What on earth has happened? We are given two hours – again that is the problem for me! Somehow it is imperative to show off – to show a truly unique dish. Two hours is too long – surely they want something crazy, clever and non traditional?
It is how many of us decide to go – we have the time and we need to use it. The competition is tough. No one is cruising through – we need to show initiative and innovation. It is a sponge – so follow the recipe and then ‘go crazy’.
As usual, though, somehow the ideas and the ensuing reality are slightly skewed. Two hours seem to fly by in the Masterchef kitchen. Taking care to follow the recipe and ‘rise’ to the expectations of our gorgeous guest baker means taking time to sieve and fold with care. The cake batter has to be perfect before going in to bake. Once in, then the creativity can flow. To start it is just about followng instructions. Later, we can show our own vision and perhaps for me a weird, personal translation!
And so, as I bake, I create in my mind a salty and sweet concoction, which is a reminder of Vietnam. A land of cake, bread, chilli, sugar and salt. Where nothing seems to follow rules, but a balance of salty, sweet, crunch and cream all somehow come together in a snack. Yes – I decide this is the moment to venture askew and to again veer away from a safe path.
So I create the Saigon Sponge. There is the sponge – quietly crusty on the edges – clearly a few moments too long in the oven. But it is filled with chocolate mousses, berry jelly, crunchy sugar chilli powder and salty caramel praline. What is Simon saying? Oh my goodness he is confused by my vision. Should I listen and let that confound me? No I decied it is best to just ride on a self-questioning wave of confidence and push on through – praying that the ‘amateur’ chef in me will come out – and come out somewhere towards the top rather than fighting for my life in the bottom two!
The tasting is not pleasurable. What has happened to my cake? My three layers have wobbled and swayed and the result is a train crash. Presenting this is an embarrassment! What on earth is Natalie, our guest, going to think when my collapsing tower is offered up for professional critique. As for the esteemed celebrity judges – ugh – this is truly not a favourite moment.
And then they try it. Of course, the initial comments are in recognition of the mess placed in front of them. But when they eat it , they are taken with the flavours. For a brief moment they conclude that the salty and sweet is ‘kind of working, in a weird way’ and my Saigon Sponge has more than limped it’s way through to the next round. It hasn’t exactly soared but it has somehow drifted inelegantly through. And it has saved me from an elimination and I say a mental “Cám ơn” to my Vietnamese experiences and all that they brought me for today. Hopefully, Vietnam, can give me a boost in the next challenge too – so far it seems to be a burgeoning assistant to my desire to persevere in this competition.