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As the BBC broadcast coverage of Prince Philip’s life on Friday, April 9, the day of his death, the final of MasterChef was postponed.

It was shown on Wednesday, April 14, having been announced only the day before. Shown below are the judges, John Torode and Gregg Wallace:

Here they are with finalists Mike, Alexina and Tom:

Britain’s foodies could barely contain themselves:

I don’t often write about MasterChef, but this year’s final was the best yet. I would challenge the pros in the US edition of Top Chef or the amateurs from MasterChef USA to come up with comparable dishes.

This video shows what the British amateurs cooked:

As ever, the programme began with brief biographies, complete with childhood photos, of each contestant. Their parents also participated in interviews.

Alexina

Alexina was confident:

I’ve put up some inspirational dishes … It’s my competition to lose.

She lives in south London:

We discovered that she is a graduate of the University of Cambridge — Jesus College, in fact:

Only social media followers, however, will know that she volunteers for The Food Chain in London. I recognise one well known chef and restaurateur in the photo, Allegra McEvedy, who is in the black and white blouse:

Mike

We knew early on in the series that one side of Mike’s family is Italian.

In the following video, Mike’s girlfriend describes how generous they are when it comes to serving dinner:

Mike, from Surrey, enjoys his espressos.

He explained that his grandmother taught him how to cook. He was fascinated watching her and imitated what she did in the kitchen:

Tom

Tom is from Newcastle and, before coronavirus struck, worked in a local restaurant as front of house.

He has always enjoyed cooking:

He often cooks for his parents.

The semi-final

The semi-final took place at London’s Le Gavroche, which has two Michelin stars. I have eaten there and will never forget the dining experience. Here, Alexina reproduced a challenging Le Gavroche classic for owner Michel Roux Jr and his senior members of staff:

Michel Roux Jr was impressed with all three finalists, each of whom made some of the restaurant’s most challenging dishes. In the next video, we see Mike first, then Alexina, followed by Tom:

Based on that episode, we could hardly wait for the final.

The final

Each of the finalists had to create and prepare three dishes.

Mike prepared a starter of scallop with romanesco, followed by sous-vide lamb with a lamb farce and sweetbread pithivier, served with an unctuous thyme and potato terrine. The jus, a gastrique, was perfect. For dessert, he paid homage to his grandmother with a take on tiramisu:

The tiramisu, in particular, looked mouth-watering:

Mike was disappointed that his pithivier burst on the bottom. Nonetheless, John and Gregg responded with superlatives about his dishes:

unctuous and sweet and sticky and absolutely yummy …

dreamy …

fruity sweetness but still with meatiness …

It’s classic, opulent cooking and it’s skilful.

Here’s the video:

Alexina prepared a Malaysian crab soup with a peanut butter bread stick, a perfectly sautéed bavette of beef, and, as a nod to her grandmother, a rolled baked apple (one long strip), served with gin-soaked blackberries and a herby ice cream:

John and Gregg particularly liked the crab soup, an homage to her brother who loves peanut butter:

Then it was Tom’s turn to present his final creative plates of food. This chap was a star from the start.

He prepared three oysters, each in a different style, including one which was deep fried in bread crumbs. He followed this with roast beef and beetroot. Dessert was a tangy lemon-yuzu tart with olive oil ice cream, accentuated with a pinch of salt:

Gregg had a deep food experience tasting it, especially the beef.

The tart and ice cream were works of genius. The tart had black olive meringue on top:

Viewers were bowled over by the quality and imagination of the food. Any of these meals could be served in a top restaurant. Tom’s showed Michelin-star quality.

In the end, there could be only one winner, the 17th champion of MasterChef:

Everyone did brilliantly:

I wholeheartedly agree. I also think that all should have had a glass of champagne to share Tom’s victory:

Tom enjoyed celebrating his win with John and Gregg. He also enjoyed speaking with his ecstatic mother on the phone, hence his reaction:

I wonder if Tom is back at work, now that lockdown has largely lifted:

Indeed.

Follow Tom on Twitter and browse his website for recipes.

I hope someone offers him a job really quickly. His talent is too good to waste. What a great end to lockdown that would be.

Another series of MasterChef ended on Friday, April 13, 2018.

MasterChef, in all its incarnations — amateur, professional and celebrity — has comprised most of my BBC viewing. The only other programme I watch is Inside the Factory, which is also food oriented. As everything else is either politicised or revisionist, I avoid the rest of the BBC like the plague.

The last time I wrote about the amateur series of MasterChef was in 2013, when Londoner Natalie Coleman won. I was going to write about Ping Coombes in 2014, but a serious family matter intervened.

I remember well the original MasterChef, which Loyd Grossman — originally from Marblehead, Massachusetts — hosted in the 1990s. Grossman also hosted the British edition of Through the Keyhole for many years.

MasterChef underwent a revamp in 2005. The new studio was large (the current one huge), and the challenges became more involved. Chef and restaurateur John Torode and former greengrocer Gregg Wallace became the new co-hosts. Since then, many the winners have gone on to greatness, opening their own gastro-pubs and restaurants. Thomasina Miers, the 2005 winner, is probably the most successful of all the MasterChef winners. She founded and owns the Wahaca chain of restaurants featuring food you won’t find outside of Mexico.

Every series has some sort of controversy. 2017’s was about the proper pronunciation of chorizo. That year also saw the debut of the market, full of ingredients for the contestants to use. A physician from Watford won: Dr Saliha Mahmood-Ahmed, who now divides her time between hospital work and a cookery career. The doctor had stiff competition in Giovanna Ryan and Steve Kielty:

Now on to the 2018 edition of MasterChef.

The standard of cookery gets higher and higher every year, beginning with the first episode. Successful contestants make and plate restaurant quality dishes. Competent home cooks end up eliminated early on.

This was also the first year that the amateurs went to a foreign country during Finals Week. They spent time in Lima, Peru, cooking for two of the country’s top chefs.

The near diplomatic incident

In Knockout Week, Gregg Wallace nearly caused a diplomatic incident when he criticised a Malaysian contestant’s chicken rendang because the skin wasn’t crispy. On April 4, the London Evening Standard reported:

Wallace sparked a wave of criticism, including from Malaysia’s prime minister, after telling Malaysian-born Zaleha Kadir Olpin her chicken rendang dish needed a crispier skin.

“The skin isn’t crispy. It can’t be eaten but all the sauce is on the skin I can’t eat,” Wallace said on the BBC show.

His sharp assessment of the dish, which saw Ms Olphin crash out of the show, sparked a rebuke from Malaysia’s Prime Minister Najib Razak, who tweeted a picture of the curry dish along with the caption: “Does anyone eat chicken rendang ‘crispy’? #MalaysianFood”.

Wallace appeared on ITV’s Good Morning Britain to explain:

I didn’t mean it should be fried, like a fried chicken. What I meant was, it wasn’t cooked. And it simply wasn’t cooked. It was white and flabby.

It did no good. A Facebook page went up in Malaysia with the title ‘Justice for Chicken Rendang’ and demands for apologies from judges Torode and Wallace:

One commenter, Jin Wee, wrote online: “As a Malaysian, if I could, I would personally go to the show and rendang their head. Uncultured swine, doesn’t know variety of cuisine and claims to be Masterchef?”

The British high commissioner also got involved:

Vicki Treadell, the British high commissioner to Malaysia who was born in the country, tweeted: “Rendang is an iconic Malaysian national dish … It is never crispy & should also not be confused with the fried chicken sometimes served with nasi lemak.”

Torode had the final say, with no apology:

I did a whole series on Malaysia. Malaysian food is fantastic. I absolutely love it. I said to her, it wasn’t cooked enough, that’s what I said.

The Radio Times has more on the incident, including tweets. The magazine gives Torode’s exact quote as he was judging the dish:

I think the chicken rendang on the side is a mistake. It hasn’t had enough time to cook down and become lovely and soft and fall apart. Instead the chicken itself is just tough and it’s not really flavoursome.

Chorizo pronunciation redux

Questions over the pronunciation of chorizo arose again with Portuguese-born Alex, who works in the fashion industry in London. On April 12, the Sun reported:

Alex claims she’s from Portugal but some viewers seemed doubtful due to how she pronounced Chorizo.

One tweeted: “Alex on MasterChef tells us she’s from Portugal but then she says ‘Choritso’…#suspicious.”

The Sun included the tweet:

Alex did not make the cut for the final, but as the fourth remaining contestant, did a great job throughout.

Finalists

The final three contestants this year were all men: bank manager Kenny Tutt, airline pilot David Crichton and another physician, Thai-born Dr Nawamin Pinpathomrat, who is currently studying for his PhD at Oxford.

The Radio Times has more on the finalists, including their style of cuisine.

The apple crumble moment

David Crichton made an outstanding crumble in Finals week:

David’s apple crumble mille-feuille – layers of puff pastry, filled with caramelised apple and cream custard, with a crumble topping and served with clotted cream ice-cream and a caramel sauce – almost reduced John Torode to tears. The judge called it “fabulous, fantastic and faultless”.

The Australian-born Torode speaks as he finds. This crumble brought out a side that viewers had not seen before. The Evening Standard carried the story, peppering the text with tweets.

Torode told David:

“Fabulous, fantastic and faultless,” he said as he came close to shedding a tear. “Like honestly, it makes me well up – that is sensational.

“That’s what this competition is about where you push yourself to the stage where you make your own puff pastry and take the risk.

“You make a crumble, you make an apple pie, an apple tart, an apple [mille-feuille] and you take it to dizzy heights where it stirs emotion. Restaurant quality absolutely and a credit to you David.”

Here are two of the tweets:

Kenny’s cauliflower

On April 12, the day before the final, Alex and the three men were tasked with reproducing intricate recipes served at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal.

Chef director Ashley Palmer-Watts devised his takes on these historic dishes with the help of food historians and the team at Hampton Court Palace. Each recipe is 15 pages long.

The four contestants had five hours each to re-create four of the dishes to Palmer-Watts’s exacting standards. Each contestant was assigned a different dish. One of his sous-chefs was on hand to supervise and offer advice.

SpouseMouse and I really wanted Kenny to win. We think his bank branch is going to close, and he desperately needs another line of work.

We were furious to find that Palmer-Watts’s sous-chef allowed Kenny to leave his cauliflower garnish in the oven. We weren’t alone. Digital Spy reported:

People were fuming that poor Kenny wasn’t reminded about his cauliflower – especially when fellow contestant Alex had been given a helpful hint earlier…

For whatever reason, the sous-chef muttered:

His cauliflower’s still in the oven, so I’m not gonna tell him…

Representative tweets in Digital Spy‘s article follow:

Not only ‘could have’ but jolly well ‘should have’.

After a nail-biting round with Ashley Palmer-Watts joining John and Gregg in the judging, it was a relief to discover that Kenny was going through to the final.

Torode welled up once again:

Alex narrowly missed out on a spot in the final, but said that she was delighted with how well she’d done.

Judge John Torode got rather emotional when the time came to announce the results – and viewers were very quick to notice:

Alex is standing next to Kenny, awaiting the verdict:

The final

In an online poll, most MasterChef viewers did not expect Kenny Tutt to win the final.

However, win he did and in true style. Metro reported:

The 36-year-old father of two is the 14th amateur cook to claim the prize – beating 55 other hopefuls from the current series to the title after seven weeks of culinary challenges.

He ultimately fought off competition from fellow finalists Nawamin Pinpathomrat and David Crichton to take the title.

And he did it by impressing Gregg Wallace and John Torode with a three-course meal which was described by the judges as ‘restaurant-style perfection’ and ‘make-my-heart-thump fantastic’.

Kenny wanted to present the judges with three courses that showed techniques he had learned at the restaurants where he and the contestants cooked during the series to reflect his MasterChef journey:

Kenny kicked things off with roast scallops, smoked cauliflower, shimeji mushroom and pancetta.

His main course was a Squab pigeon breast and bon-bon, heritage beetroot, baby turnip, spiced cherries, bread sauce and game jus, followed by a bitter chocolate, ale ice-cream, malt tuile and smoked caramel.

The judges were impressed, to say the least:

‘Today we watched Kenny coming of age,’ Gregg said of his win.

‘We have just witnessed Kenny having his best round on MasterChef and he saved it for the final. His starter was a stunningly beautiful dish, it was quality restaurant-style perfection and his main course was even better.’

John said:

I think Kenny’s journey has been extraordinary. He has come a long way. His food has got more and more refined and his main course was make-my-heart-thump fantastic!

Kenny said:

I have put my heart and soul into it and it’s been an absolute pleasure. It’s up there with the happiest days of my life!

More on Kenny and MasterChef tomorrow. This series was so memorable in so many ways.

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