Cooking doesn't get better than this!
And so we've reached the final of MasterChef the Professionals 2009. At the start, we saw such abominations as the girl who sliced butter on a board covered in rabbit blood, the lads who butchered chickens in the bad sense of the word, and people who seem to have never made a pancake in their lives. Thankfully, these so-called professionals were screened out by the marvellously terrifying Monica Galetti - Kiwi sous-chef to Michel Roux Jnr and a fab new addition to MasterChef.
However, now it's just down to Michel and Gregg to decide just who will take the coveted title and win a small plastic trophy that looks a bit like the @ symbol.
Voiceover lady intones "Steve, Marianne and Daniel have BATTLED their way through EXTREME competion to face their ULTIMATE tests. At the end of this show just one of these three will be CROWNED Professional MasterChef 2009".
Hyperbole aside, it will be tough since all three have shown signs of real talent throughout.
"Steve" is 28 year old Steve Groves, an emininently endearing Rowland Rivron lookalike with a cheeky smile and an eccentric touch who I'll always know as Smokey Egg Steve for his amazing poached egg concoction bathed in a cloche of smoke which made Gregg and Michel giggle like a pair of naughty schoolboys.
"Marianne" is pastry queen Marianne Lumb, a classical, private chef with a sweet manner, a slightly disconcerting grin, a pleading look in her eyes that says "Please don't make me cook for Bono again. Please", and an unfortunate tendency to undercook meat.
"Daniel" is 27 year old Newcastle lad Daniel Graham, again a fairly classical chef, producing beautiful food of consistently high quality, whilst looking like an extra in Emmerdale.
Michel's been impressed so far, but wants more from our finalists. "We know our finalists can cook. But today they're going to have to cook out of their skins". I'm wondering if that sounds less mad in French.
Their first challenge is to cook Michel's own recipes for 30 specially invited guests who between them hold over 40 Michelin stars, including the great Albert Roux (Michel's papa and where he gets his boggly eyes from), and the equally illustrious Anton Mosimann.
Daniel's making one of Le Gavroche's signature starters of Beef Tartare served on Brioche Toast topped with poached Gull's Egg, dressed with Mayonnaise, Truffle Dressing and Truffle Slices and served with Asparagus and Potato Crisps.
Steve is tasked with making Roast Duck Breast, Towers of Macaroni Discs layered with Confit Duck, Butternut Squash and Amaretti finished with a Parmesan Gratin, Carrots and Turnips served two ways and a Duck and Port Jus.
To hold its shape, the macaroni is first roasted in butter and then simmered in veal stock till al dente. Once cooked, the macaroni is covered in reduced stock glaze to squidge them into corrugated sheets and then cut into perfect discs. Not sure I'll be adding that to my macaroni cheese recipe any time soon.
Marianne's making Chocolate Truffle Mousse on a Crispy Praline Base served with a Bitter Chocolate Sorbet, three perfect blocks of Rum Jelly and a Pink Praline Tuile, a favourite at Le Gavroche.
The praline are rice crispie cakes with an "unexpected sensory twist" which will "elevate them to Michelin standards". What magic is this? Well, Michel calls them "crackle crystals" - popping candy to you and me. Old hat, Michel - they're even using it on Come Dine with Me. Marianne muffs it up anyway by mixing the stuff with warm liquid, thus getting a premature snap, crackle and pop.
The jelly doesn't set properly either, but Marianne declares she won't let anything come between her and "that tiara" (eh? Wrong show, love). She shoves it in the freezer for 90 minutes but it's still too loose, leading Michel to stare at it and say "Weird, isn't it?". Maybe chucking in a whole bottle of rum has something to do with it? Nope, apparently it's because she hasn't followed his recipe to the letter.
Meanwhile Steve has spent 4 hours just making the components for his macaroni towers - now he has to assemble them. And roast 18 ducks at the same time.
Back to Daniel - his brioche dough is pronounced "dreadful" by Michel, and the resultant bread is "a brick".
But never mind that - Daniel's also completely ballsed up the crisps. The charred little cinders make Michel go "Ohhhhh, dear oh dear oh dear. Oooh pfffffffffffff" and wobble his cheeks like some kind of patronising policeman.
I then get weird Mighty Boosh flashbacks when Michel jeers at Daniel:
"You're going down like a tonne of bricks. I don't want to have to take my jacket off yet. I don't want to roll up my sleeves and get mucky".
By the way, where the feck is Gregg during all this? I am missing his shiny head.
Meanwhile the culinary giants are arriving en masse, including Antonin Bonnet, Anthony Demetre, Martin Burge, Alain Roux (Michel's cousin), Pierre Koffman, Tom Kitchin (my favourite Hobbit), Jason Atherton, Sat Bains (the Chief!), Claude Bosi, Derek Brown, Simon Parkes, Chris Miller, Monica!, John Campbell, Jean-Christophe Ansanany-Alex (I could swim in his French accent), Philip Brown and Alexis Gaultier.
Time is ticking away, so Daniel has to enlist Marianne to help him finish the starter. And finally out it goes, sadly sans potato crisp topping.
The Michelin Man thinks the beef lacks flavour, the Roussillon dude thinks the toast is soggy. My favourite Hobbit is impressed by the perfect eggs. Michael Caines thinks it well executed and Michel's pop just wants seconds. Strangely sad music plays as if Daniel should just get his coat and leave right now.
Steve's main course is next and he also ends up calling in the cavalry but at least it goes out on time.
Michael Caines says he can see an additional element of expertise that's made it very special. Andrew Fairlie is awed by the macaroni construction. Jean-Christophe Ansanany-Alex says something that I don't really understand, but I don't care because his voice is like French chocolate. Jason Atherton thinks it fantastic. And then back to Michael Caines again (I think the cameraman is confused and thinks he's actually Michael Caine). More sad music.
Pudding time! The rum jelly still isn't right and can't be sliced into perfect lozenges, so Michel suggests Marianne scoop it into quenelles. Nice idea, Michel, although what ends up on the plates looks more like dirty brown sample booger (you know, the crappy glue which attaches a free sachet of shampoo to a magazine page). I'm even more grossed out by the chocolate skidmarks used to cement each praline to the plate.
Out the pudding goes - and immediately someone pushes their praline to one side thus revealing the skanky cocoa smears.
Jason Atherton praises the ganache but he, the Michelin Man and Andrew Fairlie says the jelly is so boozy it's inedible - Michel's dad even thanks God he doesn't need to drive afterwards lest he be arrested. Alexis Gaultier and Atul Kochhar are clearly made of stronger stuff though as they love it. As for Raymond Blanc, he's in chocolate ecstasy.
More sad music, which swells into joyful music as Michel tells us "They have given their all and you could taste it on the plate." So on this slightly unsettling note, both part 1 of the Final and this blog post come to a close.
Part 2 is here!
All screencaps copyright BBC
Photo at top copyright Shine Limited