The MasterChef finals week starts this Monday and with five evenly matched contestants battling for the title of MasterChef champion 2015 – the voiceover woman is literally in my head – this series has been a surprisingly exciting watch.
The five finalists have given us moments of culinary brilliance, but also served up the odd disaster dish making it impossible to call a winner.
Last year I took a break from watching MasterChef on the basis it had become predictable and often fast forwarded through entire segments; in my opinion sending the amateurs to a professional kitchen in the early stages added no value to the competition.
In the 2015 series new challenges and format changes have helped MasterChef regain its sparkle and here are some of my top picks.
The Reinvention Test
In the first challenge of the heats – The Calling Card Round – five contestants created their own dish to impress the judges. John and Gregg each selected their favourite dish and these cooks were rewarded with a free pass to the final challenge.
The remaining three contestants then cooked again in the – reinvention test – using the main ingredients from their calling card round to create a new dish.
Invention tests are a regular feature on the show, but the reinvention test challenged contestants to use all their culinary nous to create a new and successful dish from ingredients that had previously failed them.
Some contestants triumphed in the reinvention test, a not so good sweet beetroot tart tatin was successfully reinvented as a savoury beetroot ravioli, while other second attempts to impress such as chicken stuffed with feta in a honey spiced stew did not sweeten up the judges.
Cooking for the critics
Serving your fare to food critics should be a momentous occasion for any amateur chef – daunting and exciting in equal measure to gauge the opinion of such learned peers – and I was pleased to see this elevated to the final challenge of knock out week.
As Gregg might say ‘’cooking doesn’t get any tougher than this’’ and in last Friday’s episode it didn’t for Pete, Simon and Paul who all survived by the skin of their teeth as their attempts to impress the critics failed miserably.
Giving amateur contestants the opportunity to serve their own creations to food critics in the later stages, at a point when they should have honed their culinary skills, lends the critics greater freedom to unleash their acid comments on sub-standard food.
William Sitwell declaring on Friday he would rather eat the plate -as in the crockery- was TV gold.
Amateurs using advanced cooking techniques
Throughout the series contestants have taken their culinary influences from many sources including Japan, India and Classic French cookery, but what really fascinates me is amateurs using advanced cooking techniques during the heats to impress the judges, one contestant served duck cooked sous-vide in a water bath.
Sous-vide is a cooking method where food is vacuum packed in a bag and cooked for much longer than normal in a temperature controlled water bath (yes I may have googled that one).
When contestants opt to use a water bath on MasterChef I am often left wondering do they have sous-vide machines at home to practice with, do they just fill a bath with tepid water or are they really brave and this is their first attempt?
A welcome addition to this series is the inclusion of conversations between the contestants. Now when Gregg ‘he’s a good lad’ Wallace or John Torode yell ‘’stop cooking’’ we the viewer see the contestants talking and eyeing up their rivals creations as they wait to be judged.
More often than not the contestant realises a competitor has produced a much prettier plate of food and their reactions add a personal and real life element the show has previously lacked.
Finally my favourite moments have been those when the judges dished out negative comments and the contestant returns to their bench and the camera catches them sampling the offending food with a perplexed look that says it tastes alright to me.
If I produced a plate of food on MasterChef and considered it to be quite tasty this is probably the reaction I would display; showing the viewer how the contestants react to every element of the competition has created a winning formula for me.
The MasterChef finals week starts on Monday, April 20 at 9pm on BBC1.