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go big or go home

Having spent a lovely week in Edinburgh seeing lots of Fringey things, the lady occupying the adjacent seat on my journey home decided to catch up with Celebrity Masterchef.  Yep, seen that one – he does something with a crocodile.  Oooh, not seen that one – concentrate on your book, Fanny.  No spoilers!

I managed to reach the comfort of my sofa not knowing the outcome so cracked on with some catching up of my own.

Phillips & friend

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shake your salad maker

Bucks Fizz once said “if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen”.  I have detested the weather in London this summer but two things have put a smile on my red, sweaty face; return trips to the Olympic stadium for the Anniversary Games (get over it, move on!) and having Celebrity Masterchef back on my telly – right from the start I could tell we were in for a good ‘un.

John: “COOKING DOESN’T GET TOUGHER THAN THIS!”
Gregg: “OI!  THAT’S MY LINE 🙂 ”

Heidi, Gregg, Janet, John?

Heidi, Gregg, Janet, John?

Excellent.  Our first contestants strut towards the camera.  Who have we got?  Professional grump, Janet Street-Porter.  All round sweetheart, Heidi Range.  Funny lady and champion Beyonce impersonator, Katy Brand.  Business woman and ex-Rolling Stone wife Jo Wood completes the first week’s line-up.

CHEESE!

CHEESE!

The eighth series is under way.  Has it really been that many?  I’m seeing clips of this year’s cooks and it’s all feeling a bit samey.  I’m sure I’ve seen Heidi and Katy wrestle with a mixing bowl before.  I know I’ve seen Janet yell at bessie mate Gordon Ramsay and discuss the best way to slaughter animals on Channel 4.  Clearly the show and the celebrities are upping their game.  It’s gonna be hard to top the last series, but you knew that already.

This year’s first week favourite is Katy.  She seems quite awesome and likes to fly by the seat of her cheffy pants.  Ravioli AND puff pastry?  Yep.  She pulls it off too, pretty much.  Heidi is lovely and smiley and her hands shake when holding a knife.  Jo ‘on tour’ Wood tells us how she learned how to cook while travelling the globe with a bunch of old fogies.  Jo could be classed as the ‘experimental’ one.  Crisps with prawn curry, sweet potato in the shepherd’s pie and coconut oil on something or other.  Janet is, well, Janet.

I’m struggling to work out Ms Street-Porter.  Yes, she has a shtick and she does it perfectly but would she continue to yell at those in authority when in a professional kitchen?  Apparently so.  John and Gregg may well giggle as they are told to ‘do one’ or ‘get stuffed’ by the former Independent on Sunday editor but huffing and tutting at a head chef in his own restaurant?  I would have loved to see Marcus Wareing deal with her.

Tales are told of service station pasties, eating at top restaurants and adapting a flight case into a camping stove.  Yes, Jo spent 30 years feeding her family on tour.  Did she mention that?

So, what about the cooking?  Largely it was impressive albeit with the obligatory ‘is it duck or pork?’ moment and the ‘are they really putting alcohol in the pudding when they’re about to fly on a trapeze?’ incident.  There was also a lot of non-cooking.  Possibly more salads in week one than I’ve seen in an entire previous series.  “This is Masterchef, not Master Salad Maker!”  Quite.

Gregg may be the face of Weight Watchers and two stones lighter but some things never change.  “I could much the living daylights out of that dish!”  Easy tiger.  What goes on tour …

 

 
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Posted by on August 3, 2013 in BBC, Celebrity Masterchef

 

whose Roux is who’s?

“Oooh!  Wotsthat??!” I exclaimed as the 476 bus whizzed through North London just the other day.  A poster advertising what looked like a cookery telly show, thatswot.  But Roux Jr’s lovely, smiley, dark-eyed face was strangely replaced by a frown, a glare – rather scary.  He was joined by a terrifying looking Rick Stein and Angela Hartnett seemed grumpy as heck.  What could this mean?  All these amazing chefs judging one show together – gonna be a-MAZING, amirite?

Nope.

The Roux Scholarship 2013 is a mish-mash of a programme.  After the series opener it seems to be two parts Masterchef: The Professionals and one part The Apprentice.  We return from each commercial break to meet our hosts, Roux Jr and his near incomprehensible uncle.  For some reason they are at the top of the gherkin tower muttering “WHO will be the winner of the Scholarship for 2013?” and “only ONE can be declared our winner!”

Roux Scholarship 2013

I could talk at length about this but, as usual, Mr Danny Baker sums up correctly:   Read the rest of this entry »

 

“there’s no drama like wrestling”

OK, OK, I had to shoe horn a wrestling angle in there somehow (all will become clear later)… that or a Marx Brothers quote.

There are always trends running through a Masterchef series and this year it seems to be duck, duck, duck (but no duck soup).  The current run continues apace with another trend – women!  Lots of them!  Quarter finals, semi finals.  Brilliant.  About bloody time.  There also seem to be a lot more curries than there have been in previous years or at least of the fiiiine diiiining caliber.

There have been some memorable moments already (the uber posh brothers, the ‘young grandmother’ who was a personal favourite, the dish that made Torode’s heart go thump) but my ultimate moment has to be the trip to Brasserie Joel for a lunch shift with Walter Ishizuka.  Anyone familiar with American culture or comedy will hopefully be aware of the genius (and I don’t use that word lightly) that is Mr Andy Kaufman.  He was a man of many characters and one of the funniest was Foreign Man with his accent and squeaky voice.  FM became known as Latka Gravas in the hit show Taxi.  I have no doubt in my mind that Chef Ishizuka is a serious, focused and talented man it just so happens that he speaks exactly like Foreign Man.  Walter, I’m so sorry.  I could not stifle my giggles and I am so glad that I was not part of that brigade – I would have been thrown out in no time and rightly so.   Read the rest of this entry »

 

disaster class?

On a wintry Saturday lunchtime, after wolfing down scrambled eggs, bacon and toast (with brown sauce) I happened to spot a triple bill on BBC2.  Country Show Cook Off.  Never heard of it.  Loved it.  The title sequence tells you all you need to know; a pair of top quality, celebrity chefs travel the country in a gorgeous Citroen van (H type, apparently) trying their luck at winning a rosette at a country show.  And it’s as difficult as it sounds.  As suspected, this show runs weekdays with a new set of chefs each week.  These catch up episodes featured Galton Backiston and Jun Tanaka with the smirky voice over talents of Ainsley Harriott.

Jun & Galton & that lovely van

Jun & Galton & that lovely van

I was immediately struck by the beauty of the vehicle (I’m almost tempted to learn how to drive just so I can have one) and, hold on, the curtain material!  I have that very same fabric for my kitchen cushions.  My kitchen that is an almost exact replica of Dot Cotton’s, I kid you not.  Not intentional either.   Read the rest of this entry »

 

is it safe?

Aaaand, we’re back.  Masterchef UK is on our telly boxes once again.  It only feels like yesterday that Shelina, Tom and Andrew sweated buckets in Thailand and thoroughly educated us in the way of the mango.  It’s early days but I think, ladies and gentlemen, that we’re in for a real treat!

First of all, the producers have decided to go old skool.  No X Factor style auditions this year.  Initially this made me sad as it’s clear any attempt at modernisation of MC has been shelved.  Of course, I am a fan of OZ MC and think our version became neither here nor there – the audition process didn’t sit that well as everything else about the show remained the same.  All or nothing people, all or nothing.

Could Dale be crowned champion?

Could Dale be crowned champion?

While the show remains safe, our contestants seem quite adventurous.  The standouts from day one were Dale and Emily.  Dale produced restaurant standard plates with not much in the way of mistakes (or nothing that couldn’t be ironed out easily) and Emily was good but had the potential to throw it all away (almost literally).   Read the rest of this entry »

 
 

to eat, and to drink, and to be merry

I was a little surprised upon hearing of the return of the classic BBC series ‘Food & Drink’.  Surprised yet pleased.  I was a little ‘meh’ about it being hosted by Chef Michel Roux Jr.  I know, I know.  He’s a legend and I love him dearly but this was a great opportunity to launch a new face on the cookery telly universe.  Or is it better to be guided through this culinary journey with a familiar and lovely face like his?

Food & Drink launched in 1982 thus I was too distracted by Adam Ant and Shakin’ Stevens to notice Simon Bates and Jilly Goolden.  I did discover the series in later years but memories have become faded and blended with those of early Delia and Rhodes.

Chris & Jilly & Oz & Michael

Chris & Jilly & Oz & Michael

Anyway, it’s back, back, BACK!  And not in some studio set up a la Saturday Kitchen, oh no, they’ve stolen Lorraine’s stark kitchen diner from which to create some yummy food and discuss the latest consumer issues (they’ll be a bit busy if it’s been filmed in the last few weeks!).  F&D II, or F&D Babies (y’know, like Muppet Babies but with chefs?), does introduce one new face however.  The resident drinker is Kate Goodman, a wine merchant from Manchester and pretty good she is, too.  It must be thing – all wine types have that extra bit of enthusiasm, don’t they?  Think of Olly Smith and Susy Atkins.  Enthusiastic.  Kate selected three drinks to accompany a pork and apple recipe created by Michel and Tom Kerridge: a cider, a non alcoholic spiced apple drink and some wine.  Being a West Country boy, Tom was quite taken by the alcoholic apple juice but there was no beer selected much to the chagrin of Carsmile.  There have been guarantees that real ale will make an appearance at some point which will please the growing army of beer connoisseurs.  Even as someone who does not partake in beer drinking I agree that discussing the option of beer matching with your meal is becoming a ‘thing’ and someone should definitely bring this to the fore.  Pete Brown?  Sophie Atherton?

OMNOMNOM!

OMNOMNOM!

Back to the matter at hand.  Do we actually need F&D in 2013?  There are more cookery shows than you can shake a whisk at (I know, I’ve bloody watched enough), Stefan Gates as well as Jimmy Doherty explain where your food comes from and chefs tell us at any opportunity that ingredients must be LOCAL and SEASONAL.  Still, we got to see our F&D hosts chow down on mealworms and have a real, highbrow debate on finding alternatives to eating meat which was basically, “YUCK!  That’s minging, that is!”  Next week: Gizzi discusses foie gras.

 
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Posted by on February 17, 2013 in BBC, Michel Roux Jr

 

masterchef: the cop out?

So, I’ve given everyone time to watch and digest the final of Masterchef: The Professionals.  How crazy was that?

The semi-final pitting Keri against Anton was, in hindsight, an indicator of what could follow.  Both were put through to finals week and a few days later, both were crowned champions 2012.

 

Poor Oli, he fell apart a little bit and in any other year it might not have hurt his chances but this series was special and he finished third.  His back story (which always fills the first 20 minutes of a final) focused on his current location of Camden,  Would love to find out where he works – poor @oliboon1612 has no idea!  He’s been thoroughly confused as hundreds of people tweet their congratulations: “why do people keep saying this to me Dave I can’t cook for shit ha!”  I also loved Keri’s story.  She had her hair down!  She wore a lovely dress!

Right, finals week.  There was the standard, cook-for-a-room-of-Michelin-starred-chefs round along with a day at Fat Duck.  Nowhere as good as previous trips to Noma or Arzak but, there you go.  It would have been nice to go elsewhere.  There were a few chefs at the grand dinner that I wasn’t familiar with – could’ve gone to theirs.

MC Professionals winners

As it hadn’t occurred to me that there could be TWO winners, I thought Anton would win by a very slim margin.  I was half right!

Well done Masterchef.  While I do think there should be one winner, I guess they couldn’t decide.  Next season will have to go a long way to top that.

 

he’s not a pheasant plucker …

he likes to pluck pigeons!  So proclaimed James, one of the current batch of chefs on this year’s Masterchef: The Professionals.  Joining the self confessed huntsman is Anna ‘giggles’ Spooner, a pastry chef who started her career in the waitron department before getting stuck in behind the scenes and Andy, a 20 year old commi.  An early favourite is Karl, a pub chef with higher aspirations and Morton is promising too, with his Danish/Scottish accent.

James Burton: licence to shoot

The group of ten are split in two and the first major test, as always, is when Lovely Monica sets a challenge.  Well, I say challenge.  This is something a professional cook or chef should know off the top of their head, surely.  Butterfly a sardine and make some pommes dauphine – piece of piss.  Or so you’d think.  After explaining that this delightful sounding treat is choux pastry mixed with potato and deep fried, some got the gist.  Others weren’t familiar with the choux element either.  We also had many interpretations of a butterflied fish and after a disastrous attempt, poor Andy was put out of his misery.  “I know, with every inch of my body, I could’ve done better.”  Well, better luck next time, son.

The highlight of the next episode was undoubtedly the ‘cooking for Monica’s boss’ round where Karl explained his French background to Chef:

K:      Yeah, I grew up in France.
MRJ:  So I hear.  You also have your CNP?
K:      Yeah, I do.
MRJ:  The CNP is the [insert full title here].
K:      Yes, it is, yeah.
MRJ:  I’ve got my CNP too, you know!
K:      Oh!  … Well done, chef.

😀 Hil-ar-ious!  They both had a giggle and chef was pretty impressed with Karl’s dish.
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STICKING OUR FACES IN IT

Here up on the eighth floor at BdGTTt Towers we don’t just snark and drool at the telly box – no, just occasionally we get out and about into the ‘real’ world. So this Sunday past me, Fanny and guest Brenda Cheesecake went on a blog outing (blouting?) to the heaving Good Food Show at London. Although, given how tied in with the telly box it turned out to be, this was an entirely appropriate day trip.

The immense Victorian shed that is the Olympia Exhibition Centre was packed to the gunwhales with stalls, people, and tasty samples. Real wonderland stuff, the full flowering of the home-and-garden wing of the British Food Revolution. Everywhere we looked, the ‘artisanal’, the ‘bespoke’, and the ‘all-natural’ beckoned.  Whitley Neill gin, orangey and exotic. Vestal elderberry liqeur. Mr Todiwalas pickles (Christ, these were good). Clonakilty black pudding. 9bar honeyish, yummy energy bars. Diablo’s curious toastie waffle irons (bakelite!). Sipsmith’s gin and vodkas. RealAle.com. The Artisan Smokehouse and their smoked oils which I can’t wait to try with some roast potatoes. The Garlic Farm plaits, The Cornish Cheese Company and whoever was doing the funny little beetroot candies that tasted a bit like the post-dessert thing they give you at The Square   …all got a lot of interest or a sale out of me. Upstairs was ‘The Wine Show’, where I was particularly taken with an Argentinian Torrentes from Cupari Wines. SALE. There was a ‘VIP section’ with some more serious dinners which didn’t look very VIP, like every temporary ‘VIP’ section ever installed, anywhere. Pleasingly, pretty much everything bar a couple of the sponsors were mostly small, independent stalls – you were usually talking to to the people who made whatever you were gulleting. Big Food mostly kept its nose out.

But that was only the half of it. There was a (ta da!) MasterChef ‘pod’ where all our favourites banged a few pans and smiled for the audience. We caught a glimpse of Ash Mair (MC Professionals winner 2011) doing his stuff (isn’t he busy with his new restaurant?), and watched Shelina (MC winner 2012, lest you need reminding) bang together a red snapper dish with crab courgette flowers with the usual Mauritian seasonings and a couple of great tips about not letting fish curl. The ‘pod’ was MC’d by James Nathan (MC winner 2008), who asked Shelina how her post-MC career was going with just a hint… just the tiniest hint, of…. what’s that?…. hmmm… anyway, Shelina explained what she was doing with her hotly-awaited new cookbook and her cookery school as James explained that he’d been cutting fish for Rick Stein for the past couple of years. Such is the way of things.

Anyway, all that was just a warm up for the special event in the kitchen-equipped ‘Supertheatre’ out back. We take our assigned seats (this was an extra fiver) and even get a warm-up man. We missed Hollywood & Berry on Friday, but on Sunday we get Wallace & Torode’s Laughter Show. They dance on their entrance! They hug! They banter! They tell us they actually met fifteen years ago, but have been working together for only eight! John cooks fillet steaks with plenty of excellent tips (beef being, of course, his chosen specialised subject) while Greg bangs out some Turkish-ish biscuits with enough ‘sweethearts’, ‘darlin’s’ and ‘angels’ to pad an entire Eastenders story cycle. The visibly lighter Mr. Wallace informs us that he’s lost two stone, but doesn’t tell us why. Both of them seem to be actually enjoying themselves. First class family entertainment, anyway.

We wander out, and Fanny squeals at the sight of Michel Roux Jr. just walking about, like a normal person! Anyway, there’s more things to nibble on, and plenty more to see (we don’t even get round everything in several hours). A cynical person could survey this temple and see a lot of middle-class people gorging themselves on free Yakults and pickles like Daily Mail Roman emperors, being sold to, indifferent to the wider problems of British food. Theatre. Entertainment. Bread and circuses. There’s some truth to that. But there was also a sense of possibility and connection and inspiration that I hadn’t seen at similar things previously. A sense of joy, actually. Food in Britain. Everything you need.

Afterwards, we repaired to the nearby Cumberland Arms which managed to serve me the best pub roast I have ever eaten, and I’ve eaten a lot. Well done.

 

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