MasterChef: The Professionals 2013 – the semi finals

The Staff Canteen

MasterChef: The Professionals 2013 is heating up. The Staff Canteen is following the contestants’ progress closely with a series of blogs from food blogger Danny Kingston aka Food Urchin. This week Danny looks back at the semi finals ...

Chefs and cooks alike have all suffered the ignominy of laboriously producing a dish and then having it fail spectacularly on them. I know I have and the memory of serving up a flaccid, soggy terrine to twenty supper club guests still sears and causes me to wince every time I think back on it. Pressure in the kitchen can do terrible things. It can make you forget to put gelatine in stock for instance.

So when David fell at the last hurdle on MasterChef this week, my heart sincerely went out to him. That his dessert literally disintegrated before his very eyes was bad enough. But to have to put it under the nose of pudding face himself must have been a real killer.

A tragedy in fact and everyone felt really bad and I don’t think I have ever felt quite so depressed watching telly before. Thankfully, the feeling didn’t last too long because Mr Gregg Wallace soon eclipsed any sentimental gravitas that the show was trying to build.

“Whallop! Oh mate! You wot! Mate, that is great! Cuddles mate, you’ve just given me chocolate and butter cuddles! That looks like a leek window box with flowers sprouting aaht of it! Mate! MAAAAAAAATE!”

Yes the former greengrocer, errant restaurateur and now professional diner certainly excelled himself with his ridiculous overtures at the start of the week. For here is a man who doesn’t give a hoot about technical ability, he just wants a proper high end feast. And he certainly got one.

Luke’s beef fillet poached in coconut milk was beautiful and soft, earning him the platitude of being “a clever, clever boy!” Stephen’s chocolate and cherry sounded simple but was in reality quite complex and a “pudding lover’s delight!” And Scott’s ‘Summer in the Park’ – a dessert based on a jug of Pimms - shone with real light touches and left Gregg feeling “REALLY IMPRESSED!”

Alas, Mr Shouty wasn’t that happy with Adam’s undercooked fish and weird clay potatoes so he had to go, along with a visibly gutted David. With Gregg out of the way, the semi-finals then got started in real earnest as the last six competitors were paired up and sent off for a trial by fire at a double-Michelin starred restaurant.

The first pair, Adam H and Stephen headed to Heston Blumenthal’s Dinner in Knightsbridge to work under the tutorship of Head Chef Ashley Palmer-Watts. Given that there are 170 covers at Dinner, the shift was, as you’d expect, extremely busy. And the level of cooking was very precise and scientific, as you would also expect from the Heston school of thought. But the boys did well, punching out plates of frumenty and turbot in metronomic fashion.

The occasional slip up came in the form of a bruised leaf or a fillet of fish cooked to 52C and not 42C (good grief, the difference it makes!) but they kept on track and Ashley even tipped them a wink or two. Back in the MasterChef kitchen, Adam and Stephen then proved that there was a gnat’s cock between them in terms of execution and ability. Michel even went so far as to say that you could cut the air with a knife, cuing a shot of Stephen chopping, which also showed some neat editing.

Making the decision was tough, too tough. Adam’s pistachio cake with apple and parsley puree and Stephen’s baked vanilla cheesecake with strawberry crumb was just too close to call. So Michel and Monica put them both through to the final with much happiness and joy all round.

The next two, Tom and Da’vid were packed off to Surrey to be captained under the leadership of Michael Wignall at The Laytmer. Interestingly, the mood of this episode was quite different as Michael stamped his intent very quickly that no egos would be permitted in this kitchen. Did he see from the off a touch of over-confidence in these two I wonder?

Quite possibly because he was breathing down their necks the moment service started and boy did the going get tough. However, despite a couple of flummoxes, our pair made it through and certainly came out somewhat wiser and humbler than before. I am sure that Tom would be happy to never see another rabbit loin again.

Nor would Da’vid mind ditching plates that had to be “rustic and not orchestrated” (yet still had to look pretty mind). Having come through that test, Michel and Monica expected our two to come back into the kitchen with a bit more spit and polish and they definitely had some great ideas but there were some mistakes.

A tempting sounding Pina Colada dessert from Da’vid involving salt crusted pineapple was quickly undone by his sickly sweet white chocolate ganache and Tom overcooked his pork loin wrapped in Iberico ham. With the latter, Michel said it was his one mistake and I would argue that it was a rather big mistake but the rest of his food made the grade, so Tom made it through to the final.

Our last two, Luke and Scott, had the furthest to travel having to take a bus up to Nottingham to work at Sat Bains’ eponymous and revered restaurant. Given his reputation for having a sharp tongue, I did wonder how the boys would get on with his tasting menu and thought that there would be at least one blast from the hair dryer. However, Sat was curiously warm and quite nurturing actually.

Even when all was falling down around Luke, he kept him moving forward with encouragement and Sat was evidently very happy with Scott’s performance. After interpreting his signature dish of girolles pickled and sautéed with braised oxtail and watercress panna cotta, he even went so far as to say that they were both a credit to the industry. Maybe Sat has mellowed, or perhaps he just likes save his spleen for idiots on TripAdvisor.

With everything to play for then, both Luke and Scott went head to head to impress the MasterChef judges one last time and some interesting facts were finally revealed. The biggest one for me being that Luke was allergic to nuts and I did wonder if in the heat of things whether he would forget during tasting and that Michel would have to give him mouth to mouth.

That didn’t happen but the shame was that if Luke could have tasted as he went along, he might have spotted that the pastry in his baklava was undercooked. As for Scott, who is possibly the younger brother of Christopher Eccleston, when Michel said that he had to put his cutlery down after trying Scott’s stuffed saddle of rabbit, for fear of wanting to gobble it all up; well, you could tell that his place in the final was sealed.

So there you have it, one more week to go with three and half tumultuous hours of competitive cooking television left. Can you handle it? Will Gregg handle it? MMMMMAAAAAAATE, this is going to be a close one.

Read Danny’s previous Masterchef blogs: Masterchef - the professionals the blog Masterchef - the professionals the blog week 2 Masterchef - the professionals the blog week 3 Masterchef - the professionals the blog week 4 Read our article on past Masterchef: The Professionals winners here 

Danny is a food adventurer, enthusiastic allotmenteer, supper club host and writer of the entertaining and quirky epicurian blog, Food Urchin. He also writes for Great British Chefs and past credits also include writing for Delicious Magazine online and MSN Food and he is an absolute sucker for East End pie and mash (with loads of liquor and vinegar).

>>> Read more about Masterchef: The Professionals 2013 here

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Editor 6th December 2013

MasterChef: The Professionals 2013 – the semi finals