Over the last week, MasterChef: The Professionals contestants Anton Piotrowski and Keri Moss have produced plate after plate of stunning food, matching one another dish for dish so that picking a winner looked like an impossible task for Michel Roux Jr and Gregg Wallace. Turns out it was exactly that.
After much deliberation – strewn with numerous superlatives in praise of the two chefs' food – the judges chose to name them joint 2012 MasterChef: The Professionals champions, the first time in the show's history contestants have shared the title.
"This has probably been one of the hardest, tightest finals that I have ever seen," said Roux, who runs two Michelin-starred London restaurant Le Gavroche. "It was just impossible to split [Anton and Keri] – their talents have been matched plate for plate for the past several challenges and it was truly impossible to award one the title over the other."
"What an amazing final," added Wallace, "I can't ever remember a decision this tight."
In hindsight, it seemed like destiny. In the previous week, Keri, 41, and Anton, 30, went head-to-head in the semi-final but Michel and Gregg could not separate them and instead chose to send them both through to the final.
Speaking during tonight's final, Wallace said: "Keri's cooking today was out of this world, incredible. I'm so impressed with her. Anton is an exceptional talent and had a brilliant competition, but for me, I want to eat Keri's food more than anybody I've met in a long, long time.
"I don't know what magic is running through Keri's fingertips, I don't know who poured the passion into her soul, but you can feel it and you can taste it on dish after dish."
Roux said: "Keri is an exceptional chef, but you can't get away from the fact that Anton has got the knowledge, he's got the skills in abundance, he's got the passion, the drive – every dish that Anton cooks is original, it's got a twist, it's got his character there.
"The guy is brilliant. Everything he touches and puts on the plate not only looks great but it tastes great. It's also challenging – it's pushing the barriers."
This week has seen Keri, Anton and fellow finalist Oli Boon, 22, cook for 30 of the world's most famous chefs, boasting 47 Michelin stars between them, before tackling a service at Heston Blumenthal's renowned restaurant The Fat Duck. Tonight's final saw them each cook a three course meal for Gregg and Michel.
Keri's winning menu was a starter of mackerel tartar served with crispy poached quails eggs, a main of Chinese five-spiced duck breast and a dessert of green olive and pistachio cake with a white chocolate parfait.
Anton, meanwhile, served up elderflower marinated pollack with a brown shrimp and elderflower beurre noisette, coco-marinated loin of venison accompanied by a nettle ballotine and pan-seared ox heart, and a caramel-filled dark chocolate cylinder with a banana parfait.
Following the announcement, Keri said: "Joint winners is just fantastic, we've had a good run together, Anton is awesome.
"Today has surpassed anything that I have ever achieved in my career, in my whole life – this is just massive."
Anton said: "It's absolutely amazing. To share the title with someone that's so talented and so amazing is unreal. It's a good start to the rest of my life – mind blowing!"
Keri lives in Nunhead in south-east London, where she works as a freelance caterer. Anton is from South Devon where he and his wife Clare run their pub The Treby Arms.
See biographies and illusrated dish-by-dish journeys for each of the finalists