Tuesday 21 November 2017

Last night’s TV: Masterchef Final

If Masterchef taught us anything it’s that there is a nation of untapped culinary talent out there says Diarmuid Doyle

Mary Carney is one of those food obsessives who sees a red sky at night and thinks about shepherd’s pie.

On the final Masterchef (RTE2), she recalled falling in love with her husband when he cooked her a special meal. She has, she says, a fetish for cookbooks. “Food makes me happy…it makes me tick”.

In the first week of the series in early September, she was told by judge Dylan McGrath that she was exactly what the show needed and last night she made good on that potential, becoming Ireland’s first Masterchef and winning €25,000.

She did so as one of the least self-confident people ever to win such a competition. She recalled returning home after her Leaving Cert art exam certain that she had got a D. She got an A1.

Something similar happened last night when she broke down in tears after completing three courses in three hours – lobster; squab of pigeon; an indescribable dessert - for McGrath and Nick Munier to assess.

“I’m a little disappointed in myself”, she said. Then she won, and her husband arrived to congratulate her and everybody was in tears.

It was that kind of programme. Whereas much of the series had been little more than a moving cookery book, featuring shots of beautiful dishes expertly prepared, last night was a much more human affair.

We found out a little more about those people working in non-food related jobs around the country who can cook with breath-taking facility and skill.

They are clearly in the wrong profession. Why is Mary Carney working as the business manager to the CEO of eircom when she could walk into almost any kitchen in any top restaurant in the country and blow them away?

The same question applies to her co-finalists Mike Curran and Bridin Carey, who were barely less accomplished.

If Masterchef taught us anything over the last seven weeks it’s that there is a nation of untapped culinary talent out there. Or, as McGrath put it, “Ireland in some foodie way is getting a sense of itself.”

It also got a sense of McGrath as something other than the enfant terrible of tabloid imagination. He’s not the sunniest individual you’ve ever seen, but he is serious, talented, knowledgeable and fair.

His technical appreciation of food nicely complemented the more sensual approach of Munier, whose face regularly lit up or collapsed into a frown depending on what he had been given to eat.

So good was Mary Carney’s dessert last night that it made him laugh out loud. She was never going to lose after that.

There wasn’t much to laugh about in Joanna Lumley’s Greek Odyssey (ITV), the first of a four part-series which does exactly what it says on the tin.

Lumley is no Billy Connolly, whose journey down Route 66 filled this Thursday night slot for the last number of weeks.

She’s more reserved, and self-contained, more interested in and comfortable with buildings than with people. She’s dreadfully posh. A lot of last night’s programme felt like watching a holiday video in the Buckingham Palace sitting room.

She’s also a dreadful ham, regularly exaggerating her responses and over-egging her emotions, as when she cried copious tears listening to an out of tune Nana Mouskouri sing Ave Maria in an ancient amphitheatre.

But she’s capable of old English understatement too, describing Greece as “to a certain extent suffering very badly financially”.

That’s one way to put it.

Mike Murphy indulged in a spot of understatement during his Big Interview with Marian Finucane (RTE1).

“They tied him up or something”, he suggested in relation to her son Jack who confronted robbers at the family home a few years ago.

What actually happened, as Finucane patiently explained, was that “they kept on at him with a knife on his head”, hit him on the head with a huge ornament and left him tied up in the house. The room in which he was found was described as “like an abbatoir”.

Murphy hasn’t settled fully into his new role yet. He sits in his chair like a benign Fr Jack Hackett, laughing uproariously at things that aren’t funny at all.

His approach is to slip in a tough question while the other person isn’t looking, which isn’t really going to work with an experienced interviewer like Finucane.

He wasted half almost half last night’s interview on Finucane’s school and college days, which were no more interesting than anyone else’s.

The second part of the conversation was much more revealing, though, as she spoke frankly about Jack and the death of her good friend Nuala O’Faolain.

She recalled meeting O’Faolain and enquiring as to why she was using a stick to get around. “Did you twist your ankle?.

“She said: ‘I’m dying. I have brain cancer. I have lung cancer. I’m going to take radiation. I’m not going to take chemotherapy’”.

Finucane has interviewed most of what used to be called the great and the good in Ireland, and has known many of them.

It would have been good to hear her thoughts about them and about what has happened to the country over the last few years, but her chat with Murphy last less than 25 minutes, far too short to be genuinely informative.

Let’s hope the interview with Bertie Ahern in a few weeks is a bit more revealing.

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