Celebrity MasterChef review: A deliciously ridiculous show

The first episode served up a familiar blend of tears, technique and . . . stolen cod

We know by now what to expect from the MasterChef format, and the second series of Celebrity MasterChef Ireland - which kicked off its run on TV3 tonight with its first five contestants - ticked all the boxes.

There was fighting talk. There were tears. There were mysterious culinary terms no-one understood. (Mushroom duxelle, anyone?)

There was stolen cod, and there was cod drowned in a sea of vinegar.

And there were even - unusually for celebrity reality TV in this country - a few actual celebrities.


Some of them knew what they were doing, and some had never even cooked a fishfinger before.

In the first of their two tasks in tonight's heat, the contestants were invited by the judges - Michelin-starred chef Daniel Clifford and Robin Gill, a Dublin-born chef who has worked in some of London's top restaurants - to prepare something that reminded them of their childhood Sundays.

Predictably, for most of the five contestants this meant some version of meat and two veg.

Former Eurovision winner Niamh Kavanagh offered up chicken and mash. Meteorologist Evelyn Cusack went with lamb casserole and colcannon.

For Amnesty director Colm O’Gorman - who appears to have spent his childhood in a five-star hotel on the Caspian coast, being attended by the Shah’s personal chef - it meant “a breast of duck cooked in a red wine and pomegranate glaze, with a pomegranate molasses and walnut salsa, fondant potato, tenderstem broccoli”.

By the time it materialised on the plate, it had also acquired a side of celeriac puree.

“He’s saying this was a Sunday lunch dish; I think this is a restaurant dish. He’s come on this to win it,” Daniel Clifford observed.

O’Gorman’s duck may have been undercooked, and his finesse lacking, but he is clearly a man who knows his duxelle from his duchesse.

“I want to be here in the final,” he declared calmly, at the outset of the episode.

If so, Cusack is the one he’ll have to watch.

Despite her modest protestations that she only took part because her daughter told her it would improve her cooking, she showed some real flair, impressing the judges by cooking her lamb at 80 degrees.

For all Niamh Kavanagh’s fighting talk - “I’m here to learn… and to beat the other people,” she said - she wilted a bit under the pressure, and her dish left the judges underwhelmed.

“Mash potatoes, slightly anaemic chicken and some veg that you’ve just boiled,” Daniel Clifford sniffed.

But the real star was retired GAA footballer Oisín McConville, who claims to have only started cooking three weeks ago, and only because he was asked to come on the show.

“The vast majority of my life I spent living at home with mother, so she cooked and I ate. Then I got married, and [we] moved in together, and she cooked and I ate,” he said, by way of explaining his relationship with food.

McConville decided to cook fillet steak with chips, carrots and parsnips, only he forgot to cook the carrots and parsnips. And his chips weren’t actually chips.

“It looks like a dog’s dinner,” he said philosophically, as he plated it up.

It didn’t matter, because the steak was nice, his duxelle was tasty, and he was charming.

Former Miss Ireland-turned-Instagram star Holly Carpenter impressed the judges with her tidy work station. You know you're in trouble on show like this when someone compliments your tidy workstation.

Sure enough, Carpenter’s elaborate sugar-sculpting was a triumph of style over substance.

It might have looked amazing on Instagram, but the sugar was burnt, and her Maltesers cheesecake was too sweet.

Second round

In the second round, the contestants had to undergo a “palate and pressure test”.

This meant tasting a complicated cod dish cooked by Clifford, which included mustard, tomato fondue, a parsley crust and the mysterious mushroom duxelle, before recreating it.

In the event, it wasn’t quite as difficult as it sounded, since they were given a list of instructions and all the ingredients.

O’Gorman practically hummed his way through the process. McConville followed the instructions, stayed calm, and produced an edible piece of cod.

Cusack spent far too long on the recipe, but got it over the line, whipping up a decent buerre blanc with seconds to go.

Kavanagh looked frazzled and accidentally stole McConville’s cod from the fridge. “I was wondering why someone skinned my fish,” she said sheepishly.

When it came to tasting time, the judges left Carpenter’s dish to last.

“Wow,” managed Gill.

“Oh no,” she asked Clifford. “Why can’t you breathe?”

It turned out that her cod was served in pure vinegar.

“Didn’t you reduce it?” he asked, when he had recovered.

“Eh, I think I need to look up words like ‘reduce’.”

Carpenter took her inevitable departure on the chin, wiping a few tears away as she hung up her MasterChef apron.

The first episode was everything we’ve come to expect from a format that shows no sign of going off the boil, some 12 years after the BBC revived it for a new audience.

Sure, the traditional Irish Sunday lunch may be less duck with pomegranate molasses than overcooked ham swimming in a plate of watery cabbage, but - let’s face it - the joy of MasterChef is not in its gritty portrayal of life in the average kitchen.

Gloriously pretentious food, emotional breakdowns and crimes against vegetables are what keep the punters coming back for more.

As tonight’s episode proved, the format still has a lot more bite than the average plate of anaemic chicken.

Still to come in the next episode are the remaining five contestants: Irish Olympian Sonia O'Sullivan, singer and actor Samantha Mumba, model Nadia Forde, actor Simon Delaney and singer-songwriter Mundy.