This is now a James from MasterChef fan blog.
I’m always a fan of a chef that gives me the opportunity to draw eyes on some food.
I Am The One Who Gnocchi
Mercifully there is no butchery required for this episode’s Skills Tests – they simply could not pass the Health and Safety inspection a second time. Instead, Anna was starting things off with Sweet Potato Gnocchi and a Hazelnut Pesto, which the first chef, Sagar, managed to get on with pretty well – he did make the mistake of putting too much flour into the mixture so his gnocchi were overly solid, but the dish still looked like gnocchi
Natalia didn’t get on quite so well with the challenge, making the mistake of adding a whole egg instead of just the yolk, which then required her to tip just about the entire jar of flour into the mixture to try and get it to a dry enough consistency
and even then it wasn’t enough as she tried desperately to roll a mixture that could not keep a solid form
and with time running out she just resigned herself to letting lumps of gloopy gnocchi mixture congregate on the bottom of her boiling pan like a tank of goldfish at Pets At Home that nobody wants to buy
and like Pets At Home trying to hide their mutant goldfish shame, Natalia resolved to just burying them beneath greenery
the gnocchi weren’t great but the pesto was perfectly acceptable if lacking a little garlic and Anna admired the fact that despite her gnocchi going wrong, she hadn’t panicked and done anything silly.
A Whole Lot of Apricot
It was a rare and elusive dessert Skills Test from Marcus, with his challenge being to serve up Poached Apricots with Chantilly Cream, Apricot Puree and an Almond Tuile – which sadly nobody thought to serve up like an artistic rendering of a mother duck and her ducklings, like Marcus did
which is a bit of a surprise because Marcus basically puppeteered Ishmael through most of the challenge because he was doing silly things to his Apricots, including trying to poach them in a frying pan
and mostly just boiling the rest of them to oblivion for his puree which sent Anna to her most Irish extreme
because he had boiled the apricots to the point of being just about the same texture are Natalia’s Gnocchi That Would Never Be, he restarted them, using the plasmatic segments in order to bulk up his waterlogged puree, but only after he and Marcus had played a game of I Spy
and thus Marcus Wareing’s vicarious second dessert was born
and given the process, it wasn’t bad – there was a general lack of flavour when it came to the apricots but the more technical sides of the challenge were ok, his Chantilly was well made and the concept behind the tuile was good, he just hadn’t got it in the oven in time so it was raw, but it did give us an insight into Gregg Wallace’s skincare regime
dermatologists hate him!
Marcus didn’t give James quite the same helping hand, not that he could because James was just a never ending stream of consciousness, narrating his every thought and idea like he was using Facebook in 2006 – he had a very strong YouTuber energy and I did expect him to tell me to Like, Share and Subscribe while he tried to whip his chantilly with the biggest whisk and the smallest bowl
I’m actually a little bit in love with him – I’m sure there’s an ancient Greek word for the unreciprocated love between a blogger with too much time and a TV show contestant – Antianteros.
Somehow James did manage to whip up the chantilly cream and his dessert wasn’t bad, it perhaps just wasn’t the most aesthetic looking plate of food as everything cowered under his tuile
but the bigger issue was the fact he hadn’t done any taste testing throughout the process because it’s very hard to put a spoon in your mouth when you’re narrating the cooking of an apricot with the verbosity of David Foster Wallace, so it was a little too sour.
It was a Battle of The Lambs in the Signature Menus, with both James and Sagar opting for the notoriously risky meat that has scuppered many a chef, both professional and not. I did think it was looking a little touch and go for Sagar’s rack of lamb because it was very pink and the fat looked a little unrendered
but there were no complaints about it whatsoever and the whole plate was very well received, particularly the aubergine bharta which could have been its own dish, but while Anna raved about that, Marcus decided to drop the bombshell that he apparently doesn’t like lamb and mint – I feel like you could have told everyone this 8 years ago, how many mint sauces have you had to suffer though!? Luckily he enjoyed it alongside all of Sagar’s other Indian influences.
James was similarly successful with his saddle of lamb because apparently perfectly cooked lamb is like buses, you wait ages for one and then two show up at the same time
much like Sagar, the dish was very well received but the Sweetbread wasn’t quite up to the standard of everything else, but the rest was so successful it wasn’t that big an issue.
Both of them also managed to keep the momentum going into their desserts, Sagar opting for Kheer, a sort of Indian Rice Pudding, which he had topped with a mango and mint salsa and a sesame tuile and served it in a martini glass, thus inventing The Kheertini
it was a very good mix of textures, which is what rice pudding style desserts kind of live and die by, so it was a thoroughly successful round for Sagar.
James had gone for a very similar flavour profile with his Coconut Panna Cotta and tropical fruit salad
the plating probably hadn’t done the panna cotta any favours in terms of setting, with the syrup waterlogging it a bit, but it was still set enough to not have its existence debated, unlike Ishmael’s Passion Fruit Cheesecake Mousse which Anna was having a hard time believing in
as it turned out, she couldn’t perceive the mousse because the mousse was simply just not so much a mousse as it was a blanket of custard
it was a shame that it hadn’t set, because the texture of it was very smooth and would’ve made a lovely mousse had it set – he clearly had some good ideas, and I’ll give him credit for being the first chef to bring Coriander Glass to the competition, for better or worse.
His main course had been a lot more successful with this Jerk Chicken Ballotine sounding like a lovely dish
Gregg had no complaints about any of it, however Anna thought the filling was too grainy and Marcus didn’t think the Chayote (A Jamaican vegetable and not a wild dog, as spell check keeps trying to correct me to) wasn’t serving much of a purpose, although I disagree, it gave me the opportunity to create another little friend
he did that specifically for me.
Natalia, who is the head chef at the Colombian Embassy, was making it her mission to bring Colombian ingredients to the MasterChef kitchen, swapping out the more European berries paired with duck for a gel made from Mora Berries which are in the same family as Blackberries and Mulberries – which the judges really liked! What they liked less was the fact her duck was still raw and there was nothing the vegetables shaped like the Starfleet logo could do to distract from it
should’ve just done the Shepherd’s Pie
I’ve never seen anyone look happier than Natalia when Gregg brought up the pie.
She was continuing the Colombian ingredients into her dessert, with a twist on an Eton Mess, using the same meringue and strawberries but flavouring the cream with Guanabana – a fruit that smells like pineapple, tastes like a citrusy apple, has the texture of a banana and has the most fun name to say
it’s a very retro looking style of presentation – I wouldn’t be surprised to see something similar if I flipped through the pages of a cookbook that includes recipes for jelly salads but it was a very successful dessert for her, with the judges really loving the addition of the Guanabana cream.
A Signature Menu Dish Ranking
1. Sagar’s Battle of the Lambs Victor
2. Sagar’s Kheertini
3. James’s Battle of the Lambs Runner-up
4. Natalia’s Colombian Mess
5. James’s Existent Panna Cotta
6. Ishmael’s Chicken Friend
7. Ishmael’s Existential Cheesecake
8. Natalia’s Inedible Duck
Given the successes of their lamb dishes and desserts, it wasn’t at all surprising that James and Sagar were continuing on to the third Quarterfinal
but I’m a little bit sad that we won’t get to see more of Natalia’s Colombian dishes and I really enjoyed Ishmael as far as a MasterChef personality went, and he clearly has a good idea of who he is as a chef.
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James is like the lovechild of Daniel Radcliffe and Steve Backshall