Marcus, on the other hand, hit a home run by doing soul food, but just doing it very, very well indeed. Ooh, that mac and cheese. Gosh, those collard greens. The chicken? Well, perhaps not so much, but it was still good stuff. His success with all that did raise an interesting question. If an Ethiopian born Swede, who did not grow up with this food, can do it so well, does that mean American soul food is really quite simple, or that Marcus is just a very good chef? I lean towards the latter.
And then to the main drama of the night, or Carmengate as I shall call it, being a British journalist with a taste for the cliché. We did all know that something was up. I was waiting at the set for the car to the hotel for the shoot, when another crew car pulled up and Carmen jumped out and flashed past me (I’m in the shadows of the entry bay as she charges in). Quickly we found out what had happened. That said, we weren’t entirely aware of the scale of the disaster. We didn’t know what she hadn’t been able to cook, or what had gone wrong in the kitchen. We didn’t know, when James praised the simplicity of her offering, that it was a matter of necessity. What we did know was that her stew was fantastic, and we scored accordingly. Watching the edited show, and seeing the lengths Monica went to help, I would be inhumane if I didn’t feel a twinge of compassion for her. Did she ruin her own chances, by distracting herself from the task at hand, by helping out Carmen and therefore not cooking her own shrimp properly? It’s possible. But hey, it’s a competition and there are no prizes for being a good sport.
Still, those closing frames, when Monica wept at the way things had turned out, proved one thing to me. Regardless of her food, she had more soul than the others put together.
Jay Rayner is the author of The Man Who Ate The World: In search of the perfect dinner, published by Henry Holt. Follow him on twitter @jayrayner1