• From MasterChef days: The Egg Test

    Eggs tend not to cross my mind when I'm devising a menu for a special occasion. I generally start with a piece of meat or fish as the "hero piece" around which a dish will be conceived. Eggs tend to be used more incidentally - as a functional ingredient rather than an inspiration. Recently, however, I was made to think about them in a completely different way.

    20,000 amateur cooks applied for the latest series of MasterChef. The numbers were gradually whittled down through a long and rigorous process of application forms, interviews and auditions. 20 of us finally donned the coveted white aprons and filed into the studio kitchen. At the front stood the familiar figures of John Torode and Gregg Wallace who, after what felt like an eternity, told us that for our first challenge we would have one hour to cook a single plate of food from the selection of ingredients provided. So far, so expected, but then John and Gregg delivered the killer blow.

    Having been an avid fan of the programme for years, I was all ready for an invention test. I had rehearsed as much as possible by imagining what ingredients might be provided at that time of year (Gregg, as we all know, is a big fan of seasonality), and what dishes I could create with them. What I hadn't prepared myself for was the compulsory inclusion of an egg. The only advice we were given was that if we were even thinking of cooking an omelette, we should find the door and take ourselves home.

    The other shocking realisation was that we had no oven. All thoughts of souffl├ęs and sponges were quashed as we took stock of the single gas ring, barbecue-style grill and hot plate. We were given 10 minutes to select our ingredients; 10 panic stricken minutes during which ideas flew in and out of my head, the terror of being the only person in the room not to come up with a dish at all numbed my mind and finally, blissfully, a hint of an idea took hold, grew and provided my solution.

    In hindsight, it's easy to think of countless dishes we could have chosen to cook. Eggs provide the answer to so many problems in the kitchen. They thicken, glaze and rise; they emulsify, enrich and bind; they are self-contained, but can be separated to provide component parts - each of which can be used in a myriad of ways.

    After a frantic and unforgettable hour, 20 plates of food paid testimony to the versatility of the egg. They were incorporated within pasta, hollandaise, frittata, mayonnaise and meringue; they accompanied steak; topped haddock and coated rice noodles. Eggs play such a fundamental role in so much of what we produce in the kitchen. It was utterly appropriate that our MasterChef lives should start with them, for once, taking centre stage.

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