The finals of Masterchef 09 have now aired and I can now talk about it a bit, so here goes…
So, as you probably know, I got to the final 3 and lost out to Mat Follas (check out his blog here).
The first, and most important, thing I want to say is…
CONGRATULATIONS TO MAT, HE’S A TOP MAN, A GREAT COOK AND THE BEST MAN WON ON THE DAY. HE TOTALLY DESERVED IT & I WISH HIM EVERY SUCCESS.
It’s important to me to say that because
a) It’s what I truly believe and I’ve said so to Mat on many occasions since (all of us in the last 4 are good friends and still in regular contact)
b) Because on the show I look like a right ungracious sod when the result was announced… I was a wreck and didn’t have the composure to give Mat the instant congrats he deserved (I did say in my post-final interviews that I was gutted, but that it was the right result, and that I was really proud of what Mat achieved that day – but it didn’t make the edit L)
In terms of how I felt about the final more generally…I was really disappointed with myself because I felt I let myself down…I was, for various reasons, properly exhausted by the final cook-off and I made bad menu choices and didn’t cook well at all that day. It meant so much to me I was also a nervous wreck and my food didn’t turn out at all like I had hoped. Basically I didn’t perform on the day and Mat’s food was better than mine so he won and I didn’t, simple as!
Few thoughts on my final 3 courses:
- Thai crab salad with micro herb salad, pomelo and lotus root crisps – this was probably the only dish that turned out vaguely like I’d planned that day. But it was a bad choice… because it took lots of time and work to make (there were about 20 different ingredients in it, which all took work e.g crispy fried shallots & garlic, toasted fresh coconut etc etc) even though it looked dead simple & easy and not inspiring at all!
Plumglazed duck breast with duck leg wontons / ravioli and exotic mushroom stir-fry – this was the dish that I screwed up the most that day, it was a total mess! I was running out of time horribly and undercooked my duck, sliced it terribly, overcooked my mushrooms and presented it all horribly. Nice one Andrew! Again loads of ingredients and work went into the sauce, braised duck legs etc but that was all wasted by my woeful execution.
- Mango, passion fruit & coconut sundae – this could have been a really nice dish if I’d been cannier in the presentation and more composed in the execution. It was a coconut cream foam made in a siphon, a passion fruit & orange syrup, alfonso mango sorbet and toasted coconut topping (it was also going to have a mango crisp in the top - like a sundae wafer - but that didn’t come off on the day). John and Gregg were totally right when they said I’d presented a posh dessert in a way that made it look like it should be sold for two quid from Wimpy!
My seabass dish in the other final challenge
So I took some good lessons away from that experience, but I just learned them too late for my chances of a Masterchef title!
Being on TV
Can’t say I’m a natural TV personality! I’ve definitely winced a few times watching myself over the last 2 weeks. I can understand why, at times, people might have watched the show and thought i'm a bit of cocky git. i don't think i am, you'll just have to take my word for it!
it's been interesting - the experience has made me much less judgmental of people who I watch on TV …even hearing friends opinions of Mat and Chris has been quite odd because sometimes they have an impression of them which is at odds with to the people I know they are.
I’ve also much more sympathy with football managers and alike, who always give the same old tired replies to the questions they’re asked. I found it pretty difficult to say anything interesting or different when I was asked “how much do you want this?” or “how would you feel if you lost” for the 200th time! The amount of times I said “raise my game” or “fingers crossed” was beyond a joke! Ha!
But I can’t complain about the show at all, all the producers, camera men, sound guys and behind the scenes people were a great bunch. It’s a really positive show about people’s passion for food and I’d say “GO FOR IT!” to anyone thinking of applying.
Some of my ‘shockers’
Poached eggs – I had to poach millions of ‘tear-shaped’ eggs while repeated making hollandaise during my 1st round breakfast service and I didn’t do a great job! I spent a lot of time fiddling with the industrial burner under my vast pot of water trying to get the right water temp (a fraction too much and it boils like hell and messes up your eggs, fraction to little gas and the water goes cloudy and you cant spot the little blighters!). I felt a bit better when John Torode told me it took him two weeks of breakfast services to master the knack of perfect poachies!
Great chicken test – I did a Thai coconut marinated chicken salad with lime leaves and crispy shallots for this. It was too simple a dish which didn’t live up to the ‘great chicken dish’ billing…it was simply a nice dish, which clearly isn’t good enough is it? I had planned a much more ambitious Vietnamese ‘Pho’ style dish with a really complex broth with homemade prawn and chicken wontons and all sorts of fun herb, chili-based and vegetable condiments, dipping sauces etc. But my stock (you’re allowed to bring in pre-made stock) went funny (dodgy chicken perhaps? But it was a Label Anglais!) and so I wasn’t going to serve it and decided in the wee hours that morning to change to my too-safe-by-half chicken thigh dish. I deserved to just scrape through in to the semis, but almost everyone had a bad day that day and I was shocked to be picked 1st (young Chris should have been picked ahead of me, as his dish was clearly better). I used up one of my 9 Masterchef lives that day for sure!
Beef ‘Wellingtongate’ – another challenge I screwed up! My main problems were lack of crepe (I didn’t think I knew better not to include it, I just spent too long on my sauce and didn’t have time to make one and get my beef in the oven in time to be cooked), sloppy presentation and the idiotic decision to pour my sauce over the thing…when it was gonna sit there going soggy for 20 mins before they tasted it! Doh!
Field catering for the army – Chris and Mat both did a better job than me in the fields of
Other competitors of note
There’s undoubtedly a large measure of luck in the competition (who you come up against in the early rounds, when you have your ‘bad day’ etc). So I’m under no illusion that I’m a lucky man to have got as far as I did. Here’s a few other competitors I came up against or heard about who could undoubtedly have gone all the way to the final. There were loads of great cooks who got knocked out (especially in the comeback week) but particularly:
o James - (the horse groom from my 1st round) – great cook and lovely guy.
o Michelle - (from my comeback week quarter final) – she cooked stunning and original Indian food, I got through by the skin of my teeth!
o Simon - (from my quarter final) he was a brilliant technical cook, a great guy and totally passionate. I was totally shocked (but a wee bit relieved I didn’t have to cook against him!) when he got knocked out after the that bloody ‘passion test’!
o Semi finalist Chris – he just had his bad day on the knock-out day that mattered, he was a talented cook and the nicest guy you’re ever likely to meet (I still meaning to try the stunning Thai Ma Hor he cooked in his 1st round).
o The girl from Mat’s quarter final, Belinda I think her name was – I was traveling when those episodes aired so I’ve never seen her food but chatting to John Torode the other night he said she was “‘effin good”. Plus Greg would defo have fancied her!
o Fellow finalist Chris - obviously deserves a mention here - while he had less cooking experience than Mat and me, it was obvious to me (by the amount he learned & improved and some of the dishes he produced during the show) that he was a natural & gifted cook and undoubtedly deserved his place in the final.
Cooking for the Michelin Gods – another phenomenal experience and a real honour. It was one of the most emotional days of my life (as you can see when I basically start crying on camera!). I had so much work to do I thought my head was going to explode. My stress levels were in the red for about 10 hours straight, I remember realising that after about 6 hours of cooking that I hadn’t had a sip of water or anything, I wolfed down a can of coke and got back to it. It seemed like I’d never ever manage it, but when I did and then walked in there and received nice comments from my food heroes … walked out and then had a camera stuck in my face, it was all too much! Blub blub!
Cooking for the critics – another huge privilege and, despite thinking at the time that I didn’t do my best food that day, I got really nice comments from such respected and critical foodies…and that’s something I will always treasure.
P.s you might have seen the ridiculously large green stain on my apron that day! That was because my basil dressing bottle kept blocking so I had to squeeze it in to my hand again and again to clear the blockage…I was then rushing so much I felt I didn’t have time to even wash my hand, so wiped it on my apron instead! Not a good look!
There's tonnes of other stuff I could write about (such as Wallace’s off camera antics!) but is probably best to leave it at that methinks.
Except to say that I’ve had an amazing experience, which people would give their right arm for, and so I feel very lucky. Plus it was bloody hard work and I’m proud of lots of things I did over the 6 weeks of filming.
My new life starts here. I’ve given up a pretty well paid graduate job for a life of cooking, sleep deprivation and poverty. That’s a bit nerve-racking, but mainly it’s exciting.
So, if you’re interested, then watch this space for more news of the food adventure I’m about to embark on!