‘Best feeling ever’: Dubliner enters finals of BBC MasterChef

Alison O’Reilly will compete against four other amateur chefs in ‘finals week’ of the show

 Alison O’Reilly is through to the finals of BBC MasterChef

Alison O’Reilly is through to the finals of BBC MasterChef

 

Dubliner Alison O’Reilly is through to finals week on BBC MasterChef. Just five amateur cooks remain in contention, from more than 25,000 applicants, 400 of whom auditioned for the show and 64 who made it through to the televised rounds.

The London-based marketing consultant had a rocky round in last Friday’s episode of the show, which involved cooking for four UK food critics. “This is a brilliant dish ... in about three hours time,” Observer restaurant critic Jay Rayner said of her tamarind beef short rib with roasted fennel, Jerusalem artichoke purée and crisps, pearl barley and basil oil.

With just an hour and 15 minutes to cook her dish, O’Reilly knew timing could be an issue. “When I cook short ribs, I allow four to six hours,” Rayner said.

“Cooking for the critics was a bit of a daunting task,” O’Reilly told The Irish Times. “They can be a tough crowd to please. It was also quite different to previous rounds in that we had less time to cook and had to plate five portions, instead of the usual one.

Fine dining brief

“The brief was fine dining, and I really liked the idea of taking a humble cut of meat and jazzing it up a bit, so I chose beef short ribs. These usually take at least three to four hours to cook but when practising at home I managed to get the same succulent results from a pressure cooker. It’s not a piece of kit I use often, but I had seen it used on the show quite a bit, so thought I’d give it a go.

“In hindsight this wasn’t a great idea. On the day, the ribs didn’t quite fit in the cooker and I wasted a bit of time trying to get this sorted, then I took them out too early to give myself extra time plating. In the end, the ribs were tough and the dish just didn’t turn out the way I wanted.”

“Go get ’em girl,” was judge John Torode’s send off as O’Reilly delivered her dish – three at a time, restaurant style – to the critics. The reaction was muted, but not damning, though O’Reilly knew she was at risk of elimination.

There was enough potential in the dish, however, to secure O’Reilly a place in finals week. This came at the expense of architect Brodie Williams, who used to design shops for Agent Provocateur and is now a private chef. Soggy pastry in his venison Wellington let the Scotsman down.

Final five

O’Reilly joins musician Giovanna Ryan, sound engineer and drummer Steve Kielty, doctor Saliha Mahmood-Ahmed, and copywriter Lorna Robertson in finals week.

“It was a bit disappointing, because out of everything I’ve cooked, I think this was my favourite dish,” O’Reilly said. It’s such a great combination of flavours. It’s comforting and interesting at the same time and I’ve not seen anything else like it. I think the judges saw that conceptually the dish was really strong and they liked the flavours, so perhaps this is what saw me through.”

Finals week kicks off tonight and the first challenge is to cook for the US ambassador to the UK and his guests, including restaurateur Jeremy King, of The Ivy and The Wolseley. An elimination round then follows in the MasterChef kitchen, and the four who make it through will travel to South Africa for the next round of the competition, to be screened on Wednesday.

“I’m just so delighted to have made it through to the final. It’s still such a surreal feeling and sometimes I have to pinch myself,” O’Reilly said.” I’ve worked so hard and spent so many hours practicing, researching, running all over London looking for ingredients, and every minute had been entirely worth it. To be able to say I’m a MasterChef finalist, cooking my own recipes in my own style throughout, is the best feeling ever.”

MasterChef, BBC One, Monday, May 8th, 9pm

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