Friends who we’ve had to dinner and family who we may also have cooked for, have always delighted in Pookie’s cooking. So, when a keen friend sent me a link to apply for MasterChef, I figured it would be cheaper than an experience day voucher. So, I thought it was a MasterChef stroke of genius!!
How wrong I was. Experience days are just that, you pay a fee and have a great time, done! The #MasterChefUK application process is sadly a well-kept secret but I think it’s fair to say that the application form isn’t like filling out a library card application. It’s quite long and asks a lot of questions about food interests, background, food preferences etc etc. It has to I suppose, as it’s used to whittle down some 10,000+ applicants to a final (this year at least) 45 that are finally chosen to appear on TV.
The application form is obviously not the only stage one has to go through to get a place, but, once they decide it’s you they want to take to the next stage, they pick up the phone and call you. Which is fine if you’re not Pookie who at the time was shopping for some building supplies; she simply asked them to call back (she actually didn’t understand who was on the phone and suspected it was a prank caller..)
But finally, her application got accepted and she was invited to go to London to appear on the TV. Upon acceptance, she was sent a competitor’s pack telling her all the do’s and don’ts including of course not talking to anyone about her taking part. Therein began the journey not of Pookie Tredell but Pookie the secret competitor of a TV program that must never be spoken about.
Until one day there she was, stood in the MasterChef kitchen trying (as others no doubt were also doing) to keep her nerves under control. Before they had entered the kitchen the 9 contenders had met briefly in a waiting room where they had spoken about all sorts of subjects. Food and the types of dishes, equipment, techniques etc that they each used were also discussed. This left Pookie feeling a little overwhelmed at how little she thought she knew in comparison to some of the competitors.
The presenter’s stood briefly in front of her and explained that this year things were “changing things up a bit” and that they wouldn’t be watching them cook the first dish but instead would await the arrival of a plate of food in a brand new ‘Tasting Room’ and simply taste it, cooking unseen. This seemed to bother some contestants who clearly wondered about the change in format. Pookie however had never really watched MasterChef to understand what the “usual” format was, so to her it was business as usual. What’s more the presenter’s also told them that of the 9 competitors, only 3 would be awarded a MasterChef apron and the rest would have to return to cook again… so it was game on!
Round 1 – The Audition Round
First three cooks were Rachel, Clive and Lisa. Pookie was asked to sit and wait her turn to cook and watched 3 competitors cook food. Once they had each presented their dishes it was Pookie’s turn. Rachel was up first and seeing her food, Pookie encouraged her by saying “You’re OK, Go for it!!” Rachel’s dish certainly worked as it made Pookie feel hungry. Next it was Clive and Pookie couldn’t believe how this man with a big smile seemed to look so calm “Clive is just so under control…. He’s so calm isn’t he, with that big smile” then making sure he got support she cheered him on, clapping at his dish. The last of the three was Lisa and her tuille looked so nice Pookie wanted to taste it there and then. “Go on Lisa, well done!”
Once they had finished, the producer asked Pookie Eddie and Paul to cook. Now Pookie’s dish required quite a lot of ingredients and because of this Pookie had taken a large case with all the ingredients in it. The producer said “OK off you go” and Pookie took this to mean she could unpack and get ready to cook. What he actually meant was that the 1hr 20minutes timer had already started. Ten minutes into the competition and Pookie hadn’t actually started cooking.
It was only when the producer saw she was clearly still just getting things ready, that he told her how much time she had left!! Pookie went into overdrive and prepared and cooked her dish as fast as she could. Bashing her lemon grass to release the flavour seemed to irk Paul who said “Pookie you’re very noisy!” Pookie didn’t worry though, she had work to do and time to catch up on. When interviewed, Pookie said “I am taking this competition seriously and I try not to get stressed but I do adding a nervous laugh. She said “I like to present things weirdly, I am quite inventive as a cook, I like to invent a normal dish but add a twist to it… I want to serve you something you wouldn’t guess that’s what it is.”
Shallow Sea Bed Life
Pookie had decided to cook Tiger prawns served with Tom kha Thai coconut milk soup, coral, a lime foam, stir fried mushroom in oyster sauce, garnished with cherry tomatoes, masago and salmon roe, coriander and samphire. She was going to cook the prawns on a skewer so that unusually they remained straight on the plate.
Sadly however whilst taking one off the skewer it dropped into the bin. She panicked and nearly put her hand in to get it out again as now there were only 3 prawns left. One judge was going to get more than the other!! She decided it would be fairer to give them the same amount and so only served one Tiger Prawn to each. Checking on their progress she said Whoaa! Steamed Up! Which later made it into the TV advertisements for when the show started.
She also made prawns into a paste and shaped it into a star fish shape to also represent the bottom of the ocean. When she said “I’m just going to get my starfish out and use a blow torch on it”. some people on Twitter joked and said if she did that they'd call the police!! Finally ready, with only seconds to spare she was finally happy and said “I think they would give me the apron after they see this dish”.
The two judges, John Torode and Greg Wallace, looked impressed with Pookie’s presentation which unusually included a host of different sea shells to go with the “Shallow Sea Bed Life” name that she had given her dish. Pookie slowly poured on the Tom Kha soup so that it represented a wave in the ocean making the “prawn eggs” (Masago Roe) swim around.
John asked “Brilliant, so you like a bit of theatre then?” to which Pookie said “Yes, so I like to make people when they come to my house just go Wow!” They were also bemused when presented with a solitary prawn and not knowing the mishap earlier, decided Pookie was just being a little skimpy on dish size. Greg said “Your little tuilles are really nice, they look very pretty and salty, and they do look like coral well done! You’ve got good flavours, I’d like to give me more food and less shells.”
John didn’t seem to mind the shells and presentation so much and said he loved the flavour that came from the prawn as it was cooked beautifully and concluded that her Tom Kha soup was “Fantastic!”. He wondered whether she was telling the truth about how she presented her food really and asked if it was really the sort of food she cooked for me. To which Pookie responded by saying “On valentines Day I cooked him a nine course meal, it took me 70 hours to prepare”. They both said that was very sweet and the comment made national press and many Twitter posts. She forgot to add that I’m worth it!! 😊
When all 9 competitors had presented the dishes the two judges deliberated and finally the competitors were asked to return to the kitchen for the verdict. They said that it was a really really strong heat and complimented Richie (A dentist who cooks vegetarian foods) and Eddie (a boat pilot from Hull) and told them they were through. The third and final apron was between Lisa and Haley but it was Haley that got the final apron. Some of the remaining competitors were obviously a little distraught but would get another opportunity to impress. Pookie was told that they just didn’t get her style, something she later would try and correct. So, a cook off was organised for later.
Afterwards Pookie said “Aah.. I’m just like absolutely buzzing… I think I’ve established that I’m different”.
Next Round – Signature Dessert
The two presenters then asked the remaining six contestants to cook their signature dessert. They had 1 hour 20 minutes and when Pookie told Greg what dish she was making he said “WHAT!!?” in total disbelief. Pookie’s dish was entitled Pina Cotta Colada.
John said “Pookie’s imagination is quite fantastic, a Pina Cotta flavoured panna cotta, I hope she doesn’t use too much alcohol that it makes it too firm”. She would serve this with chilli pineapple salsa, a grilled caramelised pineapple and a pineapple and rum foam. Pookie said “When you try them all together, mmm, its something amazing in your mouth.”
Off camera this dish had both judges dancing in delight and giving comments like “This is absolutely beautiful” and “Your panna cotta is absolutely delicious. You have a grilled pineapple and the juice washes into your mouth and gives you refreshment, then you take the centrepiece and you get this lovely flavour of this pineapple gel with this lovely roasted pineapple on top. I think its beautifully presented it well thought out, I THINK THAT IS FANTASTIC!”
Greg said “That is seriously brave to stick chilli salted pineapple on the side because it feels like you’re having a Thai savoury dish. The contrast with the otherwise soft comforting creaminess is quite striking. You’re clever, You’re good!” leaving Pookie absolutely buzzing with excitement but exhausted. “I’m well chuffed that they like my dishes!!”
John said “The dish looked a picture and tasted even better” and she was first in the group to go through and get her apron. I of course didn’t know any of this until that night when she rang me and spent 10 minutes telling me how hard it was, how talented the other chefs were and how she is unlikely to get very far… but that she just about managed to scrape an apron. Whereupon I had to watch her dancing like an excited child for the next 10 minutes. I was so proud and happy for her. She’d got the apron she wanted and now it was into the next round and more to come….