As I’ve mentioned before, I am very much experiencing Top Chef Masters from a distance. I only get to see the show if the international delivery service gets the DVD to me on time – no such luck so far this week - and the rest of it comes via the Web. Indeed, in an act of shameless narcissism, I only really get a sense of what part of my appearance made an impact by searching Twitter under my own name the morning after. So shoot me! This week, apparently, it was my announcement that a properly set panna cotta should move like a woman’s breasts.
Shock, horror. Rayner mentioned breasts. And not ones belonging to chickens. Women’s breasts. Even more shockingly, apparently, I did so in front of two women, who presumably didn’t know they had them. This kind of thing, what feels like a puritanical knee jerk reaction, does make me laugh. Here in the UK readers of my column expect such language from me. All us UK restaurant critics bang on about wobbly bits all of the time. I really didn’t think it would be such a big deal. We measure the doneness of a steak by pressing our fingers against the ball of our thumb when the hand is closed; why shouldn’t we measure the quality of a panna cotta in a similar way? I can promise you I made filthier comments which I’m sure never made the cut. I have a particular aversion, for example, to being told something has been cooked ‘with love’. As I said during one recording if love was wanted I’d go call my wife. From chefs I wanted dinner. I didn’t want a ... anyway, enough.
On to the canapés challenge. Critics love canapés. It means we get to eat the whole dish. Plus they are designed to deliver a hit of flavour which is a boon for our tragically jaded palates. Then of course there was the fact a bunch of chefs who normally only stand at the pass had to produce enough food each for 300. Happy days. Even at this distance from recording the show certain of those dishes still resonate with me. Nils’ scallop with smoked potato was a staggeringly sophisticated, if tiny mouthful. It was a lesson in precision. If anything his salmon with Napa cabbage was better, even if it did initiate the war of James’s tongue. As he has written in his own post, he admits to a certain sensitivity. Personally I think the department of defence should put that tongue into the lab for analysis. If it’s as sensitive as James’ claims it must have a greater use.
There were a couple of calamities, prime among them Lachlan’s deep fried pineapple speck thing. I used to think you could improve almost anything by dumping it in the deep fat fryer. But not this. It was a waste of good pineapple.
But one of the stars for me was Michael’s spicy, rich, slightly crisp, big-fisted prawn. More to the point, being British and foul-mouthed and infantile, I loved the fact he called it a pissed off prawn.
A big name chef said piss! On camera!
Now that’s what I call television.
Jay Rayner is the author of The Man Who Ate The World, published now in paperback by Henry Holt.