pushed everything slightly closer together and made it look more complete, but I would absolutely order this on any menu in a heartbeat.

Meg, being a vegan, had to really buck the seafood theme (I say “theme”, 5 out of 9 savoury dishes were fish, I just needed a segue) and so for her vegan dish she was roasting a cauliflower (which thankfully everyone has finally given up on calling “a cauliflower steak”) and serving it atop some crushed Bombay Potatoes, tamarind apple slivers, coriander oil and as many pomegranate seeds as she could manage before her brain finally told her to stop

Gregg complained about the presentation of the dish – I really don’t think it’s *that* bad – I think the oil just needed to be a little more precisely placed and the pomegranate seeds perhaps limited. It was no worse than anyone else’s.

The big issue with the dish is the texture and the fact everything is a little mushy, the cauliflower being particularly disappointing to John

personally, I love a cauliflower that’s reached that point of being almost fudgey in texture, but I understand that sometimes I am wrong for my food preferences. My name is Ariadne and I like room temperature ice cream and thus have no right to write about food. I’ll write a full Notes App apology later.

She might not have done as well as she hoped in this round, but she did perform very well as The Aroma Expert

not a single dish went by without passing the Meg Aroma Test, we thank her for her service.

Meg wasn’t the only one separating themself from the pack as Oli finally joins Eddie in the creation of a rogue dessert. Pulling from his Italian heritage he was making a Cantuccini, which is basically the OG Biscotti. The Grana Padano and Rosemary Cantuccini was being served alongside a red wine poached pear and some very ambitious whipped mascarpone, which he was at least quenelling

if there is one dish I could outlaw from MasterChef, it would probably be Poached Pears – I’m just not sure they’re very competition worthy – I get that they’re kind of a classic, but they’re kind of a classic because everyone made them at dinner parties because they required minimal effort and supervision

John and Gregg do bring up that the only real technique they can pay attention to is his Cantuccini, which is thankfully extremely good and the combination of the Grana Padadno, Rosemary and Red Wine is at least interesting and innovative but the pear is a little bit too hard and probably should have been cored so as to soak up more of the red wine and allow it to get softer.

After that dessert interlude, we return to main courses, for which Bhavina was hoping to rectify the currently not-so-great track record held by meatball curries, hers being a Lamb Meatball Curry served with Pea and Cumin Rice and a salad, which she was serving in the most beautiful tiffin boxes

it’s a lovely looking dish, and the judges rave about it, especially the layers of flavour and Gregg finds it very hard to stop eating it, ultimately finishing the entire curry – which did make his whole thing about worrying that he was glamoured by a tiffin box a bit weird? It just felt a little dismissive of the effort Bhavina had put in, and thankfully John did call him out on it.

Lastly we have Thomas, who is a retired Interior Decorator, so it’s a pity we won’t be seeing him on Interior Design Masters next series, because I feel like we should be maximising the amount of Thomas we get on TV – get him on Britain’s Best Home Cooks, Bake Off, Sewing Bee, Re-reboot Changing Rooms, have him host The One Show – he’s lovely

I will protect him with every fiber of my being.

For his dish he was making a Singapore Chicken Curry which he was serving with Roasted Aubergines, Jasmine Rice and a pineapple salad, which certainly gave John ideas and expectations

keep it in your pants, Torode.

The addition of the pineapple did lead John to expect a very spicy curry – to be honest, John just reads the word “curry” and seems to think it should have a heavy amount of chili heat and completely ignoring the fact a lot of curries are more aromatic and heady rather than, in his words, “blow my head off spicy” so he was a little disappointed with the subtlety of Thomas’s curry, but did praise his presentation – I am particularly fond of the cucumber landing strip

Gregg is more of a fan of the dish, and likes the combination of flavours and is therefore, in the eyes of the Judicial Thomas Stan Court, the only correct judge – it’s a turnout for the books.

An Audition Dish Ranking

  1. Bhavina’s Tiff-WIN
  2. James’s Swaddled Scallops
  3. Thomas’s Accidentally Tantric Pineapple
  4. Vanessa’s Not-Taco
  5. Evy’s Refined Ravioli
  6. Oli’s Cantuccini
  7. Carly’s Sea Bass and Thankless Tortellini
  8. Meg’s Plate o’Mush
  9. Jamahl’s Seabass and Onfsnt Potatps
  10. Oli’s Quenelle of Mascarpone
  11. Oli’s Illegal Fruit Salad

There was a clear stand out from the group with Bhavina just about being given the apron the moment they tasted her curry, and she was VERY pleased with it

Yes, we do stan. And it’s besides the point, but her brows are immaculate and I am very jealous.

And joining her in being spared from having to cook a second time are Evy and Thomas, the latter of which is just vibrating with the excitement of getting a brand new apron

He is too good for this world, we do not deserve him.

Sweet (or Savoury) Redemption

Well at least we finally know what happens if you cook a dessert in the first round – I mean, it’s not exactly solving the mystery of the Voynich Manuscript but it’s nice to confirm that you would just have to cook a savoury dish. So while everyone else tempered chocolate, baked pastry or churned ice cream, Oli was pan-frying fish, which I’m sure made him VERY popular.

It was nice that he was using Pollock, it’s a fish we don’t see very often and it’s also nice that we’re calling it Pollock again – remember that weird rebrand Sainsbury’s attempted when they started calling it “Colin” like it wore a brown tweed blazer and worked in the finance department? The big thing with Oli was that they were hoping to see a lot more technical skill from him


And in order to show this he was serving the pan-fried Not-Colin with a potato puree, Braised Chicory, two (2) green beans, an aoili and a Fish Stock Foam

I really like the presentation of the dish, I find the fact it looks a little bit like a stick fort to be quite charming – and it’s certainly a dish I would probably order. For the most part John and Gregg are impressed – the fish is certainly perfectly cooked and seasoned very well, the potato puree however isn’t quite up to the same standard as it’s a touch lumpy because his potatoes could have cooked for a little longer. But it’s all certainly several steps up from his fancy fruit salad.

Meg was also hoping to rectify her earlier mistakes, and like a team of sled dogs going on strike, was promising NO MORE MUSH

that is my stupidest joke to ever flop on Twitter.

I was a little worried for Meg going into this round because looking at her Instagram, she doesn’t do a lot of desserts – and I know a lot of vegans who themselves don’t really do desserts because they’re quite hit and miss – especially when serving them to non-vegans. I apologise, we’re fussy awful people.
However, she was going to have to make one and her dessert was a concoction of Cherries and Chocolate, including: Dark Chocolate Biscuits, Dark Chocolate Ganache, Dark Chocolate and Sea Salt Shards, Cherries in Thyme Syrup and a Cherry Sorbet

the sorbet is a delight – it’s sharp, it’s punchy and full of all the cherry flavour you could possibly hope for – and those cherries in thyme syrup sound divine. The chocolate aspect of the dish falls into the pitfall of all being a little bit one note – I appreciate the attempt to vary it with the sea salt, but with dark chocolate I imagine it was a little heavy. This does mean John spends a while talking about how he needs a neutral flavour, and he was very much internally screaming for a bit of Chantilly Cream but was thankfully polite enough not to say it out loud.

It was also VERY RUDE of the editors to cut from Oli beautifully piping out his potato puree to Meg accidentally dripping chocolate all over her plate while piping her ganache

Shady editors.

Carly was also contending with dark chocolate with her Dark Chocolate and Orange Tart, which is apparently her daughter’s favourite

and the story about how she has dinner parties with her family every friday instead of a take away was adorable? And now I shall be trying to blag myself an invite.

The tart is a little hit and miss – the pastry is great but John and Gregg have issues with the the fact the “mangled orange slice” on top made the middle of the tart a little soggy, but Oli had some reassuring words for a slightly disappointed Carly

Not the reassurance I think he thought it was, meanwhile Carly prayed for someone else’s demise

she’s lowkey iconic and I cherish her all too short a stint on this show.

Carly’s biggest chance of being safe was with Jamahl, who was attempting the ever risky Chocolate Fondant (although given we’re like 3 for 3 on perfectly gooey Chocolate Fondants, I’m not sure we can call it risky anymore?) – and yeah, Jamahl’s bring us up to 4 for 4 on the internal goo scale

but despite the gooey middle, the dessert is a little bit dry because he served it with The Great Almond Desert of Southern California

Trend Alert: Fondants and the world’s entire supply of nuts. First Michaela takes pistachios from us, now Jamahl has robbed us of almonds. If somebody takes Macadamia nuts from me, I shall have a middle class breakdown.

For a brief moment, I did think James was also making Chocolate Fondants, and there is nothing I love more than a gladiatorial chocolate fondant grudge match, but it turns out they were Sticky Toffee Puddings, which at one point did look like they had attained sentience and were trying to make a bid for freedom

I also love that he made four, when he would only need to serve two – gotta think about your snack for the train ride home.

A Sticky Toffee Pudding obviously lives and dies by its sauce, and I was super interested in James’ as he was lacing it with Cider Brandy and it looked GLORIOUS

yes, please and thank you. It might be the perfect dessert? And I mostly admire the fact that Gregg didn’t call it “a hole in one”, but he might not have been privy to James’s golfing background by this point. I expect there are more golfing jokes on the horizon.

Lastly we have Vanessa who was probably taking the biggest risk with her decision to make choux buns, which are famously more temperamental than chocolate fondants and all too frequently don’t rise as much as one would hope. She was also going that extra mile by adding a craqueline topping – and I have to give a special shout out to John Torode for trying his best to pronounce “craqueline” with a french accent, just about swallowing his tongue and butchering the word so badly the subtitler got it wrong

More John Torode vs The French Language please.

Vanessa wasn’t going to leave anything to chance though and watched her choux buns like a hawk competing on the Great British Bake Off

I would like to know the importance of the cooler bag in this moment?

She needed them to rise as she was hoping to stuff them with a mixture of Chocolate Hazelnuts, Banana and Whipped Cream and OH BOY was she stuffing them like a backstreet Victorian surgeon who just accidentally severed a vein with a pair of garden shears

I could have made that sound a little more appetising, I guess, because the end result was pretty phenomenal

and very Pacman

this is what you get when I write these on less than two coffees, I am so sorry.

John and Gregg love it, especially the decision to pair it all with the Miso Caramel – it’s just a very professional looking dessert and the risk definitely paid off big time.

A Redemption Dish Ranking

  1. Vanessa’s Pacman Choux Bun
  2. James’s Sticky Toffee Booze
  3. Oli’s Lone Fish Fort
  4. Meg’s Cherry Sorbet
  5. Jamahl’s Almond Desert and Accompanying Chocolate Oasis
  6. Carly’s Terry’s Chocolate Tart
  7. Meg’s Dark Chocolate Melange

Vanessa, James and Oli all clearly upped their game and recovered from any minor faults in their previous dishes and were easily through the next stage. As for the final apron, it really came down to a decision between either Carly or Jamahl because Meg really didn’t have the best day in the kitchen – which isn’t surprising consdering she walked head first into the biggest TV Competition Curse

NO! You never say that! The entire universe will turn against you if you do! HAVE YOU NEVER WATCHED REALITY TV MEG? It’s a shame that Meg got eliminated, she makes some really great stuff on Instagram where she seems to be thriving, so if you want to go and keep an eye on what she does and support her, you can find her at OffTheEatenTrack.

As for the decision between Carly and Jamahl – I think it came down to the fact Jamahl took bigger risks, so unfortunately it is goodbye to Carly

and I don’t believe Carly has an Instagram, or I cannot find it amongst the Carly Rae Jepson stan accounts – it’s rough being a Carly on Instagram apparently, my sympathies to the Carly community.

And so, Jamahl, Vanessa, Oli and James join Bhavina, Thomas and Evy in the next round!

And if you’ve enjoyed this recap of MasterChef 2022 and would like to support the blog you can donate to my Ko-fi account HERE!

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