• From MasterChef days: 10 Go Mad in Scotland

    When I was told that I was about to get on a train for 8 hours with the other 9 remaining MasterChef contestants, my instinctive reaction was to rush into the nearest newsagent and stock up on reading material. As a mother of two young children, the thought of a few hours of peace and quiet was rather appealing, but I knew the novelty of not being badgered for attention would eventually wear off and ultimately I was facing an extremely long journey with 9 people I barely knew.

    What I hadn’t realised was that although we couldn’t have been a more disparate group, the 10 of us had something in common that would allow us to keep each other amused almost indefinitely. I’m normally in danger of making people glaze over when I talk endlessly about food, but here I was surrounded by others for whom terms such as emulsification and sous vide acted as stimulants rather than tranquilisers. That train journey was a revelation; we shared ideas, discussed techniques and confessed our weaknesses; and I didn’t open even one of my magazines.

    The ten of us bonded irrevocably during those eight hours and none of us could have realised how much it would help us in our next challenge. Cooking 200 plates of food in 2 hours from previously unseen ingredients would always seem like a tough task, but throw in a slippery floored tent full of unfamiliar equipment and a team of virtual strangers wearing wellies and it looks more like the impossible. Our secret ingredient, however, proved to be that bond we had forged on the train which helped both teams to work constructively and harmoniously. We well and truly fed those Scots, and many of them came back for more.

    I’m not sure how Greg and John made their decision that day. Both teams produced amazing food in incredibly hard circumstances, and both had their ups and downs. It seemed really harsh that either group would be sent back to London to face the possibility of leaving MasterChef.

    However sorry we might have felt for the others though, all 5 of us in Jackie’s team were utterly thrilled to be chosen to cook with Tom Kitchin at Skibo Castle that evening. Our exhaustion from grappling with ridiculously large pots of fish stew was completely forgotten as we were introduced to the great chef and told about the dishes we would be cooking. As I sat on an upturned bucket in the evening sun plucking grouse that had been shot on the estate, my face ached from the grin I couldn’t begin to wipe off it. I have rarely been happier and from the looks on the others’ faces I wasn’t alone.

    Of course this was a competition; probably the toughest any of us had experienced before. We all wanted to be there until the bitter end and needed to be better than the rest to achieve that. But on the way we shared unique experiences and truly bonded as a group, which made the thought of anyone leaving surprisingly hard to bear.

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