MasterChef, TV review: Cookery shows still don't get better than this

 

Lock up yer saucers, MasterChef (BBC1) is back. Or as narrator India Fisher put it in the first line of her voiceover: "MasterChef is back."

To casual viewers of TV cookery contests it feels like it never really goes away, haunting our midweek schedules like a Chandler Bing's fussball table or DCI June Ackland's Met-issue blouse. There they are, John and Gregg, Torode and Wallace spooning flan into their gizzards as we do the same at home with our M&S Dine in for £10 gammon.

So, how many more series of MasterChef are sustainable? And, more importantly, how many smartarse TV reviews of MasterChef are sustainable? Is it hand-caught sustainable sea bass or ocean-trawled Atlantic cod? Does cooking still not get tougher than this?

To find out, John Torode – who recently enlightened this newspaper with the joys of barbecuing a chicken with an open beer can inside (Aussie classic ''beer can chicken') – and the slimmed-down, vaguely Harry Hilly, Gregg Wallace once more invited six home chefs to cook to the death. Or at least the quarter-finals.

Gregg and John's first victim of 2014 was Rob, a management consultant who had self-diagnosed himself with a minor case of the Hestons. For the opening "calling card" test of the heat, Rob had decided to take one of the home cook's trickier dishes – beef wellington – and deconstruct it. An Alleged Beef Wellington, if you will. Diddling with a classic like the beef welly is a dangerous game in any kitchen, let alone one ruled by two pie-lovers.

 

I thought the Alleged Wellington looked all right, but that's why I'm at home dribbling over chewy steak and not busy planning my next series for the Good Food Channel. Torode was livid at Rob's pie effrontery:

[This bit sounds better if you read it in the voice of Joe Pesci in the "some kind of clown" scene in 'Goodfellas']

TORODE: "To take a grand classic and take it apart is a really game thing to do. And now what we've got [dramatic pause] is a steak with mushrooms and a pastry straw and it doesn't have the same impact."

[Raises hands. Followed by close-up of unnecessarily aggressive cutting of Alleged Wellington. Then...]

"Your sauce turns your pastry soggy, your meat soggy, your purée soggy and your mushroom soggy… That's the WONDER of the beef wellington, everything is wrapped up. Do you know what a beef wellington is? It's the poshest pie in the whole world. And it's a pie."

A pie, Rob. A pie. After being sent to the dumper after two rounds, Rob even deconstructed his own performance: "I think I can hold my head high"

Everyone else impressed the pair, at least a little bit. Affable Robert, with his Felix Magath specs, impressed by making ravioli using instant mash powder. Which came off, and formed part of the portfolio that saw him sail through to the next round. The impressive Sumera even got a terrace chant of her name from Gregg when he saw her collection of spices.

But mine and the judges' favourite was 22-year-old Holly. She made it through to the next round thanks to her fine palate and dishes like her five-spiced duck breast with carrot and orange purée (as well as impressing three noted MasterChef alumni with her sea bass and figs).

But it was her healthy mix of soft-spokenness and wonderful veiled contempt for Torode's criticisms that made her an early horse to back in the endless derby that is a MasterChef season. So vamos, Holly! And welcome back, chaps. It hardly felt like you were away.

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