Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Masterchef The Professionals: Finals week part one

Before we start, I think it's time we took a longer look at the contestants left standing and come to a few conclusions. Claire Lara of Liverpool, she is currently a tutor at Liverpool Community College. John Calton of South Shields works at the Duke of Wellington pub, in Newton, Northumberland. And lastly Dave Coulson of Wingate, head chef at the Eden Castle Inn, in Hartlepool. All fine chefs who deserve to take the title of Masterchef Professional 2010. Despite the fact that most of the cooking is taking place in that London, it's clear from the number of Northerners who applied and who ultimately lasted till the very end, that London is no longer the belly button of British cookery it thinks it is. Between rustic traditional cooks like the Hairy Bikers and the number of restaurants featured on Ramsay's best Restaurant  this year and last, on top of the finalists of Masterchef, the North of England and particularly the North East have risen in stature. Some Southern media may be surprised and think the North East is punching above it's weight, but that's just them not being aware food of any quality is cooked north of a tank of petrol from London. In fact the region is a culinary gem that now seems to be getting the attention it so richly deserves.

Read Part two and how the winner got there 

Masterchef Professionals Finals week starts with a visit from Pierre Hermé renowned pastry chef.  A demi-G-d of patisserie Greg tells us opportunities don't get bigger than this. He'll have to take it easy on the hyperbole, as you'll see the calibre of challenges ahead is headier and headier.  This go around our trio have to emulate three of Chef Hermé's classic pastries.

John has to make Tarte Vanille. For this one there are three different kinds of vanilla used to create the unique flavour. 

Claire, Emulsion Magnifique, 7 pages of recipe dear readers, for one pastry. That's a lot of work.

And David Desiré Composition

All of these involve an immense amount of skill for each component and assembly. For the judging, helping out will be Cherish Finden from the Langham and Heston Blumenthal's own pastry point man James Petrie. Surely a heavy hitter line up of people to impress as well as the creator of the dishes himself. From here in the cooking will have to be flawless.

John's pastry was not even close to standard and parts were runny and the glaze had not set. Sadly, yet again, John was beset by timing issues. Despite all this, it tasted great.

Claire declared her entire dish very fiddly but succeeded so well that Chef Pierre declared "I could sell it like this in my shop".

David's work looked perfect  but was a bit over baked, however his layers were even and well put together. Good for a 1st ever attempt.

Back at Masterchef HQ it was time to create a trio of desserts for Greg and Chef Roux.

Claire produced a  crumble that had Greg in ecstasy just looking at it, a divine rhubarb jelly and a crème patisserie...  Her string of brilliant cooking continued with another clean sheet of results.

David surprised by making his mam's own banana bread but also dipped in butterscotch sauce for extra kick, his chocolate Crème Brulée  had not set so it was runny  but tasty, lastly his chocolate crème patisserie  was elegant and near 100% faultless.

John who made a massive attack of chocolate started with a perfect fondant followed by a mouse described as nearly like a truffle, ending with a devilish white chocolate soup that was brilliant and imaginative. Dropping all pretence, Greg was unable to hide his delight at the food he wanted to have all to himself.

And so now on to Copenhagen, Denmark and  the best restaurant in the world. NOMA , opened in 2004, taking it's current title from previous holder, Heston Blumenthal's Fat Duck. It's philosophy is based on the notion of Nordic foraging based cuisines that are seasonal and local. Chef René Redzepi prides himself on plates of food that show the connection between nature and the plate of food, he'll be expecting the same from our finalists, looking for a reflection of how the food looked in nature. Remember what I said about fine dining in the last article? I would eat this food with delight and be prepared to pay the asking price. Here is a concept I can wrap my head around. Before Claire, John and David can cook a single thing they are taken on a foraging expedition  to discover the hidden treasure that grows in plain site. Along with the treasures they collected, they are expected to cook a white perch.

John cooked the fish two ways, pan fried and in a tartar (I would know it as gefilte fish). While Chef René liked both dishes, he did not think they belonged on the same plate. In fact he suggested he would consider putting the pan fried on the menu it was that good.

Claire prepared the fish pickled in vinegar and a salad of wild flowers. Described as delicious fish  that was refreshing and juicy, Claire was rightly pleased with herself.

David created fish poached in butter with wild flowers. I t looked nice , was well cooked even  having lovely crispy skin. The only element that didn't work was the ground elder. Close to perfection, it was clean and direct.

Day 2 dawned and our finalists were told they would each have to cook a starter and a main from the menu for the some of the best chefs in Denmark and selected NOMA regulars. Unlike a lot of restaurants, NOMA chefs have to finish plating the food in front of guests. For already nervous David and shy Claire, this may prove too much.

John was assigned the bone marrow starter with a Danish pork neck main. Greg Wallace and Chef Roux declared his cooking exquisite.

Claire got the King crab and leek in which ash is used as a spice and a main of Pike perch with celeriac Truly amazing said our judges.

David made the Tartar of beef with wood sorrel, a signature dish, and Arctic Muskox served with beetroot and bone marrow sauce. Were moved to exclaim he had done brilliantly well.

As for the Danish chefs and regulars, with few exceptions, they thought the food coming out of the kitchen was entirely up to standard and mostly could not be differentiated from the regular kitchen staff. If one was to sum up now before we got back to London, Claire was still marginally ahead of her two other rivals, but only just so. All three produced fine dining quality food of the first order and could easily have have been just as valid choices for winner should the contest have stopped now. As it is there was still plenty of road between the chefs and the final decision.

On returning to London, Greg and Michel set one more invention test to see what our hopefuls had learned. 2 hours and the usual choice of fresh ingredients most of us can only dream of.

Claire made a starter of Red Mullet and Spider Crab with fennel. It looked nice, her seasoning was spot on, stunning , a complete dish of Michelin star quality.  She then presented roast rump of Hogget while full of bags of flavour, it was chewy as the Hogget was rushed.

John cooked Pan fried scallops with a quail egg and fresh peas.  great combo, but his peas should have been removed form the skin.  His main of Roast breast of Duck and Duck sausage tasted great but was scruffy looking as it had been piled on in a heap. Yet again timing issues had affected his cooking and plating cost him and otherwise tasty well presented dish.

Lastly David made Confit Salmon that was light, elegant and well cooked. A touch of NOMA said Michel.  His Main was Lamb en croute with wild garlic, morels and broccoli. While the lamb was a bit overdone, Michel paid David the greatest compliment by saying he had learned something today. Brilliant, absolutely brilliant said Greg.

If we had trouble finding daylight between the the three in Denmark, it had just gotten even harder. Even now I'm hard pressed to tell you with absolute confidence who I think should win.  Later tonight we'll find out and may the best chef win.

EDIT: The Winner was Claire Lara, details soon as I finish the review! 

Catch up the entire series of Masterchef Professionals here.

Try the recipes from the entire series posted by chef 

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