‘I’m a pig in a sweetshop’. Ooh Wallace, with your Wildean bon mots, you are rillllly spoiling us. Actually, he said ‘kid’ not pig, but he doesn’t enunciate properly and it’s all much of a muchness with our fruit and veg man anyway. Yep, Masterchef, in all its infuriating glory, is back. So, what’s new? Well, they’ve got their names embroidered on their aprons, rather than one of those badges you get at conferences, so the budget must have been upped. Anything else? Yep, there’s a new challenge. ‘It’s called the market test’, announced Torode proudly, as if his toddler had just taken its first step. ‘We’ve built you a market.’ Woah, slow down there with these breakneck speed ideas. I thought he was going to say he’d built a brand new combine harvester!
Forgive me if this sounds harsh, but if you were a contestant who had seen off several hundred others to get to this stage (by all accounts), you would surely know at some point you’d be called upon to make an unplanned dish. You would have rehearsed this concept at least a couple of times, playing Ready Steady Cook with your long suffering family who they always make sound like war heroes being cooked for night after night. Why then, when you are ushered into a large room crammed to bursting with several hundred foodstuffs, do you mooch about bleating about it being so hard, how there is so much choice? That’s a GOOD thing surely?!
So, who’s stepping up to the plate this time round? I was immediately smitten with American Maria, striding confidently into the kitchen with her muscly tanned bare arms and sunglasses. If this was a film, she’d be played by Carrie Fisher, scripted by Nora Ephron. (Goodness knows who would play Gregg-y – I don’t think they could find a boiled egg big enough). ‘I’m going to win,’ she announced with a wide smile in her deep sexy voice. The camera then cut away to two of the particularly insipid English bleaters, all pale, nervous and thin-lipped, blasted away by the challenge of having to cook one edible dish in eighty minutes with what looked like Harrods Food Hall at their disposal.
She wasn’t the only sassy lady. There was also slightly bonkers Anna with her frangipane tart, Irish Alison modelling Aunt Sally eyelashes and Leanne the NHS contract worker, who was a whizz with the puds. I didn’t think many of the men were in their league, but hey, they’ll no doubt get a couple of free passes along the way, while the women will be ejected for the slightest slip. (Yes, I KNOW a woman won last time, but the prevailing chauvinism and ageism can’t be denied). I did like charming mature David though. His food might have come straight out of the 70s, but it looked dem fine to me. Who needs all those fancy geometric arrangements anyway? It’s only veg, innit Greggy…?
In general , if you want to progress on Masterchef past the first round, doing a dessert is a good idea. The judges often seem faintly surprised that someone might take this option and even quite a modest offering seems to be treated as a thing of wonder. Definitely DON’T do something completely mental like a vegetarian dish. ‘I can’t see ANY meat or fish on your bench,’ gibbered Greggy in astonishment, as if the contestant was trying to knock up something from WD40 and some rusty screws.
They certainly discard them fast. Ten of the first sixteen didn’t get through the first day and the previous finalists’ little moues of disapproval. I don’t think cooking for past contestants is a good idea at all. Yes, they’ve been in that position of collapsed fondants, overcooked fish and over fretful Greggy and John-boy having hernias. So what? It doesn’t make them interesting to watch, excepting tache-tastic Tony. Much as pro critics Spicer and Sitwell make me gnash my teeth in rage, they’re much better entertainment. A slightly odd challenge followed for the last six in the shape of Amol Rajan’s chocolate or spices round, which proved the end of Maria’s muscles and dear old Dave. Luckily Leanne the Pud and Aunt Sally’s eyelashes live to fight on.