Dish 7: KNOCKOUT WEEK, John & Greg’s Brief!! Jerk Pork Fillet, Fried Slow Braised Pork Dumpling, Sweet Potato, Escheviche, Spring Onion and Jerk Jus
Now things get interesting, it’s knockout week and after something like 8 weeks of pretending to the world that I’m currently living a normal life, I’m back. Once again reunited with the moustachioed man that is Tony Rodd and Kathryn, from the quarter finals. Shit get’s real now and the heat is turned all the way up. We had no idea what the day had ahead of us, all we knew is that we would be surrounded by the 10 other cooks who, like us, had negotiated the previous challenges. Walking into the room as one of the latecomers I gravitated toward Tony so that I could reacquaint myself with him and avoid any introductions before I had begun to feel comfortable. The room was actually remarkably relaxed, or at least I felt it was. Maybe that’s just me and my typical laissez faire attitude. The majority of the people that I meet and speak to about my time on the show often comment on the fact that I always seemed to be chilled out. It isn’t quite true to say that this was the case but I do feel that I may not have been as anxious as others. It’s a shame that this doesn’t translate into ability or winning dishes though. Simon is a living proof of this as I’m sure his hands still shake when he's cooking at home but still manage to produce culinary marvels. Nonetheless no one was so nervous that they didn’t have the resolve to introduce themselves. Testament to the fact that there was somewhat of a relaxed jovial atmosphere is the fact that I remember having an insightful conversation with Beth about Literature which we quickly established we had both studied at university. Although, as I type this it’s just occurred to me that given that I don’t think we’ve spoken about literature since perhaps this stemmed from a desire to make ANY conversation to distract from the challenge ahead. We had been given two briefs, for which we had designed two dishes. Given that we were unsure as to which we would be cooking there was a fair degree of trepidation in the minds of us all I'm sure. I was particularly nervous because my recipe for Greg’s brief (Make it Thick, Make it Sticky, Make it Brown) was a Flourless Chocolate and Peanut Butter Brownie with Salted Caramel Ice Cream (the recipe for which you can find by clicking on the link) which I was utterly convinced could not be done in the allotted time, and that’s before I even considered the perils of doing an ice cream on MasterChef, a feat which I don’t think was ever done with any success throughout the entire series - Simon is still scarred by his beetroot incarnation from the first round. We may well all go on to do successful things but I doubt you’ll see any of us hanging out of an ice cream van serving up Mr. Whippy.
Thankfully when we were stood in front of John & Greg we learned that we would be cooking the brief we preferred, which in my case was John’s: cook a dish with a rich history from any culture. I remember reading this at home on a document that they sent us about 2 weeks before we were due to start filming for knockout week and I wouldn’t be surprised if my eyes actually lit up. I knew I had to cook jerk pork at some point in the competition but Jamaican food in general requires slow cooking and time for marinating to allow the flavours to penetrate. For the brief we preferred we would have 2 hours to prepare the dish, and not only was this enough time for me to pull off the Jerk (no double entendre intended... woops) but it also fell right into John’s brief. I mean there isn’t really a dish more commonly associated with any culture as Jerk is tied to Jamaican cuisine. But work would still need to be done before we reached the finished product. Playing on my mind was the knowledge that I would be stepping into the unknown, in terms of the level of competition I would face. As much as I love simple stewed Jerk Pork with Rice and Peas, maybe some plantain, I suspected, whilst delicious, this may have not been enough for this stage. So the challenge was to elevate Caribbean food, something seldom done and even rarer, done well. How I came to the final dish was a series of trial runs, but eventually I had it set in my mind and was ready to go.
So we finally knew which dish we would be cooking but the other thing that was playing on everyone’s mind was how on earth 12 people would be cooking simultaneously in a space that we had only previously seen set up for a maximum of 6? The answer was simple, we’d be sharing things. It didn’t really come across when the show finally aired but having been paired up (myself with Pete the Japanese maestro) we shared work space, equipment, utensils, and ovens... essentially everything. I honestly couldn’t have been paired with anyone better. Pete is a genius, but like many genii he is also wonderfully erratic. He was flying around the studio, cursing his dough which refused to rise, with words that would be unairable long after the watershed, whilst his pan of miso purée repeatedly over boiled before my eyes. Proof that MasterChef contestants want the best for one another is evidenced by my constant wailing to Pete to come and tend to his miso. I don’t want a medal for this but I wish I’d been able to at least taste his final product, a delicious looking Karepan. Given this bedlam it’s a wonder he managed to present a plate of food as pretty as his was. Granted he fucked up the dough, which wasn’t cooked through, but I could see he was a serious geezer and looking around the room this seemed indicative of all of the final 12. We had served up Caribbean, Malaysian, Jewish, Middle Eastern, Classic French an eclectic range of cuisines all produced to a standard I don’t think anyone was expecting.
Whilst I was preparing my jerk marinade John Torrode stopped by and innocuously enquired as to how much Scotch Bonnet Chilli I had put used. Two and a half was the answer and he unflinchingly nodded and walked off. I’m pretty sure my eyes narrowed and lasered in on a target I had drawn on his back, I knew he was going to try to nail me to the cross with that. So sure was I that he would bring this up that when we had all finished cooking and were briefly sitting in the green room whilst they took photos of our finished products I told everyone about what had happened. “TWO AND A HAAAARRRF SCOTCH BONNETS IN THERE GREG” I said in my best Australian accent and so I had to try very hard to stifle a smile when that’s exactly what he said.
Notes: Both John and Greg had been unusually coy about exactly how many of us would go straight through to the next round without having to face a cook off. I think they were trying to gauge the standard and let a narrative develop on its own. I was first to face the firing squad and after 90 minutes of tasting (I wonder how they keep it all warm?!) they had essentially decided they liked more or less everything. Granted they liked some things more than others, more specifically they liked everything but quite rightly LOVED Tony’s Caramel Frappucino dessert. As it turned out avoiding falling into the bottom three was enough to secure a safe journey into the next round and the feedback I received was good enough.