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  • Writer's pictureHeath Tredell

A Surprising Challenge

When Pookie returned to the #MasterChefUK kitchen it was fair to say that she was a little better prepared. Already she had learned that when someone said “Off you go”, the hint was in the word “GO!”. She’d also learned that if you brought your own items (a favourite knife, some ingredient you needed) she was allowed to get them from the suitcase she’d brought and put them on the table ready. So, she was ready… or so she thought.

The producer asked her how she felt about the day ahead, “Oh my god, getting judged by John and Greg is nerve wracking! I definitely want to show the judges my fun and creative side (to show I’m) not just a pretty face!” she said laughing.

The remaining contestants had been asked to think about a dish that reminded them or was inspired by a holiday. Pookie had been to many places and relished the chance to cook again, but instead of being asked to start she was faced with a surprising challenge.

Third Round Surprise

“Today we are going to have an Invention Test! In the other room are many lovely ingredients to choose from and we want you to impress us, we call this the Market Challenge. You have 1h 20mins to make a savoury or sweet dish… cook something wonderful because one of you will be going home.”

Pookie was a little nervous. Now anyone that knows Pookie knows that she normally hates shopping and therefore picks shopping items for herself very carefully. Here was another challenge as she’d only have 10 minutes to decide what she’d cook and choose her ingredients. If they weren’t there or if someone else had already chosen that ingredient and there was nothing left, she’d have to start again. As you may know from the first blog, Pookie hadn’t really ever watched MasterChef much on TV and so to her this really was a surprise.. and so the challenge was ON!.

Emotionally Pookie was both excited and scared at the challenge and really hoped she could come up with something the judges liked. She didn’t want to be the one going home after only just securing a place.

Pookie’s station was the farthest from the room and so if it wasn’t for Rachel stopping to talk to the camera she’d have been the last in. Some of the contestants had already started choosing items and seemed to know exactly what they wanted, but to Pookie it was all a little unusual. She spotted some King Prawns and decided to go for flavours she knew. “The King prawns caught my eye and then I saw some Quail’s eggs and Shiitake mushrooms, I couldn’t find my favourite Jasmine rice so I went for rice noodles instead”.

As she started to cook, cameramen and the two judges began walking round from station to station. Pookie began by preparing a paste. Shallots, lime leaf, fresh chopped chillies, garlic and ginger were all chopped and then pounded into a paste. She then de-headed, peeled and deveined the king prawns. She started by frying the prawn heads in the pan to begin to build the flavours in the pan that she’d need later. “Prawn heads are full of flavour, the juices inside contain what I call prawn butter and if you line the pan with this first you really have every chance of getting those rich flavours into the foods so it’s all very flavoursome.”

As she was doing this John Torode walked round and looked at her choice of ingredients and asked her what she was making. Pookie described it to him and he immediately turned to the camera and said “A prawn is very rich and so is an egg, I just hope that it’s not too rich” Pookie overheard this and thought how it could easily change someone’s mind or make you do something a little different. Confident in her choice though she pressed on with soaking the noodles in water to soften them, only to be interviewed by Greg.

Greg asked her about her taste background “My parents are from China, from Hong Kong, and we love noodles and mushrooms and oyster sauce; and with me being born in Thailand I like a little bit of spice with it.”

“Behind you, you have a plate of prawn heads, cooked. I take it they are going on the dish then?” asked Greg “Yes, in Thailand we do suck the heads of the prawns, but in the west you don’t......But I dare you to do that today!” she said with a cheeky smile. “I’m happy to…" said Greg "I’m going to have my first prawn head I think”

Now when Pookie and I eat prawns, she always eats the heads, in fact I give my heads to her! “The prawn butter in the head tastes absolutely yummy, so umami, so rich, that’s why it’s called prawn butter”

Whilst the noodles were softening Pookie prepared the Shiitake mushrooms. (I cut them up and then stir fried them in oyster sauce, soy sauce and garlic and a drizzle of sesame oil to add on a nutty smokiness). Pookie then drained the noodles and tossed them in the pan coating them with all the flavours of the garlic, mushrooms and sauces.

She then made a separate spicy sweet and sour sauce used Sriracha sauce, soy, vinegar, sugar, water and a cornflour to thicken it a little. This was going to go on the base of the plate.

“I put the sauce on the plate and turned the plate on its side to dribble it across the plate for effect. I put cherry tomatoes in between the dribbles and had fried quail eggs sunny side up (and still runny inside), and had cut with a food cutter into a perfect circle.

On top of this Pookie put the flavoured noodles with chillies and garlic and finally topped with the spicy king prawns. The prawn heads were there as a tasty garnish. “I messed up really as it wasn’t presented very nicely on the plate. The judges said I married the Thai and Chinese flavours very well and that it was delightful, but I thought it was a little scruffy though compared to round 2… "I was impressed with myself that I get it out and served it in time for the judges”.

True to his word Greg did in fact suck the head of the prawn, Pookie pulled a face to encourage him and show him how to do it “like that!” Greg playfully said “Are you showing me how to do it or are you blowing me kisses?” to which Pookie replied “Both!.. two in one you see.. bonus!!”

In summarising John said “The noodles underneath there with the mushrooms and oyster sauce are absolutely delicious… I love them. Across the top I have prawns that have been cooked really well with a ferocious loving amount of chilli running through them, and the basil and the ginger in there is really really wonderful I like that a LOT. Putting Chinese and Thai food together is not easy, they are two very very different flavour profiles, I think you’ve done a great job.”

Greg said “The prawn head was OK, it had a bitter start and a sweet finish but I encountered a prawn head with a lot of chilli on it, so I don’t love it as much as you do but I’d give it another go. But these flavours are absolutely divine”

Pookie was shocked and delighted at the comments, she thanked them for trying it and afterwards when being interviewed she said “I think I did pretty well and they seemed to like it, but this competition is so tough! I’ve never known anything like it!”. John and Greg were faced with a very tough decision and agreed that it was a very tough round with extraordinary talent.

At the final showdown Rishi and Eddie were considered the stand out dishes on this round with “professional level” cooking and Pookie was third to be mentioned. John said “Pookie is very inventive, she’s very very interesting. We had a combination Chinese Thai meal, everything she does is cooked beautifully.” Greg agreed by saying “I don’t think there is any doubt that Pookie can COOK!”

In the final showdown the person leaving at this stage was sadly Rachel, whose paneer and cauliflower curry with sticky coconut and saffron rice just fell short. Pookie was sad to see her go as by now she’d become friends with everyone in her group. So, it was back to the hotel in London and a chance to rest once again before the next round…. And it would be dark.

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