I have NO idea where my beautifully crafted notes for Episode 12 have gone, but if I ever find them, I’ll tell you. Guy, Saira, Louise, Drew and Natalie feature, with Saira’s modesty being charming on a show where ego can at times be king. Saira, Louise and Natalie go through to the next stage.
Episode 13 sees James, Barry, Jo, Graeme, and Rachel pitted against each other. There was some scope in the invention test for a dessert, thanks to the inclusion of almond, apricot, ricotta and mint in the ingredients, but all contestants chose instead to use the pork fillet, meaning that more than ever they had to show that they had the skills to differentiate between home cooking and Masterchef cooking.
The degree to which the contestants were able to cook the pork well naturally varied. Graeme had the good sense to wrap the pork in pancetta, which kept moisture in. Rachel went down a similar route, wrapping the pork in prosciutto, but this didn’t work in her favour, as the pork was still overcooked in her case. Barry also did well to keep the meat moist, while Jo’s and James’ fillets both came out dry. Presentation also had its ups and downs, with Jo’s, Graeme’s and Rachel’s looking beautiful, James’ looking watery, and Barry’s looking amateurish. Great imagination was present in the contenders’ side dishes, with Jo serving a garlic and lemon mash (albeit an undercooked one) and a stunning apricot stuffing alongside, while Graeme’s fig, ricotta and olive salad also proved an excellent addition (although his patatas bravas lacked spice due to the limitations of ingredients on the bench). James and Rachel dared to be different with their respective tomato and basil and almond cream sauces, but neither worked well with the pork. Graeme and Barry seemed the strongest at this stage, with the others lagging behind.
The ensuing palate test saw the five contenders trying to recreate John Torode’s scallop and crab ravioli with spiced prawn sauce. The trick lay in the fact that the sauce was strained, and so had no prawn pieces in it to give the contestants a clue ; rice was also unconventionally used as a thickening agent. Contestants could make their own pasta, but didn’t have to. Graeme’s palate was the most impressive, while conversely, Rachel showed her lack of knowledge through essentially putting 5 lots of salt into the sauce thanks to her inclusion of soy sauce, fish sauce, tamarind and salt. Some contestants’ sauces looked nothing like John’s – creamy and herby rather than brown and translucent. Jo’s sauce was too orange and too spicy, but this was the only criticism. Equally, Graeme’s sauce was far too salty, but nothing else was criticised. Barry’s sauce was creamy and lacking in flavour, but he managed to produce excellent pasta. James and Rachel fared less well, however, with James’ pasta looking lacklustre and suffering from having split open ; in addition, the flavours were bland, and Rachel’s dish overall was completely different to what John produced. As a result, these two were asked to leave, with Graeme, Barry and Jo going to work at the Terrace Bar and Grill for the day.
After this, the three come back to cook, with Jo making a fillet of sea bass (served with fennel, kale, leeks, and a ginger, chilli and rhubarb sauce) as well as a Highland surf and turf, using venison and scallops as the main ingredients and carrots, turnips, and blackberries as complements. In the end, her starter didn’t look that appetising, with the fish too pale and big, and the sauce proving extremely pink (nearly to the point of luminosity). The rhubarb was almost lost in ginger and chilli, making the sea bass’ flavour completely undetectable, and the kale, too, did not prove a good match. As for her main course, the venison was grossly undercooked, and ultimately the combination did not work, with the delicate flavour of the scallops being completely overpowered by the rest of the plate.
All of this put her place in danger, and she was in the end asked to leave in the face of Barry and Graeme’s triumphs. While Graeme’s presentation was arguably slightly lacking, both dishes were still enjoyable and of high quality. His classic leek and potato soup was given a twist thanks to the addition of black pudding, and his monkfish and pancetta, served with a sweet and sour red pepper sauce, spinach, and tapenade, was also far from dull. Barry, too, stayed secure thanks to his main course of scallops served with pea purée and chorizo foam (even though the scallops needed more cooking), and despite presentation problems thanks to his messy, watery honey and black pepper sauce, his pan-fried duck with bok choi still held its own.
In Episode 14, Graeme and Barry cooked with Natalie, Louise and Saira for three previous Masterchef winners : Peter Bayless, Mat Follas, and Thomasina Miers. However, they were only asked to cook one course each this time, as there were five contestants in this round, which seems a little unfair given that there were only three people in others.
However, in this episode decision-making was easy. Natalie performed excellently with her pan-fried sea bass, fennel purée, crab bonbons, shaved fennel, and sauce vierge. Equally, Saira’s lamb bhuna with new potatoes, aubergine, tamarind chutney, tomato and onion salad, and crispy onion rice was judged stunning, even though it looked like a little too much on one plate for Masterchef. Even though Louise’s work seemed slightly rushed, her roast duck, served with wilted spinach, pommes purées, chanterelles, caramelized onions, pea purée and Madeira sauce made a traditional roast even more sophisticated.
However, while Graeme and Barry had good ideas, they weren’t able to bring them off in the end : Graeme’s duck breast was tough, his beetroot fondant was too hard (and the brie it was stuffed with added nothing), and his red wine sauce was insufficiently reduced. Only his potato rosti and parsnip purée came up for praise. Meanwhile, Barry also tried his hand at pan-fried sea bass, without being as successful as Natalie, with his red pepper broth pronounced overpoweringly sweet. His additions of asparagus, crab, chive and crushed potatoes also meant that the flavours didn’t work well together and the dish lacked unity – meaning that he and Graeme got sent home. Just in time for John and Gregg to step up the pace next week…