The seventh season of MasterChef Australia, arguably one of the most successful reality TV shows ever made, ends tonight on Star World Premiere HD (though the last episode officially aired in Australia last week). But instead of placing bets on which of the two finalists will win the nerve-wrecking finale tasks (including a Pressure Test featuring molecular gastronomy legend Heston Blumenthal), I’m recapping some of my favourite episodes today.
The experience of watching 62 episodes of the food show can leave some with an inexplicable urge to plate up their TV dinners, sign up for a class on knife skills or conduct madcap experiments in the kitchen but it has a completely different effect on me. Throughout the show, not only do I join the three judges in the tastings by offering my unsolicited critique to the TV screen but I also think of ways in which I can partake in feasting on some of top food trends propagated by the show.
You see, not all of us can aspire to be master chefs, but all of us can certainly hope to taste some of the meticulously produced and super creative dishes seen on TV. Keeping tabs on the last few Mystery Box and Immunity challenges, Pressure and Invention Tests, I’ve picked out three of the most popular food fads to create a list of restaurants that have mastered them with great success:
Peel to stem
Finally, a food trend India can really get behind: Making veggies sexy. While the rest of the world is only just beginning to turn humble plants into hero ingredients, we’ve always enjoyed vegetables and not just as insipid side dishes or hackneyed salads. For an invention test a couple of weeks ago, 26-year-old contestant Sara Oteri chose the “Peel to Stem” food trend over “Cheek to Jowl” and “Savoury Sweets”. It was interesting to see why all four dishes fared below average—very early into the task we could see that the contestants struggle to conceptualise and plate up a substantial main course without meat or seafood. Not to mention, they were supposed to use every part of the ingredient they chose—leaves, stalks, peels, seeds and so on.
Top chefs employ advanced, sometimes stylish techniques, to cook plants in their own juices, pickling, fermenting and ageing them, smoking and grilling them and using them in place of other key pantry staples. Take for instance, this report from last year on how cauliflower had achieved a sort of cult status in the culinary world (Read here). At the peak of its popularity, the crucifer was used to replace everything from Arborio rice in risottos to flour for pancake mixes and pizza bases in Mumbai.
Closer home: We highly recommend Ellipsis in Mumbai for the Kimchi Salad, made with seasonal wild greens, charred kale, radicchio and chickpeas tossed in a purée of house-made kimchi as the dressing and topped with more kimchi and savoury nut and sesame muesli smoked with coconut and soy sauce as well as the kale and bean “Girlfriend” Soup. The Bombay Canteen is also trying its best to push unfamiliar veggies in its modern and regional Indian cooking.
Another trend that ruled MasterChef Australia this season was the use of spices, herbs and savoury condiments in the dessert course. While Georgia Barnes was praised for her ingenious use of coriander, chilli salt and macadamia and chilli praline in her Mango Sorbet with Vanilla Yoghurt Parfait on last night’s semi-final round, Jessica Arnott had no such luck with her White Chocolate Dome, Grapefruit Curd and Popcorn Sponge dessert, making it clear that the mix-and-match of sweet and savoury elements is not to be taken lightly. This is another trend India has championed—nearly all our sweet meats are made with a generous heaping of dried spices, roasted nuts and dried fruit. Bachelorr’s at Marine Drive has been doling out chili ice cream for at least half a decade. But the trend has moved beyond the tried-and-test chocolate and chili combo, moving on to use of obscure ingredients like smelly cheese, bacon and all kinds of aromatic leaves.
Where to try: Milk Bar in the US is known for its wild and playful desserts which include a Corn Cookie, a Compost Cookie made with potato chips and pretzels, a Salted Pretzel Cake and more.
Closer home: Sanjana Patel of La Folie Patisserie in Mumbai uses everything from balsamic vinegar and long pepper to fennel, celery and beetroot juice in her extravagant creations. Also try flavours like lemongrass and jasmine rice by Bina’s Home-Made Ice Cream.
Rough and rustic
It’s easy to see why MasterChef finalist Billie McKay has made a lasting impression on judges and viewers alike—her simple countryside cooking and farm-to-fork ideology is a global food trend. Some of the world’s best restaurants are located in remote villages, complete with their own edible garden backyards and farm animals on-site. Chefs are going beyond chopping their veggies, fileting fish and deboning poultry and taking wild measures for their daily specials, including hunting game animals and foraging forests in the search for pristine berries, wild foliage and lush fungi. The trend also places importance on old-school cooking and presentation. It’s hard to imagine this trend catching on successfully in India but some restaurants and hotels are taking baby steps to grow their own ingredients. Read the full report here.
Where to try: At a press dinner last year, Swedish Consul General Fredrika Ornbrant spoke about Daniel Berlin who runs a 14-cover eponymous restaurant in a small town in Southern Sweden, where he hunts for the protein that goes on the diners’ plate and employs his mother as the garden manager and his father as the sommelier. Ornbrant said the best dish served by Berlin was a whole roasted celeriac, which is cooked on charcoal till it is completely blackened. If you do make the trek to Sweden, also see chef Magnus Nilsson’s Fäviken in Jamtland, a province in northern Sweden, which serves 20 to 30 courses dinners for 12 diners who stay at the chef’s cottage overnight.
Closer home: One of my favourite new Sunday brunch haunts is the new JW Marriott property next to the international airport in Mumbai. The Italian restaurant Romano’s sets up a pluck-your-own salad counter with beautiful and fresh-as-the-can-be leaves and herbs with decadent dressings, freshly sliced Parma ham and house-made burrata cheese.