Dom Stroud and his couch-critic eye…
Tonight, ladies and gentlemen, we have this year’s foodie royal rumble. BBC 1, 9pm: yup, it can only be the final of MasterChef. Meet your three contestants.
Larkin rode the horse first out of the gates. And then he probably cooked part of that horse in a water bath. Indeed, it was his use of kitchen gadgets in the former rounds, and in particular his use of a smoker to make an impressive citrus air around a dish of paella, that won him some serious kudos. As Gregg put it, ‘I don’t like clever for no reason, but I’ve fallen in love with clever that delivers beautifully flavoured food’.
However, since those halcyon days, Larkin has had a worrying dip in form. He served a plate of glop in a mango skin (it should have been an innovatively presented soufflé) to Marcus Wareing, who subsequently refused to eat it, and forgot to even turn the oven on to cook his works during another challenge. Controversially, he beat out the far more consistent Indian-cuisine-whizz Saira Hamilton for his place in the final.
Chance of winning: one buttery biscuit base out of five.
From where I’m sitting, Natalie has to be given the trophy tonight. She’s a down-to-earth, knowledgeable risk-taker, who can look at a selection of ingredients and consistently turn out something very special indeed. She’s clearly continuing to get better and better, with a growing confidence that helps to turn out the likes of the penultimate episode’s offering of roasted and almond-crusted grouse breast with parsnip and salsify fondants, a parsnip purée, salsify crisps, and a cranberry and grouse sauce. Yespleasethankyouverymuch.
Whenever she’s been put in the professional kitchens, she’s shown respect to the environment, the head chef, and the work she’s been given. She gets her head down and her knife skills working, and her continued successes on the road to the final haven’t changed this at all. She got in a bit of a flap during a challenge at the Savoy, but thanks to such aforementioned hard work, got her course out on time regardless.
Chance of winning: four tears over literal spilt milk out of five.
Dale has produced some jaw-dropping food through the competition. He knows how to compose a plate, he’s a John-Torode-approved risk-taker, and he can do a mean chicken burger too.
For me, Dale’s MasterChef highlight had to be him serving Dover sole and clams cooked en papillote (in paper). This is essentially blind cooking, as you leave it to your hungry recipient to get the joy of unwrapping a perfectly cooked present for their main course. Or so you’d hope, anyway. Dale chose to do this for a collection of the country’s toughest critics – not just the series regulars of Jay Rayner, William Sitwell, Tracey MacLeod and Charles Campion.
Unfortunately, Dale has been known to slip under pressure, and broke down in tears after a complete mess-up with a razor clam and langoustine dish, and a consequent scathing commentary from Marcus Wareing.
Chance of winning: three ‘cooking doesn’t get taffer than this’ quotes out of five.