Masterchef's Nessa Collinge:Dylan and Nick are like rock gods of food
Last night Nessa Collinge was sent home after her pasta dish failed to excite Nick Munier and Dylan McGrath. Here she shares her experience....
As a keen home-cook and foodie I have watched Masterchef over the years with an interest bordering on the forensic.
While some watch the programme and marvel at the contestants’ successes (and disasters), I have always experienced a kind of vicarious, imaginative participation from the comfort of my TV couch.
When the ads for series three rolled around last year, I had finally completed my PhD thesis in English. There was some serious logistical planning to do in terms of childminding for my four children, one of whom is severely autistic, but ultimately I decided that the timing was right to apply.
Walking into the studio for the first heat and seeing Dylan McGrath and Nick Munier standing there was like being transplanted from real life on to the small screen.
I must confess to feeling a bit star struck - for somebody who is obsessed with food it is the equivalent of meeting a famous rock star or actor – but I suppressed the inclination to giggle inanely and opted for what I imagined was a look of steely determination.
Dylan and Nick hover between workstations observing the contestants’ cooking methods and will query unusual ingredients or flavour pairings. On the show you can see the judges chatting to the contestants at their workstations. I found these ‘visits’ nerve-racking, as I was usually at a crucial stage in proceedings when they appeared. I tried my best to remain cool, calm and collected while they quizzed me, but I couldn’t wait for them to go.
Our first challenge, as the final ten, was to make over 2,000 canapés for the players and their families at the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Championship Final. This was followed with the National dish challenge and while I struggled a little with the unmoulding of my bacon and egg custard, the judges enjoyed the familiar flavours of my reworked “Full Irish”.
The masterclass with Daniel Clifford was exactly the kind of learning experience that I was hoping for when I entered Masterchef. As the head chef at Midsummer House in Cambridge, he holds two Michelin stars and it was a real honour to see him in action.
As I watched him effortlessly prepare his magnificent quail dish, I became aware of just how many processes were involved and I felt somewhat daunted at the prospect of recreating it. My concerns were not without foundation as pots and pans soon mounted in disarray at my workstation, as I rushed to plate up. I had no sooner stepped away from my plate at the final call for time, when I realised that I had mixed up my parfait with my puree (as you do).
I figured there was nothing much I could do about it at that point and so I faced the judges with cheerful resignation. While Daniel and Dylan were clearly amused by the missing parfait, I was acutely aware of just how tough the competition had become.
As a result of this oversight I faced into the mystery box challenge feeling at something of a disadvantage, as I was now on the judges’ radar thanks to my chaotic performance the previous day. When I lifted the box to reveal a pasta machine, I felt confident that I would be able to rustle up something interesting in the allotted time.
I prepared a smoked haddock and egg yolk raviolo with sauce vierge and leek puree. While my dish showed technical skill, the balance of flavours was not right. Nick was unhappy with the sauce which needed more lemon juice to cut through the olive oil base, while Dylan kindly suggested that it wasn’t “that bad of an eat”. Unfortunately my pasta dish was not enough to secure my place in the quarter final and I left the Masterchef kitchen following this challenge.
I was disappointed to leave the show, as despite the inordinate stress levels, I was thoroughly enjoying the whole experience. The other contestants are not only talented cooks but are also great fun to be with. I will continue to cook flavourful food using inexpensive ingredients for family and friends and feel proud to have in my possession a coveted Masterchef apron with my name embroidered on it.
Dr Nessa Collinge is married with four children and works in University College Dublin.
Follow her blog at www.atthelemontable.blogspot.ie