1. If MasterChef gives you a pasta machine, use it
“I don’t expect any of them to struggle with pasta, I really don’t” said Gregg Wallace, as the camera panned to John Torode dropping his perfectly-rolled ribbons of fresh pappardelle into a pan of boiling water. Presenting the contestants with ready-made pasta dough and a pasta machine, Week 3’s palate test of meatballs and pappardelle didn’t seem too challenging. “All they have to do is roll it out and cut it,” explained John.
Indeed, things started off smoothly. “John’s pasta is so beautiful, I’m not sure I can live up to that,” purred retired civil servant Jill. But as she ran the tip of her cook’s knife along a thinly-rolled rectangle of pasta dough she’d whipped up from scratch, it was clear she’d nailed the round.
One workstation down, though, it was a different story. Bartender Leon went for the rolling pin over the pasta machine, using his whole body weight to squash the dough into a thick, chamois-leather shape. “I think he’s really struggling” said Gregg, stating the obvious. “Leon, you’ve invented a new pasta shape – it’s like a shrunken sheet of lasagne” sighed John. Along with his “wet” meatballs, and his “Willy Wonka” flavour combination of mango with capers and lamb in the invention test, it was no surprise that the palate test round was Leon’s last.
2. Never – just never – combine fish with pears
Poor Aussie car salesman Kieron was beaming with enthusiasm as he introduced his dish: whole Dover sole with a smoky fish sauce and a spinach, pear, grape and almond salad. “What could possibly go wrong?” he grinned.
John was quick to tell him: “Who wants to eat fish with pears? Nobody.” Things went from bad to worse when Kieron presented the dish to the judges. “I’ve got problems” confirmed Gregg. It wasn’t just the fish-pear combination, but also the overcooked Dover sole, and a potent sauce which tasted of “stewed fish”. It’s hard to come back from that. And Kieron didn’t.
3. Skordalia is a thick purée
Didn’t know what a skordalia was when it appeared in the palate test last Thursday? You weren’t alone. The MasterChef contestants were thrown by John’s potato purée – which involved cooking the spuds in equal quantities of olive oil and milk along with two garlic cloves, puréeing, and then finishing with a squeeze of lemon juice.
Sophie and Farhana made the best attempts – though both skordalias looked a long way off John Torode’s thick and smooth version. Bank worker Martin came off worst. Having attempted to make an egg sauce – “a potato Hollandaise kind of idea” suggested John – he plated up lamb and beetroot, but was forced to leave a skordalia-sized hole in his dish.
4. The old ways are often the best
Sophie didn’t arrive with the swagger we’ve seen from many of this year’s MasterChef contestants. The 28-year old masseuse learned to cook with her dad and grandparents who grew their own food. “I’m a very traditional cook. I like British produce,” she told Gregg, allowing a smile to flicker across her otherwise trademark worried expression.
In the invention test, she simply poached two pears, stuffed them and wrapped them in filo pastry – leaving the other contestants to (both literally and figuratively) butcher a piece of sole. As the programme went on, Sophie stuck to her classic British theme, with ham hock fritters, and fish ’n’ chips with minted pea purée. And in the quarter-final, she steered clear of culinary showboating again, with a simple apple and pear crumble.
“It smells gorgeous. It smells so cosy. I want to put on a big jumper and go away in a corner and sit and eat this on my own” said 2012 winner Shalina Permalloo. “The crumble tastes like what Mum used to make, in the best way” agreed Tim Anderson. Which just goes to show – sometimes, the old ways are the best.
5. Sometimes not even spherification is enough…
You know the bar is set high when molecular gastronomy appears as early as the quarter-finals – and still isn’t enough to get you through. Sales exec Paul used Heston-style techniques to make a spherical crème brûlée, mixing sodium alginate into the sweet custard, dropping it into a calcium chloride bath, and adeptly fishing out the molecular ‘ravioli’ with a spherification spoon.
The dessert split opinion amongst the judges: “That’s really nice, like a little ball of custard that explodes in your mouth” said notoriously experimental former MasterChef winner Tim Anderson. But John Torode wasn’t so impressed, and he gets the final say. “It’s all wrong. There’s not enough of the sauces. The brownie is too big. There’s not going to be enough of the crème brûlée. It’s all out of proportion.”
All round, a bit of a balls up.
For culinary inspiration and supplies fit for a MasterChef, visit Sous Chef at souschef.co.uk