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Masterchef: The Professionals. Ho, ho, ho…

by Maggie Gordon-Walker

Time once more for Masterchef: The Professionals; the hardhitting juggernaut, with nary a festive cheer, especially unseasonal since it was filmed in summer. And we’ve got a new title sequence to admire, where our three presenters turn to the camera as if they’re being sent to their doom, especially Marcus Wareing, who looks up with wounded rabbit eyes, resembling a bearded Elisabeth Moss in The Handmaid’s Tale.

I was asked to share some thoughts on the latest MC instalment, which gets ever harder with this iteration. I mean, the line-up is almost always 95% young, white males, with varying amounts of Ts & Ps (tattoos and piercings). Slightly less Ts & Ps than I remember from a year or so back, although the recently dispatched John had those things, which are all hole and no earlobe. Like a pair of giant hula hoops either side of one’s bonce. I’ve just looked up what they’re called: ‘flesh tunnels.’ Well, that’s appetising, isn’t it…?

I didn’t mind John though, ear decoration aside. He was, whisper it, not actually cowed and grovelling, having the temerity to look somewhat irked in an earlier episode when receiving criticism. Through pursed lips, he declared in the VT that he thought what he’d produced was good and should have got better feedback. Dear God man, that’s like telling the Daleks to calm down a bit. He wasn’t aquiver with gratification at the prospect of The Mighty Shrek bestowing one of his favourable culinary bon mots…. ‘deep and meaty’, for example. It was definitely The Big E when Marcus declared smugly that John’s unravelling at the pop-up kitchen was ‘a classic example of a chef who’s not tried and tested’, with all the delight of someone finding an unexpected fiver on the pavement. (A special moment of scorn here for their notion of the ‘pop-up’; which takes place in an industrial hangar in the arse end of nowhere, with a fleet of servers with the word STAFF emblazoned on their T-shirts in the way no pop-up ever does).

So, at the time of writing, there’s six left. They mostly merge into one amiable, slightly anxious youth. Except Portuguese Daniel, who carries all the worries of the world upon his skinny shoulders. The lad is haunted. If this were the film version (dear God no, I couldn’t take Shrek in close-up), he’d be played by Steve Buscemi. You have the feeling you’d like to edge the knives away from him, just in case, but then he breaks into a smile. However, the real characters have all gone, along with the diversity. Such as Charath, who was the undeserved recipient of Marcus’ little moue that his curry should have had rice to mop up the sauce, not bread. Eh?! What’s the bread doing there then, knitting a jumper?!

Well now, onto the judges and let us consider Shrek some more, aka Gregg Wallace, which lends itself beautifully to Egg. The fact that he’s still there is a mystery, as he has neither wit nor knowledge to bring to the table. A couple of times in this series he’s held a different opinion to Marcus and Monica (the actual experts), as to the quality of what he’s eating. I did catch an irritated glance from Marcus at one of Egg’s utterances, yet it doesn’t seem to be enough to shift him. The contestants occasionally murmur that they were sorry Gregg didn’t like something they’d spent hours sweating blood over. Why are they not inwardly screaming in horror at having to pay heed to the ex-greengrocer with a failed restaurant…? Sorry, TWO failed restaurants. But the one thing he used to do right, THE ONE THING, Greggy-boy, was LOOK like an egg. Now he’s slimmed down so much he’s almost thinner than Monica. As far as I know Wife Number Four is working out ok, putting paid to the notion that people in relationships get tubbier (cf his erstwhile presenter Torode). It’s a pickle. Maybe even a pickled egg.

The most entertaining contestant by far was Nic, way back in the early rounds. My friend pondered if he’d imbibed too much coke in the dressing room (and not the stuff you drink), as the man DID NOT STOP TALKING. Certainly, the patter meant he couldn’t cook effectively, but the fact that he out-geezered Shrek by a million apples and pears is worth anyone’s licence fee. The heats had a couple of other amusing moments. In one challenge they were presented with a tin opener and told to knock something up. They looked as flummoxed as if they’d been given a monkey wrench and a couple of feather dusters and told to create a meringue with them. I know they’re all about their fine dining and/or foraging, but surely one of them has made something with a tin of tomatoes before? Another time they were exhorted to make something ‘with colour’. That’s definitely the result of someone on the production team on the happy sauce. I’m yet to think of something I’ve eaten that has entirely NO colour to it, but I’ll be sure to rush to tell the world when I do.

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MasterChef Goes Little

by Maggie Gordon-Walker

Do you remember, dear readers, the reboot of this in 2005? I sure as heckfire do. To be honest, I don’t recall much, except that the splendid Thomasina Miers won it and the fact they’d tacked ‘Goes Large’ to the title, in a misguided bid for the yoof vote, I’d imagine.

Now, it’s very different. My son has put an embargo on me referring to now as ‘these strange times’: the phrase that pops up in every conversation, email, Zoom meet (how we’ve changed!); that permeates wistful glances through plastic shields in shops and to fellow comrades on the street, as if we’re in a never ending Orwellian masked ball, albeit a Poundland version.

Where was I? Oh yes, Masterchef. My point is, it’s shrunk quite considerably. Hasn’t trended on Twitter yet, but maybe that’ll happen when more knives come out. Where we once had three past champs (oft including a mere finalist) to impress with fondants, jus and the like, now it’s only two and they’re all bona fide winners.

The fleet of critics, sabre teeth rattling, are no more, just The Grace Dent coming to sample their puds. I add ‘The’ in because she has a shade of the diva about her, although nowhere near the horrifying level of The GC. And you know there ain’t gonna be any restaurant kitchens upcoming – not a bad thing in my eyes, it increasingly looked like a PR exercise for the establishment, where head chefs tried to outdo Ramsay with their shouting.

Anywhere, there I go, rushing ahead to the end in my undisciplined ‘not strange times’ disorderly fashion. Torode (Toady) and Wallace (Shrek) are still there, although surely you’d think there’d be a limit to the amount of buttery biscuit bases you could get excited by. There used to be an element of Jack Sprat and his wife in their appearances, now….let’s just say some people have been sampling more in lockdown than others. Not Shrek though. He’s still a boiled egg, but a streamlined one, with natty plum waistcoat to prove it and a predilection for saying ‘HowEVer’ every five seconds, as if he’s a doc delivering a bad diagnosis, rather than commenting on some mash.

So, a parade of panna cottas later and early promise faded for Mike and Ross. Why is there an insistence on the wobble factor for this unappealing looking blancmange-y type thing (which I think they both delivered, but my soggy-bottomed brain can’t really recall)? My chum Saul, who joins me in a text-a-thon throughout (I’ve nicked some of his lines), and is the reason why I can remember anything about it all, claims they must wobble ‘because Charles Campion RIP said so’. Surely all food wobbles as it goes down your gullet…?

Tom has already set out his stall as Winner. I suspect he’s been taking online lessons and reading every recipe under the sun this last year. Not cheating as such, just Boy Scout preparedness, but just not cricket, old son.

Episode Two brought a colourful bunch, who you could definitely see fronting a rebooted Rainbow or maybe even occupying the Teletubbies skins. Gary’s trousers were just too much, sapping all rational thought from his cranium.

So, onto the Friday eliminator. In The GD sails, always positioning herself as if there were a bejillion paps present, rather than Toady, Shrek and four nervous hopefuls. Puddings today, and it was Battle Royale with the Sticky Toffee. Steph’s perfectly decent one failed only cos there was better in the room, nowt wrong with it at all. Tom’s was allegedly brilliant, despite looking like part of Sydney Opera House had landed on it in tuile form. And then, both Laura and Madeeha got through. We could see that coming, the element of surprise has long since gone for this puppy, but they were charmingly astonished. They wanted to hug, but instead had to awkwardly grin at each other, as if at their first teenage party. Strange times for them, clearly.

(Picture: BBC)

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Masterchef: The Streamlined

Maggie Gordon-Walker

94F177B3-5465-44F6-BB76-4271BFC054D6These are lean, mean, streamlined times in 2020, chaps. With us undoubtedly going to hell in a handcart, the collective teeth-sucking at the continued existence of the BBC licence fee means some tough conversations have almost certainly taken place offscreen. ‘We need to show we’re not Oxbridge educated layabouts. We need to show we understand the value of money. We, the BBC, what hath spawned the mighty Shrek (Gregg Wallace); WE must lead the way. And verily we shall do this by making the Masterchef contestants bring their own food in.’

Where once the hopefuls glided across the approach to urban edgy Masterchef headquarters in a slow-motion Reservoir Dogs style, now they’re humping cool bags over their shoulders like demented hausfraus. From which they emptied the contents of their kitchens, literally in the case of Dev, whose bench was strewn with half empty cartons of this and that. Obviously the Beeb could have cut massive corners by painting a smiley face on a giant boiled egg, but no, here was Shrek – gurnometer turned up to the max and Toady (John Torode), perhaps too much of the good life. There used to be a vast discrepancy in their sizes. Now, not so much.

The new regime didn’t stop there. Are they wearing their nice white aprons? No they are not, in these lean, mean times, no they are NOT. There’s four aprons and six of them. Even Shrek can do the math. ‘Two of you will be going home,’ he announced, boiled egg aquivering so that his yolk nearly runneth over. The aprons sit, demurely folded, on a stool out of reach. You’ve got to earn me baby, they silently emit.

First batch of contestants also included Teddy, who is most definitely actor James Norton moonlighting. I’m going to call him James in fact, no space for cuddly teddies here in this dystopian nightmare, and smiley Glaswegian Karen. ‘Was it important to bring something from home’, Shrek patronised. Yes it was, she had some haggis. Yorkshire lass Becky DIDN’T appear to have brought something from home. Oh yes, a squeaky cheese. Like halloumi but better. She’s a cryer though. In the first challenge! No space for cryers here, love. Off you go.

Karen and Dev made the first cut and she clutched her newly won apron as if it were her firstborn: ‘No-ones taking this away from me.’ I wouldn’t be too sure, love. They’re not embroidered yet. In the next cook off they had to create a splendour from sea bream, fennel and tomatoes. Amanda told Shrek she didn’t like fennel. Too bliddy right lass. I’ve never been fond of the toothpaste taste meself. It had been all of two minutes since his last gurn and predictably enough, the mouth saucered open. James and ‘Three-sauce Pete’ got through and also worshipped at the Altar of Apron. It’s as if they were made of gold. I damn well hope previous years’ contestants realise how fricking LUCKY they were to get handed one, willy-nilly, on the way in.

Next up sees the four of them, their aprons now adorned with their names, having to cook for last year’s finalists. James announced his dishes as being, ‘simple but good-looking. Like him. No, don’t put that in’. Uhuh – it’s been noted, sunshine.  They were indeed simple – these are dishes from ten years back. Perhaps he should focus less on the acting and the being good-looking and make recipes with 435 ingredients in like Dev.

‘This is Masterchef life and death for Karen,’ piped up Shrek at one point (a whisker away from calling in the Apron-Removal Squad). The excitement didn’t stop there. Adorable Delia the cop and splendid teacher/sports star Jilly came back to judge their food, along with 2019 winner Irini, who looked twenty years younger and was dressed for a cocktail party. Were THEY wearing Masterchef aprons? They were NOT! They competed in pre-Brexit days when aprons rained out of the sky like rain does.

But there’s yet another twist. The three of them got to choose their favourite. What?! Lessening the stranglehold of Toady and Shrek! Clearly the good looks had worked for James – making dishes that everyone had seen before paid off as he went through. As did Dev and Pete, at the same time, so James didn’t really have that much advantage. He’ll swagger though, you mark my words. Sad that no woman made it through having faced an all-female finalists’ panel, but there you go.  Everyone’s got to man up here.

We’d like to think Karen got to keep her apron but who knows? Perhaps it was wrestled off her as she exited the premises and her embossed name whittled off with a partridge feather by an Oxbridge graduate determined to show his worth. In later episodes look carefully at those aprons to see if the segment of cloth bears the residue of disappointment.

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Masterchef the Professionals: Popping up near you

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Boiled (Gr)egg

Yep, the gladiatorial instalment is back. Much the same as ever. Marcus – still wearing his ‘nice guy’ mask, Monica – a little bit feistier and more relaxed than in previous series, Gregg…words fail. When teamed with Torode, I think of them as Toady and Shrek. On his own that doesn’t suit, so I’ll just call him Boiled (Gr)egg, Boiled for short.

Boiled is clearly there because they have an hour long slot to fill and think we all need to see him shovelling forkfuls into his gob, being faux chummy with the contestants, gurning and repeating what Head Girl and Boy have said, with a puzzled frown on his face. I don’t need it, frankly. Wouldn’t it be marvellous if each episode was only 45 minutes because he had been shelled, sorry shelved and the proper judges could get on with it without resorting to picture cards?

Astonishingly, we seem to have reached the final twelve and they’re not all young, white men – who would have thought? So, what’s new this time? Not a whole lot, although I did notice they made less of the ‘bottom four’ having to cook-off and focused on saying the top eight had got through. A subtle distinction, but less damning. Continue reading

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Celebrity Masterchef: Your 15 minutes is up

imageI actually quite enjoy this version, truth be told. Not so much the personnel in question, who range from quite endearing to making you want to put your fist through the wall, but because they have some rather good challenges in this incarnation. The ingredient recognition test was always one of my favourites and I’m pleased to see it’s made a comeback, even though some of the items are insultingly simple. Red pepper, seriously?! Although I’d suppose you’d technically get brownie points for knowing it is a bell pepper, but this wasn’t adhered to.

The disparity between competence levels is both amusing and frustrating and makes you realise all the more they had to take who they could get, so thinly stretched is the ‘talent’ available. These Celeb versions littering the schedules rely on us, the ever-slavering public, giving two figs as to whether so-and-so who once presented something on an obscure cable channel is now able to boil an egg satisfactorily. You do get one or two bona fide big names per series, Vic Reeves being one this time round. Shame he couldn’t have been paired with Ulrika Jonsson. Or Ulrika-ka-ka, as she’s better known from their time on Shooting Stars. He might have relaxed her slightly. She looks like she’s being almost constantly tortured, which makes you wonder why she’s subjected herself to it. Oh yes, for cash probably. Continue reading

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Masterchef: This little Masterchef went to market….

‘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!  Continue reading

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Masterchef: The gladiators

Guest post by Maggie Gordon-Walker

masterchef professionalsSo here we are in the latter stages of the competition and we can all rest easy. Any competitor who isn’t young, white and male has been eliminated. Phew, that’s better isn’t it? It being the Pro version we need a man to voiceover it so here’s Sean Pertwee (not exactly the eponymous Doctor is it, Sean?) giving us the lowdown on the sous vides, the purees and the foams. Ah yes, the foams, that irritate Marcus Wareing to such an extent that he’s in more of a lather than the foam is, which is puddle-like by the time the judges get to it. No surprise really. The strictures of the filming mean the food is always cold when the judges taste it (someone who’d been on the show told me).  Continue reading

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MasterChef: Dougal fluff hats & other sweet surprises

MasterChef lost me as a regular viewer this year because of all the X Factor style nonsense early on. Plus my cooking show viewing quota is currently being diverted watching too many suckling pigs get slaughtered on the altar of the Great British Menu. But I caught last night’s MasterChef, and I’m glad I did, because there was a guest appearance by Michel Roux, the daddy of both lovely Michel Roux Jnr and pastry cooking in general. He was giving the remaining four contestants a masterclass in making the ultra-tricky croquembouche. But here all my (probably fantasy) credibility as a foodie deserted me, because in my eyes, this towering French choux ball structure looked like a heap of Pizza Express doughballs piled up into the shape of a wizard hat with a load of hairy fluff from Dougal (the Magic Roundabout dog) scattered over the top with random almonds stuck on for no reason I could discern.

Don’t get me wrong. I adore puddings and I adore Michel Roux, and eating any of the wonders that come out his legendary kitchen would make me a very happy woman indeed. I just didn’t quite get why a croquembouche is held in such high regard.

Actually, I blame Iceland (the frozen food manufacturer, not the country that produced Björk). Their ghastly Kerry Katona/Jason Donovan pile ’em high ‘party’ ads have ruined the joy of choux pastry as a luxury item for me. I can’t look at profiteroles with respect any more, and essentially, a croquembouche is a monster pyramid of profiteroles minus the melted chocolate that is my favourite part anyway. With heaps of spun sugar. Life, in my view, is too effing short to spin sugar. Continue reading

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MasterChef: Off their trollies

I happened to speak to someone who had made it to the very end of the (very long) MasterChef process a number of years ago. A life-changing experience? Yes. But they also reminded me that there is no money involved in winning MasterChef, and you don’t get paid whilst you’re engaged in the process either – when you’re not earning money from your day job. Success gives you a lot of exposure, you learn an incredible amount and it offers the winner the opportunity to work in a top professional kitchen (unpaid) but for people without serious financial stability or a high-earning partner, even for those who make it through the weeks of competition, this is one tough gig.

And now they’ve changed the set and the format. This is a ‘culinary cathedral’, according to the blurb. Well, I’m a food lover and it’s not my kind of church. And the style is X factor apparently. With ‘auditions’. Since I don’t watch the X factor, I can’t comment on that (is it because they’ve brought their families along, in what feels, watching, like a precursor to a massive and really weird church picnic?). And worst of all, I could not believe my eyes when I realised contestants are now expected to provide their own food. In they trekked, these gaggles of hopefuls with their carrier bags and picnic hampers and kids and partners and eyes full of hope that gets as crushed as their new potatoes as it all goes horribly wrong for most of them. And that’s exactly why I don’t want to see the families or hear the backstories. So many dreams of leaving current jobs, so many nights reading poncy cookbooks, all boils down to some especially bad trifle and lumpen mash. Following Grace Dent concurrently on twitter helps with this actually, providing the nice acidic edge you need to cut through the cloying treacle of India Fisher’s voiceover.

Never mind the cameras and audience, it’s such a strange and unnatural cooking environment. It feels more like It’s a Food Knockout than a culinary test. The strangest of all is the last-ten-minutes cooking part of the format when they have to pack part-cooked food from one part of the set onto a TROLLEY and wheel it though to finish the dish off then serve up to Gregg and John. They are perched on their boy band (Blind Date?) stools with a pile of immaculate white Aprons of Joy to give out to The Chosen Ones. The apron ‘prize’ makes even the Generation Game cuddly toy seem generous. Yeah, yeah, I know, it’s ‘symbolic’.

In the words of John Torode to one poor contestant ‘Everything is soft and wet. You don’t have to chew on anything. It just disappears’.

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Lustbox: Michel Roux Jnr

Woe, woe, misery and woe. The light has gone from my weekday evenings. And when Normal Masterchef returns with Gregg the Pudding Oinker, with it will come John Torode, all Australian and shouty rather than the pale and lovely Michel Roux. Very few people get Michel-as-lustbox. He is cadaverous, pale and wears truly terrible jackets. He looks like he needs a big sandwich made of Maman’s caramelised bananas. He has the gauntness of an etiolated marathon runner who never gets out during the daytime (which he is). Despite all, he is the King of Cooking Programme Lust.

Michel has is sternness combined with (occasionally) kindly mercy, extreme delicacy and exacting standards. This is very, very sexy indeed. One would need to try very hard not to be disappointing in any way whatsoever. The pressure to achieve the highest standards of taste and presentation would be immense. Swirl those nipple tassels unevenly and see his left eyebrow raise almost imperceptibly. Let your moustache go unbleached for a day too long and see a very small moue of disappointment. Serve the sushi from your bellybutton slightly too warm and Michel might sigh, deeply, painedly. But the joy, the pure joy, of making Michel smile…oooh! Oui Chef!

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