Ah, MasterChef. A new army of web developers, make-up artists and project managers are marching across our screens with their arsenal of greasy cabbage and raw fondant potatoes. One of the presenters even looks like a boiled egg, says Lucy Holden.
MasterChef is a show almost hypnotic in its repetition; so wonderfully simplistic in its formula that a correctly cooked piece of mackerel can make Greg Wallace groove like a drunken dad at a children’s birthday party. “Oh, baby”, he purrs to an edible rhubarb tart. But have this years’ contestants plunged yet further into gastronomic inadequacy?
In episode four, Scott (a bloke who looks more suited to wielding a shield in World Of Warcraft than donning an apron in the MasterChef kitchen) throws together a slop of chicken livers so brown and slimy that he has John Torode sobbing into his knife and fork. “I thought a reindeer had been sick on the plate”, Torode whines to the boiled egg. Meanwhile, schizophrenic-seeming Toby is so perfectly undercooking a duck breast that Wallace reckons he could resuscitate it. It’s a motley bunch to say the least; even Wallace wouldn’t coat these dishes in icing sugar and eat his way through the set. “My ears are ringing and I have sweat on my brow”, Torode tells Wallace’s gleaming forehead.
Yet it is a dog-eat-dog world here at MasterChef and Scott and Toby are just two of the crumpled contestants destined for the door. Unable to differentiate between hollandaise and horseradish cream, scouse mother Helen, is pushed to breaking point: “I’ll neva be ayeble to luch a horseraddush in the fayce agayne,” she trembles into the cameras. Across the battlefield, Tara’s cloak of confidence is torn from her shoulders as she presents a flimsy looking pancake to the dictatorship. “I just don’t know what happened in there”, Tara weeps after her dismissal; “it was a bloodbath”. “Nobody covered themselves in noodle glory”, the boiled egg bewails. Destroyed and hysterical, the offenders are carted off to Broadmoor, forever to lament the misunderstanding of roast rice.
And then along came the handsome Hunter brothers. Viewing was saved. “You bear a striking resemblance to the chap behind you”, Wallace, ever the detective, observes to Barnaby. “That’s my older brother”, he uncannily confirms. And so came it that two brothers applied to MasterChef on the same day, without realising. “You’ll never guess what I’ve done?” they called eachother the next day to ask. Next to a mottled bunch of competitors though, they are less Tweedledee and Tweedledum than two Greek gods come to save the future of televised cookery. Kind of like ‘The Fabulous Baker Brothers’, but without the homoerotic undercurrent and the gap between their two front teeth. And so unfortunate that the brotherly cat-fight didn’t go on any longer; one bland roast chicken later and Barney was walking the plank. Off to shoot some pheasants in his Barbour jacket, Twitter expected. “It’s live or die”, Ollie swears, crossing himself with Chantilly cream.
Battling through the no man’s land of the heats to take shelter in the trench of the quarter finals, Ollie reduces Wallace to an incoherent set of raptured warbles with a classic pear tarte tatin: “Pear… soft… giving juice”. At Wallace’s last supper, the twelve female disciples he’s picked up from Twitter will be served this heavenly dessert; he is in a trance of ecstasy, eyeing Ollie’s plates as a critic would a Da Vinci. “Edible art”, he drools. Yet along the wings swoops Rukmini, a beautiful little sparrow of a girl with huge black eyes the size of dinner plates, rather aptly. Torode swoons over her knife skills, Wallace considers getting engaged for a fourteenth time.
Undoubtedly the best contestants by a mile of vanilla pods, this is so far only a race between Ollie and Rukmini. Well, a punch-up for that matter. Week six of MasterChef brings the knock-out round as they go head to head with the amateur elite. The semi-finalists will fight to the death in a battle of edible sand and foam and purée smears, and it might just be set to rival the Battle of Waterloo.