This week, two versions of the same television cookery show, aiming to find the nation’s best, have gone out on air. With both setting tough culinary skills challenges & technical tasks, Danny Kingston aka Food Urchin explains why he thinks the kids have been “trampling over their adult professional rivals”.
Two versions of the same television cookery show, aiming to find the nation’s best, have gone out on air this week. Each version takes the same approach, format and style; competitors are set the same challenges and tasks and are given the same opportunities to showcase their talents. And yet the differences between the two programmes couldn’t be more startling. On the one hand, viewers have been treated to cute displays of ineptitude, lolling tongues of concentration, fearful fumbling fingers and images of startled rabbits in headlights.
And then on the other, we have witnessed fine demonstrations of confident, joyful, exuberant cooking with skilful hands plating up imaginative, good-looking food. If you haven’t already guessed, I am talking about MasterChef: The Professionals and Junior MasterChef and if you have been watching both, I am absolutely sure that you will know which one is which. Because so far, the kids have been trampling all over their adult, ‘professional’ rivals.
Like I said, everything is pretty much the same, with the same montage sequences of walking around corners, camera shots focus on the MasterChef logo, the kitchen and flashes of gleaming cutlery. The ‘big fish, little fish’ techno music in the background is also very similar. And then John Torode appears, fresh and tanned from his holidays, or quite possibly a St Tropez salon, alongside newcomer to the series, Donal Skehan; Ireland’s answer to Jamie Oliver. And then we get the fresh faced youngsters, beaming, beatific and healthy and completely the opposite to the sallow-faced, dark eyed wonders from the other show, which I promise not to talk about anymore.
However, I would just like to talk a bit more about the presenters for a second though. Having watched four episodes in a row now, I have been impressed by Mr Torode’s transformation into fun Uncle John. In the past, I have found him just a little bit too stoney-faced and sardonic for my liking, encouraging but always with a slight note of Antipodean sarcasm. Yet with the kids in the room, he seems to have mellowed and is more than up for some gentle self-mockery, which is a good thing. Good looking and clean-skinned Donal needs to shake the identikit children’s presenter mode out of his system just a tad but even so, he also has a warm, sincere approach. All I would ask is for him to step out of the wind tunnel before stepping on set.
But enough about the adults, Junior MasterChef is indeed about the kids and seriously, the standard of cooking has been very high and most importantly it’s been fun to watch them do their stuff.
In episode 1, Emily wowed with her presentation skills, impressing with a dish of puy lentils, haddock and salsa verde. Joe found an ally in Donal, who defended him well against Uncle’s John criticism of putting raspberries with hazelnut chocolate, although Joe’s consequent rebuttal of ‘Ha’ to Uncle John was even better. Maya’s smile illuminated everything, including the food on her plate. And TC, the episode’s winner was definitely street cool with his knowledge of testing hot oil with a cube of bread, not to mention his dish of scallops and savoury rice. I just wish someone had told Uncle John that he burnt his chips when demonstrating during the master class round.
Episode 2 saw the introduction of Laura who couldn’t make her mind up whether she wanted to be a paediatrician or a chef (be a paediatrician Laura and keep eating fish, it really does help the tissues of your brain). Aisha was the spice queen of the North who re-invented shepherd’s pie with an introduction of boiled egg and not to mention a hefty whack of heat, if the judge’s faces were anything to go by. When asked the reasons as to why did he go in for making gnocchi, I loved the intonation in Guy’s response which was essentially “Because I wanted to get through to the next round, stupid.” Yet it was Tom who was to win this round with an excellent construction of poached eggs, asparagus and tarragon butter. His response of ‘feeling free when cooking’ was equally heart warming.
For episode 3, Charlie came bouncing onto our screens with great aplomb, snarling behind Uncle John’s back whenever it was turned and just generally being funny. I have to agree with Donal though, that his introduction of watermelon to chilli and crab was an unusual one. A battle of the ratatouilles broke out between Alice and Georgie, although with a flair for French cooking and aspirations of owning a restaurant in Paris, I would say that Alice’s version edged it. Thoughtful and artful Emiel rustled up some very good looking, south East Asian food. “Boom!” went Uncle John after tasting it (or was it “Boome”?) but alas Georgie pipped it and deservedly so, with her chicken rolls in lemon and rosemary with pancetta.
A slightly older crowd gathered for episode 4 and it showed as levels of technical ability upped the stakes and the atmosphere in the kitchen was more quiet and subdued than usual. Caitlyn showed her thinking outside the box by producing a delicious looking upside-down cheesecake with caramelised biscuits. Eloise’s Spanish inspired dishes of rolled peppers stuffed with chorizo and chicken paella were nearly eclipsed by her funky, Heston-style, onion glasses; well Donal certainly took a shine to them. Matthew produced a clash of the titans with his spinach and ricotta ravioli and pan fried sea bass and experimental Lucy cooked a perfect looking apple tart tatin with cinnamon ice cream. It was Eloise and her Iberian efforts that won the day on this occasion. And no, Donal, those glasses are not a good look.
So that’s the first four done, four more to go before the quarter finals next week. Can Uncle John keep his fingers out of the saucepan? Can Donal sort his hair out by then? Can the next bunch candidates do even better than this lot? I am sure they can. One thing is for sure, the Professionals have had their butts kicked already.