How to win MasterChef - and why salmon is the fish of the devil

James Delingpole gives us his tips on how to take Greg right back to his luvly jubbly honest cockney roots

13 December 2014

9:00 AM

13 December 2014

9:00 AM

If ever my near-neighbour William Sitwell is killed in a bizarre shooting accident and I end up taking his place as one of the guest critics on MasterChef: the Professionals (not likely, I admit, but you never know), here are some tips for competitors who wish to avoid a stinking review.

1. Don’t serve me salmon. Salmon is the fish of the devil, which is why Satan coloured it that particularly vile shade of pink. It is evil because it is almost certainly farmed and therefore pumped full of antibiotics to destroy all the parasites with which it would otherwise be pullulating. If it’s not farmed, well, it still tastes of salmon, doesn’t it?

2. Don’t serve me anything cooked sous-vide. Yeah, maybe to you chefs it looks all cutting-edge and technical. But to me it looks like food half-cooked in a plastic bag. Anyway, like hipster facial hair, it’s so three years ago,

3. Serve me foie gras.

So that’s me sorted. Now all you need to think about is Monica, Marcus and Gregg. Gregg is the easy one. If in doubt, just make him an enormous portion of sticky toffee spotted dick with lashings of custard, honey, treacle and lard, on a buttery biscuit base dotted with whelks and jellied eel that will take him right back to his luvly jubbly honest cockney roots. Then see him smile.

Monica is trickier, especially her infamous skills test. So here’s my advice: take a year out and dedicate each day to cleaning and butchering different animals — snails, frogs, pugs (they haven’t come up yet, so you could be on to a winner there), wildebeests (ditto) and perhaps most especially the deadly pufferfish they call fugu. You’ve got to think clever here: with MasterChef and its variations in their gazillionth series, the makers are going to resort to increasingly desperate ways to keep the viewing figures up. A couple of competitors dropping dead of fugu poisoning might be just the ticket. Forewarned is forearmed.

Oh, three more important things about Monica. She loves knife skills. She totally hates it when you don’t clean the grit out of your shellfish or your wild mushrooms. And she is not a lesbian: she’s married to the head sommelier at the Gavroche and has two lovely daughters — so if you’re a female contestant and you think you can flirt your way in, no dice.

Now Marcus. In the old days, when lovely Michel Roux Jr was the main chef judge, Marcus Wareing used to be brought on much as you would introduce Mr Nasty in the course of a long interrogation. (What makes him extra-disturbing is that he looks so angelic, like a more close-shaven Jesus.) But age and promotion have mellowed him, slightly, so that occasionally he shows unsettling glimmers of warmth and tenderness.

These moments are quite hard to spot, though. One of the things we MasterChef junkies do when contestants bring up their plates of food is to try to gauge the judges’ verdict before they deliver it — first from the subtle visual clues (Monica rolling her eyes; Gregg beaming, putting on a Pearly King outfit and dancing the Lambeth Walk; etc.), then from their tone of voice (in much the same way that, as a child, you used to try to guess what the football results were from a sportscaster’s intonation as he named the team). But Marcus is so deadpan you can’t. His tone for ‘that was a masterpiece, I really couldn’t have done better myself’ is virtually inextinguishable from that for ‘you’ve let yourself down. Fatally.’ This is why even the chefs he has complimented look so puzzled afterwards.

(Did I say I love Marcus? Well I do. I kind of worship him. Monica too. If they were the officer and NCO of my crack commando unit I’d follow them anywhere.)

Despite his sphinx-like, hard-to-read act, though, Marcus has weaknesses. I’ve been studying him closely and here are my tips. 1. Be an eager young sous-chef, preferably at a two star kitchen. He likes that. 2. Don’t cook red wine sauce, especially not with lamb. He hates that. 3. He likes seeing your life story on the plate. But I’m afraid it’s not enough to go, ‘That sausage is where I was born. That beetroot purée is my primary school…’ He’s a man of few words is Marcus and he’ll allow you one cheeky moment per competition and then that’s it.

My final tip to contestants: please don’t tell us about your ‘passion’. Either you’ve got it or you haven’t and it’s pretty obvious from the way you cook. Telling us about your passion is like going into a job interview and saying how proactive you are and how you love working with people in a high-pressure environment. It just makes us hate you and hope you get kicked out of the competition in the next round.

Merry Christmas, everyone. And I promise, now, not to write about MasterChef for a whole year.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

You might disagree with half of it, but you’ll enjoy reading all of it. Try your first 10 weeks for just $10

Show comments
  • John_Page

    M & M are a great team. Time to replace the pointlessly shouty one.

  • Sachsen

    Marcus Wareing has clearly been through the BBC brainwash machine and/or has had a personality transplant. Or he’s been cloned? In any case, he hasn’t been allowed to be his usual self in case he annoys an old granny.

  • vanLomborg

    Does anyone still watch these ‘how not to cook’ programmes, all whilst scarfing down the low in fat high in sugar Marx and Sparks ready meal junk?

    • whs1954

      Ready meals are Marxist? I’m not disputing it, but I should like to know the reasoning.

      • Sarka

        I’m guessing it’s because ready-made meals heighten your consciousness of class struggle, remind you of the commodification of everything, and are mostly so disgusting that they get you in a rip-roaringly revolutionary mood…

  • rtj1211

    Far easier: bribe MI5 to give you all the peccadilloes of Delingpole et al, then smile sweetly at them all as you make it quite clear who’ll be winning upon pain of them not being fitted up the next day in the Press.

    And if you refuse to cooperate: ah well, then a little ‘hunting accident’ may have to be arranged. Such a shame for your two daughters, but there we are. Needs must and all that.

    Those are the rules of those you fawn before, aren’t they Delingpole??

    Well: have the rules turned on you and see how you like it…….

  • Mnestheus

    Forget the liquid nitrogen marmalade:

    Delingpole ought In the Christmas spirit share the hash brown brownie and marching powder souffle’ recipes he picked up in Las Vegas

  • Peter Stroud

    I used to watch MasterChef: the professionals, but eventually got completely fed up with Greg Wallace. Why on earth is this green grocer on the show. He has no apparent culinary skills, yet is called to take part in judging. Is he being built up as yet another talentless TV celeb?

    • Jules Wright

      No Peter. It is a well-documented fact that he has an extraordinarily good taste palate – reportedly one of the finest in the country. Plus, like him or not, he gives good TV too – even if he’s now becoming something of a self-satire.

      • Peter Stroud

        Sorry but this sounds very much like the usual BBC BS.

  • AJAX

    Is it just me, or is any1 else bored to death of “celebrity cooks” on tv? =/

  • Odd: I find that age and increasing wealth has tended to sharpen me up and make me less tolerant of my useless, stupid, vulgar, limited, and otherwise inconsequential relatives.

    Also: I could never be a sous-chef because firstly, I don’t like taking orders from anybody. But more importantly, I like red wine with everything. And white wine, too. Basically I’m hopeless because if it’s wine, it’s good. Unless it’s sweet, in which case I’d rather have an I. P. A.

    James: ‘to go’ as a pointless substitute for ‘say’ is a pathetic Americanism past its sell-by date. Do keep up.