• From MasterChef days: Keep Calm and Carry On

    One of the most valuable things I learnt from my experiences on MasterChef was that when things go wrong, I should keep my head, carry on and have faith in my ability to rescue the situation. In the audition round, my pea and broad bean puree tasted awful and I had to decide between serving a dish that was imperfect or one that was incomplete. During our mock restaurant service, catering for the previous MasterChef champions and finalists, I had a terrible time with my ice cream and the syrup having to make both of them twice; I spent much of that cooking time rehearsing my exit interview in my head. At the circus, Gregg was convinced that I couldn’t possibly produce all three elements of my beetroot dish in time and at one point I came close to agreeing with him. But in each case I did manage to pull it off and found myself, remarkably, as one of the final 7.

    After cooking 12 plates of vegetarian food in a tent for circus riggers and performers, it should have been pretty straightforward to produce a single dish in the comparative luxury of the MasterChef kitchen. But this couldn’t be any ordinary plate of food. We were entering the world of “fine dining” and had to impress Bertie de Rougemont, a man used to catering for people who expect nothing but the very best. Even though it was a relief to be allowed once again to devise menus including meat or fish it was clear that at this point of the competition we were expected to raise our game significantly and produce dishes that would be acceptable to the most demanding customers. We had to start developing ideas that would really impress, displaying technical skill, inventiveness and a flair for presentation. Two out of three wouldn’t be good enough any more.

    I’m not sure anyone would have been terribly impressed by the plumes of smoke rising from my stockpot half way through our cooking time. I had carefully removed the partridge legs and breasts and was making a game stock from the carcasses. This was to be a critical ingredient in the sauce accompanying my prosciutto wrapped partridge breasts stuffed with prunes, apple, chestnuts and the hearts and livers. I had to muster all my determination and self-belief when I realised that all I had produced was charred bones and vegetables; without the sauce to tie it together my dish was never going to be good enough.

    I’m sure that having already survived several calamities helped me to focus simply on plan B rather than my possible exit from the competition. The Madeira in which the partridge legs were braising became the alternative base for a hastily resigned sauce. I managed not to burn the spiced breadcrumbs which accompanied the dish and the results proved good enough to get me through to the next round. Disaster had been averted, until the next time at least.

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