I love MasterChef. The BBC series is celebrating its 10th year with Greg Wallace and John Torode at the helm (the shouty bald bloke and the shouty Australian chef) where 'cooking doesn’t get better then this'.
As part of the anniversary celebrations, they have invited previous winners and finalists onto the show as judges. What has been particularly interesting is how many of the former contestants have changed careers completely to become food industry professionals. There’s hope for me yet.
One of my favourite MasterChef winners was Tim Anderson – the former craft beer manager – who wowed both the judges and viewers with his take on Japanese food, delivered with his easy American charm. Last month, Tim put on an Eat the Cookbook pop-up at one of the fabulous Martin Brothers' gastropubs, The Well, which showcased Nanban's South Japanese Soul food. (Tim's cookbook comes out this autumn.)
We kicked off the set menu with a Satsuma Sour of Sochu and Satsuma-yuzu sour mix, which was refreshing and tasty, although a tad too sweet. It was meant to be a sour after all. We followed with courses of Tuna Tataki – seared with ginger, wasabi, and orange ponzu dip – which was melt-in-your-mouth divine. The Kagoshima Ramen of pork belly, burnt garlic oil, tea-pickled egg and fried shallots in a dashi-pork broth was a hearty winter fest. The Northerner wasn’t convinced about the combination, as she thought the ramen neutralised the rich flavoured broth. "Made it boring," in her words. I disagreed and found the combination and balance of flavours perfect. Each to their own.
The next course was Yaki Imo, or a baked sweet potato with yuzu butter and black sesame. As someone who eats his share of home-baked sweet potatoes, I wasn’t convinced. I was wrong. I had never heard of the yuzu (overtones of mandarin orange apparently), but the citrus-infused butter gave the humble potato a positively delightful flavour. Sweet, sharp and sweet again. Delicious.
For dessert we had Shirokuma, which was shaved ice with condensed milk, sweet black beans and fresh fruit. I’m not a fan of shaved ice, and even less so of condensed milk. Again my concerns were proved misguided. The condensed milk gave the ice an almost ice cream texture and taste, while the beans were a revelation. Gorgeous. We finished the meal with Organic Matcha, which is a powdered green tea. Alas, this was not a success. The Northerner and I have drunk and enjoyed a wide range of Asian and Japanese teas, but we could finish this one. A fellow diner compared it to drinking powdered spinach. Perhaps it’s an acquired taste.
Tim Anderson made a brief appearance towards the end of the night, looking a little bit nervous, but also very satisfied. As well he should be. With a cookbook coming soon and possibly a restaurant, he’s deservedly on the road to greater things. And on that note, it’s time to get home and watch the next episode of MasterChef.