MasterChef: The Professionals 2013 - week 2

The Staff Canteen

MasterChef: The Professionals 2013 is well underway. The Staff Canteen is following the contestants’ progress closely with a series of blogs from food blogger Danny Kingston aka Food Urchin.

Last week he tackled the first heat, now he’s back for more. Seconds out, week two.

Call me a stickler or pedant if you like but I believe that I have spotted a clanger in the way that MasterChef: The Professionals is formatted as a competition. We are at the end of week two and to date, four semi-finalists have been announced and under the normal rules of engagement regarding elimination tournaments that should be it. That’s how it works with the World Cup, Wimbledon and Championship Dominoes (held in bi-annually in Cheam). 

Yet there are two more sets of heats to come, with two more quarter-finals and two more semis; which when I think about it is slightly baffling. Now you could say “Oh come off it, they’ve always done it that way you plonker Rodney.” But I am only thinking of the chefs that have fallen by the wayside. Because no doubt some of them will want to put the experience on their resumes, highlighting that at the very least, they were proud quarter-finalists.

Imagine the indignation though when a prospective employer leans over the pass and says “Actually, I think you’ll find that you were a third round finalist mate.” Or a 16th’er, as I like to call them. Which isn’t a real term but that’s by the bye. What I am saying is that if the chefs knew at the beginning what was at stake, then some might have tried just a little bit harder. After all, no one wants to end up as a 16th’er, do they?

I’ll leave that with you to put aside and ponder upon later but now is probably a good time crack on with the business of relaying what actually happened this week and let me tell you, it certainly was a game of two halves. So a new set of faces and Monica for the first round sets up a new invention test for people to really get their teeth stuck into. The eight chefs must make one dish using a section of just seven ingredients: sardines, Camembert, endive, cucumber, cape gooseberries, pistachios and pomegranate. And everyone produces convincing, adept plates of food.

Except for Liam who served his fish up with a blinkin’ cheesy potato cake and Gregg and Monica were aghast. Sean’s pudding with wibbly wobbly panna cotta looks the prettiest of the bunch and Gregg declares loudly that he likes the cut of his jib, Gregg being the saucy Cockney greengrocer come diner that he is. Episode six and the first four chefs chosen really do make an impact and stamp their marks on proceedings.

Monica’s terrifying skills test, as it is often billed, is to skin and portion a Dover sole and everyone treats it as a stroll in the park. Apart from Vinny, who looked petrified at first but the way he whipped the skin of his fish with his bare hands; well, he made it look as easy as peeling a banana. A lovely fishy banana. Michel’s gladiatorial challenge to produce a classic "râble de lièvre roti au vin rouge et moutarde” (Saddle of Rabbit in Red Wine and Mustard Sauce) was met head on and whilst some chefs didn’t quite get the gist of things, mature Kit from Bude plonked his saddle upside down on the plate, overall Michel was very happy with the result.

So much so that he expected to see fireworks for the deciding classics round. “Give him a plate of bangers!” I shouted at the television set, which fell on deaf ears but no matter, everyone did themselves proud. Vinny’s gentle touch was in evidence again with his fillet of lemon sole and cucumber gazpacho. Junior Sous, Tom, accomplished a fast-food interpretation of coq au vin and Kit’s tuna Niçoise was inventive and visually appealing.

Steve from Horsham knocks up a lovely looking lamb Provençale but unfortunately ruins everything by flavouring his potato fondant with vanilla. “Not Provençale!” says Michel, looking rather cross but Steve gets a reprieve and Kit walks after some difficult decisions. In episode seven however, Sean who had aspirations to open a Michelin-starred café in Poland certainly made things a bit easier for the judges.

A simple skills test to make gnocchi ended up in disaster for the poor man as Sean lurched from shaky dumpling novice to twisted fire starter, only to have his efforts spat out into a bin at the end. Ouch! The classics master class this time around involved cooking a John Dory called ‘St Pierre’ and trimming up some artichokes for an “artichoke barigoule”.

I did feel for the chefs at this point because this opulent thistle is a pain to prep; I’ve whittled many down to absolutely nothing in the past but everyone acquitted themselves, managing not to choke on the choke.  And hooray for Maria who trod the path no other chefs dare and actually dressed her plate with sauce. Safe bets for the final classic recipe round were made with interpretations on steak au poivre and roast pigeon, which was admirable but also slightly mediocre.

Personally, I felt that young Daniel’s saddle of lamb with gratin dauphinois looked like it was going to be the most promising of the bunch. The way he attacked that mandolin certainly made me wince with joy. However Liam from Wales, who had risen through the ranks with no formal training, smashed it with his beautiful looking plate of pork and apple. Hapless Sean on the other hand had nowhere to hide and had to go.

For the last episode this week passion was in evidence with hearts beating, feet shuffling and knives chopping all over the place (Michel’s words, not mine). Messy Vinny took his earrings out to show that he meant business and during the invention test Tom mi-cuit his salmon into baby food.

Unfortunately for inexperienced Daniel, he made Monica a very unhappy bunny and Maria fluffed up her chocolate mousse the wrong way so they were soon shown the door. Cometh the moment and cometh the critics, bouncing down the street and according to Charles Campion, the remaining four had to impress with commitment, passion, skill and just a little bit of inspiration. Not much then.  Serious Steven from Horsham transformed his fillet of beef, bacon quinoa, various onions and red wine sauce into a country scene reminiscent of Constable.

Buzzing Tom captured imaginations with his elderflower panna cotta and textures of strawberry. Grinning Vinny dazzled with his roast fillet of cod with mushrooms and cod mousse in cannelloni. And Liam totally cocked everything up by over-salting his wild rice and smashing everyone’s teeth to pieces with honeycomb.

So, you’ve guessed, he had to go, along with affable Vinny, which I thought was a real shame. So that’s it for now. Onwards and upwards for next week, for the next round of quarter-quarter finals and double semi-finalists. It’s bloody mad this competition I tell you, bloody mad.

Read our article on past MasterChef: The Professionals winners here Read our interview with last year’s joint winner, Keri Moss, 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 15th November 2013

MasterChef: The Professionals 2013 - week 2