I was thrilled by the closing episodes of this year's Masterchef - the Professionals, which reached its climax last Thursday evening - see http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-20724309. I was all along rooting for Keri Moss, but had to admit that Anton Piotrowski's creations were just as unbeatable. So when Michel Roux Junior and Greg Wallace proclaimed them joint winners, it seemed only fair and just.
I don't feel that either of them has been robbed of recognition. It would have been quite wrong to say one was clearly 'better' than the other, because that was just not so. Nor do I feel that the other chefs, at least the ones who were contending in the semi-finals, were inferior; simply that they did not have what it took to convince the judges on the day. Oli Boon particularly, the losing chef in the three-contender final, was really 'as good' as the winning duo. Putting this another way, I'd be very happy indeed to eat food prepared by any of these chefs.
That said, only Anton Piotrowski has a kitchen I can access easily, on holiday, next time I'm in Devon. He's down near Plymouth, at the Treby Arms in Sparkwell, on the south-western edge of Dartmoor: see http://www.thetrebyarms.co.uk/index.html. Maybe a treat for myself on my next birthday in July? (Perhaps I'd better get the booking in fairly soon, though!)
'Ha, you're a food snob,' some might say. Well, not so. I just love eating nice things. I dislike bland cooking, the same old stuff, even though my own cooking is pretty unadventurous. And fine dining is a definite experience, something to be savoured and long remembered, and worth paying for if it's genuinely good.
Of course its a 'luxury item' and costs way more than might seem reasonable. Top restaurants are often criticised for asking so much for the food on offer. But you're buying the best ingredients, expert cooking, and artistic presentation. And think what the operation requires: it's not just the chef, and his or her skills; it's the rest of the team in the kitchen; the front of house staff; and all that is needed to create the particular ambience - layout, decor, lights, furniture, plates, cutlery, wine glasses, flowers, menus, uniforms for the staff - the list goes on and on. And fine diners are very fussy. The smallest departure from high standards will be noticed. That includes the personal skills of table staff. In my case, there is a potential difficulty with how I may be treated. I don't mean as a trans person. I mean as a single diner. I don't want to be relegated to a dim corner. I want to be able to nod and smile to other diners, and discuss the menu with my nearest neighbours. I want to feel that the staff are alert to my needs, and there for me in an instant. I want to be beautifully fed and wined, and beautifully looked after. So that I take away a memory of pure pleasure. If the restaurant can do that, then I don't mind paying a fair price for a top-quality experience.
Getting back to Masterchef, it's surely good for any chef's career simply to be a contestant on that programme, because it's a showcase. Some kind of career boost can be expected if you do well, and outright winning isn't needed to prove skills and style. I'm sure that most of those who take part realise that they won't get to the final. They are after the TV exposure.
Of course, it's obvious that top chefs do value themselves realistically, and contend fiercely. The Big Names of the business, whose kitchens we saw in the later stages of the contest, were clearly dedicated to their artistry, and forthright (even ruthless) with anyone unable or unwilling to do as they asked. No wonder it can make a lesser chef quail with anxiety! That fear of slipping, of making a mistake, seems to haunt the top professionals. I suppose they can never be complacent, nor even relaxed. They have to keep in mind that the paying customer is the ultimate judge
and paymaster, and that a single bad review, let alone a hygiene scandal, could be the death knell for their reputation. Knife-edge stuff indeed. Hot physical effort, and mental torture combined.
It would not be a career for me, and I salute anyone whose love of top-class cooking wins them success. It's very, very hard work.