MasterChef 2022, Episode 16: Symbolical Bowerbird

Me 2 minutes after placing an order for a tiramisu.

It’s semi-finals week and John Torode has apparently stepped into his worst nightmare.

For the first round of the much anticipiated and seemingly never coming Semi-Finals, the 10 remaining contestants were, admittedly rather cruelly, being thrown in the deep end by being tasked with running a full three course restaurant service between them for 20 past-MasterChef contestants who may not have won but have all gone on to have their lives changed

I would still like to know if Brodie Williams specifically designed lingerie shops or of he was a lingerie designer who happened to own a shop.

I appreciate what this challenge was trying to do – obviously this would usually be the Professional Kitchen Round but because of the pandemic (which is still going on by the way) they couldn’t really do that – and also, we’ve been complaining about the professional kitchen round being the most boring round of the competition and wishing it away… so I’m sorry to all 10 of this year’s semi-finalists for making said wish on the Monkey’s Paw

this was *all* my fault.
I did like that they had to design their own dishes for this round, which they used to have to do in the vintage MasterChef seasons until someone ruined it by making a dish that seemed to be purposefully designed to sound as off-putting as possible and they only got like 3 orders the entire service, I wish I could remember who it was but I distinctly remember it being Prawns and a Pork Chop.

However, there is a HUGE difference between having the contestants going into a restaurant to cook dishes that they have been shown the process of and told how to go about preparing and plating it up while surrounded by professional chefs as opposed to having 10 people, who mostly have no idea who each other are and who have mostly only ever cooked in their home kitchens for as many people as they could fit around a dining room table at Christmas try to work as a well oiled machine all while having John Torode inch ever closer to having a full Vanessa Gold style meltdown

it wasn’t the most fun series of events to watch, however the light slowly fading from John’s eyes as things got progressively more and more out of control was *a little bit* funny.

A False Start

Kicking off the proceedings with their starters were Olayemi, Pookie and Eddie – who for the most part all got on pretty well – the only issue being that Pookie plated up her first dish a little too early and John said this which did make me gasp at 20:25 on a Tuesday evening

apparently there is a certain part of me that is possessed by the ghost of Mary Whitehouse.

If I had to do any of the courses for this challenge, I would probably have wanted to do the starter because you can get away with going quite simple with it – however none of them were resorting to a Caprese Salad or a Cup o’Calamari. But of course Pookie wasn’t going to go simple, they day Pookie makes Bruschetta that doesn’t come served as a three act play will be the first sign of The End Times. Pookie’s dish was a take on Thai Basil Chicken which she had titled “My Bird’s Nest” because she was serving her chicken on a little nest of blue rice which was giving me some Bowerbird realness

as well as the symbolical bowerbird, she was serving a confit egg yolk with egg white mousse which was all going to be served in an egg shell as a sort of reconstituted egg – and despite the rather threatening sounded Egg White Mousse, Gregg mostly wanted to know how she was going to serve an egg on a plate without it falling over, which meant she had to explain the concept of an egg cup to the man

admittedly when she said “it’s like your head!” I did think she was telling Gregg that his head looked like an egg, and after all you cannot spell “Gregg” without “egg”.
And with the presentation being so conceptual, it was tricky to plate up, especially lowering the confit egg yolks into their newly allocated shells, which did result in one new addition to the Curséd Egg Gif Archive

but she did eventually manage to get all 5 of her orders out

as everything is with Pookie, it’s a whimsical delight – and the addition of the yellow and Wasabi Roe on the top to further the egg theme was a cute touch!
The diners really loved it, especially Yui Ming who loved the mix of authentic street food flavours with the fine dining aesthetic, meanwhile Hannah Myles took one bite and saw her entire life flash before her eyes

this is what happens after John spends 5 weeks begging people to up their spice levels.

Olayemi’s starter was the most popular and I can’t blame everyone for being drawn to the Ox Cheek Ravioli in a Red Pepper Broth – although it was cruel of the 8 diners who ordered it to force her to make 24 ravioli

I was worried because the broth looked very thin and pale so I wondered if it wasn’t going to have enough flavour, however that couldn’t have been further from the truth because everyone raved about the pepperiness and the hint of scotch bonnet that will be found in every single one of Olayemi’s dishes like a game of culinary Where’s Wally?

And lastly we have Eddie, who you knew was going to excel in this because his introductory walk came with its own Jesus Light the likes of which we haven’t seen since Alexandra Burke sang Hallelujah

and yes, Eddie seemed to merrily skip along through the round without John Torode having to tell him off even once, and he wasn’t exactly playing it safe with his starter that involved having to cook fillets of Brill to order, which he was serving alongside Mussels and Vada Dumplings in a South Indian Broth

it’s a dish that does, for me at least, read as more of a main course, which is fine, if there’s one thing I will campaign for it’s bigger starters, do I have your vote in the next general election?
But more importantly it’s incredibly well seasoned and just a phenomenally well thought out dish.

Overall, the Starters came together pretty well and lulled John into a false sense of security

this cheerful demeanour would not last.

The Main Issue

On Mains were Sarah, Holly, Farokh and Radha – so at least they were given the reprieve of having more people and so fewer dishes to individually contend with given that main courses tend to be more process heavy and have more individual components. Also helping them was the fact that between the Starter and the Main Course one of the diners clearly left because things only began adding up to 19 – which hopefully wasn’t the result of anyone’s starter…

This was where things began to fall apart a little bit – although I thought Sarah coped phenomenally well despite having quite a lot of stuff to do with her very posh sunday roast – after all she did have an airport hangar of pigeons to prepare

as well as making beetroot crisps, bramble gel and celeriac fondants

but she got it all done and even with the emergency re-cooking of one of her pigeons she seemed to stay on time and get all her dishes out when they were supposed to and looking very tasty

and with everyone raving about how well cooked her pigeons were, the only real complaint that could be made about the dish was the fact her beetroot crisps were a little bit flaccid

and while that would potentially have warranted elimination in many other rounds, it was pretty forgivable when she was in the same kitchen as Farokh who was seemingly intent on burning absolutely everything he put in a frying pan – which as frustrating as it was, by about the third time when Farokh was busying himself with plating up while his frying pan smoked away in the background as John pointed out it was burning, it had escalated to comedic levels of absurdity

Farokh’s style of food doesn’t really suit these fast paced, highly stressful situations – he seems like a pretty chill and sedate cook so when he pulled this face as John told him an hour had already passed you knew he was in for a rough ride

as to whether Farokh or John, who seemed to have aged 30 years between Pookie’s Premature Egg-ulation and Farokh burning the third frying pan of black pudding, was having a worse time could be debated for a millenia.

As for Farokh’s dish, he was doing pan-fried pork tenderloin which he was going to serve with Pickled Apple and Black Pudding. Needless to say you could have pondered how he would serve this up for an eternity and probably never landed on Cell Cycles, because yet again Farokh continues to confirm that he is a contestant made by an algorithm that has only read my recaps, because he was purposefully designing a dish to look like it’s from a medical textbook

He even referred to himself as “Porky Sisyphus” which is distinctly my energy

he is the Leech to my Juggernaut, I am powerless in his vicinity. I am trusting that we’re all well versed in the high art cinema that was X-men The Last Stand, yes? Good.

With Farokh’s dish being mysteriously only titled “Cell Cycle” there was a lot of talk about what on earth it would actually be which I think let the diners build it up quite a bit in their heads, so they were a little disappointed when they were presented with a plate of Trypophobia, which was also giving me Daya Betty’s finale wig

it’s obviously not the dish Farokh had envisioned, which is sad because he was so excited to make it for everyone but again, I think Farokh’s food is much better suited to a more intimate, personal dining experience. Would I absolutely love to watch him make this dish while he lectures me on Cell Cycles as some sort of weird piece of theatrical performance art? Yes, I very much would! Actually, Farokh’s Mystery Science Kitchen sounds like a great travelling show, I’ll start the crowdfunder.

Farokh wasn’t the only one getting creative because Holly was putting her own spin on a Scotch Egg – mostly by taking the sausage casing of the traditional Scotch Egg (which is the best part of the Scotch Egg) and swapping it with a Prawn and Scallop Mousse which now makes it the worst part of the Scotch Egg, not least of all because of the strange greenish hue

slightly concerning mousses aside, she was also also serving them alongside a seared scallop that managed to escape it’s ill-fated moussing, charred asparagus and a Mimosa Beurre Blanc – the latter of which seemed to pique everyone’s interest and caused a lot of people to order it to see what the yassification of a Beurre Blanc Sauce would taste like

as it turns out, the mimosa beurre blanc was a surprise hit, however sadly things weren’t going quite so well for her Scotch Egg with some diners getting questionably raw mousses and Gregg getting an egg that he insisted on wibbling around for all of us

it’s the price you pay for an ostrich egg-sized Scotch Egg.

The last of the main courses was from Radha who was very much sticking to the K.I.S.S. (KEEP IT SIMPLE STUPID) method

and by that she does mean that she was going to making more vegetable spheres

Hey, you’ve gotta get a gimmick! I eagerly await the publication of her recipe book “Around the Globe in 80 Koftas”, I will happily write the Forward.

This week’s Vegetable Spheres of Choice were Jackfruit Dumplings which she was serving in an Onion Masala Tikka Sauce and with a helping of Crispy Masala Chips, a Puri Bread and Almond and Black Pepper Rice

with hers being the only veggie option there were of course comments about how “I didn’t miss meat at all! It tasted like a very good Butter Chicken!” which always grates on my nerves a bit – Michael, you ate one meat-free dish, you’re acting like you just went 40 days without water, calm down. But it was a very successful dish for Radha and I think a very clever one, it seemed like a lot of it she could make during the prep time which meant she stayed firmly on track throughout the challenge even with the Farokh-shaped obstacle in the room.

Their Just Desserts

On desserts were James, Ioan and Thomas – and if you thought John was irate during the main courses, by this point he had lost his damn mind

I suppose it would be a little harder to get a Gordon Ramsay-style meltdown through the censors.

The desserts probably required the most precise serving dynamic, mostly because both Ioan and James had decided to make ice cream with their desserts, and unfortunately the MasterChef Kitchen Poltergeist had decided to at last make an appearance and possess the ice cream machine because by the time James came to serving his was unfortunately still a liquid, which did mean that the chocolate shell that was originally meant to house his Hazelnut Praline suddenly became a vessel for the liquid ice cream – which somewhat took away from the theatricality of his Definitely Not a Ferrero Rocher dessert but I did like his chocolate swirlies that looked like the language the aliens in Arrival speak

and John had had to give up on quality control by this point so James was just serving roadkill Valentine’s Day chocolates

and cramming gold leaf onto them in the hopes that it would cheer everyone up a little bit

It did not.
In his favour though was the fact everything tasted lovely, with his praline being particularly well received but those of whom hadn’t thrown it on the floor by accident

and the fact it’s appearance is almost indiscernible from the fully plated version is potentially an issue.

Ioan’s ice cream fared slightly better, mostly because he had managed to contain it in an actual bowl which meant his dessert didn’t look like it has been hit by a truck

except for this one specific Sticky Toffee Pudding that did look like a cat had been using it as a scratching post

and that’s where John was drawing the line in the aesthetic sand so it was promptly sent back, where Ioan took all his frustration out on a perfectly innocent sticky toffee pudding

I did however love it when Ioan asked John if he would like him to plate up another bowl of what-we-shall-generously-call-ice-cream and John, VERY rudely, just walked away and Ioan did a Jim Halpert style look to camera

safe to say that nobody was having a lot of fun in this group, which is a shame because Ioan’s dessert sounded really good! Sticky Toffee Pudding is always going to be a crowd pleaser and the addition of the apples was nice, and I’m glad that everyone at least enjoyed the flavour of his Celeriac Ice Cream, I just wish he had been able to serve it up as an ice cream and not a root vegetable slush.

And lastly we have Thomas and if you had told me to guess which contestant would push John the closest to walking out of the kitchen and into The Thames, I think I would have literally guessed every other name before Thomas, so never rely on my for betting odds. The biggest issue with Thomas was the timing as every time John asked him how much longer his dumplings would be he would just say “two minutes” and sadly because John Torode isn’t secretly Chronos, the personification of time, he was not able to grant Thomas an infinite amount of 2 minuteses – but he was able to see his entire life flash before his eyes

I also don’t think it was helping that Thomas seemed to be working mostly in the back room so he couldn’t actually see John and I’m not entirely sure he was quite aware as to how badly James’s fight against the ice cream machine was going.

But after however many two minutes it took and how many of John’s final nerves had been frayed, Thomas managed to plate up his Dumpling Duo – one filled with black sesame and coconut, the other with peanut butter and coconut

the diners, completely unaware of the chaos in the kitchen, raved about good the dish was. Much like Farokh, but for different reasons, I’m not sure Thomas’s style suits a professional kitchen – I would love for him to make some sort of culinary autobiography because his food and his life sound super interesting and I would love to know more about that – he talks so fondly about his father and how all of his food is inspired by him and I think it would be lovely for him to get the opportunity to put that into writing and immortalise it forever.
And I think what this challenge did well, is having the diners be past contestants who mostly didn’t even reach the semi-finals but have gone on to do incredible things in their post-MasterChef careers that aren’t running or working in professional kitchens, to show that there are those options for these contestants.

The Outcome

The challenge was obviously frustrating and I think it needs some significant retooling if they decide to do it again in the future because for just about everyone to struggle this much suggests that perhaps they weren’t as well prepared or briefed on quite what the process of a restaurant service was – which is perfectly understandable. And what I did notice is that the outcome was based much more strongly on the quality of the food they put out than on their work in the kitchen, so really this challenge could probably have just been another “you have 80 minutes to make us a plate of food” challenge and the outcome would probably have been the same but probably not have left at least 2 people with severe ice cream based PTSD. This did mean that Thomas had rather a lucky escape, with the two eliminated chefs being Holly and Farokh

I personally think that because this challenge was so far out of their wheelhouse it shouldn’t have had an elimination, or should have been done much further down the line so it’s frustrating to lose two contestants off the back of it, but alas.
And if you want to see what they go on to do you can follow Holly at HollyParnell on Instagram. And then Farokh is (obviously) ICookWeirdThings, and he has posted what his Cell Cycle pork was meant to look like – and spoiler alert, it has helpful diagram arrows now.

And in the grand tradition of the blog, they must both be removed from the Elimination Wall

If you’ve enjoyed this recap of MasterChef 2022’s first semi-final episode and would like to support the blog you can donate to my Ko-fi account HERE!

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