Episode 15 saw a change of pace, with 6 cooks (Larkin, Dale, Shivi, Sophie, James, and Saira) being sent to cook for 200 maintenance engineers at Heathrow, with such mass cookery seeming to me to be good preparation for professional cookery. The cooks are not appearing chronologically, so it makes the viewer wonder if they have been sorted according to their general ability.

The two teams (Sophie heading up James and Shivi, and Saira leading Larkin and Dale) have two and a half hours to create 2 savoury dishes and a pudding for the engineers. Saira’s team prepared sweet and sour pork, bœuf bourgignon, and sticky caramel and pear sponge. Meanwhile, Sophie’s team made lamb and apricot tagine with couscous and root veg, salmon balls with tomato sauce & roast potatoes, and lemon posset with frosted raspberries. Sophie’s team seemed to be working on dishes individually, which John sees negatively, as Saira is more involved with her team’s work. While Dale’s beef is going dry. Sophie’s posset sets well, and ultimately everybody is ready on time.

There were ups and downs all round with this. The tagine meat was dry, while the couscous was wet, with the good flavours lacking boldness. Equally, the tasty salmon balls lacked craftsmanship in the sauce, and the sweet and sour sauce was unbalanced in favour of the sweetness. The boeuf bourgignon also proved disappointing, lacking more of the delicious sauce. This was further mired by dry mash and underseasoned spinach.

Sophie’s posset was more like a mousse (with posset being more liquid) and some could find it overly sweet; Saira’s plum sponge, however, was an instant hit.

Back in the kitchen, the contestants were still in their teams, in which they had to invent a breakfast dish, before cooking it 20 times. The weakest cooks then faced a cook-off to stay in the running. Contestants had a range of smoked fish, bacon, eggs, vegetables, cheese, bread, and fruit with which to cook. Both teams went for a savoury option, which was a bit disappointing, as Sophie’s group had a really good American pancakes idea which fell by the wayside.

During the hour’s cooking time, John provided interesting tips for the amateurs and the viewers, such as not using lemon juice instead of vinegar when poaching eggs, as this breaks down the egg white irretrievably. Viewers are also left to ponder the amateurs’ wacky decisions: why choose to make a hollandaise sauce when you know you cannot do it properly, for instance? Saira’s team was better at time management, although both finished on time. Consistency was also key in this task, and Sophie’s team fell down in this regard with their poached eggs, which were served with smoked mackerel, hollandaise, and homemade ketchup on toasted ciabatta. The judges pronounced the mackerel flavour ultimately too bold for this combination.

Larkin, Saira and Dale stuck to a more classic plate, serving their poached eggs with smoked salmon, spinach ciabatta and hollandaise sauce, with a chive garnish. Even though their hollandaise was a bit thick and greasy, it wasn’t bad overall.

Happily, though, the judges based their next decision on BOTH challenges. Sophie and Dale meet Shivi and James in the cook-off thanks to their previous errors, while Saira and Larkin go straight through to the next round. The cook-off involved one hour and one dish – at the end of which 2 contestants out of the four would get to stay. Contestants had to make the dish using the same ingredients as were available for the breakfast task.

James seemed in danger in this round due to his American pancake batter not being thick enough; similarly, Sophie plans a dauphinoise that she doesn’t really have enough time for. This was just the first error in a catalogue of them for Sophie: the lemon juice, used for her lemon spinach, caused the vegetable to lose water, with the judges recommending lemon rind instead. The dauphinoise (served with smoked haddock) wasn’t cooked as well as it could have been and overall the dish lacked unity, which resulted in Sophie getting sent home. James’ dish of blueberry pancake, maple cinnamon walnuts, and summer berry coulis was also judges mediocre, and he went home too.

This left Shivi’s mushroom and spinach ravioli, which she served with walnut and thyme pesto, candied bacon, and burnt butter sauce. She suffered the same problem as Sophie (mushrooms and spinach both release water) but still managed to squeak through. Dale’s errors were more minor: the pasta he made to construct his duxelles ravioli (served with grilled mushrooms) should have been thinner, and his tarragon butter was a little greasy, but was otherwise delicious.

It seemed a little cruel to position already winning contestants on the other side of the same room and have the newly inducted go over to them in front of the losers. Larkin, Saira, Shivi and Dale go through to the next round. To determine who they will meet next, Episode 16 saw Farhana, Rukmini, Dave, Louise, Natalie and Ollie come under scrutiny. They were tasked to cook for 200 firefighters, with vegetarian dishes also being specified this time among the meat dishes and desserts. For team 1, Louise prepared a plum sponge pudding; Natalie made a poached haddock and prawn pie; and Ollie cooked a ricotta and spinach pasta bake with lemon and nutmeg. In team 2’s corner were Dave, cooking chickpea and aubergine tagine with lime couscous; Farhana, making butternut squash and chicken curry; and Rukmini, preparing an exotic fruit cobbler. Natalie made an assertive leader, while Dave’s team lacked communication and time management. There were other problems too: Farhana tried hard to please, but her confidence was unconvincing, while Rukmini was also panicking.

The dishes received mixed reviews with the fish pie, pasta bake and curry all doing well. However, the tagine was reviewed poorly, serving as ‘rushed afterthought’ according to the judges. Both desserts were also successful.

After this, the contestants remained in the same teams, and were asked to cook the same task as yesterday’s contenders, staying on the breakfast theme. However, it seems a shame to cook 20 plates and not have them eaten – could John and Gregg not have had all the previous winners or semi-finalists round for brunch?

Ollie acted as a decisive leader, with the team finishing their scrambled eggs and smoked salmon on toasted sourdough with roasted cherry tomatoes and sour cream on time. While Gregg didn’t like the inclusion of the sour cream, their dish otherwise was well-received. However, Dave, Farhana and Rukmini’s dish (poached egg served on garlic and parsley mushroom and fried seed bread, with spinach sauce and crispy bacon) looked rushed, unfinished, unappealing, and lacking in uniformity. However, despite the overuse of garlic and lemon, John Torode thought it tasted good, and praised the textures too.

Natalie and Ollie were put through at this stage, while the others competed against each other in a cook-off. Each cooked one dish in competition for one remaining place, which didn’t seem enough given that two people went through on the previous day.

Rukmini cooked an excellent plum brioche pudding with pecan brittle, spiced cardamom custard, and berry compote, proving her consistent skills. Farhana’s smoked haddock Scotch egg, potato rosti, pan-fried mushrooms, spinach and peppers had Keeper rubbing his hands with glee (he LOVES Scotch eggs) but the judges said the whole thing lacked a unified concept. Louise’s open lasagne pasta was too thick, but everything else in the dish (sautéed mushrooms and tarragon cream) was lovely, even though she could have dished up more sauce. Dave’s bread and butter pudding (with cardamom custard and caramelised pecans) was also pleasant but ultimately proved too dense in texture. His mistakes throughout the contest meant he lost his place. Despite Louise’s and Farhana’s high points in the two team challenges, they too were sent home, with Rukmini justifiably being put through.

The week’s final episode saw contestants creating one show-stopping dish over 90 minutes. Of Rukmini, Natalie, Saira, Larkin, Dale, Ollie, and Shivi, only four semi-finalists would be left at the end. Saira went the street food route with her pakoras, stuffed parathas, and lamb kebabs, served with coriander, chilli & lime dipping sauce, tomato and onion seed chutney, and masala tea. While John says the pakoras could have been crispier and smokier, and her paper bag presentation could have been improved, Gregg loved the whole thing.

daleEqually due for praise was Larkin’s guinea fowl, black pudding and lobster smoked paella with citrus air. Even though his lobster was slightly undercooked, everything else was applauded. Rukmini also made only one error by undercooking her partridge breast (which was also served with confit and rillettes, gorgonzola mousse, caramelized pear, walnut and rocket moss, pear and pink peppercorn relish, pear purée, and a red wine sauce). Dale’s highly original chicken burger (served with coleslaw, fries, barbecue sauce, chicken lollipops and crispy chicken skin) could not be faulted either. This was also true of Natalie’s roast pigeon, orange braised lentils, and celeriac purée, which was served with griddled chicory and roasted hazelnuts.

Ollie went down a similar road to Rukmini, serving partridge three ways, but with more errors. Gregg was not wowed by his partridge tenderloin, breast and confit leg, which was served in a Parmesan and parsnip basket with a quail’s egg, pear purée, hazelnuts, kale, and a mulled claret sauce. The deal-breaker for John was the taste of the egg yolk with all of the other ingredients. Shivi’s venison was served two ways (loin and rissoles) was a savoury millefeuille, celeriac purée, beetroot, glazed carrots, cassava, and a chocolate and tamarind jus. Unfortunately, the jus just didn’t marry well with the celeriac, and more seasoning was required. Because of this, she was asked to leave along with Ollie and Rukmini, with only Natalie, Larkin and Dale being put through. These three will compete with Saira for their place in the final. Four will therefore become three – meaning that the pressure is really on.