Dish Two: Reinvention Test – Pan Fried Sea Bass served with a Tomato, Fennel and Basil Salad and Mussel Vinaigrette
Much like poor Olivia, who had failed to get a dish on a plate (I think we all remember the now infamous teriyaki meatball incident), I had never really expected to go through off the back of my first dish. Having seen Tony’s plate of food it was already established in my mind that this man was seriously talented and was a sure thing to breeze through. Celeriac gratin on your first plate of food? Are you kidding? Despite not knowing him very well at all at this stage and in spite of the fact that this was ultimately a competition, I remember being very happy for him. He’s a remarkable character and every bit as enigmatic as his appearance would suggest. Upon first meeting him I remember thinking “here we go...” I pigeon holed him. Bloody hipsters. To be fair I was right, he is a bloody hipster but to this day he still surprises and thrills me.
So the standard had been set by Tony and Sarah’s dishes and I knew my dish hadn't come close. “Too heavy with the cream in the sauce, fish dishes should be acidic and be punchy, you need a lighter touch, but the fish is cooked well,” John’s comments are still burnt into my mind. I was disappointed in myself, but I knew I had to take all of this into account if I were to continue in the competition. This is easier said than done when you don’t know what it is you’re going to be facing. What was the challenge going to be? Given the fact that the signature dish had been borrowed from the previous series I was inclined to think we would have a bog standard invention test.
As Olivia and James and I entered the studio to see the MasterChef larder – a selection of ingredients neatly arranged behind John and Greg, I assumed I was right and that we were facing an invention test. At the time this prospect filled me with dread if I’m honest. Being as young as I am, I didn’t think my repertoire would be as extensive as my competition and ironically that is what an invention test relies upon. The last thing you want to be doing in an invention test is genuinely inventing something – that spells disaster. In hindsight I wouldn’t have minded a pure invention test as I actually went on to produce what I consider to be my best dish of the completion in one, but my relief was palpable when I approached my bench to see my Sea Bass fillets and Mussels waiting for me like the inviting smell of my mum’s dinner, except fishier. Back in my comfort zone I thought. But what the hell are we doing then? “This isn’t an invention test, this is a REinvention test” either John or Gregg declared and all made sense.
Now I have to declare something about my dish and also a damning thing about myself. I wouldn’t eat my Reinvention dish, I hate tomatoes. But I knew these were flavours that work and it would be a nice light dish to stand in contrast to the heaviness of my previous incarnation. The mussel vinaigrette would provide the acidity that was lacking from the first dish and there was no reason why the fish wouldn’t be well cooked. Thankfully this turned out to be the case and I delivered what Greg called “the flavours of Provence”. This response felt truly great. To get good feedback from John and Gregg is about as close to a crack high as I ever hope to get. Perhaps this feeling is the reason why my fellow contestants and I kept lining up outside the studio, shaking with apprehension of what was to come, risking everything. We are in a sense perverse and deranged addicts outside a methadone clinic craving that next bit (or ‘hit’ if you would prefer) of positive feedback.
O.K well that metaphor is about as tortured as possible but oh well, in any case I was through to live another day.
Notes: Having received good feedback and then hearing my fellow contestants being roundly criticised I was for the first time put in an awkward position of knowing I was through. This doesn’t sound that awkward, really does it? But when you're in the green room whilst John and Gregg deliberate it does some weird things to you. God forbid that I said I thought I’d done enough to get through, what jackass would say that? However, for some reason and this is true of many of the contestants I came across I felt the need to say I thought it was possible that I would go home, despite all evidence pointing to the contrary. Why? Well I guess I didn’t want my fellow competitors to be too downhearted, but maybe it’s crueller to give someone hope knowing it was most likely going to be taken away from them. That’s not how I saw it at the time though as i must stress that NO ONE wants someone to fail, or even receive bad criticism. MasterChef is the least competitive competition one can be a part of, or at least it was for me. I was never quite sure if this was true of James, who had been very reserved at the time and having seen the programme I get the impression that he thought he could go further. In fairness to him I thought he could too. I thought both of his dishes were more accomplished than Olivia’s. But in truth I was glad if not a little surprised that she overcame James. No one was more surprised than her though, which is why I loved her so much. She was very humble and the shock written all over her face when she heard she was going through paid testament to that.