MasterChef 2023, Episode 16: Chili Antoinette

A tablespoon for the pot, a serving spoon for chef.

Warning, this recap reaches 300-degree hot takes.

Welcome to the mysteries of Knockout Week which involves significantly less hand-to-hand combat and jumping across 4 precarious giant foam balls than I would have liked

at the very least place only 6 main ingredients in the middle of the room and make the 7 contestants in this episode fight over them Hunger Games style – but I do fear that sweet baby angel Robin is losing that battle, I mean he spent most of the episode with a pocketful of nasturtium leaves in his pocket

it’s strong Peeta Mellark energy and I am afraid being able to paint yourself to look like a rock isn’t helping you in this particular arena. (Somehow that was the weirdest plotpoint in a book about dystopian America making children fight to the death.)

And because Gregg was ill, Anna Haugh and the potential threat of her tiny knife were standing in to judge

she was immediately put back in the MasterChef Cupboard once they’d finished.

Signature Style

For their first Knockout Challenge, after which 2 contestants would be eliminated, the contestants had to create a dish that they would like to serve in their restaurant, pop-up or write about in their cookbook. And if you remember this round from previous Semi-finals, NO YOU DON’T, this is Knockout Week and is completely different, but please don’t touch it, that’s fresh paint.

This brief did mean that nearly half the cooks – we were only half a person short – went for the cornerstone of every restaurant, the fillet of beef! All of them managing to serve in them in different ways, Nickolas returning all the way from the incredibly distant feeling Week 1, and continuing to champion the flavours of Latin America, describing his dream restaurant as “Latin flavours with French Execution” – so imagine a chilli pepper in a guillotine, Chilli Antoinette if you will


The other ingredients facing his Napoleonic regime were a Peruvian herb known as Huacatay also known as Black Mint and poblano peppers which are dried out to make Ancho Chillies

and his dish was very success and out of everything cooked in this round, his excited me the most

the Porcini Mushroom Tuiles do make it look a little bit like Rudolph just had a bad accident with a Christmas tree and is now an ex-reindeer. But the whole dish got rave reviews for the well balanced and interesting flavours.

Endang also got very good reviews for her beef fillet dish as she continued to bring flavours and ingredients from Indonesia and as much as everyone enjoyed the luxury of the beef, it was her Rawon Soup-based sauce that got her the most praise

it’s not the most appetising looking sauce but Anna loved the fermented mushroom flavour of it, I think it could have been wetter but I also know the dishes get served cold due to the nature of the filming process so it had perhaps congealed slightly. Mmm, congealed beef soup.

The last of The Beef Fillet Brigade, one of Tennyson’s lesser known poems, was Robin who was going for the most familiar feeling dish of the three – I say that, but there was chocolate which John was worried about

and, I’m sorry to do this to you Mr. “I once ate a chocolate-covered goose” but ROLL THE TAPES

I am wasted on this blog, I could have been a lawyer, I could have been Elle Woods. Or at the very least the defense lawyer that spent most of her cross examination flirting with Gwyneth Paltrow

I have nothing but respect for a woman that runs an interrogation like it’s a dating sim.

But enough about my concept for a lesbian courtroom drama, we have beef to talk about

it was a little hit and miss for Robin – the rarebit and sauce weren’t wowing either John or Anna but both of them appreciated everything else and Robin was mostly just relieved that the beef was perfectly cooked

he way his eyes lit up when John cut into it <3

The two other main courses were from Vanessa and Miles who were both doing poultry – Vanessa opting to do her take on a Butter Chicken Curry and daring to utter the word “deconstructed” which aged John 15 years and had Anna “The Smiling Assassin” Haugh reaching for the tiny shucking knife strapped to her thigh

her reason for doing it though was really interesting as because of her neurodivergence, Vanessa prefers her food to be separated so that she can kind of see everything and taste it individually

the thing is, it still looks like a plate of food which I think is the point most other deconstructed dishes miss. I do however wish it wasn’t just a brick of chicken sitting in the sauce like an ocean liner, I would personally have sliced it or at the very least kept it looking more like a piece of chicken. But flavour-wise, she knocked it out of the park and the addition of the nuts and chayote salad were clever and felt original.

Miles’s grouse dish didn’t quite reach the same heights as Vanessa, although there were parts the judges really loved like the spot-on cooking of his breast and the addition of the Red Currant Caviar (great band name)

also, if I had a penny for every time someone this episode served a blackened cylindrical vegetable I would have three pennies which isn’t a lot but it is weird that it happened thrice

unfortunately for Miles, as nice as the idea of fancy deep-fried grouse legs are, they were a little bit too dry and tough, which is the risk you run of cooking any game bird given that they have the fat content of a broomstick. Miles however was anything but dry

it gives a whole new meaning to “getting spooned”.

Linda and John were both doing desserts, and yes, John’s was sugar-free and he talked about his ideal cookbook which he would like to call “Ronnie’s Refreshingly Unrefined”

which is admittedly a better name than John (Torode’s Version)’s suggestion of “Sweetie John’s” but it is also when the red flags really started kicking in because “Refreshingly Unrefined” has a distinct feeling of the 2014 era of food programming in which everyone was insistently telling us to cook and drink gallons of bone broth which really only makes your house smell like a tannery – I will never forgive the Hemsley Sisters and Ella Woodward for what they did.
As for John’s Dessert, he was making a Custard Tart and Lemon Curd with a sparce few elements of rhubarb

the custard tart was, like most of his desserts, extremely good but the dish didn’t work because as fun as it is to say “kabocha pumpkin sweetener” it’s not quite enough to overcome the sharpness of the rhubarb and the lemon curd. However, Anna did love his “Rhubarb Jewels” and if you want to know why they were called “jewels” it’s because they are extremely precious and you only get two of them

I do find listing something on a menu as “a jewel” is just vague and unhelpful though.

Lastly we have Linda who was adding Moroccan elements to a traditional Bakewell Tart, flavouring it with orange blossom and serving it alongside briouats filled with almond

there was also a Turkish Delight ice cream but I didn’t want to list it up there because I didn’t want it to sound like I was calling Turkish Delight “Moroccan”. Nothing about Linda’s dessert was strictly bad, there wasn’t much of an orange blossom flavour to her (very well made) Bakewell Tart and her briouats were tasty but slightly dry. However John evangelised her Turkish Delight as a revolution of the entire ice cream industry

as someone who is entirely on Edmund Pevensie’s side when it comes to selling your siblings and a weird goat out to a witch for Turkish Delight, with all due respect, Turkish Delight ice cream is already a mainstay in most ice cream parlours – it, alongside pistachio, is my go-to. I’m sure Linda’s was good ice cream but so is all ice cream.

An Aspirational Dish Ranking
1. Nickolas’s Ex-reindeer Beef Fillet
2. Vanessa’s Chicken Brick
3. Endang’s Ro-winning The Over
4. Linda’s Moroccan Delight
=. A Rare(bit) Miss for Robin
6. The Grouse Is Leaner On The Other Side
7. John’s Hoard of Precious Jewels

The first two chefs finding themselves knocked out in Knockout Week were John and Miles

I’m sad to see Miles go, I really liked his cooking style and I would have been slightly curious to see how John would have coped in a restaurant setting cooking food so far removed from what he does but I do think they were the weakest in this round.

Good God Grill Get A Grip

The second round was the dreaded Professional Kitchen, a round that I feel the audience hates because it’s clearly just a 30 minute advert for a London restaurant that sells burnt vegetables for the price of a gastro pub steak dinner – why is John even there to critique the food? But it’s also a round that the contestants get a lot out of, I just think it needs to be reinvented a little bit – I loved the old school MasterChef round where the contestants had to design a dish for a lunchtime service, but they killed it off entirely because the one year a guy designed a rabbit dish so awful nobody ordered it.

This group’s professional kitchen assignment took place at the Spanish-Mexican fusion restaurant, Decimo with their head chef for the day being Peter Sanchez-Iglesias

or as Linda knows him, Actual Satan

he was actually nice – Linda’s arch nemesis was just his 300-degree wood fire grill on which she was having to cook her pork ribs and she was not coping brilliantly with the heat or the stress and every time an order for ribs came through she’d dramatically turn around and look as though she was about to march out into the dining room and serve those diners their own ribs

and so eventually Peter very kindly granted her a grill guardian to help her keep track of them, and I must say the pork ribs in a mole sauce (“mole” being pronounced like you’re dramatically shouting “Molly!” before the Eastenders Doof-doofs)

I make a very bastardised chicken mole at home so now I feel a bit ashamed.

Linda wasn’t the only one to have some eagle eyes watching over her, as Vanessa was under the ever watchful gaze of the unnamed tortilla bodyguard

he was there to protect her because the tortilla machine seemed to have a mind of its own, spitting out tortillas from either the front or back which Vanessa had to catch like an 80s arcade game – her hand-eye coordination was not great and she very quickly ended up with a pile of tortillas on the floor

but once she got to the cooking she was golden and quickly settled into a good pace making her tacos

not to be ungrateful for an abundant taco but I’m sure if a contestant served a taco that full up to John and Gregg they’d have been told it was too hard to eat but I suppose the difference is this is a Michelin-Starred Chef’s Unwieldy Taco.

Robin and Nickolas were on main course duties, the latter immediately endearing himself to Peter purely by getting all of his prep done and volunteering as tribute for the evening’s mise en place

and then wasting the goodwill by trying to hide his scorched pigeon foot under another piece of pigeon like a cartoon character literally sweeping things under a rug

and for dramatic effect Peter removed the leg in front of Nickolas with a single dramatic chop

and Nickolas never made another mistake.

One of Decimo’s signature things seems to be extremely burnt vegetables with Nickolas having to cook carrots in a special Carrot Fire Cage

and Robin having to put leeks through 3 stages of torture – first you burnt the leek but I think the weirdest part was the fact each torrefied vegetable was presented on an individual bathroom tile sample

looking at the menu, it is because you order a main course and whichever vegetables you want but I do think that those blocks are very silly, John however was thrilled by the single block for his one horrible leek

tag yourself, I am the woman in the background.

Robin did struggle a little bit, but he was cooking fish and I think that would be my worst nightmare because there’s such a thin line between overcooked and undercooked fish but he got there in the end after nearly serving one instance of raw fish, which didn’t irritate Peter nearly as much as the moment Robin called him “mate”

leeks aren’t the only things that burn at 300-degrees.

Seeing the service out was Endang with a compressed apple and Italian Meringue dessert that involved branding it with a red hot coal to show it who’s boss

she did have it slightly easier because most of her components could be prepared well beforehand – I genuinely didn’t know you could make Italian meringue so far in advance, I assumed it would go weird. But the main difficulty was that she had to make a perfectly round scoop of lime sorbet in a kitchen that involved Linda having an argument with a 300-degree grill

she did manage pretty well though, and certainly better than I had expected based on how flustered she’s been in a few of the previous rounds.

We’ll have to wait to see how the other half do on Thursday.

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