Saturday, 28 February 2009

Masterchef 2009 - a few thoughts on my experience.

The finals of Masterchef 09 have now aired and I can now talk about it a bit, so here goes…

The result:

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…


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!

  • Plum glazed 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!

Irrespective of what I might or might not have done Mat cooked 3 great courses, with his starter being totally inspired, so he defo deserved to win!

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 Scotland that day. I also foolishly hadn’t gone to the loo before the challenge so spent 20 mins running up a hill to a small house ½ a mile away which had the only toilet, luckily that didn’t make the edit …I can just hear the commentary “Andy has decided he needs the bog, so he’s running off up the hill, while everyone one else gets on with the cooking”!!! When I came back, already late, I stupidly started preparing ingredients for dishes I thought I was doing before checking with the sergeant major dude, and so found out really late that the others were already doing them, so I had to do a rapid rethink. More lessons learned!

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.

My highlights:

Arzak, San Sebastianwhat a place! The most amazing food, and I cant imagine meeting nicer more inspiring people than Elena and Juan Mari. Juan Mari is the Godfather of Spanish gastronomy and the 3 star Basque food they cook there is as good as it gets. As well as the honor of cooking there I was privileged (along with the producer, sound guy and camera man who came too) to be treated to a 11 or 12 course tasting menu at the chef’s table there and I ate (and drank!) some things that BLEW MY MIND! The evening ended with cigars and liquors with Elena and Juan Mari. If I walked out of there and got squashed by a bus I would have died a happy man!

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!

Final thoughts:

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!

Best wishes



Mel said...

Hi Andy

I thought you'd win, sorry you had a bad run for the final.

Will you be posting some of your recipes from the show? Ones that particularly stick in my mind are the tuna starter that impressed the critics and the...umm, one with figs? Afraid I don't remember exactly what went into it, but it was north-african inspired.

In any case, you have a lovely way of presenting food that looks beautiful and fresh.

Night.panda said...

Hi Andy

Thank you for your views on the final. It's nice to hear your honest report.

Michelle said all along that you weren't at all cocky, but the editing doesn't always do one any favours!

Arzak looked amazing - what a great supportive teacher Elena was to you, and what a superb place to be!

I'd love to see the recipe for your "Wimpy" dessert please :)

Good luck with all you do!

Lou_brush said...

Hi Andy,

I'm glad I read this, as I must confess I was one of the people thinking you were a bit of an arrogant sod during most of the contest, although my opinion did start to change towards the end. As much as I wanted Mat to win due to the fact that he'd come so far, I did have to admit (grudgingly!) that you were the most technically accomplished cook.
It must be somewhat excruciating watching yourself back as none of us are at our best when put in emotional situations _ I can imagine I would have made an almighty prat of myself so it's great that you can look back and laugh. You must have the patience of a saint not to start rolling your eyes when asked for thr 31st time about how much it means to you (probably about the same as it did this morning?) although the raise my game/take it to the next level/excel myself catchphrases did become a bit of a running joke in our house.
I think I would have struggled with the idea that for some reason, posh people couldn't be made to wait a second for their food, in case they might die of something and it would have taken an awful lot of self control not to tell Toady & Shrek to bugger off towards the end when they loitered around pulling faces reminding you that you only had 37 seconds until service. Helpful.

To this day I am utterly clueless as to what the bloody hell a posh pancake is doing in a beef wellington.

Anway, glad to see that you're continuing to follow your passion for food and that the whole experience hasn't left you with a freezer full of vienetta and your head in a a bargain bucket.

Mat Follas said...

Mate ... thanks for a great summer of pain and fun ... you were undoubtedly the more skilled cook and I'm lucky to have a great angle on cooking from where I live and able to pull it together at the end. A better competitor I could not wish for, professional always and a genuinely nice guy. This will lead to the career you want and I look forward to the not too distant day of celebrating with you your first Michelin star ! Good luck on the job front and keep in touch ! Mat

Kittles said...

Hi Andy

Thanks for posting all that. It must be tough to watch yourself on TV and then read lots of comments from people who don't know you labeling you as arrogant or cocky. I thought you just came across as focused and confident and just someone who really wanted to win which is no bad thing. As for not congratulating Mat fulsomely 10 seconds after being told you hadn't won, you just looked devastated and exhausted. I had no doubt you were pleased for him. You must spend so much time together those last few weeks that it must be hard to not be friends with people.

Glad to see you're kepeping cooking. I can't imagione why - I lived withn a chef for 9 years and he was permanentloy knackered and covered in burns but I guess you know all about that now

good luck with everything you do

Andy said...

Thanks for your kind messages.

Recipe requests noted for
- quail and pomegranate salad from quarter final
- tuna & roast pepper salad from semi's
- tropical (wimpy!) dessert number from final

...i'll make sure i get round to them eventually.

and Mat - thanks mate, speak soon.


Andrea said...

Hi Andy

Having just gotten ridiculously emotional over the final, and now just cracked up at your review of the show ("raise my game!" Ha ha!) I'd like to say many congrats and I'm sure you'll go far.

I was rooting for you, and was dying to jump into the telly to sample some of those culinary delights - especially if Greg would make those orgasmic noises ha ha(COR!)!

Anyway good luck and again, well done x x x

Michelle said...

Andy, well done. I think most of your comments were spot on! But do tell about Greg's off screen antics, please please ;-)

Elinor said...

Hi Andy,

Just wanted to say congrats on an amazing show. I really enjoyed watching the final, and really wanted all of you to win! I love the style of your cooking, I think its amazing. Any recipes you fancy posting up (for example the crab salad in the final looked amazing - and from what you say it would be a fun challenge to cook!)

All the best.

David said...

Good luck for the future Andy. Don't think you came across that bad at all. It was obvious that your reaction at the end was due to you being gutted. Thought the starter looked amazing.

AYSHA said...

Hey Andy

First of all, I’d like to say congratulations for getting so far in the Masterchef competition. I was rooting for both you and Mat right from the beginning and was delighted that both of you made it to the finals! I was in absolute awe with everything that you both cooked - I could only dream to be able to cook like that! (Somebody once told me you are either a baker or a cook and I think I may be the former)You could see how exceptionally gifted and skilled you both were, and how much understanding of food you both possessed. I was a bit disappointed watching the final day to be honest; I was really surprised by your menu choices and I did not think you gave Mat a run for his money but after reading your blog, I realise how much work went into it and it is a real shame that we, the viewers, did not see that. Mat’s food though was something else altogether – it was so inspired and creative.

Anyway I hope you don’t mind – I thought I’d take a few moments here to recommend a few of my favourite restaurants in London for you to try because you’re a big fan of SE Asian/North African food.

Chez Marcelle (Kensington Olympia) – I think this is the best Lebanese in London and only a recent find despite eating Lebanese for a number of years (Edgware Rd just does not cut it for me anymore). It is run by a friendly woman who serves generous portions at modest prices. The baba ghanoush alone is worth making the trek.

I am yet to find a good Moroccan as I find that in most places, the tagines are too watery, but I would recommend Original Tagines (Marylebone). The lamb tagine is not too sweet and is relatively light. This is a work in progress though as I will be trying out a few places soon including Eritrean/Ethiopian…

Persian: Alounak (they have two branches – Olympia and Bayswater but I only ever go to the Bayswater branch) and Mohsen (Earls Court). Both equally good – the kebabs are delicately spiced and the breads are heavenly – almost as good as Turkish pide. For a more authentic experience, you must try Patogh (off Edgware Rd) – it is a box! Incredibly tiny and the tables are crammed so close together. Looks like you’ve stepped into a Middle Eastern home but the food is unpretentious and comforting.

For Malaysian, you should definitely check out Satay House (by St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington). It is an unassuming place, (another accidental find), and the food is the real deal - Beef Rendang is simply divine; some of the curries are a bit hit or miss but overall, the standards are high.

Korean: another work in progress! I do like Assa by Centrepoint – it is frequented by lots of Korean people so that is always a good sign! And it is soooo cheap!

My parents are from Bangladesh and I absolutely hate going out for Indian as the flavours are always dumbed down, but I definitely agree that Tayyabs is a treasure! Lahore Kebab House (also in the Whitechapel area) is just as good but does not get enough praise. Khans is also another good Indian– this is a long-running family tradition, and I still think it can rival some of the high-end Indian places in London.

Anyway, I hope you do get to try some of these place, let me know what you think if you do.

Good luck on the cooking front too….


Anonymous said...

Hey Andy

You were great! I never thought you were arrogant but that you were really ambitious, hard working and an amazing cook. You and Mat were my favorites and it was very difficult to watch the finals as I wanted you both to win. I'm so happy that you are pursuing your dream of cooking and I would totally eat at your restaurant.

Well done


Alexandra said...


I thought you all did so well and made it a great series to watch.

I wouldn't worry about you over using certain phrases when all Greg & John could think of to say was 'cooking doesn't get much tougher than this!'!

Just thought I'd add a great Vietnamese restaurant to your list, it's really close to the Green, on Englefield Rd a bit before it gets to Kingsland Rd. During the day it's a Vietnamese Community Centre but in the evenings it's a restaurant.

Good luck with the cooking-hope you open a restaurant soon!!

The Caked Crusader said...

I wondered what happened in that army field challenge! It didn't seem fair that you got to pick last and then told you couldn't make those dishes...guess now we know why!

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to say well done for getting so far, I honestly couldn't choose between you and Mat on the night and really wanted you both to win!
I thought you came across as very hardworking, focussed and determind and not at all cocky or arrogant. I'm sure you have a great career ahead of you - I'll keep an eye out for your restaurant opening.

Good luck for the future.

Sandra said...

Hi Andy

Believe me you did not look ungracious at all, just completely gutted...when you want something that badly your emotions just completely take over. I’m a singer (not a very good cook) and recently came very close to having a piece I co-wrote feature on a film soundtrack. When I found out it wasn’t to be I was a wreck for at least a week... I’ve recovered now, (I think!) and working on another project.
Anyway I just wanted to say I empathise and I think that what you’ve achieved so far and what you’re doing now is fab. I’m also quite surprised that watching three guys cook has inspired me so much...

Wishing you the very best.


PS. Looking forward to trying one of your recipies!

'The risk it takes to remain tight inside the bud is more painful that the risk it takes to blossom'.
- Anais Nin

The Ample Cook said...


What a very gracious and honest post. It has obviously come from the heart. You're clearly an amazing cook. Best of luck in your new venture.

Andy said...

Just another post from me - to say thanks so much for all the messages.

i'm really on the case with cooking now and am following up a bunch of great possibilities that have come out of the MC experience (plus i need to motivated - to pay the bills!). so it's all good. NO REGRETS!!

Aysha - thanks so much for the recommendations, am excited to try some of them, especially the west london stuff as i dont know it so well. am also a big fan of lahore KH on commercial rd, though did prefer it before the big explansion / refurb. never tried khan, but will do for sure!

Alexandra - i know the place you're talking about and agree it's great. think it's called 'Vietnamese Canteen-Huong Viet' right? i live just nr there! food is good isnt it, lovely peeps too.

once again thanks to all! much more to come on the blog.

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Lisa said...

Hello Andy, I was really disappointed that you didn't win, although like you pointed out, Matt had the edge on you that day, so no point crying over spilt milk.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us, it was very entertaining reading.

I wish you much success in the future which I'm sure you'll have.

p.s. I would love to hear about the Wallace stories!

Sharon said...

Hi Andy

You have probably had a million and one recipe requests, but would you be able to post your seabass and prawn bisque recipe from the final please? It looked amazing!

Best of luck with your new career - you'll go far I'm sure and I look forward to reading about it on your blog!

Anne said...

Hi Andy

I just came across your blog today and just to point out that I was gutted you didn't win.
I have a party next weekend and ever since I've seent the finalé I have been wanting to make the thai crab and lotus salad. (I was a bit surprised when you said it looked uninspiring!! cuz it looked absolutely delicious). Can you suggest any where I can find that recipe?

Niki said...

Hi Andy

The MC final screened on cable TV here in Australia during the week -- talk about a nail-biter!

After witnessing the passion, stamina and skill of the final three, I can only say 'congratulations' to all of you. I bawled my eyes out during the last two episodes because it was so moving to see you put your hearts and souls on those plates.

All the best to you for the future. I hope you get to work in the restaurant of your dreams. And no, you didn't come across as arrogant to us. You seemed like a dedicated, level-headed, nice bloke ... and your blog bears this out.

Ali said...

Hi Andy, just watched the whole series as repeated on BBC iPlayer. I thought you did really well, and didn't come off as badly as you describe in your blog. You clearly wanted to win, and that's great. Good luck with everything you do in the future.

Beth Massa said...

Dear Andy,
My husband and I, both serious (and seriously if not rank) amateur cooks were totally inspired watching you and Mat compete bringing Christopher with you along the way. We were SO jealous of the judges who got to sample your dishes--cheap sundae glass or not, I almost licked the TV screen when that thing was presented :-) It almost doesn't matter who won because it was so close between the two of you. We were betting that Mat would win because he seemed to be growing the most along the way, but not necessarily because he's more talented You are so impressive at age 27. We're still talking about how much we'd like to try that peach soup. We know you'll be a huge success as a chef and so will Mat.

Your fan,
Beth Massa
American Expat Living in Amsterdam

Andrew said...

Hi Andy
Congrats on a great effort and fantastic cooking (the final just screeened over here in NZ) - it was so so close at the end. As the judges said, the best ever finalists!!!
How exciting to be following your dreams and passions!
Congrats again.

Juliette said...

Just discovered your blog Andy - thank you so much for posting your thoughts on Masterchef. I'm always desperately curious about what goes on behind the scenes in these things and I'm very glad to hear that everyone seems to have got on well - it's so nice to discover that someone you've seen on screen is just as nice in real life! Best of luck in the future - I can't cook baked beans so I am in awe of all of you!

Katja said...

Hallo Andy, here from the Netherlands,

Congratulations with everything you achieved so far!!
I must say, Mat was in de finals probably the better cook, but you were my favorite.
I allready saw you in the first series (where you left much too soon) and was so happy, when this series was broadcasted here in The Netherlands, to see your return.
You reminded me of my little brother, he is the same kind of odd person, just as funny, just as gifted and just as passionate.
Stay that way for the rest of your life, it suits you!!

Kind regards