MasterChef: Five things we learned in week 1

Some of the rules of MasterChef: simple food needs to be perfect, cooking is all about timing - and you should never get cocky in the kitchen...

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1. Lavender and meat is an acceptable combination

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Using 11 spices to coat a pork chop is a high-risk strategy. Especially if one of the flavours you’re using is lavender. “The mood I’m in dictates what I cook” said 42-year-old events manager Emily “and today I’m feeling wild and adventurous.” She wasn’t kidding.

The dried French flowers are often associated with sweet dishes – like meringues and shortbread – or tea infusions. But recently lavender has started jumping up the menu to main course as well. Honey and lavender is a popular glaze for a leg of lamb, and lavender can also be mixed with woodchips to flavour food cooked in a smoker or barbecue.

“All those spices thrown into one dish shouldn’t work – but you’ve got it” smiled John, delighting at Emily’s pork, “fragrant with lavender and cumin and cardamom and mace and nutmeg”. So it looks like lavender is definitely on the menu.


2. Crème Pattisiere needs flour and cornflour

When John Torode cooked sweet stuffed courgette flowers with saffron custard and a rose water sauce, it wreaked havoc in the MasterChef kitchen. Perhaps the most technical part of the dish was the crème parissiere – or pastry cream, as it’s often known, which means first infusing vanilla and saffron into milk, and then thickening it with egg yolks, sugar, flour and cornflour.

Dale had been pretty confident throughout the episode – verging on cocky. When asked by Gregg Wallace how he feels when he loses, he fired back: “I’d like to say there’s a high percentage of the time that I don’t lose, so I don’t know that feeling”. So is it naughty that a smile started spreading across our faces when the camera panned in showing him trying to thicken the milk with just egg yolks?

“He is beating that custard, hoping it’s going to thicken. But of course it won’t unless he gets some flour or cornflour in there,” Wallace pointed out. At least Dale remembered to dip the courgette flowers in batter before deep frying them though. Unlike poor Rowan.


3. Simple food has to be perfect food

MasterChef is an opportunity to impress – and putting “too many ingredients on the plate” is a common criticism when contestants get carried away. So it was a really bold move from Sarah when she decided to keep things simple with pan-fried seabass, plain rice and salsa, followed by a cheesecake.

The pressure was on for her simple food to be perfect. And everything started swimmingly with her fish, which Torode said was “cooked absolutely beautifully”. Soft, sweet and translucent. “It properly makes my heart beat.”

But only a few seconds later, Wallace and Torode were chipping an over-reduced, set cranberry sauce off her plate and criticising her slightly-burned cheesecake base. We knew it was all over. And so did Sarah: “My style is just simple food done really, really well.” She said. “I’ve managed to get the simple food bit right, but not the ‘really, really well’ bit.”


4. When John and Gregg give you eggs… make pancakes.

The Invention Test in the second episode required a higher level of invention than most. Instead of the usual meat or fish with vegetables, the contestants were faced with tofushiitake mushroomscoconut milk, coriander and rice.

Ingrid seemed tentatively upbeat about the tofu after having been a vegetarian for a decade. But the lack of meat almost drew a tear from flat cap wearing Jez. “It’s thrown me really out” he sighed. “It would have been nice to have some meat on the table” agreed HR consultant Rob, as all three began to churn out some less-than-authentic Thai curries.

As the under-flavoured, anaemic-looking coconut milk curries were poured over ‘beds’ of unseasoned rice, James was the only one who came out shining. The clever 24-year-old dentist refused to be distracted: “The ingredients wanted me to make a curry, but I wanted to think of something different” he smiled, as he made herby crepes with a creamy mushroom filling and nut garnish. The moral? When John and Gregg give you eggs, make pancakes.


5. Cooking rack of lamb takes longer than 20 minutes

Two-and-a-quarter hours into the first series of MasterChef without any real kitchen calamities. And then Emily came to cook her lamb. “You know you’ve got 20 minutes left? How long’s that piece of lamb going to take to cook?” asked Wallace. “About 35 minutes” said Emily – suddenly jumping up having, rather oddly, been sat at her work station resting her feet.

Things then went from bad to worse. She tried to accelerate the cooking by turning up the heat in the oven. Then she burnt the outside – and tried to carve it raw. Heart-breaking stuff. The first tears of the series, as Emily took out a sad little mound of rice with saffron. No lamb.


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For culinary inspiration and supplies fit for a MasterChef, visit Sous Chef at souschef.co.uk