MasterChef: The Professionals is said to be the ultimate test for professional chefs.
Many of us tuned into the primetime BBC1 show last night to see how Charlie Jeffreys, originally from Dorchester, fared.
The pot washer-turned-chef, who started out at the Yalbury Cottage Hotel in Lower Bockhampton, is only 24 and was 23 when MasterChef was filmed.
Here’s how Charlie fared in last night’s heat. If you haven’t seen the show yet and plan to watch it on catch-up, don’t read any further as there are spoilers below.
We are introduced to Charlie, senior chef de partie, who is ‘originally from Dorset’, the voiceover tells us and ‘at 23, he has already worked in two of the capital’s best restaurants’.
“I moved up to London when I was 18. It was a big step missing family, working in a big restaurant but now without being biased I think I’m doing alright,” he says.
We learn that Charlie applied to MasterChef ‘two or three years’ ago but stopped his application as ‘I wasn’t ready’. But he’s been trained by ‘strong chefs to handle the pressure,’ he says.
Greeted by judge Anna Haugh in the kitchen, Charlie is told he must face a skills test of making a filo pastry mille feuille with layered tropical fruit and piped coconut cream, to which the seemingly unflappable Dorchester lad responds to with the somewhat untypical response most 23-year-olds would give to that request: “Cool. Yeah.”
Then comes one of the greatest moments of the programme, Anna’s face as Charlie cuts up his filo pastry.
It’s like ‘little batons’, fellow judge Marcus Wareing remarks as he observes from another room.
“Charlie, have you ever worked on pastry before?” Anna asks.
“Not much, to be honest,” he replies. It’s not a good start for our rider in this race. Meanwhile, Marcus appears to be shocked that Charlie is ‘taking coconut oil and spreading it on’.
It’s obvious by now that you need to have nerves of steel to compete on MasterChef the Professionals as Anna, looking unimpressed, asks ‘what’s your plan now?’ Charlie tells her he’s going to ‘grate some of this’ to add to the cream, picking up a bean in front of him and giving it a sniff. ‘That’s a tonka bean Charlie’, Anna says witheringly.
There’s an amusing moment when presenter Gregg Wallace asks Charlie how long he has been a chef for.
“About 10 years,” he replies nonchalantly. “Since you were 13?” an amazed Gregg asks.
Charlie explains he started off as a pot-washer, doing ‘little things like canapes, at the Yalbury Cottage. Working at break-neck speed to bring the fancy dessert together, Charlie has an astounding five minutes on the clock left when he presents his completed mille feuille.
And the verdict from the judges? “Your mille feuille looked grand,” Anna says “But the top layer is crunchy and the rest of it is quite soggy.”
“You didn’t show any finesse,” she added.
Marcus is brutally honest: “I don’t think I’ve ever had soggy filo pastry before,” he says.
But Gregg plays good cop: “Pastry’s not your thing, but when you leave here I’m sure you’ll think up a thousand ways of doing that better,” he says. And a crestfallen Charlie leaves the kitchen telling us: “Pastry’s not my thing. I think I can definitely do better.”
But there’s still a good chance for the young chef to redeem himself in the second and final round, where the chefs are given the chance to shine with their speciality dishes.
For Charlie it’s pan-fried turbot wrapped in wild garlic leaf with sauteed wild, pickled, shaved asparagus burnt bread crumbs and an asparagus mash made with the remains of the champagne sauce which is split with a wild garlic oil. What a mouthful! There’s a lot going on on that plate.
Charlie’s main course is inspired by the fishing he does in Dorset. For the dessert course he sets about making a lemon tart, inspired by his grandmother’s lemon semifreddos served at Christmas.
And there’s a lovely mention for Dorset as Charlie explains that his menu takes inspiration from the county he grew up in where he loves fishing and countryside walks.
“Dorset is the best,” he says. Awww.
After 90 minutes of intense cooking, a nervous Charlie awaits the judges’ verdict.
Marcus praises his presentation and a hungry Gregg decides he’s eating all the dish because it’s ‘knockout out of this world delicious,” he says.
“Mate, I’m loving this,” he adds.
Anna praises Charlie’s ‘real skill’ in cooking the fish and his delicious asparagus.
And there’s high praise from Marcus who says that Charlie taking the remains of the sauce, putting it back on the plate with the flavours he has added into it is ‘absolutely sensational’.
“I’ve never seen that before. It brings a lovely freshness to the dish I like it a lot.”
Charlie’s lemon tart dessert draws equal praise, with Anna saying ‘I’m really, really impressed.’ Marcus says: “It’s brilliant. The flavour of everything is fantastic – but the lemon curd…..is delicious.”
As the four competing chefs wait to hear which of the two of them will go through, Charlie isn’t feeling too optimistic as he ‘messed up on the skills test,’ he says.
But there’s good news! Our boy from the county town has made it through to last of the quarter-finals, news he is ‘ecstatic’ to hear.
And there’s a ‘tough challenge’ for Charlie ahead, as he goes toe-to-toe with more of the nation’s best chefs tonight on BBC1 at 9pm.
Don’t forget to tune in to see how he fares!