Tuesday, 24 November 2009


 How I chortle, reclining on the sofa with a glass of chilled wine. “Father of two Steve from Hampcestershireboro” has only gone and prepared a plate of ravioli that boasts the visual appeal of a pile of old envelopes; judging by John’s face, the taste too. Had this moment been illustrated in The Beano, Gregg might be shaded in woozy off-green, “Boik!” captioned in close proximity. C’mon Steve, get it together. “Cooking doesn’t get tougher than this” – I’d hazard that I’m not alone in thinking, “Yeah right”.

 Maybe I was a little hasty. ‘The Invention Test’ that features prominently in the early rounds of Masterchef will be one of the big attractions for visitors at Masterchef Live, which runs this weekend at the London Olympia. The premise is thus: compete against 29 other entrants, rustle up a dish with a bag of mystery ingredients in half an hour and (hopefully) make it through to the final four to have your meal judged by John & Gregg.

 I’d been pretty Zen-like en route to the show this morning, but as the expanse of hobs, chopping boards and knife blocks unfolds in front of me I feel a quiet flicker of panic. This flicker seems to ripple through the group when it’s announced that Sir Terry Wogan is to be a special guest judge; sampling the final dishes and offering a critique with John & Gregg. Being lampooned for burning the garlic is one thing; accidently poisoning a national treasure is another story.

 We’re waiting for the green light to inspect our mystery ingredients. A keeno rival on a nearby cooking station is peering into her bag inquisitively – actually, as I scan the units, everyone is. I take a look and catch a glimpse of a chicken breast, bacon rashers, Parmesan, carrots, broccoli, white wine, mascarpone, fresh mint and parsley. Storecupboard essentials like onions, garlic, sugar and spices are on a shelf under the counter. Compere TV’s Andi Peters gives the nod – it’s all on.

 “Fifteen minutes to go”. I’ve barely peeled the carrots, there’s so much left to do. What I have succeeded in is spilling a glass of water across the work surface; my trainers are soaking. I finally decided to make a chicken, mint and carrot salad with spicy harissa dressing – it’s still a long way off mind. Chicken’s poached though, which is a result.

 “10 seconds to go”. Any notions of adding a few quirky food styling tricks are out of the window; it’s literally a case of toss it all together, throw it on the plate and grin. I’m sorry Steve.

 My finished dish tastes pretty good, but lacklustre presentation looks to have slighted Nadia Sawalha, who was on hand to choose the final four. A guy on an adjacent unit seems pleased not to be up on stage with the finalists, as he shows me the raw centre of his piece of chicken I can kind of see why. The winning dish does look pretty good, a spicy grilled chicken breast with herby couscous. John, Gregg and Tel look pretty impressed. I didn’t even realise there was couscous in the bag.

Posted on 13th November 2009

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