Challenge four – The Relay Invention Test
After the standard trying every trick in the book to find out what lay ahead - I even think we resorted to bribery at one stage – as usual all our attempts failed.
First Syd went off with the filming crew. It seemed like he was gone for ages, so the brains started to work overtime, and set about trying to work out what test he may be doing, was it a taste test, did he have to visually identify ingredients, or was he trying to replicate a dish made by John?
When Syd finally returned it was my turn - low and behold it was just an interview. On my way back to the contestant room I saw Sam heading for his interview, so being the eternal competitor I decided to look terrified, shake my head and tell him it was bad, "Sorry mate."
Next we were paired up. I was with Mica again. Second we had to choose who would go first. Being the gent (scared rabbit) I nominated Mica before she knew what was happening.
Now the instructions came. I would leave the room and Mica would uncover some ingredients. She would start a two-course meal with whatever was in front of her. After 30 minutes we would swap. No speaking allowed. My job was to figure out what Mica had in mind for the main and pudding, and continue. After my 30 minutes we would work together for the final 15 minutes to finish the dishes.
So off I went. Now Mica can cook, my biggest concern was what if she went for any big Caribbean flavours. How would I carry on a dish like that?
It’s amazing how quickly 30 minutes can go, and I was told to wait outside. On cue I walked in, straight past Mica. As we passed she mouthed, ‘rhubarb crumble’ to me. Now as you have seen from the show, both Mica and me have not had a lot of success on the dessert front. I was hoping she meant she had made a crumble, but oh no. It was down to me, cheers mate!!
I have never really made a crumble, so I set about chucking in flour, butter etc. As usual started by hand, until John reminded me there was a machine to mix the ingredients. I chopped the rhubarb and simmered on the stove.
So what had Mica started? Well there was a sauce on the stove, a couple of salmon fillets.. and a whole salmon that looked like it had been filleted with a chain saw. Everywhere I turned there was fish. I even picked up a cloth to wipe down and found it was hiding yet more chopped up salmon. Oh and there was also a potato boiling away.
So my thoughts were this - she was thinking Salmon served with some spinach and mashed potato. Now anyone who watches MasterChef will know, mashed potato is a no no. There’s no room for error; it has to be perfect. I thought ‘lets do sautéed potatoes instead’. The one on the stove had cooked too much, so I peeled and chopped another and set it on the hob.
Now back to the dessert. I added the rhubarb and some berries to a dish, topped with my crumble and oats mix, and cooked it in the oven.
Finally Mica came back in. After a moment of shock when she realised that I had changed the potato dish, and a fair amount of criticism for the mess everywhere (it wasn’t ALL my mess eh Mica?), we set about finishing our dishes. Our crumble was looking nice, fish was in the pan.. now trouble!!! In MasterChef we use induction hobs, and these are tricky things, if you don’t get a good connection between pan and hob then there isn’t any heat to cook on. And this happened. The potatoes had not cooked. Mica tried to mash the one she cooked earlier, but it was not happening. With only minutes to go we were in a panic, and John and Gregg sensed it. Now in MasterChef, if the cameras all swarm to your station, you know one of two things is happening - either you are doing something quite amazing, or they are there to capture that special moment, when you make a mess of something, and we both knew it was the latter.
I set about trying to sauté the potatoes, whilst pan-frying the fish. Then with about 30 seconds to go, somehow we managed to plate up a well-cooked and nice looking dish. And even the crumble looked good.
After a quick high five it hit me. I turned to Mica and said, “I didn’t add sugar to the rhubarb”. Arrrgghhh! All I could do was hope that the sugar in the crumble would get me out of trouble, but deep down I knew what was coming.
Judging time. The main was great, although John and Gregg still could not fathom out how we went from utter destruction, to a nice dish.
Now for the crumble. I had two choices - do I just hope it is ok and if not face the wrath for not putting in sugar? Or fess up and show I knew it should have been there. I went for option two, fess up. When Gregg put a large spoonful in his mouth, his reaction was priceless.
All in all though, as a team we had come together in the end and it was onwards and upwards to the next challenge. As long as it did not involve salmon.
Challenge Five – The Mass Catering Challenge
We didn’t know the next challenge that lay ahead….
It was a long journey today, and finally the venue revealed its self. The All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club – home to the Wimbledon Tennis Tournament. Wow!!!
After we changed into our chefs whites we were taken to centre court to meet John and Gregg. Our task - to cook for 100 hungry staff at Wimbledon. We would work in pairs and once again I was paired with Mica. I was pleased as Mica can cook, curries stews etc. All the stuff that works well for big numbers - all I had to do was keep her calm.
Each team had to cook 50 portions of a main and 15 of a vegetarian option, plus 50 portions of dessert.
From there it was straight to the kitchen to see which poor head chef would be turning his kitchen over to us hapless fools today.
Once in the kitchen, which was huge, we got our first glimpse of the ingredients. Mica decided on cooking a lamb stew and me - the out and out carnivore - choose the veggie option.
You should have seen Mica's face when I announced that I was cooking a mushroom risotto served in halved baked peppers. It took a bit of persuading, as if it went wrong we would be left with a sticky tasteless mess.
I was also in charge of the garlic and rosemary potatoes and dessert (what could possibly go wrong?)
We set about the mad prep. I cut a whole box of new potatoes and I lost count of how many times Mica cut herself. Now I had a plan to get the apple crumble spot on this time - get the pastry chef to help out.
So risotto on, mushrooms sautéed, apples cooked, and sweetened this time! Potatoes in the oven with the garlic and rosemary, peppers also halved and in the oven.
I set about making the crumble, then it dawned on me - there were not enough apples. This was going to be a bit of a gutless apple crumble, but there was no time to cook more apples.
On a plus note, the risotto was coming along nicely. And Mica's stew was smelling and tasting divine!
The other challenging part to this task was the food had to be part cooked and prepared then transported to another kitchen where we would finish and serve. So timing was essential.
So, about 30 minutes before service, everything was on trollies and down to the other kitchen.
Risotto was finished off and mushrooms added. Stew done. Crumbles cooking, custard on. We were on fire (not literally of course)!
With about 15 minutes to go I was frantically trying to stuff about 40 half peppers. So I enlisted the Queen of Presentation, Mica. Every time she turned her back I added a bit more risotto to her pepper. Didn't want anyone to go hungry.
Finally everything was in the service area, except the crumbles.. I had left them in the other kitchen.
A quick run upstairs, loaded on the trolley and then leg it back with four large desserts. As I entered the serving area like a conquering hero, I announced the crumbles had arrived, convinced I had finally got the better of desserts.
Now it was time for service and we had to sell our food choices to the masses. We were against Sam and Syd's cottage pie and veg pasta bake. To be honest I thought we had the better of them, but theirs started going quicker than our choices. I do believe this was partly because they were in front of us on the service area. Eventually ours started flying out, especially Mica’s stew. And people even came back for seconds. Doing the veggie option is a bit disheartening, as you don't get many takers. But the feedback was good so I was happy.
Before we knew it, main was over, and just enough time to clean down and prepare for dessert service. I triumphantly placed my crumbles on the service station and cut into the first one… oh no! Not only had I not cooked enough apples, but the crumble mix was too powdery, not enough butter. The curse of the dessert had struck again. Only saving grace, as I looked around Sam and Syd were frantically scraping uncooked sponge in the bin and cutting up bananas.
Once service was over, it was time for a clean down followed by the MasterChef flop of exhaustion, which we were getting to perfect by now!
I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed the experience at Wimbledon. There were many times during this challenge, and the others, where I thought I could do this cooking lark for a living. It's fun. Only issue is you seem to cook lovely food and never get to eat it. After cooking in the shard I went home and had beans on toast. How's that fair?
Challenge Six - Two Courses for Past Celebrity MasterChef Champions and Finalists
Pan fried scallops with a horseradish cream, crispy kale and smoked pancetta to start.
Pan-fried sea bass in an Asian marinade, topped with a coconut chilli topping, served with lime zest basmati rice and an Asian salad served on a lettuce leaf for main. Sounds good right?
In preparing for this day I had cooked this dish a number of times, and most importantly, timing was right and it looked and tasted good. But if I had to be honest there was always something that made me feel uneasy about it. I can’t put my finger on what or why, just a gut feeling.
As we all arrived on set you could feel the extra tension, after all this was elimination day. Only two of the four would progress to the Semi-finals. And to make it worse we were all starting at different times, 30 minutes apart.
Before we start cooking we get to check our ingredients and equipment. I must say, I was less settled and confident this day, things just seemed a little more stressful, like the baby gem lettuce leaf was too small.. I was told a it could be replaced with a larger one, but was starting to fixate on the smallest of things. I knew from my experience on the athletics track I was getting stressed.
Once Mica left to start cooking I knew I still had one hour before my turn. The wait was agony, and as if that was not tough enough, our guests and critiques were – past finalists Christopher Biggins and Andi Peters, and previous champion Phil Vickery.
Finally it was my turn, I wished Syd well and headed for the studio. On cue, in I went, stood behind my station and awaited the command to start cooking. As I looked around, Mica had just taken out her main coarse, and Sam was making a scotch egg, impressive stuff I thought, fingers crossed you serve a snotty egg… only kidding.
The task in front of me - serve up my starter on the hour, and then 15 minutes later serve the main.
So I was off, ready to cook for my place in the Semi-final, and yep you got it, 20 minutes mad prep. Although this time my plan was to try and work cleaner and slower. And for a while I managed it, for a while being the important part of that statement. The problem is, especially with only one hand, when you try and cut and prepare things at home, it is easy, try finely cutting spring onions when your hand is shaking!!
My first job was to make the marinade and get the fish in the fridge marinating. Then for the coconut and chilli top.
Now it was time to start thinking about the starter. Cream on the heat, horseradish grated and added. Then something happened, someone fast forwarded time (well, it felt like it!). Now I was up against it, first I fried the kale, then the pancetta. The kale had burnt a little and the pancetta was also overcooked. I could sense I was loosing control of the situation. This is an alien feeling for me, as I am usually cool under pressure.
Now for those tricky little blighters, the scallops, but the pan was not hot enough, so the scallops took too long to cook. And as if you are not nervous enough, John and Gregg are standing over you piling on the pressure.
I managed to get them plated up, and was off to the dinning room to serve my starter. I presented my first dish, there was no time to worry about any mistakes now though, I had just 15 minutes to serve my main.
I sprinted back to the studio (all those years training paying back now). Grabbed the fish and put the pans on. The rice was almost cooked. I grated up the lime zest, mixed salad dressing and attempted to pull everything together.
Once again I was up against it. Trying to cook four pieces of sea bass at the same time, whilst finishing the salad and rice, all with one hand I might add. As I served it, sadly the fish broke up, so I plated it as best as I could, stirred the lime zest through the rice and served, and then - for some reason that still haunts me - I served up the nice delicate Asian salad in a massive lettuce leaf, it could not have looked more out of place if it tried.
Once again I was off to the dining room to serve up. I was done, physically and mentally. This was by far the toughest day I had experienced on MasterChef so far. And I hoped it would not be my last.
After every challenge on MasterChef I had felt confident, but this time was different, I knew there were flaws in my dish. And there was nothing I could do about it now.
After 30 minutes Syd joined us and it was back to the waiting game; none of us had a clue what the judges had thought of our dishes.
After another agonising wait we were back in front of John and Gregg. I knew today was not good enough, but what I did not know was whether my other challenges had done enough to keep me in. Mica and Sam had nailed their dishes today, so I was up against it for the first time in the competition.
Then the words came out of John’s mouth, “Our two Semi finalists are, (long pause), Sam, (even longer pause), and Mica.” I was totally gutted and deflated. This is MasterChef, and the competition continues. The cameras don’t stop to allow you time to congratulate the others properly, I was off to do my leaving interview and my leaving shots; you know the ones, when the contestants remove their stuff from the locker.
If I had to be honest I would admit, yes I was gutted to go out, but Sam and Mica where the best two cooks, and thoroughly deserved to go through.
My MasterChef experience was an amazing one, and for me it was great to be back in a competitive arena again. If only they had let me bring my BBQ, then I am sure I could have won.
I, like many people love to cook, but rarely have the reason to prepare and cook any thing other than every day food. MasterChef gave me that reason. I spent many happy hours cooking with my aunt, trying to hone my skills and experiment with flavours. If only I had managed to stay in, my other aunt is a dessert specialist, which would have been next on my agenda.
Will I carry on cooking? Of course, its summer, the BBQ is out and ready! :)