Six remained on the final day of this weeks Masterchef but only two could qualify for the semi-final. Michel and Greg were clear – everybody had to “up their game”. And they didn't mean throwing partridge in the air.
First up was the creative test where the chefs were confronted by a massive choice of ingredients and asked to cook something from it. This differed so hugely from the other tasks where they bring their ingredients with them that I almost couldn't tell the difference. But when you've got a format to drag out then any twist however tiny can be justified.
The chefs set to cooking and the programme makers set to reminding us who they all were with a mixture of backstage vignettes where they all pretty much said exactly the same thing i.e. “how much it would mean to gain the approbation of a figure like Michel Roux Jr” and all pretty much didn't say exactly the same thing i.e. “how much it would mean to receive the approbation of Greg Wallace.”
Greg normally resolves the problem of the fact that none of the contestants gives a fig what he thinks by rephrasing whatever Michel says and occasionally adding the word “mate”. However, when it came to Eager Aaron, Greg took the radical step of having a contrary opinion. What had caused this boldness? Aaron had taken a truly shocking action – he had chosen to serve a vegetarian dish. Greg's response was clear and condemnatory. It appeared that as far as he was concerned going vegetarian is the Masterchef equivalent of joining Al Qaida and Greg Wallace is not one to negotiate with terrorists. Fortunately for Aaron, unlike Obama, Greg does not have access to drones.
Even more fortunately for Aaron, Michel quite obviously loved his stuff so the horror of a greengrocer at the serving of vegetables was not certain to be his undoing. Even more fortunately, Lanky Alan proved to be all presentation and no flavour and Hollow-Eyed Martin produced a cheesecake that looked like the bomb that Greg would have wanted to drop on Aaron's vegetables had hit it instead.
Bland Thomas, Assured Alec, Self-doubting Michael (who was beginning to show signs of self-belief – at least a little bit) and Eager Aaron advanced to cook for the critics.
In came the critics for their dinners. First we had Tracey Macleod who I last saw presenting the Late Show and so is someone who knows everything there is to know about serving up tripe. Then there was Charles Pompous Prat (sorry forgot his last name so gave him a new and more appropriate one). Charles offered the standard dishonest critics plea that all he was searching for was “simple, honest food”. Ignoring for a moment what a dishonest food might be...no I can't...are garlic mushrooms liars? What exactly is that moussaka hiding? would you trust a quiche with your credit card?
Enough Charles “simple, honest” gambit is a disingenous load of tosh. He knows full well the nature of the competition is about “fine” dining and that the chefs are going to have to try and stand out and impress. They could serve up the most perfect spaghetti bolognese ever made and they would get knocked out. His approach is like a judge turning up at the Olympic diving competition and saying all he wanted to see was “simple, honest,” diving and none of those tucks, spins or pikes.
The third critic was Jay Rayner. It doesn't take a brilliant psychiatrist to spot that Jay is going through a mid-life crisis. Now, there is nothing wrong with going through a mid-life crisis (I'm currently doing it myself) but there really is no need to actually grow it on your face so everybody can see.
First up was Bland Thomas. And he was first out too. He had a complete nightmare culminating in being forced to apologise for burning his shortbread. Reality shows try their best to preserve some tension even when none exists but even they couldn't manage it here. All that was left was for the critics to verbally dance on his grave.
Next up was Assured Alec. Jay consulted his menu. “Sounds like fish and chips to me,” he observed in what passes for Wildean wit in restaurant critic circles. Hearing this, Tracey spoke for the critics, announcing that therefore Assured Alec was going to have cook his dish absolutely perfectly (the strong implication being - even better than the standard the other chefs were required to reach). The reason for this was unspoken but understood by all three of them. Assured Alec had to reach a higher standard because he was having the gall to serve the type of food that poor people might eat. And if restaurant critics were going to be expected to eat the same basic ingredients as poor people : fish! potatoes! peas! then it had better be done a damn sight better than any poor person had ever seen it. So much for “simple, honest food.”
Assured Alec followed it up with a liquid chocolate cake. “Indulge me,” began Jay. (Yes, Jay is sort of the person who prefaces a question by saying “indulge me.”) I confess to not hearing the question that followed because I was bellowing at the screen. “You are being paid to eat! You are already being indulged, you fuzzy faced fop!”
Next came Ex-self-doubting Michael. His menu featured wild pickings. I didn't know what they were but from the tired sighs of the critics it was obvious they did. They were faddish apparently. And oh how our long-suffering critics hated fads (they were all channelling the “simple, honest food” guff by now). Their tired sighs did not bode well for Michael. His ex-self-doubtingness looked like it might be short-lived.
Especially with Michel's favourite Eager Aaron up next. He did a witty take on the roast chicken dinner – one of the less witty bits being that some of it wasn't cooked. Tracey decided she wasn't going to risk eating it and I didn't blame her. Then he deconstructed a banoffi pie and seemed to have removed all the taste from it in the process.
Poor old Michel was faced with a bit of a problem. He wanted Eager Adam through to the semi-final but his protege had received a bit of a drubbing from the critics. And the name of the round was The Critics so surely their opinion was going to matter. Er..not so much. Michel tasted Aaron's dishes and tactfully observed that the chicken “could have perhaps done with a little more cooking” and the dessert was “subtle.” And on these carefully selected words did Eager Aaron slide through to join Assured Alec in the semi-finals. Language is a slippery medium as the critics could doubtless tell you.