MasterChef: Five things we learned in week 4

Don't get a mixologist mixed up with a chef, don't forget to cook your potatoes - and always wipe around the rim


Always wipe around the rim


“I’m aware my presentation could do with some tarting-up, if you know what I mean,” chuckled salesman Bertie before presenting the judges with a somewhat brown, sloppy and overloaded plate – a beef burger and chips, and a toasted Chiabatta, and a salad, and a “Spanishy sherry cream sauce”.

Accountant Tess’s presentation also fell down in the Invention Test, when she presented Gregg and John with a jug smeared with red wine and juniper berry sauce. They weren’t impressed.

Meanwhile, Larkin sailed through to the quarter-finals, with edible flowers and elegant dishes arranged with Michelin-like precision showing that it really is worth wiping the rim of the plate before putting it in front of the judges.  

Good barmen don’t always make good chefs

After last week’s train crash combination of mango, capers and lamb from barman Leon, a new mixologist stepped up to the plate. “Do you think there are links between drinks and food?” Gregg asked 29-year-old assistant bar manager Neil. “You’ve got to have a good palate either way – you’ve got to be able to balance flavours” replied Neil – leaving us crossing our fingers that he didn’t ‘balance’ them quite like Leon did.

Although Neil escaped any Willy Wonka-esque disasters, he fell short with a dry shepherd’s pie, followed by another pie disaster in the Invention Test. After being presented with the leek and ham offering, the only kind words Gregg could muster were “Your coleslaw is nice”, referring to the garnish. “It’s almost as if we’re eating a bowl of soup with leeks and ham chopped through it and some celery” said John. “And the pastry on top is all floppy” he added – picking it up and flapping it about to prove his point. And so another barman was sent off to drown his sorrows…

Cook the potatoes first

Any cook who’s had their Sunday roast held up by not-quite-crispy roasties or an undercooked gratin knows that potatoes should be considered early on in the preparation. So why, oh why, do the MasterChef contestants keep leaving it until the last minute to rustle up a ‘quick potato’ dish?

The worst offender is the fondant, which nobody ever leaves enough time for. So when 27-year-old Emma announced that her fondant potatoes were “quite small”, so would only take 15 minutes to cook, John was clearly a little worried. “One thing you can’t eat is an undercooked potato” he pointed out, estimating that they’d take more like 45 minutes to cook than 15. And he was right – on both counts. The fondant did take more than 15 minutes to cook – and the judges didn’t eat it.

If John makes sodabread, don’t add yeast

John threw a curve ball in this week’s Palate Test when he whisked up a loaf of sodabread to go with his fish chowder. The quick-to-make loaf rises thanks to bicarbonate of soda – so when the contestants immediately reached for the yeast, we knew things were going to get messy.

Kneading her pitiful dough, Tess looked visibly disheartened. But Gregg had comforting words, of sorts: “I don’t think that Tess should be worried that she can’t make bread. Neither can the four people behind her.”

As each contestant desperately tried to accelerate the proofing time, and failed to coax their bread to rise – or cook – the Palate Test descended into a ‘bread drop’ test. “No bread should sound like that” said Gregg as he dropped a slice of Tess’s on the worktop. “Cor, that’s even harder” he grinned as Sarah’s clunked on the ground. Emma’s bread had a “damp patch in the middle” and Chris’ was “not quite cooked enough”. They might have been a group of decent cooks, but won’t be applying for The Great British Bake Off any time soon.

Don’t be disheartened by a bad round

“I’d rather go out with a shout than a whimper” said Helen, as she missed out on a place in the quarter-final to Shivi, who did the exact opposite – starting with a whimper and ending with a bang. In the first round, Shivi stuffed a mushroom with braised beef and red wine. Dark and slimy and unappetising. As John quite rightly asked: “How do you make a mushroom filled with mince delicious?”

“I don’t want to be reminded about that horror” said Shivi later in the episode, putting aside the bad round and focused on winning her place in the quarter-final. Cooking seabass and mussels on a saffron polenta, followed by a Moroccan floating island of poached orange blossom meringues on a rose water and cardamom crème anglais, garnished with pistachio praline and rose petals, Shivi had clearly upped her game. “That is lovely. Light and subtle and well-made. I like it,” said Gregg, as Shivi flew through to the next round.


In the quarter-final, she went from strength to strength, with medallions of monkfish, crab ravioli and lime beurre blanc, followed by a deconstructed pina colada. “I think that woman is an extraordinary cook” said Gregg. And so do we. Perhaps current pack-leader from week two, Rukmini, has met her match…