Well, I made it into the Top 50 of Aussie Masterchef 3 – and then waved sadly and gladly goodbye a week later. Now I’m back in the land of the living after a few weeks of Masterchef craziness and wondering: “What was THAT all about?!”
I don’t want to be on telly! I don’t want to be a reality tv non-celebrity! I don’t want to be away from my children/Steve/life/garden/cats for up to 7 MONTHS!!! Why did I fill out the application form in the first place? And then keep accepting each audition? Well, I’ve searched my soul and come out the other end a much wiser woman – in a nutshell, I think it’s all about validation/ congratulation/ appreciation on a egoistic ability level, usually that one gets from ones job and that one doesn’t get mopping up squashed food from under Olly’s highchair 5 times a day. In short I think it means I’m ready to get back to work and get some other stuff going on in my life…
So I feel that I’ve come all around the houses in a big circle to stand exactly where I was in the beginning but with a whole lot more decided about the future. One thing that trying to get through the levels into Masterchef is that you’re asked to define your ‘Food Dream’ a hundred times a day, so if nothing else I’ve given that a huge amount of thought – If I Could Do Anything What Would It Be? And also being involved for the week that I was WAS very exciting. Especially as I kept getting through…
I certainly hadn’t banked on the level of contact (or lack of) during the time of competition, which could be only one phone call home a week, and many weeks not even that. They have psychologists and practices in place to help once you go in to the ‘House’ however the fact remains is that you may not be able to hold your little kids for a huge amount of time. I think I was kidding myself that I could go in for a few weeks and then pull out but I think now that to enter in is to go with your eyes on the prize and expect to be there until the end – as my good friend Kerry said, the longer you’re there, the harder it will be to pull out.
So I pulled out of the Top 50 and let someone else take their place at the hotel for a 17 day ‘lock-down’ to establish who’ll be going through to Top 24 in January. Good luck to all, and I really hope we see Samala, Tony or Nathalie go through.
Here’s what I cooked to get through those first crucial stages, with mandates & subsequent recipes:
Day one, audition: You will need to bring 1 x plated serving of the dish you have prepared. There are no heating facilities available for you to reheat your dishes, so please come up with something that does not require it.
Chicken liver pate with balsamic onions and Sean’s malt scrolls
CHICKEN LIVER PATE (from Delia Smith’s Complete Cookery Course)
225g chicken livers, cleaned
175g butter, room temperature (I used European-style unsalted)
50g extra butter, for melting
2 tbsp brandy
2 tsp mustard powder
¼ tsp powdered mace (I used nutmeg)
1 tsp fresh chopped thyme
2 cloves garlic, crushed
Salt and black pepper
Melt about 25g butter in a heavy frying pan and sauté the chicken livers over medium heat for about 5 minutes, stirring all the time. Using a slotted spoon remove them from the pan and transfer them to a blender.
Melt the rest of the 175g butter and add this to the blender. Deglaze the pan with the brandy then add to blender. Then add the mustard, mace, thyme, garlic, salt and pepper and blend until you have a smooth paste.
Next, pour the mixture into one large or several small ramekins. Pour the 50g melted butter over, leave to cool, cover with cling film and put it in the bottom of the fridge for a day or two to set.
Peel and halve 6 large brown onions, slice finely. Heat a large frying pan with a glug of olive oil and add onions in two lots so as not to overcrowd the pan. Fry gently until soft then add alternate sprinklings of brown sugar and splashes of aged balsamic vinegar until onions are super caramelised and gorgeous.
My notes: the audition was fun and easy, everyone was friendly – and nervous! My pate smelt fab, very garlicky – but I overestimated the time we would spend waiting – and consequently wasn’t able to let it warm up a bit and was too hard to mold into a pretty swirly curl… what I put on the plate looked super-rustic (which is how I described my food in the first place, phew) but could also have been described as turd-like…a bit lump of brown poo on the plate with brown onions and brown bread. A study in brown you could say. Luckily it tasted bloody good, and even though I say it myself, my second ever attempt of Sean’s bread (baked that morning) was great.
Day two, audition: Within your allotted time, you will have 1 HOUR to prepare and cook your dish. After this there will be an allotted amount of time for judging by the judges and they will ask you plenty of questions about your dish so be prepared.
You will need to bring:
All the raw ingredients for your dish including salt, oil etc
Any food containers that you will need
A cool bag containing all of your perishables (items to be refrigerated)
You must use raw ingredients and all preparation is to be done at the Masterchef kitchen
Your judging hour: You will have 1 hour to prepare your dish in the MasterChef kitchen. You will plate up in the kitchen and the judges will taste your food at your station. There is no time or facility to wash up so ensure you have brought enough equipment with you.
Polenta and parmesan torta with a spring ragout of broad beans, artichokes hearts and peas
(This recipe serves 4-6, I obviously adjusted the amount I needed on the day…)
POLENTA (serves 4-6)
1 corn cob
1 clove garlic
100g coarse polenta
50g grana padano
Grate corn directly into a heavy based saucepan
Peel & crush garlic & add to 500ml water, bring to boil over moderate flame
Rain in polenta, stirring
Cover & reduce to mere simmer 15 mins
Remove lid, beat in parmesan, season well
Pour onto tray to cool, refrigerate
*Cut cooled polenta into 4-6 wedges, brush with olive oil, panfry until golden & crisp
1 lt chicken stock
2 globe artichokes, stalks snapped & removed
Stock on to simmer
Gloves on, basin cold water with juice of 1 lemon squeezed, have another half ready
Pull off dark outer leaves til uniformly pale
Place on side & cut off top half, rub lemon
Trim base & stalk, rub lemon
Halve or quarter artichokes & remove prickly, pointy, pink-tinged leaves & choke, rub lemon
Drop into acidulated water
Cut stalks into 6cm lengths, strip away dark green, rub lemon & drop into lemon
Transfer all to simmering stock, simmer 10 mins
Cool in liquid a few minutes then lift out with slotted spoon to cool further
RAGOUT (from Stephanie Alexander’s Kitchen Garden Companion)
500g broad beans in pods, to be shelled
250g peas in pod, to be shelled (yields 1 cup peas)
4 cloves new season garlic
30g unsalted butter, chopped
2 trimmed & cooked artichoke hearts, halved or quartered (see above)
½ cup light chicken stock
1 teaspoon freshly chopped French tarragon
½ tablespoon finely chopped flat leaf parsley
Garlic into saucepan, cover with water. Bring to boil low-med heat, drain.
Slip skins off & set aside
Refill saucepan with water & bring to boil on high
Drop broad beans in & boil for 1 minute, drain & immerse into iced water. Peel
Melt half butter in sauté pan medium heat
Once frothing add artichoke pieces, turnips, garlic & sauté until artichokes are golden flecked
Add stock & peas, cook covered for 5 mins
Uncover, scatter over broad beans & herbs & shake gently
Should be very little liquid now, if so turn heat to high & continue shaking
Add remaining butter, grind over pepper, serve.
My notes: I don’t think I spared even a minute of the 60 in getting it all done – all 6 of us were a blur of energy and activity & I didn’t even manage to look sideways the whole time to what the others were doing. I made the dish twice at home, once to work it all out and the second to fix the timing but I hadn’t been able to finesse the presentation… Amazingly on the day it all came together (the photos shown here are home ones) and I put up a lovely dish. Gary and George were just like on the tv, very friendly & supportive – George did question where he knew me from (old sommelier days) and then ask why I was there, to which I had to give the positive, ‘to win!’ spiel, but of course it should have been more a ‘what AM I doing here?!’… To their credit (and mine) they loved the dish & seasonal tones of it, and said straight away that I was in the Top 50 but would give me extra time to think about whether I wanted in, and was prepared to weather the anti-ex-restaurant-staff ‘advantage’ backlash from the public & press that would ensue… my thoughts at the time: I’ve got an out! hooray…
So now back to the highchair wiping, the nappy changes, the endless washing & the weed & snail removal and back to my life! Back to Jazzie B on a Saturday morning, yoga overlooking the beach, a bracing dip in the still-cold Pacific, digging a couple of seats in the sand for Ava & Olly, lovely summery dinners & a wineglass or two with Stevie after the children have gone to bed… and of course back to you my lovely fellow MMMers!