• From MasterChef days: In John Torode's Kitchen

    Cooking in a restaurant has never been part of my food dream. All the pressure, heat and shouting would, I have always thought, detract from the joy I get when I prepare food for other people to enjoy. But when, as one of the final 12 MasterChef contestants, I had the opportunity to cook as if in a restaurant service with John as our Head Chef, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience despite an inauspicious start.

    Each of us was asked to prepare a three course menu from which we would have to produce just one course. I was thrilled when I was told that I would be making one of the puddings. My orange and pomegranate syrup cake is one of my favourite recipes. I was confident that I could get it made in the allotted hour and a half and there was no last minute cooking so when the orders were called, all I would have to do was plate up.

    What is it they say about the best laid plans? For the first hour or so, nothing went anywhere near to my plan. The taste and texture of my first batch of ice cream were disastrous and I had no choice but to start again. Amidst the panic about whether or not it would freeze in time I let my syrup burn and had to make that again too. Then I had an accident with my sauce bottle which resulted in hot syrup flying through the air and landing on Tim’s pristine glass bowls.

    If all this had happened while I was cooking for a dinner at home, I would probably have given it up as a lost cause and rushed to the village shop for ice cream. But here I was with a dining room full of expectant MasterChef champions and finalists and eight orders on for my pudding, not to mention my place in the competition at stake.

    We had all been working furiously during the preparation, but when John started to call the orders from the dining room, the pace picked up and the atmosphere grew ever more tense. Amateurs we may have been, but John treated us as though we were in his professional kitchen, demanding that we work at top speed and communicate with each other so that plates would reach the pass at the same time. John’s mixture of advice, encouragement and the occasional threat helped us all to raise our game and deliver dishes which I think genuinely impressed our audience, despite a few traumas on the way.

    This challenge didn’t change my mind about not wanting my own restaurant, but I certainly gained an appreciation of how exciting and satisfying it must be to work in a professional kitchen, operating as part of a team with the focus wholly on creating wonderful dishes and delivering them on time. It was also a matter of huge pride for me to have got myself out of an exceptionally sticky situation, kept going, and delivered what turned out to be a very popular pudding.

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