I’ve always loved cooking, and like most foodies I love MasterChef – it’s one of those programmes that has always inspired me, I’ve laughed and cried, shouted at the screen, and over the years my husband and family encouraged me to enter.
It’s wonderful to know that your family loves your food, but I wasn’t confident that my dishes would meet the high standards set by John and Gregg. In the summer of 2013 I was asked about cooking some food for one of the local biker clubs, having been to a number of meets and rallies myself, I was determined to cook them something really tasty.
All too often at these types of events, the cheapest food available is served up to maximise profits, I understand that people have to make a living, but for me, food should be about making people happy, as well as making a living. So I was determined to balance cost against quality – one of the ways to achieve this is by making the dishes from scratch from fresh ingredients. Over the course of the weekend I served slow cooked Chicken Curry, spicy Chilli Con Carne, freshly made sandwiches and Bacon Rolls with real butter, I hoped that they would be happy – but what I didn’t expect was the overwhelming amount of positive comments I received. After the success of the weekend, I decided to apply.
To my delight I was invited to an interview, and to my even greater delight I was selected to take part in Series 10 of MasterChef which aired earlier this year.
Living in Devon, and loving the traditions and ingredients that can be found in the county, I was determined to pay homage to the region. My signature dish for the first challenge was a Rebooted Devonshire Squab Pie – Squab pie in any other county is made from Pigeon, but in Devon we traditionally had more sheep than pigeon.
A Devon squab pie is made from Lamb and Apple (often referred to as Pippins) and served with a dollop of clotted cream. When I was developing the recipe I made the dish according to the 14th Century instructions I had found, however there was far too much apple for my taste.
I changed the proportions to allow for more lamb, added shallots and calvados to the apples, and smothered this in a rich gravy, topped with blanched sage. For an extra dimension I added plenty of freshly chopped rosemary to the short-crust pastry.
In years gone by it was common-place to serve a meat with the vegetables that the animal had grazed on, being close to Braunton Burrows I decided to serve the pie with marsh samphire, and to complete the Devon theme I made a cider and clotted Cream sauce.
Everything went well in the kitchen, although the sauce didn’t reduce enough for my liking (it’s a strange experience getting used to a new kitchen AND having a cameraman filming your every move) – when it came to the judging I was extremely nervous. Gregg really wasn’t sure about the combinations I had put together, but John absolutely loved it – and I was delighted with his reaction, even coming back for another slice before moving on to the next contestant’s dish. Later as I was leaving to go home, he told me that he was keeping the recipe to the pie!
After a nerve-wracking invention test I was relieved to be put through to the next round. This time our challenge was to cook not only for John and Gregg, but for 3 previous contestants – Series 2 Winner Peter Bayless, 2011 MasterChef Finalist Jackie Kearney and 2012 Finalist Andrew Kojima.
For this challenge, we needed to make 2 courses – my first dish was Venison, served with Parsnip, Beetroot, Green Pea Pottage and a Port & Whortleberry Sauce. Pottage is usually a thick stew or soup that was made from vegetables and was common in the Middle Ages, for my modern version I cooked peas in chicken stock, with saffron (which was common in Devon and Cornwall in those times). Whortleberry is the name given to the wild blueberries (also called bilberries) that grow on Exmoor, I’ve found that most berries work well with the deep rich flavour of venison. Sadly however, the pressure of being in the MasterChef kitchen was a bit too much for me, and the finished dish wasn’t to the standards I had set myself at home. As I served the course I knew in my heart that I would be going home, but I didn’t mind – as long as I nailed the Chocolate Fondants.
Fondants and Souffles have always been a risky dish to make on MasterChef, but my attitude has always been ‘No guts no glory’. The Chocolate Orange fondants are made with Orange Blossom Water, as well as a good splash of Grand Marnier which gives the whole dish a heady fragrance. As I served the dishes to the judges, I was praying that they’d come out all right – it was a long wait for me to find out, as it wasn’t until the episode actually aired several months later, that I learnt the fate of my fondants – luckily they were a success!
As I suspected, I had come to the end of my MasterChef journey, but I could at least go home with my head held high, I may have come slightly unstuck under the pressure of being in that kitchen, but I came away knowing that I am a good cook and that’s enough for me.