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Masterchef: Knockout Time

265304BB-C041-42D0-B91E-0AC89B05E088Anything that has been filmed before ‘This Time’ looks odd now, as sequestered in our homes, we resemble alien life forms peering down. We observe the contestants; hugging, high-five-ing, slapping each other on the backs: Where’s your social distancing?! Thank God they make their own pasta, as there’s no ready-made stuff to be found in the whole of Christendom at the moment and the sight of it might tip someone over the edge.

So, it’s Knockout Week. Pedantic of me to say, I know, but isn’t every episode? Each week of the heats started with twelve contestants and finished with three – I don’t think those other nine were in a holding pen waiting to spring back into action. Anyway, there’s no boxing gloves here, just an occasional blue plaster on sixteen eager beavers chomping at the bit to progress.

After the giddy excitement of Apron-geddon, I’ve been a bit underwhelmed by this week, I can’t deny, but maybe Lockdown is making me grouchy. For starters they split them into two groups of eight and whittled down from there. Surely those last sixteen needed to see the whites of each other’s eyes, not least the whites of their aprons. Those aprons, my preciousssss!

First up, they had to make their showstopper dish. Again. Wouldn’t it be better to have given them something more challenging, as in something unexpected? If you haven’t perfected this one dish, heaven help you. Still there seemed to plenty to criticise, nonetheless. Jane’s adorable Woodland Wonder of toadstool meringues on pistachio moss. ‘It could be a fun looking plate,’ sniffed Toady beforehand, ‘I hope it doesn’t look like a novelty toy.’ No, Toads, cos that would be too much fun. In the event, it was too dry.

Shaheen went rogue with his mashed potatoes Beef Wellington, where pancake merged into potato in an unholy mess. I don’t know why contestants haven’t learned this yet. Don’t call your dish by anything like its official name, otherwise that is what they will expect! Call it Boeuf Pomme de Terre Surprise or something. So those two went, along with energetic James and his tonka bean sauce that didn’t taste of tonka bean, even though Toady had grumbled beforehand that it might and how could that possibly work in a savoury dish.

On the second night, I was mesmerised by the fact that Natasha’s colours on the plate matched her rainbow of eyeshadow. Such matching should be noted, you would have thought, but it wasn’t mentioned. Then off to the Pro Stint they went and we heard at least three times that we were in 2015 champion Simon Wood’s restaurant, thus affording us a lot of footage of him from five years back.

While Beverley in the kitchen hunched over her pasta, looking for all the world like Julie ‘Two Soups’ Walters; Toady, in his professional masseur black tunic, seemed staggered by their locale. ‘Incredible, isn’t it? We’re in former champion Simon’s restaurant and here’s five contestants who aspire to do exactly the same thing.’ Right. They’re not aspiring astronauts, man. Get a grip.  Shrek meanwhile, had come dressed as his granddad in tie and cardy combo, marvelling at how the ‘amachurs’ had followed a recipe where someone had stood over them, literally every step of the way.

So, to the last episode and the remaining ten had to produce a plate of nine canapés in order to progress – ‘the sort of thing you’d pass around at a party.’ Thanks Shrek. Next week he’ll be explaining the wheel to the hard of thinking. This also seemed an odd challenge. To produce a perfect example of something, then do eight more of it, seems to diminish it somehow.

The fellas, who’d been a bit depleted in the first two rounds, came storming back, with all four of them sailing through. Sandy was the only female exempt from criticism, as they muttered over the saltiness of Charlotte’s artichoke (not a euphemism), the blandness of Claire’s balls (again, not a euphemism) and the hardness of Beverley’s rice (again,… ok you got it).

In the end, it was another unholy mess of a tiramisu type affair that saw Marla, a confident American in the way that the Brits often aren’t, take the walk of shame. Actually, I don’t think it was really the mess of it that was the problem, especially as a. it looked great and b. she’d given them an espresso martini shot alongside. It was the fact that she said it could be eaten in a couple of bites. Shrek reached out eagerly, cavernous mouth agape and managed only a third on his first attempt. That won’t do at all, Marla. You can’t pull a ‘Not even a black hole can eat three Shredded Wheat’ stunt here….

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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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Poldark: Aunt Agatha brings it

imageBurly miner struts across the Cornish cliff, rippling his muscles. ‘I’ve a message from Trenwith. Where’s Poldark…?’
‘He’s behind youuuuuu….!’

Sorry, I thought we’d got lost in panto-land for a minute. I’ve watched both the previous series and it seems they’re certainly ratcheting up the ham-factor this time round if the opening episode was anything to go by. Perhaps this is inevitable after the first couple of series – Downtown Abbey certainly suffered the same fate.

Maybe it’s the new telly I got last year, but the colours seem to be set permanently to one of those especially lurid filters, such as Lark or Juno, that you find on Instagram. Our three central heroines – Demelza, Elizabeth and Caroline look like Charlie’s Angels in olde worldy frocks or maybe a Timotei ad, so lustrous are their floating manes and improbably perfect white teeth and flawless complexions.

There was much consternation in the nation that Ross, Every-Woman’s eye-candy (hashtag #hotstuff), didn’t flash his torso in Episode One. Normal service was swiftly resumed in Episode Two, with Demelza’s brothers also plunging obligingly bare-chested into the sea for good measure.

No, Episode One was about LAYING ON THE DRAMA.  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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Homeland, White Heat & MasterChef

Yes, I know the customary Pauseliveaction procedure is to pick just ONE programme to write about, but I’m greedy, and frankly I’ve been a viewing flibbertijibbet recently, so this post reflects that.

These have been three of my favourite programmes of late (to be fair, I must add that I also loved Prisoners Wives, and am quite enjoying Pramface. Well, the former has the fabulous Pippa Heyward in it, the latter has Angus Deayton and Anna Chancellor, and BOTH have Emma Rigby).

I’ve flitted in and out of MasterChef. I was utterly hypnotised by Aki’s eyes for quite some time, and when she got told off by John for being a mucky pup in the barn-based-undercooked-brownie-debacle (and we never did find out who sabotaged her), my heart went out to her. I couldn’t keep a white apron clean making meringues.

But when she left, my viewing became intermittent. The Jane Austen Fan Club task, with its purple horror show beetroot sauce, made me feel queasy.  The way every task is made out to be so hysterically dramatic and overhyped, with daft, shrieky incidental music, makes me want to shout “It’s only FOOD dudes. Chill the fuck OUT”.

But then, Twitter chums, including Pauseliveaction herself, alerted me to the concurrent (to the programme) tweets of @themanwhofell, and this brought the magic back. Surreal, hilarious. Utter genius. It’s the Twitter equivalent of having Dave Lamb narrate Come Dine With Me, but even better.

Sadly he wasn’t tweeting for the final, in which the beautiful Shelina beat the two boys, Tom and Andrew, to win the trophy, and frankly, it was less fun. But I’m glad she won. 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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Saturday Kitchen: Not cool but I like it

Just look at the set in this picture. Fake stone clad walls in a strange pinky beige colour like a holiday rental cottage in Devon circa 1982. Random orange vases. Peculiar lighting. It’s a terrible set, a bit like the one you’d see in the 1970s lunchtime ‘housewives’ show Houseparty, which featured a similar fake domestic set plus a cast of various women who would ring the doorbell (did this happen or am I having a weird retro Avon lady dream here?) and happen to ‘drop by’ with a cake recipe or pink loo seat cover pattern to crochet. It was innocent, comforting and ‘hyggelig’ and I loved it to bits.

Saturday Kitchen is a bit slicker of course, but it’s just as cosy. I happened upon it when I was ill a few weeks ago. I remembered host James Martin from Ready, Steady, Cook a few years back, Fern Britton era, when he always seemed to be spinning hot sugar into baskets (pity the poor sod who had to clean the floor after he’d finished). I didn’t like him much then, but he’s lovely in Saturday Kitchen. Maybe he’s older, maybe he prefers being in charge.

It all kicks off (actually, that’s too active a description – ‘gently slides into existence’ perhaps) with him welcoming a couple of viewers, well-coiffed women in their 40s who look like they’d do well in a modern version of Houseparty. He has a couple of professional chefs that join him to cook for the celebrity guest, and these dishes also tasted by the two viewer guests. They get through quite a lot of wine, chosen by an expert such as Jolly Olly.

Last week’s smiley, unchallenging celeb was Amanda Burton, the week before, an entirely pleasant, flirty Gok Wan. Throughout the show the demonstrated recipes are interspersed with clips  from other cookery shows, such as MasterChef, Rick Stein or Antonio Carluccio. Works a treat this – none of the repetitive flannel, just a perfect bite-sized mouthful.

My favourite part is when the two chefs enter the cookery version of the ‘Star in a reasonably priced car’ bit of Top Gear by trying to make an omelette in the shortest time possible. They mostly produce a slimy mess of runny eggs, but it’s enjoyable to watch talented people doing something as silly as a Generation Game test, and also, be a bit crap at cooking like the rest of us for once.

At the end of the show, Martin will cook a dish for the celeb which is either their idea of food ‘heaven’ or ‘hell’, and the decision as to which gets decided by the panel members of chefs and viewers.

It’s all terribly pleasant, sweet and gentle, like being fed spoonfuls of shepherd’s pie whilst slolloping on a La Z Boy recliner.

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