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Masterchef (UK) – finals week

Masterchef UK is down to the final three and, as is only proper for this end of the competition, is adding location porn to the regular food variety. In the first episode of the final three competition, our three contenders – Dhruv, Dr Tim and Alex – land in Jodhpur – stunning! As is customary at this point in the competition, there are challenges all week, but no eliminations until the final day.

Naturally, they haven’t made the journey alone. Gregg and John, looking more dishevelled than is really appealing, are waiting and bellowing that they’ve chosen India because it’s all about FLAVOUR. This seems to be particularly targeted towards Alex, who has been putting up stylish plates of food, but his lack of seasoning has been the grand narrative. Dhruv uses a lot of spices in his cooking, so hopes to do the cornucopia available justice, while Dr Tim merely notes that it is “not like Norfolk”.

The challenges, after the jump.

Challenge number one is a breakfast for 40 VIPs at the Mehrangarh Fort. It’s early in the morning, but cooking will happen in a temporary kitchen on the ramparts and it’s clear that the temperature is already high. India Fisher mentions numbers like 100 degrees in her narration.

Alex will cook matar bhaji and pooris (pea curry and fried bread puffs). Dhruv is responsible for spiced potato in flaky pastry and Dr Tim – who reminds us that he is well out of his comfort zone – is taking on the stuffed paratha. Gregg looks hot and rather bothered as he comments that the contestants will find it tough. It’s not a radical prediction to make as the guys are working with no shelter whatsoever.

Dhruv doesn’t seem to be gaining any advantage from his Indian heritage and he soon falls behind. The chef in charge sees that he’s going to struggle to get his dish completed, so is given a helping hand to stuff the pastry while he gets the frying happening.

Dr Tim gets his food to the VIPs and they give positive feedback. Alex’s pooris are deemed okay, but a bit bland (bom BOM!). Dhruv? Still cooking. He finally gets the food to the tables and it gets high praise.

Challenge number two is a dinner for 120 pupils and staff at the RKK School. School dinner might sound like a bit of a doddle – particularly since Jamie Oliver hasn’t hit the schools of India yet – but we are told that the dishes being prepped are student favourites and that the girls will not go easy on the cooks.

The dishes are divided between the guys, which signals that it’s time to bust out the Slumdog Millionaire soundtrack.

  • Tim – butter chicken masala and pilau
  • Dhruv – chilli paneer and cauliflower korma. He’s also given chapatis
  • Alex – halva and dahl makhani. He asks for instruction on spicing and is told “it’s not exact, just to taste” which could be a bit of a problem.

There are issues: Alex and Dhruv start off by getting a bollocking by John for talking. It’s not as though they’re chatting about the latest episode of Launch My Line (which is bananas, by the way), but I think John’s problem is that they’re taking time out to talk, rather than shout at each other across the hobs. John doesn’t seem to realise that average people don’t have the same volume that he and Gregg take for granted. Dhruv then burns his paneer, and turns the heat off from under the cauliflower korma, leaving it raw. He rescues the paneer and the cauliflower, but as a result the chapatis are not being done. Dr Tim and Alex pitch in and the meal comes together in time for the dinner gong. Our contestants serve the food to the students who, if they really are harsh critics, are very impressed. One girl says that the chilli paneer is better than her mum’s. I hope her mum doesn’t see the show.

In the final leg of our Indian journey, the chefs are despatched to Umaid Bhawan Palace to cook for the royal family. (It looks UTTERLY STUNNING. You can stay there, if you fancy – it’s on my list, now.)

The maharajah is described as a “serious foodie”. The contestants are each designing a dish and Gregg and John hope that they fuse what they’ve learned about Indian flavours with some of their own technique. Implied, but unspoken, is “we hope Alex has learned something because this is costing a fortune!”. A small challenge to the contestants is the fact that they will have to transfer their food to a temporary kitchen to finish, as dinner will be served in an outdoor pavilion. Not much of a hiccup, you think? The temperatures are in the high 30s, the temp space is a fifteen minute walk away, and people are trying to set jellies, creams and sorbets. Win! Another hurdle is the fact that vegan versions of each dish need to be provided.

Alex is first off with a starter of tea-smoked duck breast with lobster, apple puree, maple jelly, bitter leaves. Vegetarians get cauliflower pakoras and aubergine caviar in the place of the duck and lobster. His Highness likes it, but the Brigadier thinks it’s a bit bland (bom BOM!). Her Highness likes the mix of Indian and English flavours.

Dhruv is in charge of the mains, which is spiced lamb two ways: tian of shoulder and lamb chops. The vegetarian option is a dumpling and grilled aubergine, and both are served with spiced saffron potato and beetroot chutney. His Highness likes it, Her Highness thinks it’s excellent and an unnamed diner thinks it was perfect. Dhruv is asked for more lamb! Their Highnesses ask Dhruv’s name and are intrigued when he tells them “Dhruv Baker”.

Dr Tim manages to get his dessert to the tables: a green tea, cardamom and lemon delice, cube of chocolate mousse, white chocolate and papaya with caramel shard. Vegetarians get roasted pineapple instead of mousse and a melted green tea sorbet for the delice. “Melted” was not intentional, but nobody seems to mind. His Highness likes the subtle flavours and Her Highness loves it! They are surprised to hear that their dessert chef is a doctor.

The chefs take a bow before the Maharajah and his family and friends and Gregg and John reflect on the good job they’ve done in India. Narrator India chimes in to tell us what to expect in the next episode. More cooking! No more Rajasthan! Alain Ducasse!

Masterchef UK ends this week, but it looks as though the final week is repeated over the coming weekend.  It is the season that aired in Britain earlier this year, so spoilers are everywhere – be vigilant if you are wanting to keep from knowing who wins.