Jay Rayner

Jay Rayner tells you why steak shouldn't taste like butter.

on May 6, 2010

In the hour or two before we kicked off the quickfire challenge that I was to judge this week, I wandered on to the kitchen set. I adore kitchens but, because of the structure of the show, this kitchen was not somewhere I got to go very often. The dining room was where we critics lived; the kitchen was their domain. Still, filming hadn’t started, the eight chefs through to the championship round were hidden away and I had a moment to wander. And as greedy people will, my wandering took me to the fridge. I knew what the challenge was, and there stacked in brown paper packages, were the ingredients, neatly labeled, from which they had to chose.

I closed the fridge door, took out my notebook and scribbled a word upon it. I folded it up and handed it to one of the production team. ‘Open it afterwards,’ I said. ‘It’s what they’re going to cook.’ I wandered off to prepare myself for the gruelling task of, er, eating stuff and saying smart arse things about it.

The word I had written on that piece of paper was ‘scallops’ and I was, more or less, right. Both teams in the tag cook off did indeed include scallops in the seafood stews that they came up with. I’m not telling you this to prove how clever and insightful I am, or at least not just to prove that. Rather it is an interesting snapshot, I think, of how even top flight chefs will behave under pressure. The package of scallops was positioned close to the front of the fridge and were simply irresistible. Anybody who has cooked seriously for any period of time, will know that scallops are a banker: the luxury ingredient that keeps on giving. Sure, they require technique but, like a little gold gilding, they add lustre to almost any dish in which they appear. Had I gone to that fridge in those circumstances I would have done exactly the same. I’m merely observing, rather than complaining.

Plus I bloody love scallops. Greeting them on the plate made me very happy indeed.