The 'perfect' steak, the 'perfect' roast potato, since when did cooking a meal become so overly obsessive? At MSN Food, we like to think that even if your pasta's a little past al dente or your pie crust's sprung a leak, your meal can still be a perfect one if it's made and served with the best intentions. And luckily, we're not the only ones.
With the second series of cookery show Perfect... due to hit our TV screens in January 2012, we talk to top-level chefs Valentine Warner, Mark Sargeant and Theo Randall, to get their take on the show and our quest for perfect cooking...
Being a perfectionist
For the chefs taking part in Perfect..., the pursuit of perfection is a bit of a habit. "I'm a terrible perfectionist, except when I'm feeling tired and lazy," says TV chef Valentine Warner, "then it's baked potato ahoy!"
Valentine goes head-to-head with Thomasina Miers in the new series to create a Mexican feast. Mexican food is something both chefs are big fans of, with guacamole, Mexican tacos and fish painted with fresh green chilli sauce all featuring in the show.
Wahaca founder Thomasina Miers cooks up a Mexican feast in Perfect
"Certainly some lovely food was put on the table," says Valentine, "but what I think might be perfect might not be to someone else. It's all very well for a plate of food to look nice, but it doesn't mean it tastes nice. If you come up with something very pretty and then it goes down well, you know you've achieved what you set out to do."
- On MSN Food: Thomasina Miers Mexican breakfast recipe video
- On MSN Food: TV chef Valentine Warner speaks to MSN Food
The perfect dish
What's more enjoyable - mastering a perfect recipe, or everything you learn during the process of getting to that point? "The end result, definitely," says Felicity Cloake, food writer, Guardian columnist and author of the recipe book, Perfect. "That flash of inspiration that turns a competent dish into a perfect one makes me very happy indeed, and it's so satisfying to taste a dish and think, 'no, I wouldn't change a single thing.'"
For Felicity, the idea of a perfect dish is all about taste and texture. "To be honest, although I think it's important that food looks appetising, I don't look at a dish in the same way as a MasterChef judge - in fact, overly pretty food is often rather off-putting," she says. "Taste and texture are the most important things for me - like a good wine, everything needs to be in balance. And while it may not be technically perfect, food always tastes nicer if someone's made it with love."
"I don't think any dish looks perfect," says Valentine Warner. "None of us have reached perfection. I think anyone in life who said they had, well... well done! a) I'm never happy, and b) what is the perfect plate of food?" While it might not be everyone's idea of perfect, buttered cabbage is a much-loved dish of choice for Valentine. "Buttered cabbage with a bit of red wine vinegar and black pepper is one of my favourite things in the world," he says. "In fact it's almost so good that sometimes I just sit down to lunch on a big plate of cabbage."
Sourcing the best ingredients
Even if there's no such thing as a perfect dish, great ingredients are a must as far as Theo Randall is concerned. "For me, the ingredients speak for themselves - it's the quality of the ingredients that make the dish," says Theo, who cooks against Mark Sargeant and Francesco Mazzei in this second series of Perfect.... "I'm not someone who puts foams on things and little mousses. I like rustic food. I'd much rather go to a trattoria in Italy and have a really fantastic plate of pasta, than go to a three-starred Michelin restaurant."
Theo Randall believes that the quality of the ingredients makes the dish
Mark Sargeant is of a similar opinion when it comes to raw ingredients, and thinks taking the time to source them is a must for decent flavour. "With things like carrots, parsnips and vegetables you've got to buy with your eyes, and look and feel," says Mark. "With the Spanish and Italians it's an inbuilt thing - they're encouraged to go and pick through everything, look at the best and smell it. I don't think we do that enough in this country. In the supermarket you have a choice of buying a bag of parsnips which have been pre-bagged for you, or a choice of going through all the loose parsnips and picking out the ones that you personally think are the best. You might like the big, fat ones, you might like the smaller, more tender ones, but it's down to you to be a bit more aware when you're shopping."
For some light-hearted competitive cook-offs and some inspiring ideas for the dinner table, tune into Perfect..., new and exclusive to Good Food, from Monday to Wednesday at 7pm from 16 January 2012.