At the start of episode 2 of Masterchef series 9, we are confronted by four new contestants: Jez, Rob, Ingrid, and James. This is despite there being 50 contestants in this round, of which 5 already played yesterday, making us wonder how the show’s producers plan on spreading them out evenly over the initial stages.

The show began with a somewhat tricky invention test thanks to the inclusion of tofu, which is a bit of a beast to work with, and no meat. This somewhat fazed Jez, a flat-cap-wearing “meat and two veg” man, but pleased Ingrid, who was vegetarian for ten years and knew how to use it. She and Rob were able to use it successfully, with Jez’s attempt produced a blander result. James, on the other hand, bypassed the tofu completely and opted for a mushroom crêpe dish.

Middle Eastern magic from Ingrid

Middle Eastern magic from Ingrid

One element, however, that characterised all of the contestants’ dishes in this episode was the serious effort with presentation by all accounts. Presentation skills cannot, though, override the basics of cooking, as the palate test (which required them to make a pigeon wellington) proved: some contenders still needed further work on the importance of tasting, seasoning, the ability to make basic sauces, and the ability to cook meat well. It was this that got Rob sent home, while the others were sent to a professional restaurant to cook during the lunchtime service. This having gone well, they were then left to make their own dishes for Gregg Wallace and John Torode. The vast majority of them came up with exciting and original flavours and dishes, with Ingrid’s Middle Eastern dumplings with radish salad and beetroot raita being just one example of this. Jez fell behind in this respect, with results revealing that he, like Rob, also lacks basic skills in terms of cooking times and balance of seasoning, and his eviction was another good decision by the judges. However, as previous series have proven, they aren’t always right, so I won’t be holding my breath for consistently good decisions throughout the series. I’m also not holding my breath regarding the voiceover: India Fisher is in the unfortunate position of having to read out a sloppily-written script, with “lentil dhal” being today’s error. What other kind of dhal is there?!

Emily and Dale (from the previous show) then rejoined Ingrid and James to cook for three previous Masterchef champions – Steven Wallace, James Nathan, and Shelina Permalloo. This task was to be the decider for the semi-final, with each contestant cooking two courses. I’m not sure it’s right that entrance to the semi-final should be decided at this stage, as this means contenders are only competing within a very narrow group of people – it seems wrong to have 50 people in the running but to only compete against three of them for a semi-final place.

Nevertheless, this did not stop the contestants from rising to the challenge, with the two boys keeping it classic. Dale decided on a salmon fillet with butter bean cassoulet and Iberico ham, followed by a traditional tarte tatin with crème anglaise; meanwhile, James cooked a chocolate fondant with honey and chocolate chip cream for dessert, preceding this with a deconstructed fish pie (pollock with pollock mash and mussel cream). Neither lost their cool and it was this measured approach and skilful cooking that won them their places in the semi-final. Both attracted rave reviews from the three Masterchef winners as well as from Wallace and Torode. On screen, the dishes looked inspiring, and I don’t think I’ll be able to stop my husband from trying to make that deconstructed fish pie at home.

This round did not go so well for Ingrid and Emily, though. While Ingrid’s menu proved innovative and appealing, thanks to a combination of Indian flavours, there ultimately proved to be just too many mistakes for all of the judges. She lost her nerve slightly when preparing, and it ultimately showed. Even though her dhal was given the thumbs-up for consistency, it lacked a layering of spices, and her cumin lamb was verging on overcooked. Her chai masala tarte tatin was judged too wet and too sweet, and lacked the stick darkness of Dale’s. Her rosewater kulfi was also overly perfumed, and it seems a shame that such an inspiring menu appears to have fallen by the wayside in this manner.

The biggest disaster, though, belonged to Emily: her timing was way off, meaning she initially had to tell the judges her lamb would be late before then deciding she didn’t want to serve it after undercooking it and thinking she would not have time to recover. The judges are given her sauce to try, but even this doesn’t do well: the sauce was flavourful, but the rice was undercooked. Equally undercooked was her lime and chilli chocolate pot, which was also unbalanced in terms of flavour.

This in the end meant that the writing was on the wall. Emily was the first to be asked to leave the show, and unfortunately, due to her sequence of mistakes, Ingrid followed. I felt this to be slightly unfair, and believe that if Ingrid had been judged against a wider selection of the 50 contestants she would have gone through on this occasion. Her creative ideas mean that to my mind, she didn’t deserve to leave so early. Her strong personality and distinctive style mean that she would have been a unique new face on the celebrity chef scene, and hope that she does still manage to achieve some success in the field of food.

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