Man hasn't been about much this week, which has meant I can indulge in a daily dose of cookery shows in the evening. For Masterchef it is key to play the all important 'who's through to the next round' guessing game which I'm happy to do on my own when needs be. The usual conjecture between me and the telly proceeded the other night, with me remarking to Greg (yes, I do believe that he can hear me in telly land and that he cares about what I have to say), that I thought his comment about 'ten years, three wives and one co-host' was a little crass.
I settled down contentedly watching as six amateurs headed into a competitive cook off pulling from their 'culinary delight hats' a number of fancy jus', things cooked THREE ways or more, a combination of purees, some intriguing flavours (read: very odd), instant mash pasta (a first for Masterchef) and the deconstruction of a perfectly wonderful dish.
Having correctly chosen the two cooks moving to the next round, I felt very smug that Greg, John and I were obviously on the same wavelength. However, I was quite surprised to read the write-ups the next day, as some of the critics implied that Holly and her 'amazing palate' (Greg made several references to it) had gone through due to a combination of her looks and ability. This seemed a little harsh but then again, perhaps a little of her feminine wiles had rubbed off on Greg and John, as I have to question why anyone would grate milk chocolate over Duck, Orange, Red Cabbage and Carrots?!
The 'Calling Card' dish was the most entertaining element to the new format. I found the 'Invention Test' incredibly vexing and boring, as the savoury box contained mince meat and this ensured that the six amateur cooks produced pretty much identical dishes - dried burgers or kofter - uninspiring and none of the dishes offered up looked particularly appetising. Anyway, I digress, back to the 'Calling Card' dish, this was meant to tell the judges a little about the style of each contestants cooking. There were some interesting interpretations but the dish that left me wondering 'why?' was created by 24 year old, Management Consultant, Rob. Rob is obviously a man who has never been challenged, questioned or seemingly told the truth about his food EVER. This became clear when he decided that his great gastronomic calling card was a deconstructed Beef Wellington.
Yes, you did read that right - why would anyone want to DECONSTRUCT a Beef Wellington for heaven's sake?! According to Rob, he had a good understanding of food and was inspired to create new dishes or a twist on classics since he's been 'eating at a number of Michelin Star restaurants'. All this was said with a fairly puffed up chest and a good layer of confidence.
Now there is nothing wrong with being confident about your cooking, but Rob probably should have stuck with 'Come Dine with Me' rather than taking on John and Greg. We all knew what they were thinking whilst they listened to Rob explain his rationale behind the deconstructed dish and how that almost nobody could cook a good Beef Wellington. Greg was quick to suggest that his friend John would probably be able to. For me, I'm not sure anything that is deconstructed ever actually tastes the same or better than the original. Take the lunch at Maze when my deconstructed cheese cake arrived; the individual parts looked pretty on the plate but the sum of all parts together in one mouthful was pretty terrible.
Interestingly (or not), I did some research during the show to find out the origins of the dishes name. I can confirm that I couldn't find any absolute and categorical evidence that the dish was named after the 1st Duke of Wellington. Nor can I find any absolute evidence behind the late Clarissa Dickson Wright's claim that the dish was made for a civic reception in Wellington, New Zealand. So, I think I'll plum for Wiki's explanation that the dish was created by a patriotic chef who wanted to create a variation on the French filet de bœuf en croûte during the Napoleonic Wars.
I'm digressing again. But by the end of the show, I was sympathising with Rob, he'd had such bravado about his food and seemed completely baffled as to why the judges were nonplussed; it was obvious that he was going to be first blood of the show. He must have known his cards were marked when Greg told him when tasting the Beef Wellington to, 'leave it alone, it's done nothing to you', which I tend to agree with. Whilst John couldn't even muster up a single compliment and grumbled how the Red Wine and Blackberry Jus made the pastry, mushroom duxelle and parsnip puree soggy. Which let's face it isn't what anyone wants to sit down to. The whole point of a Beef Wellington is to let the meat speak for itself, it's an unadulterated meat feast, with spinach, mushroom duxelle and prosciutto (or pancakes) all wrapped up in crumbly, buttery pastry.
You see all this preamble about Beef Wellington comes down to last weekend being asked to produce two of 'the poshest pies in the world' aka Beef Wellingtons for a 50th Birthday Dinner Party. The clients were a lovely Northern family, and my brief for the supper was simple - good honest dishes without fuss. But after Masterchef, I began to question myself and whether or not I should be doing more to the beef than wrapping it in pastry. Were John, Greg and I the last bastions believing that this pie shouldn't be messed with? I had 2.5 kilos of meat for 10 people to eat, although one person wanted Salmon en Croute , and I was beginning to wonder if my Beef Wellington was going to hold it's own, as it is one of my specialities.
I'm glad that I stuck by my original thought process and didn't waiver on seeing Masterchef, as Beef Wellington is such fun to create. I personally prefer prosciutto over pancakes to keep the moisture away from the pastry. And I learnt a neat trick that helps to keep the top pastry stuck closely to the meat and that is to egg wash the prosciutto before laying the pastry on. It adds a layer of stick that means you can press your pastry tightly around the meat, helping to make the essential seal and stop any rising or gaps appearing.
Without being too mean to Rob, his version of this lovely pastry and meat dish does look rather paltry in comparison to the real deal when you see them side-by-side. On reflection of the first episode, I'm hoping that Rob hasn't been put off cooking by his experience of Masterchef, as it's clear he really enjoys kitchen experiments. But most of all I hope his friends will be more honest about his food in the future.
**Beef Wellington photo is a holding image until images of the Beef Wellington I cooked can be forwarded.