Thursday, 27 April 2017

Knock Out Week - Round 2

If I hadn't actually watched back what happened in this episode I might have been mistaken that is was all an hallucination after one too many gins. When the taxi came to pick us up in the morning we had no idea where we were heading. Then the figure of the world famous time piece that is Big Ben came into sight! I was trying to figure out on my phone which restaurant could it be then the taxi pulled up to a restaurant with Roux above the door! Shit just got real!

This was Roux at Parliament Square, the second restaurant of food God Michel Roux Jr and headed up by MasterChef: The Professionals 2009 winner Steve Groves! Something told me we/I was in for a real experience of what it is like to cook in a high end professional kitchen (3 AA Rosettes). Then they showed me what I would be making! Yep I was in trouble now! That bloody spinning plate has haunted my dreams ever since. Just the sheer speed, precision and volume was overwhelming. 

Yes, I needed help to catch up but I didn't feel that bad because what was asked of me was more than my skill at this level could accomplish. I am a home cook and I did my very very best to get that dish out as best as I could, I literately could do no more. It's nerve wracking enough cooking in that kitchen without the cameras on you!

Shattered yes, put off? No. It was probably the most intense cooking I have ever experienced but it has given me an insight into another side of the food world that I might never have seen. For that I am thankful to have had the opportunity to cook in that kitchen. It was both an honour and a privilege and I hope to go back some day but as a diner!

What that experience has given me is a massive respect for all those in the restaurant business. I knew that it was difficult being a chef, I just had no idea until now. People rarely see or appreciate how much hard work goes into the food that arrives at their table.

Not rest for the wicked and back to the MasterChef kitchen for an invention test! Argh! We had a fantastic array of produce to choose from. The home economics team that work on the show are responsible for all of the produce and displays which always look amazing. I decided to try and show some skill by making pastry and stand out by using an otherwise underused ingredient quince. 

Well it could have gone better! I don't know what happened really, I didn't cook out my custard enough and as for the pastry I thought when I checked the base to see if it was cooked it was, so not sure if the juice from the poached quince seeped through? Whatever happened it did not meet the grade. Gutted is an understatement. I'm just glad I didn't get savaged by Tom Kitchin!

All I can say is in both challenges as with most things in my life I tried my very best and just like most things in my life I am more critical of myself than any judge could be. However I entered this competition with nothing to lose, I live to fight another day and fight I will. 

Knock Out Week concludes on BBC One at 8.30pm tonight!

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Knock Out Week - Round 1

The last few weeks have truly been amazing. I know that sounds cliche but at the start I never imagined it would be like this. People have been so lovely and supportive and the reaction I get the most from them is "it looks really stressful!". I reply with a resounding "yes, yes it is!". Despite all of the stress and all of the pressure being part of the MasterChef process has confirmed my love of cooking rather than put me off!

So to Knock Out Week! The competition started with 64 people now 14 of us remain all vying for a place in the semi-finals. Round 1 if you like was to a brief set by John and Gregg to design and cook a dish inspired by a Family Favourite or from a Childhood Memory. We were then split into two groups blue aprons and red aprons.
Feeling very positive after the great feedback I had from the food critic and all round legend Amol Rajan in the Quarterfinals I decided to merge both options and go for a trio of dessert inspired by my early childhood, a family favourite and to recreate a dessert served at my wedding . Very much going with the more is more ethos!

The dish comprised of a papaya sorbet as mentioned inspired by my early childhood in Kenya. I was born in Nairobi and one of my earliest food memories was eating fruit! Lots and lots of fruit and although mangoes were a firm favorite too it is papaya that always reminds me of this time in my life. 

Hey you guys!
The next element was a kheer, essentially a spiced rice pudding which is a firm favourite in most Indian family households! The difference here compared to the rice pudding we all know is that it is made with basmati rice and heavily spiced and sweetened. The very definition of comfort food and again invokes such great memories of growing up. 

One of my first birthday parties in Kenya.
Lastly a chocolate samosa! Inspired by the dessert we had at our wedding which is almost 5 years ago to the day! We were very lucky to have the talented and lovely Chef Anand George cook at our wedding and he made the chocolate samosa on the big day. I wanted to pay homage to this thing of beauty that is a chocolate samosa and celebrate my 5th wedding anniversary!

So a fair bit to do! Get the sorbet set, smooth and tasting of papaya, then cooking the kheer in time and getting the spicing and the sweetness just right and making sure the brulee top was set and crunchy and finally handling filo pastry in that heat, making and cooling a dark chocolate ganache, folding then filling the filo to create the samosa, then frying it! So much to do in an hour and a half and no time to mess it up and do it again! Classic MasterChef!

I felt a lot different about being back in the kitchen this time an element of having been in that environment before, knowing where things were (as simple as that sounds it makes all the difference) and a little bit used to the process involved in making a show like MasterChef.

As the only contestant in the Blue Team to cook a dessert I was anxious about the critique. Well, to say that I'm over the moon with the feedback I got from John and Gregg is an understatement! To get such positive comments from both judges was incredible and to me it felt like I had earned my right to be there! It's the first time in the whole competition I actually enjoyed myself and allowed myself a proper moment of pure joy! I think the way I smiled said it all! I'm very critical of myself so when good things like this happen you just have to roll with it! As I mentioned in previous blog posts we don't actually get to hear what John and Gregg say when they are deliberating who goes through until it's on the TV, so again I was so happy with the comments!

After both teams had cooked it was time for the line up and like clock work the nerves, knot in the stomach feeling and surge of adrenaline were all back. Heart beating away and mouth dry. Then came the icing on the cake, to be called out as an OUTSTANDING cook was just mind blowing! Things like this don't happen every day!

To be in the final 12 of MasterChef is more than I could ever have imagined at the start! YES!
Once again I'd like to thank everyone for all their support over the last few weeks the people of Cardiff and Wales have been incredible! Truly humbled! Thank you!

Knock Out Week continues on Wednesday the 26th and I'm on Thursday the 27th of April 8pm on BBC One.

Saturday, 1 April 2017

MasterChef Quarter Final.

Wow! What an utter roller coaster it has been over the last few days, culminating with me reaching the first quarterfinals of this series! It seems as if everything is a bit of a dream that even now, even after watching it I still can't quite believe it's happening! 

I knew that heading into the quarter finals I would have to up my game but I think it's fair to say that when the brief came through I was a bit torn. A choice between Chocolate with a twist or Indian Spices. My natural cooking style would lend itself more to the chocolate brief but on the other hand this would be an ideal opportunity to tap into my gastronomic heritage and finally learn about the food that has been eaten in my family for generations. A food style that up until now I didn't really cook.

In my eyes this was the right way to go, so heading back into the MasterChef kitchen not only did I want to impress the judges but I also wanted to showcase how humble and homely Indian food can be delicious and beautiful too. 
The thali set up seemed to lend itself so well to what I wanted to demonstrate. Traditional food with some flair which came in the form of my kale pakoras and green apple kachumber. 

For the most part I think I achieved this, I was happy but it wasn't up to me! We didn't know who had set the brief but when we were told it was a food critic there was a palatable increase in tension in the room. Two judges was tough enough three was a whole new ball game let alone a food critic.

I was stationed at the front, much less distance for me to worry about walking with my food to the judges. The feedback this time was so much better than before. Amol Rajan the food critic in question gave me some of the best critique I have had so far: "I've travelled the length and breadth of India looking for the perfect pakora and that's up there with some of the best of them" and "it looks very good, I'd be happy to pay for that in a restaurant". WOW! A fully respected and recognised food critic giving me that feedback was amazing and it meant so much to me for my food to be praised like that. Even John Torode joked he would like to nick the kale pakora idea for his book! 

Yes it wasn't all great feedback but I could have not done more, 6 elements to the dish in the time we had from scratch was certainly a push and the stakes were so much higher this round. Proving that I can do this and am worthy of my place as a quarterfinalist, representing the food of my upbringing well, not letting my mum down and a place in Knock Out Week! Pressure!

The now familiar wait then followed as the judges came to a decision. I'm finding that quite hard to watch and listen to as the first time the viewer sees that is the first time I see that! The critique I've had face to face but their discussion is unknown to the contestants until it is on TV. It can be quite gut wrenching stuff especially when you have put your heart and soul into it.

Decision made, line up time! Still trying to be calm the moment got the better of me, the silence, the long pause, the anxiety! Name after name called out, wishing and hoping they would call my name out and put me out of this agony. Down to the wire again! Then they call my name! A rush of mixed emotions, I don't think my heart can take this anymore! No time to think here comes the fizz, which was a cracking way to end an epic couple of days! Onward to Knock Out Week! 

I want to say thank you for all the support and love I have received. It is very much appreciated and you really have made this experience so amazing for me! Thank you!