MasterChef 2023, THE FINAL: Treasonous Onions

And they all lived happily ever after.

What shall we do with a drunken scallop?

A Three Course Race

Having faced off against 3 fine dining restaurants, a hoard of fire fighters and a pair of brutally honest Turkish grandmothers, it was time for Chariya, Anurag and Omar to put it all on the table

we are all agreed that Chariya is the slightly chaotic blob monster able to mould itself to any situation

Anurag is the octopus with enviable eyelashes that’s able to juggle 10 spreadsheets worth of culinary process without breaking a sweat

and Omar is the huggable bear that wears cute outfits, right?


As ever the Grand Final was a three course menu, with the time limit generously upped to 3 hours and for what feels like the first time in quite a while, nobody had a heartbreaking mishap in the final round – all the menus were pretty much solidly perfect, which was a bit of a surprise because on paper Omar’s dishes should have been an unmitigated disaster AND YET because of his distinctly Omar-ish black magic somehow the Scallops with Fries, Mango and Chinese Rice Wine Broth worked perfectly

this might honestly be the dish of the series for me and made me genuinely for a minute think Omar was in with a shout of winning – it’s clever, it’s not like anything we’ve seen on the show before and it was well presented – John will indeed be holding onto the MasterChef branded hip flask in order to cope with whichever drag queen tries to steal him away from Lisa Faulkner on the next series of Celebrity MasterChef

it better be Cheddar Gorgeous – just for the puns.

The theme of Omar’s menu was A Night to Remember – the starter being called “Drunken Scallop” as a nod to getting absolutely wasted, which might have been key to its conceptualisation now that I think about it. (TV Pitch: MasterChef: Functioning Alcoholics.) Naturally following a night fuelled by blue-flavoured WKD and whichever Bacardi Breezer the bartender thought you were pointing at, comes the emergency take away to attempt to curb the inevitable hangover – Omar’s mithridate of choice being Beef in Black Bean Sauce. But it couldn’t just be your bog standard Beef in Black Bean Sauce, no Omar had to add black cherries to it

John and Gregg were both a little worried about the cherries but ultimately they worked because of the winelike flavour he’d managed to get into the black bean and cherry sauce. But truly the star of the show was the great big hulking piece of beef cheek

it’s one of my favourite cuts of meat and my God did his look magic.

Ultimately seeing your grand night out is… Well, I don’t know but Omar seems to think it involves a parsnip

I do feel like Omar kind of came into this off the back of a bit of a rough week and kind of knew he wasn’t going to win so he was able to let loose and swing wild with Chaos Salad Scallops, Wine Paired Black Bean Sauce and A Parsnip Split

everything about it reads as a main course and it unnerves me immensely – especially with the amount of components containing cumin but by all accounts it was a very nice dessert – the only minor issue being that the roasted parsnips were a bit dry but when you’ve got a Cumin Butterscotch and Parsnip Semifreddo (none of these words are in the bible), I don’t think it matters *that* much that something is a bit dry.

Anurag’s meal also had an overarching narrative – his being the food he grew up with and each dish was themed around a different Indian Festival. It is always a bit of a risky angle to take because you have to hope that your own nostalgia goggles haven’t clouded your judgement, and I was a little worried about his first course being Golgappas because Anurita served the same dish earlier in the series which John and Gregg weren’t overly enthused by and eliminated her over

however Anurag’s did offer slightly more variety and was essentially three courses in itself with there being two savoury options and a sweeter option of strawberries, orange juice and Cava which kind of makes it a Mimosa Papadom

and the Holi festival inspired presentation is incredibly pretty

although slightly ruined by the fact the MasterChef shot glasses are not made for pouring

but John and Gregg were much more positive about this iteration of the golgappas – even if John never quite got the hang of the pronunciation.

For his Main course Anurag was making a Lamb Rogan Josh with more side dishes than I thought would be achievable in the time – but it suited the theme of dish which was Pakriti, and I suppose the easiest way of explaining it is essentially that’s the Indian concept of Mother Nature

he wanted to put on a feast with this dish and my God did he, Gregg was particularly appreicative

and I wouldn’t have been surprised if there wasn’t any lamb shank left for the crew to nibble on because it looked insanely good

I’m sure the shifty looking floor manager at least gnawed on the bone for a little bit

the rest of the crew could make do with the treasonous onions that had had their heads mounted on spikes

very Ned Stark coded.

Seeing out Anurag’s menu was a Moong Dal Halwa, a traditional Indian dessert made from from yellow lentils and served as a beautifully simple nod to the Diwali Festival

there was also a bowl of Rabri Ice Cream, which I had misheard on the night as “Rubbery Ice Cream” and was very worried about how John and Gregg would feel about that texture, but it’s not actually ice cream that you can bounce like a basketball (although there’s a challenge) and Rabri is just a condensed milk based dessert from India that’s flavoured with the usual suspects: jaggery, pistachio and cardamom which paired nicely with the saffron, fruits and nuts in his pudding.

Lastly, but by no means leastly, we have Chariya who was continuing to champion the flavours and dishes of Northern Thailand, which sadly did not include whatever this Elder God of fried food is

Thailand is top of my list for dream holiday destination purely for the food markets.

It may not have been deep-fried Cthulhu but Chariya’s sort of Thai Taco made from lotus tuiles and filled with a coconut jelly, fried prawns and pomelo was as good a start to a menu as any

the intention was that it should have been eaten in one bite but she may have slightly overestimated the size of even Gregg’s mouth on this one

but who’s going to complain about being given too much taco?

Chariya’s main course was a number of dishes all served on a traditional khantoke pedestal tray

the main component of the dish being a take on a Kaeng Hang Le, an extremely popular speciality of Northern Thailand, however hers different in that it wasn’t being made with pork, as she’d swapped it out for Wagyu beef because someone else was paying for it and apparently it’s her God given gift to never mess up a Wagyu beef steak

and once again it was perfection from Chariya, with the rest of the meal, including Nam prik ong, sticky rice, a jackfruit salad and scallop crackers, being a pitch perfect showcase of the food of Northern Thailand as well as her own culinary journey and point of view.

Chariya’s dessert was a bit of a departure form the theme, being more of a take on the classic British combination of Strawberries and Cream but instead of being inspired by the likes of Wimbledon, it was a nod to the fact she used to be bought an annual strawberry

I was a bit worried that another of my favourites was about to dash their hopes on the jagged rocks of an Eton Mess, I could simply not relive the trauma

but thankfully there was not a single meringue involved in Chariya’s Strawberry and Cream lifering

and of course there was a bit of Thai Basil in the strawberry sauce, just to keep the running thread of her theme going

and you can’t really go wrong with strawberries, cream and pistachio flavour combination.

The Final Decision

It’s almost a bit of a frustrating final three because I think any of them would have probably won a previous series off the backs of these menus and I think they truly did reach a level akin to the MasterChef: The Professionals final menus. I know a lot of people find that frustrating and even I’ve griped about it a bit but then you get to the final and you have to just appreciate what this show does. Sure the format and challenges can feel a bit tired but I have to applaud them for resisting the full “gameshowification” of the franchise because ultimately it’s a competition that the culinary world takes incredibly seriously or we wouldn’t have people like Clare Smyth, Fatih Tutak or Peter Sanchez-Iglesias giving it the time of day and I’m so glad they do because the thought of someone like Anurag languishing away as an accountant when he’s this good is so incredibly unjust. So as long as it’s offering an avenue to a culinary career for people like Anurag, Chariya and Omar who would have struggled to get through the door any other way, it can be as tired as it wants to be because it’s doing a net good for the world.

But there does have to be a winner and I don’t think there’s a single alternate universe where Chariya doesn’t win

it was her series to lose and given that she’s absolutely unflappable there was no way she was going to let that happen – I think she’s probably had the most perfect run on MasterChef you could possibly achieve and I’m sure she’s been training for it like Rocky Balboa for a few years now so I’m glad it’s all payed off so spectacularly well for her.

That’s not to say Anurag and Omar didn’t put up a good fight

Omar has been one of the best menu conceptualisers the show has ever seen, he might struggle in a restaurant kitchen but I fully believe he could design a killer menu for a Michelin Star Restaurant and Anurag has been so sincerely in love with food and it showed, he’s been one of my favourite MasterChef contestants of all time just for the way he spoke about food her was cooking.

And that’s it for the class of 2023! I know some of the recaps were a little delayed but I hope you’ve enjoyed reading them as much as I’ve loved writing them this year, and if want to leave a small tip on my Ko-fi, you can do that HERE.

And then we had A Winner…

TOP: Anurah, CHARIYA, Endang
MID: Jack, Omar
BOT: Robin, Terri, Vanessa

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