MasterChef 2023, Episode 2: Open Plan Pasta Concept

Shrek (2001, dir. A. Adamson & V. Jensen.)

Corn ribbed, for your pleasure.

Playing Idol

For their first themed brief of the episode, set by William Sitwell, the quarterfinal hopefuls were set the challenge of cooking a dish inspired by a famous chef that has influenced their cooking style. Sadly the likes of Nigella and Delia Smith went unrecognised – I would personally have either done Nigella and made sure to say “Microwavé” or honoured Delia’s immortal hummus

but I was glad that Matthew was leaning into the camp of TV chefs and honouring Ainsley Harriott, I was less enthused by his truly terrible Ainsley impression that the caption writers had no faith in

at university my first year flat kitchen had a shrine to Ainsley on the wall – I can’t remember why, but I do remember it winning us a pub quiz because the tie-breaker question was to find the strangest object we could (it was a weird quiz) so one of my flatmates sprinted back to the flat and the pub quizmaster was truly baffled by the cardboard box with a votive candle and pictures of Ainsley glued to it. We won $50 – it wasn’t really worth it because we did lose our deposit from the marks it left on the wall and I am so mad I cannot find a picture of it, but I hope I’ve painted enough of a visual image of the Goodricke Flat A2’s Altar.

Matthew was at least being much less unhinged (depending on how you feel about slates) with his Jerk Chicken and Macaroni Cheese

that chicken looks amazing and by all accounts it was, the only thing marginally letting the dish down was the fact his macaroni was a little dried out despite having three different cheeses in there

but I don’t think you can really complain about macaroni cheese as a side dish – it’s good no matter what.

Uniting the judges over a dish was a just about impossible task in this challenge, Matthew was one of two chefs to get unanimous praise, the other being Woei and his Ching He Huang inspired Braised Beef and Noodle Broth

it was also nice to see that the pressure cooker can be tamed because thankfully his brisket was properly cooked down to that deliciously sticky and slightly jellyish consistency. It’s a great looking dish and the one I would probably gravitate to on a menu.

Jonny wasn’t trying his chances with the pressure cooker this time with his Pork Belly Tacos inspired by the Roy Choi’s Kogi Taco food trucks – the first food trucks to ever earn someone the title of Food & Wine’s Best New Chef in 2010 and it plays nicely into Jonny’s love of Korean food. His twist on it being a topping of Monster Munch which had to be called either Flaming Hot Corn Snacks™ or Bad Lads™ due to BBC reasons

and William Sitwell was of course quick to mention that he very rarely encounters Monster Munch Flaming Hot Corn Snacks™

he’s a Tyrrels Vegetable Crisps man through and through.

Things didn’t quite go to plan for Jonny with his plating technique only being able to be described as “a flinging of onion” with the plate being in desperate need of a wipe

it probably wasn’t the most well thought through plate of food with the the whole bit of pork belly, skin included, being a little bit difficult to eat in a taco – shredding it or just removing the skin would have made it easier and would have stopped John Torode demanding you subject your pork belly to unreal beauty standards and shave it

the moment he held it up with the light catching the hairs like Rafiki announcing the birth of Simba I knew it was curtains for Jonny

his only real hope for survival was the fact Vanessa had decided that for her Ixta Belfrage inspired Porcini Ragu she was going to add Blueberries which made William and Gregg look as though they were about to throw her in an insane asylum

and I thought it was going to be a bit of gimmick and she was going to blitz like 10 blueberries into the sauce. NOPE, she just dumped a whole punnet of them in there

and come to serving, her dish did look a bit like an alien cephalopod giving me the beady eye(s)

and then even more worryingly the Porcini Ragu was introduced as the Blueberry, Chocolate Porcini Ragu – it’s probably not a great sign when your fancy mushrooms are being made out to be the support act to your Blueberry and Chocolate headliners

William and Gregg were a little exhausted by the not like other girls ragu, although it wasn’t really the blueberries that were the issue as Gregg’s throat sounded like it was clamping shut from the sheer amount of black pepper going into it. However, John was willing to defend the dish on the ground that it was certainly going to be talked about and no publicity is bad publicity, UNLESS YOU DON’T SHAVE YOUR PORK. Her pasta was well made though, so points for that, I guess.

Terri and Nickolas were both going for culinary big guns – Terri opting for Gordon Ramsay and Nickolas deciding to cook a bouillabaisse inspired by Keith Floyd and sadly he wasn’t committing hard enough to the bit and hadn’t come to the kitchen wearing a bowtie or with 4 glasses of wine under his belt

the reviews were mixed – his rouille hadn’t really worked but his cooking of the langoustine, turbot and red mullet was at least commendable but the actual sauce needed to be a lot thicker. Terri aso had a few struggles of her own with her Gordon Ramsay inspired duck dish

some of the duck was a little borderline and John wasn’t overly keen on letting it anywhere near his mouth

but despite that, it was at least well rested so it hadn’t bled all over the plate, which honestly after last year’s visceral duck track record was a real achievement. Her self invented Miso, Soy and Maple Sauce was also a little hit and miss, John and Gregg thought it was a little bit too powerful, William Sitwell however was in love with it

a little bit too in love with it

clean up on Aisle Sitwell.

Lastly we have Zoe who was going for a vegetarian mezze inspired by Ottolenghi as a nod to her favourite party food, including maple roasted celeriac served in a raw cabbage leaf and my new nemeses: Corn Ribs

it’s a quarter of a corn cob. The corn cob is not connected to the back bone. I just think we’re kind of over that whole vegetarian stigma of having to pretend that vegetarian options are “like meat” – they’re not, and that’s a good thing! Celebrate the fact you’re vegetarian or prefer a vegetarian option, you don’t have to hide it behind meaty smoke and mirrors. That being said her 1/4 of a corn cob were the best part of the dish with nobody except Gregg being particularly thrilled about having to try and eat a chunk of celeriac out of a raw cabbage leaf that was less ergonomic than Jonny’s unbendable tacos.

A Famous Chef Inspired Dish Ranking
1. Send Beefy Noods
2. A Less Unhinged Shrine to Ainsley Harriott
3. Duck, Gordon!
4. A Disappointingly Sober Keith Floyd
5. Corn Bones and Cabbage Leaves
6. Hairy Pork Tacos, Anyone?
7. I Cannot In Good Conscience Support Blueberry Pasta

The bottom 3 were clearly Zoe, Jonny and Vanessa – the latter at least having the merit of trying something a bit bonkers and Zoe’s looking like a lot of work – not that Jonny didn’t put a lot of work into his tacos but the lone taco did read as visually simple and with the slightly sloppy plating and unergonomicness of his hairy pork, he was eliminated

I was sad to see him go because he was so passionate and enthused by the process and I found his food to be genuinely interesting – I probably would have ditched Zoe at this point because it felt like we’d seen everything she had to offer and it just wasn’t playing well on the show.

Ready Layer Two

Their second challenge was also a themed challenge, which I think might be becoming a bit of a problem because it starts to feel a lot like the contestants are cooking things they think they should be cooking and not what they want to cook – I am a strong proponent of the invention test and think every episode should have at least one of them because I think they give a stronger sense of who the chefs are and what they’re capable of (and also keeps MasterChef: The Civilians and MasterChef: The Professionals distinctly separate), but alas, they’re leaning into themes with this challenge’s being Layers – like a lasagne, a trifle or an ogre

as should have probably been anticipated, this did mean that 3 of the 6 contestants were cooking Mille Feuilles, 4 if you count Zoe because what is an Open Lasagne but a depressed mille feuille?

I could have bet a cool £50 that Zoe was going to do an open lasagne, there’s a distinct energy about her. John and Gregg were both a bit worried about how wet Zoe’s open plan pasta concept was going to be because it consisted of crab meat, mussels and tomatoes but it didn’t look like that was going to be much of a problem when she cremated her tomatoes

which she, probably sensibly, didn’t end up using but her second batch didn’t quite reduce down enough so her Pasta Jenga mostly tasted of quite acidic semi-raw tomatoes.

As for The Three Mille-Feuilliers: Terri was at least throwing a curveball by going for a savoury pear and goat’s cheese mille feuille

this makes me anxious, and not just because of the basil ice-cream which I am too nice to say explicitly what it reminds me of

there’s a cognitive dissonance of knowing it’s not sweet but the whole thing still looking like a dessert – although John and Gregg were conflicted about whether she had achieved true savoury because John thought it still tasted like a dessert – but Gregg’s idea of a dessert is apparently snorting icing sugar like the stunt double for the bear in Cocaine Bear

so anything less sweet than that doesn’t count.

Matthew and Nickolas were both keeping things sweet and simple because unlike Terri the two of them were going nowhere near attempting to make their own pastry. Matthew was remaining in his Caribbean wheelhouse because it’s served him well so far and it’s hard to mess up a mango and coconut flavour combo

it’s hardly the most refined mille-feuille in the world but John and Gregg were both very complimentary about the amount of work he’d put into it and the fact he got it all done while still tasting good.
Nickolas’s effort was a little more traditional, and you know it was traditional because he pronounced everything with a roaming French accent, but he had, in the grand tradition of many a high end chef, forsaken generosity for aesthetics with his two (2) tiny dollops of Rosé and Raspberry Coulis

there was a little bit of contention between John and Gregg – Gregg loved that there was enough icing sugar covering the top if it to count as its own layer. John had a few issues with the the patissiers – particularly the pistachio one, which I am pretty sure is just the vanilla one with chopped pistachios stirred through it and I’m not sure that truly counts…

but texturally, the whole thing worked and there is a nice theatricality to a mille-feuille.

Vanessa was keeping her brain farts to a minimum this challenge and going through with a very straightforward Chicken Biryani although somewhere along the line she noticed the 3 mille feuilles and Zoe playing Pasta Buckaroo so she decided she wasn’t going to cook her biryani in layers, as is traditional, she was just going to layer it up before serving it

Gregg and John were not convinced by her biryani hack, but Vanessa was going to Gaslight, Gatekeep, Girlboss her way into the quarterfinal by any means necessary

I am truly obsessed with her, and at least John and Gregg were thrilled with the taste of her metaphorical layers – assuming we all take “dusty turmeric rice” as a compliment.

After the first round, Woei was looking like an obvious choice for the quarterfinals and then he self-destructed in a glorious blaze of Gochunjang Cottage Pie – which probably would have been fine if he left it there, then he kept just listing elements: courgettes, aubergines, mozzarella, bechamel sauce – the final straw for John and Gregg being the Japanese Coleslaw flavoured with Bonito Flakes and Honey which there was as much of as there was pie

it’s like my average Deliveroo order collided with a gastro pub and unfortunately nobody survived.

A Layered Dish Ranking
1. Terri’s Cognitively Dissonant Starter
2. Matthew By Default Really
3. It Was A Metaphor
4. Nickolas’s French Accented Mille Feuille
5. An Open Concept Lasagne
6. Woei’s Everything Pie and Chaotic-Evil Salad

Unfortunately Woei kind of screwed the pooch on that salad and was the first contestant to be eliminated ahead of the quarterfinals

and leaving just after him was Zoe

and Nickolas was so relieved to get through I was sure he was about to vomit like an over excited dog

as much as I would love to see him kind of fail his way upwards through this entire competition, I think the ones to watch for the semi-final are Matthew and Vanessa – Terri is really good but I find her food to be a little bit uninspired and the thought of Nickolas trying to serve up 8 plates of food is already causing me severe anxiety.

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