Little bite-sized morsels of cookery competition are being served up for our delectation from Mondays to Thursdays on BBC2 in MasterChef: the Professionals. In yesterday's half-hour, we began a new heat with a fresh batch of eight contestants and still only one of them was a woman. Only about 20 per cent of professional chefs in the UK are female, but at least MasterChef has one asset to help redress the gender imbalance: the brilliantly no-nonsense Le Gavroche sous chef, Monica Galetti. It was Monica's turn to set the challenge, so she asked the contestants to demonstrate their key skills by devising a dish from store cupboard staples, plus seven ingredients: pomegranate, caped gooseberries, cucumber, pistachios, endive, sardines and camembert.
"Cheesy fish is not something we want," said her co-host, Gregg Wallace, demonstrating one of his own key skills: stating the bleeding obvious. Luckily, Galetti's creativity was ready to soar above Wallace's leaden imagination. She showed him and us what was possible by whipping up a quick pistachio parfait with lemon shortbread biscuit and a thyme syrup.
One contestant, Liam, did defy Gregg's warning, combining sardine with camembert. Gregg christened the result "that blinkin' potato mess with the cheese on it", but it wasn't even the most revolting dish of the night. That honour went to Maria from Poland and her sardines served with both hollandaise and tomato salsa. The mind boggles and the stomach churns.
We tune in for the food fails, but there was also some real culinary talent on display last night. Steven, the 26-year-old son of two professional chefs, had a pleasingly humble manner and a clever idea. While the other contestants were combining bizarre flavours in a desperate bit to impress, he cooked the same sardines three different ways: roasted sardine, cured sardine and a sardine tartar.
Then there was Sean, 31, a big-headed pastry chef who alerted us to his egomania with the time-honoured tell: "A lot of people say I'm too modest," before going on to list his multiple character strengths. Sean's thyme-infused panna cotta was too bouncy (there's nothing worse than a bouncy panna cotta), but at least he had nerve enough to chance a dessert while everyone else was playing it safe with savoury.
So who got sent home at the end? No one. That's the problem with a format that drags the drama out over a whole four days; there's no natural finale to round off each show. Instead, Gregg stated the obvious once more – "Still a lot of competition to come!" – and then everyone just sloped off camera.