• From MasterChef days: Discovering our Senses

    I always knew that as a contestant on MasterChef I was likely to be put in some highly unusual situations, but when John and Greg introduced me to chef Alexis Gauthier and then asked me to put on a blindfold, things seemed to be going from the extraordinary to the downright bizarre.

    The 9 of us left had already faced some tough situations but at least we had, up until now, been allowed the use of all our senses. This task challenged us to set aside the reliance we tend to have on our sight, and to discover how powerful and useful our other senses can be.

    Once I had put on my blindfold and made my choice between fish or meat, my hand was guided towards a tray of ingredients. I was told to identify and choose one based on touch and smell only. What became immediately clear was how very distinct they all were from each other; the four cuts of meat both felt and smelt completely different and I was incredibly relieved to realise that one of my favourite ingredients, a breast of duck with its thick and slightly pimply layer of skin, was surprisingly easy to identify. My hand was then guided towards another two trays from which I chose more ingredients for a dish which Alexis was encouraging me to formulate in my mind.

    I felt reasonably confident about creating something delicious from my chosen ingredients, but before entering the kitchen we were asked to remove our watches, and when we approached our benches we discovered that the oven clocks had been taped over. Cooking against the clock is one thing, but cooking against a clock you can’t even see is something else entirely.

    I realise now that at home I have always been a slave to my kitchen timer. I’m usually distracted by something (or somebody) and rely completely on that irritating bleep to let me know when my vegetables should be cooked, or when a piece of meat needs to be turned over. This was a completely different way of approaching the process and forced me to give the ingredients my absolute attention. This wasn’t all about cramming in as many clever techniques as we could, or working out elaborate timing plans so that multiple elements would come together at once. This time it was all about those 3 original ingredients; cooking with them at the heart of the dish and using all our senses to identify when they were at their best.

    I don’t think my dish was the most elegant I’ve ever produced, but I do know that each element was cooked just about right and worked harmoniously with everything else on the plate. The experience has genuinely changed the way I cook every day, helping me to trust my instincts and to appreciate the unique qualities of the ingredients I am using and how they work with everything else on the plate. Most importantly, my kitchen timer has stayed in the drawer gathering dust almost permanently since then, and the lack of an irritating bleep in a busy kitchen can only be a good thing.



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I'll be blogging regularly to keep everyone up to date with how things are going with the cookery demos and including lots of tempting recipes. Let me know what you think!

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