A bumper edition of Masterchef to review today thanks to three episodes having been transmitted in one week!

Looking at the contestants presented to us in episode 3 – Helen, Ruaridh, Rukmini, and brothers Barnaby and Ollie – and their range of looks and backgrounds, one begins to wonder: how far are winners selected based on marketability? Ultimately the winner of Masterchef is highly likely to go on to become a celebrity chef, so even if the least good-looking member of the cohort was the best cook, what would be the odds of them being selected as the winner? It’s difficult to say how far this comes into play, particularly since talented cook and (to my eyes) highly marketable Ingrid got kicked off the show last week. Unfortunately, Masterchef contestants can find themselves being criticised by the public right from their initial appearance: Twitter users began to snipe about Ollie and Barnaby’s class and background from their very first moments on screen.

In any event, there’s a long way to go until the final and in episode 3 we had classic cook Ruaridh, the innovative Rukmini, and confident Helen, waiting to show us that their grand ideas could translate well into practice. The invention test yielded no desserts thanks to the abundance of chicken and vegetables available on the table, even though desserts would have been possible. Ultimately the results were mixed: Helen’s looked good, but was judged “too garlicky”, while Ruaridh’s chicken came out too dry. Barnaby had the same problem, while Ollie fared better (the quality of his food was deemed generally good, but with too many things on one plate).

India Fisher was back for the voiceover, and had dropped the “bacon lardons” in favour of the correct “lardons”, which several contestants used in their invention test dishes. However, although I can forgive shoddy scripting, I’m not sure I can forgive the mispronunciation of “turmeric”. Why not get her to re-record it? This is supposed to be a food show, after all.

No such complaints plagued the palate test, in which John Torode’s potato pancake, horseradish cream, smoked trout and beetroot salad dish looked wonderful – surely the BBC should be publishing these recipes on the Masterchef website too! The ‘trick’ in this palate test was in the fish, which many contestants initially identified as salmon. However, they were correctly able to choose the trout from the tray to cook with when all of the correct ingredients (and some extras to make things interesting) were unveiled in front of them. The contestants’ approaches to this task were interesting due to their differences: while some were characterised by impressive timekeeping (Ruaridh), others just did what they felt like rather than analysing the dish (Helen). Another ‘trick’ for the contestants to interpret lay in the fact that the potato purée was so finely integrated into the pancake mix that some of them did not realise it was there, and while this was difficult, other plates showed simple carelessness, such as the beetroot salad not being dressed. Those who did badly in the first task also did badly in the second, with Barnaby proving weak again and Helen adding extra ‘garnishes’ of eggshell and fish bone. Unsurprisingly, these two were asked to leave, with Ruaridh, Rukmini and Ollie remaining to enter the quarter-final and undertake kitchen experience at the Cadogan.

The role of the professional kitchen experience at this stage in proceedings still remains unclear. It’s as much a showcase for viewers of the restaurant as of the contestants’ skills, and nothing is decided based on contestants’ performance in this task. However, it proves pedagogically interesting, as some head chefs take a more verbally aggressive attitude to their protégés than others, making us question the validity of certain approaches. One also wonders why more tasks leading up to professional kitchen work (such as a knife skills class) are not given to contestants beforehand. However, I suspect that them being thrown in at the deep end makes for better TV!


Rukmini’s edible garden, complete with bagna cauda

Finally came the test where the contestants get to cook for one last time for John and Gregg. Rukmini’s effort looked straight out of the Fat Duck kitchen thanks to its ‘edible garden’ theme, complete with olive soil. She and Ruaridh both opted for chocolate and passionfruit desserts, with Ruaridh’s main course consisting of a langoustine ravioli with accompanying bisque. Ollie’s dish contained a smorgasbord of flavours: smoked mackerel competed on the plate with toasted brioche, almonds, poached fennel, and mushroom ravioli. While his pâté divided the critics, he was praised overall for the high quality of the flavour combination, while Rukmini’s allegedly did not deliver the intense flavours promised by the presentation. Ruaridh’s ravioli looked classic and homely, but his chocolate dessert had a messy and scruffy rather than professional finish. It was this that ended up showing him the door.

Episode 4 saw Jemma, Scott, Zara, Toby and Claire line up to, with luck, face Rukmini and Ollie in the quarter-final. More desserts came out of the invention test this time, which Claire and Zara sailed through with flying colours. Jemma, Toby and Scott were let down by appearances, although Toby made up for this by cooking his food well, even if it was poorly presented. Jemma’s was judged “too sharp”, and even though the judges said that Scott’s dish “didn’t work”, we weren’t really told why. While I know editing has a part to play, I think viewers have a right to know the opinions that lead to crucial decisions being made in shows like these.

The palate test in the fourth episode saw roasted rice acting as the sting in the tail, as very few contestants knew how to recreate it. Most contestants seemed to do well on this task, although a suggested improvement to the palate test in general would be to show before and after pictures, so that viewers can see more closely how their efforts correspond to John’s. We saw Jemma and Scott leave after this test, with Toby proving a dark horse in his ability to replicate the dish (a glass noodle salad) so well.

Zara, Claire and Toby then got to cook for the judges one last time, with Zara’s choice of pancakes for dessert being panned by John and Gregg. They were right to be doubtful: her whole ensemble looked too “home-cooked”, and ultimately not proving enough for this level of cookery. This got Ruaridh sent home in episode 3, and the same fate befell Zara for this reason. However, Zara’s quickness to burst into tears and react to stress also would not augur well in the pressure-cooker world of professional cooking, so it was probably best that she left at this stage.

Toby, too, had issues – mainly with palate clashes, but also with basic skills, such as his potatoes not being cooked enough. He too was sent home, leaving Claire to face Rukmini and Ollie in episode 5 thanks to her excellent ideas and general potential. She was the only one who deserved to stay thanks to the others’ lack of consistency, making for another good decision by John and Gregg.

Episode 5 proved a “diet version” of Masterchef in its half-hour format, with the only task being for them to cook for three past Masterchef winners (Steven, James and Shelina, as in episode 2). Rukmini chose to serve mackerel three ways: smoked, in ceviche form, and grilled. This was to be followed by peach and lavender arlette (essentially a more avant-garde version of a millefeuille – not looking forward to that inevitable mispronunciation this series). Claire went for a classic fish course followed by chocolate mousse, while Ollie’s menu set out to reinvent the classic tarte tatin.

The inconsistency that plagued Toby in episode 4 went on to afflict Claire in episode 5, with her fish being well-cooked and her mousse being a delight while her fish sauce and orange tuile fell short. Ollie’s ambition affected his main mildly, but won applause with his pear tatin. Rukmini proved a triumph thanks to her unified concept and amazingly palate-cleansing dessert. In the end, Claire’s tuile disaster cost her a place in the next round, and so far, Ingrid seems to be the only great casualty of this series of Masterchef, with all other contestants having been fairly dismissed. We end this week looking forward in particular to seeing what Rukmini will cook next time, and which culinary terms will be mispronounced…!