Here is the first installment in what I hope to be a weekly serial about my time on MasterChef and the inspiration behind my dishes. Along side this I hope to post my own recipes from outside the competition and generally ramble on about food. I hope you enjoy.
This is first and foremost about food and my love of it, a love that took me on the greatest experience of my life and whilst I do intend to divulge some sense of myself as an individual in this article type thingy, I will spare you the detailed back-story upfront. Suffice to say that I am a guy that likes to cook. This is the only essential information that must be understood about me. In fact so long as I can remember that is the first piece of information I would disclose to people. Should anyone ask what I like to do in my spare time, cooking was the answer. The same answer could be given to any of the following questions: what are you passionate about? What is it that you dream about? What, if anything, in this world do you prefer over sex? Sadly that last question isn't a joke. In any case, as I have already stated, my passion for cooking exceeds all other elements of my personality and thus, will be the first thing I will tell you.
With such an interest in food, as I approached the end of my degree in the summer of 2014 I found myself at somewhat of a quandary. What do I do with my life from this point out? As any English Literature student will know this is a question of such infinite possibility that the sheer audacity of trying to tackle it head on will result in an immediate migraine. This migraine will be so intense that the only cure is to open Netflix and resume whichever series you are using to escape your problems. Bizarrely whilst at university I had managed to surround myself with a group of friends none of whom faced this challenge. I hung out with very few English students, or even those who studied humanities subjects, instead I found myself around Mathematicians who wanted to go into accounting, finance or insurance, Economists who wanted to be wankers and Lawyers, who well... also wanted to be wankers. I just didn't feel ready for a vocation, to commit myself. My Mum’s favourite phrase is that ‘you’re a long time working’, and I didn't feel qualified to challenge her on that, she would know.
So on a night out with family at our favourite local spot my parents decided to ruin the abundant banter and ask me, ‘Rob, what are you going to do with yourself?’ Very nearly choking on the meal I was, to that point, enjoying (Rolled Breast of Lamb served with a Cannellini Bean and Pancetta Stew) I conceded that I really didn't know. That was the simple answer, I had nothing. At this point, with a dues-ex-machina-like quality (yes that’s me trying to be clever and use a literature term, and I do promise to keep them to a minimum, but this one is too perfect) the manageress revealed that it just so happened that one of their waiters was about to leave and that there would be a job waiting for me after my degree. There really was no downside, be surrounded by food all day; avoid having to come to some conclusion as to what career path I should follow and work only a few days a week. Granted, on the days I do work, I really work, often 12-14 hours days, on your feet; without breaks, but it was the free time this gave me that allowed me to enter MasterChef, what would be the best experience of my life to date.
The first day of filming and I arrived at Three Mills Studios in Bow, East London, 15 minutes early. Thus far my exposure of MasterChef had been a package that arrived through the post requesting several menus for the various challenges in the competition and a contract for me to sign swearing me to secrecy about the whole programme. The secrecy that shrouds the programme later came to be known among the final 8 contestants as the first rule of MasterChef: you don’t talk about MaserChef!!!! Consequently I was surprised when I got to reception and was greeted by a security guard who said, without flinching, “you here for MasterChef?” before showing me how to fill in the security pass. My immediate reaction was to deny it but I figured someone would have to know; besides, he could probably tell from the ammonia smell emanating from my trousers. Please note, this is a metaphor for the fact that I was figuratively pissing myself and is not to be taken literally, I’d never admit to that, as true as it may be. After a brief and awkward sit in the café area, next to a woman who given her expression (a mix of terror and determination), I should have realised was a fellow contestant, Amber, a junior for the show, introduced herself and showed us into the green room. If I wasn't put off by Amber’s striking looks, then the scene I was about to walk in on definitely left me reeling. This was a situation I recognised. I’d seen it year after year on television, five “amateur cooks” – I could hear the voiceover woman say in her slightly patronising voice - in a well lit, airy room, the MasterChef logo emblazoned on the wall and cooking paraphernalia on the shelves. What I was unfamiliar with was the cameraman hovering around, I hadn’t really thought about the fact that I’d be on the other side of the screen. Here we were though, day one of filming, the first five people chosen to compete in series Eleven of MasterChef. My stomach turned. There wasn’t really time to be overawed though as you’re in a room of people all equally nervous, all wanting to break the ice in order to forget about what had brought us together. This ice never had a chance to thaw though, as before we had even had an opportunity to commit names to memory, let alone have a memorable conversation, we were, much like cattle to slaughter lined up and marched into the studio...