Red pepper

MasterChef, episode one: wet-bottomed soufflés make the cooking world go round

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MasterChef BBC One, forever

You cannot beat the first round of the first episode of 239 of a new series of MasterChef. Clumped noodles (Gary). Soggy plums (Maria). Overpowering micro-basil (Tim). Tough fondant (Annabel). Soggy courgettes (Davina). Not-quite-right creamy sauce (Lisa). Wet-bottomed soufflé (Frank). Mind you, Frank got kudos from Gregg and John, just for making a soufflé. From council-estate beginnings.

It’s different now, though. The would-bes are savvier. The pure chaos of first rounds past, where semi-competent hopefuls flapped like ten-year-olds slung into a breaker’s yard and asked to knock up a family saloon, is gone.

The modern newbies are surefooted and self-stretching. No one just cooks meat and two any more. There’s samphire tempura and micro-red amarinth. You never used to have to look up ingredients in round one.

If anyone was hesitant, it was Gregg ‘two Gs’ Wallace. Maybe he’s been doing it too long and is forgetting how to talk logically. Do you cook the food from Mauritius, he asked Davina, phrasing it weirdly, as if there was just the one lot of food from Mauritius and people had been asking around about who was cooking it.

Still, you knew it would all be right as soon as 26-year-old art gallery curator Tim managed to cram passion into his first mouthful of testimony. Passion is no ordinary word, usually, but it is on MasterChef. They’re all passionate about it. Food. It means everything. Food.

Tim was a pure MasterChef type – sure of himself in an art-gallery way, never eaten a ready meal (yeah), made his own spaghetti. To the veteran, every first-round episode of MasterChef is a wobbly shopping trolley of types.

Frank was another. Typical, Frank. Half-Sri Lankan, half-Nigerian, 34, making a cheese and chive soufflé. Playing with fire, said John Torode. Annabel was another, the potential prodigy, chancing a potato fondant, which is hard. And it was hard. A 57-year-old sales engineer, Gary, was the seen-it-on-the-telly-and-thought-I’d-have-a-bash one. Travelled in Thailand and rustled up Korean crispy beef, which looked like a plate of noodles. And it was a plate of noodles.

There was even a forager from Guernsey (Lisa) doing fancy mackerel. You never used to get foragers. But impressive-sounding entrées from the rookies still fail to live up to the flowery blurbs.

Gary had cooked up a train crash and admitted it. He was without hope, because you can’t crash your train, even in round one of episode one of 239. You have to just about stay on the rails to start the journey to making coconut swans on seas of blue custard.

Mind you, all you have to do is just about stay on the rails, so hard-potato, wet-bottom, micro-basil and not-quite-right-creamy made the first cut to cook for last year’s finalists, David, Nawamin and Kenny, who’d won it.

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I stand by my soufflé, said Frank, who was expert at MC stylings. He dedicated his next spread – which reflected, in its potato curry, his Sri Lanka half – to his late grandmother. Finalist-in-waiting stuff.

Annabel did cod with black pudding mash, then went all-in with a chocolate fondant. Part of the triangle of death, said Kenny, along with panna cotta and soufflé. Lisa did scallops and duck, sprinkled with Guernsey dust, which sounded like a nice legal high, but was just some foraged seaweed.

Tim said it would be an indictment of his personality if they didn’t like his menu, then went completely postal with a cold cured Danish buttermilk soup for pudding.

The all-male jury waved both females straight through for their perfect grub. Annabel laughed at the triangle of death with her chocolate fondant, which was ooh la la. It’s banging, said Kenny.

Elimination was down to a nervy match-up between Tim and Frank. Frank’s curry was runny and his roti was raw, but his chicken was chunky. His pineapple fritters were slightly soggy, but his ice cream was yummy.

But Tim. Tim. His hake and beans held up, but his cold cured buttermilky soupy pudding. A bit … chalky, said Kenny, as the trio’s noses wrinkled, not in a flirtatious way. Highly unusual flavour … and texture, said Gregg, not in a flirtatious way. Like a diluted yoghurt. I’ve never tasted it before, said John, as if anyone had. It’s not certain Tim had. Not to my liking, added John, for certainty.

It was an indictment of his personality. Tim was dry toast. Or was he? Hell, no. They booted Frank instead. Where’s VAR when you need it? Anyway, at least he got in his dedication. And we’re off! 238 to go.


Photograph: Red pepper by Pixabay/Pexels


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