Its a stunning morning at our mansion in paradise, yet there are somber faces as we all take a moment to prepare for whatever may be in store at the Master Chef kitchen. One thing’s for sure – the glorious weather will be enjoyed by others, whilst we are cooking under pressure in the purpose built cavernous kitchen, just a black van’s drive away!
Passing through the increasingly familiar kitchen doors I notice instantly the small mystery boxes on each of our benches. Bizarrely though, it is only as Josh indicates to the mammoth box behind him that I even notice it. Perhaps I have been too taken with his shoes!
When they raise the box and I see the hanging ducks I feel ecstatic. This is Asia. I feel transported momentarily to markets and food stalls. I feel at home for a moment in Vietnam and hope this could be my opportunity to shine. Of course, it will come down to what is hidden in the little box in front of me. Will it help or hinder my journey?
Lifting the lid I am relieved. Soy sauce, rice, mushrooms, ginger and chilli. This is a perfect launching pad for sticky duck. Take it away – let’s get started.
Breaking up the duck was my first challenge. Thanks to the guys at Greenwoods Butcher I know how to tackle this with ease. Setting me to task with dozens of chickens to be broken into pieces has given me a handle on how to tackle a whole duck. I pop my other ingredients away, apologize to the duck – it kind of seems important – and get on with the job. Bench clean, duck in pieces – a good start. As I begin dicing and slicing I come up with a plan to create dumplings with some thigh meat, to smoke one of the duck breasts, to fry the other and to roast a leg – using as much duck as I can and the carcass for the broth. A perfect finale comes to mind – mango with chilli salt – yum.
David is working hard beside me. I can sense his determination also – a quiet achiever. Paula is the same. Calm and ordered in front of me. I guess we are all slowly getting used to being in the MC kitchen – under lights and cameras and with the ever continuing presence of real chefs peering over us.
At 30 minutes to go I actually feel under control. My meat has marinated and now is ready to be cooked. I have used the entire duck carcass to make a fragrant broth and I hope that the hour has been enough for the flavours to permeate through. Then there are suddenly only 10 minutes left and I notice David’s impeccable presentation Not just on his plate but his bench. My God how on earth did that happen. His area is spotless and mine has turned into a crazy minefield again. With only 60 seconds to go I have broth going into a bowl, duck breast into a pan, dumplings simmering and only the mango on the plate. I talk severely to myself – I am my own worst critic – …..‘get it on a plate, get it on a fricken’ plate’.
Stepping away from the bench I can’t help but be happy. I have food on a plate – and all of it. But then I note Paula and David’s plates. Their food looks awesome and I feel a gnawing in my tummy that just won’t go away.
When Kelly takes her plate to the judges it is obvious how much work she has put in. When the negative comments begin I feel gutted for her. When you have spent 90 minutes determinately getting food cooked and onto a plate, and have managed several elements, it is destroying to hear someone query what you have produced. My stomach turns over several more times.
As the other contestants move forward to the judges, my confidence continues to sway and I regret cooking so many elements. I stare down at my plate and suddenly wonder if I even like what I see. It isn’t looking so good anymore.
And then there is Aaron – again. And this time we are clapping him. I don’t remember seeing applause before on Master Chef! Is the guy invincible? Perhaps it comes down to pre challenge yoga?
Jennis has done well. I feel proud of her. I tell her that later. I am not sure why – but she is young, and smiley and creates cool and crazy flavours. She thinks outside of the box and it’s great. Well done I smile to myself.
Finally it’s my turn. I know I have done a lot but I am still concerned that perhaps none of it will pack that true punch. My dumplings should be delicious – with ginger, shallot, duck and soy? Yes, says Simon, they work – they are good! And then the sticky duck gets a nod of approval too and I feel relieved enough I can smile and consider that I may have made it through this challenge.
As the others share their food with the judges I wait patiently. I empathize with those who get it hard and I feel happy for those who are successful. My overwhelming feeling is relief. It is OK to be here. This is hard. Harder than anyone outside of this competition can ever know. The sense of achieving is incredible and I hadn’t really felt it until right now. This is the feeling you need – the one that lets you know you can go on and do it again.
Eliminations. Awful. Whether you are quietly confident or not at all, the atmosphere is dread. Dread it could be you and a gut wrenching fear of the unknown.
To be called forward with Aaron, Ella and Jennis is amazing. Actually it feels like an honour. I am so happy. I can actually smile. Then Simon shares the news of our upcoming 11 course lunch at the Chef’s table at Euro. Awesome – we just won the first prize of the season 🙂