At the start of every episode of Masterchef we would hear Gregg Wallace excitably bark the phrase “Cooking doesn’t get tougher than this!”
I’m here to tell you that’s pants. Apart from the final, what did Masterchef contestants have to do? Stand in a nice clean kitchen and cook a bit of dinner. Lightweights. I’ve just caught up on this series of The Restaurant, and apart from possibly whipping up a soufflé while under fire in Afghanistan, cooking really doesn’t get tougher than this.
For a start, there is no level playing field in The Restaurant. The teams have been allocated pre-existing restaurants in Bristol. Some of them are nice – prime location, nice terrace outside, blah blah. Some are not so nice. One stank badly of fish, and it was probably a bit of a relief when the two who were assigned that one had their restaurant closed (this is The Restaurant-speak for “you’re fired!”) by the judge, chef Raymond Blanc.
Then, as well as having to start up and run a restaurant from scratch, Raymond piles on the pressure by giving them extra tasks. Last time, they had to produce the food for a tea dance, on the hottest day of the year. Again, no level playing field here. One of the couples specialises in “all year-round outdoor dining,” so you’d reckon a few sandwiches and a cake or two would be no problem. But another couple’s restaurant theme is westernised Nigerian food. Now, I’m no world food expert, but I don’t think the cucumber sandwich features heavily in Nigerian cuisine. For the second task of the night, the pair, Daisy and Nadine, were asked to cater for a rugby club dinner, and provide low-carb, organic food. To be fair, they were a bit dim in interpreting “low carb” to mean let’s give them pasta salad, potato salad, bread etc etc. But when Raymond Blanc sailed in at the end for the final verdict, what he criticised most about them was that they’d lost sight of their Nigerian roots. That’s because you had them making afternoon tea and catering for a crew of picky sportsmen! What are they supposed to do? It’s not as if their marinated goat meat ever went down very well either. So D’Soiree, as their restaurant was temptingly called, was closed.
Honestly, it’s a tough old show. During the afternoon tea task, one of the contestants was rushing about so much trying to serve everybody that he ended up literally basting in his own sweat and had to hang out of a window with heat stroke. And he was Australian, presumably not unused to warmish conditions. That wasn’t the hardest thing of the night, though. The hardest thing was when poor old chef Steve had to produce a cake in the shape of an aeroplane. Steve’s speciality is hearty English grub, and let’s just say he’s not quite at the Jane Asher level of cake design. After a sweaty afternoon assembling slabs of fruitcake, he was so mortified by the results that he was almost in tears. His wife Rebecca went front-of-house to advise the guests. “Be kind,” she suggested, as Steve carried out something that looked like an iced shoebox with a tail fin.