Foxrock woman falls at the final BBC MasterChef hurdle

‘It was life-changing. I learnt more about food and about myself than I ever thought possible’

Dubliner Alison O’Reilly has exited BBC MasterChef and now plans on running supper clubs in Dublin and London

Dubliner Alison O’Reilly has exited BBC MasterChef and now plans on running supper clubs in Dublin and London

 

The winner of the 13th series of the popular BBC TV programme MasterChef will be crowned tonight, but Irish contestant Alison O’Reilly won’t be joining the final three cooking their ultimate three-course menu in the studio kitchen.

The Foxrock woman made it to the final four in the competition, from 25,000 initial applicants, but failed in Thursday night’s penultimate round to secure a place in the final.

She told The Irish Times she was “gutted” to miss out on being in the final three. “Just one more hurdle and I would have made it to the last stage of the competition. It’s easy to lay in bed at night and think about all the different things I could have cooked and how it might have been different, but I try really hard not to.”

It was one of the most keenly contested deciders in the history of the competition, according to judges John Torode and Gregg Wallace, and O’Reilly failed by “the tightest, tightest of margins”, according to Wallace.

Never one to play it safe, O’Reilly responded to the brief to the contestants to cook a dish “with their stamp on it”, by reinventing southern fried chicken, and serving the deep fried chicken with roasted pineapple, yellow pepper puree and beetroot vinaigrette, and “dirty” rice cooked with chicken livers.

One more elimination

“Going back into the MasterChef kitchen knowing that there was one more elimination before the final was the most nerve-wrecking part of the whole competition. The brief was to do our own take on a classic. Throughout the competition I have played around with quite untraditional flavour combinations and dishes, so I didn’t want to go against this at this stage of the competition.

“I still love the dish ... it’s probably not the most technically challenging, but it tasted really good. There was a great balance of sweetness from the pineapple, sharpness from the beetroot vinaigrette and savouriness from the dirty rice.”

O’Reilly admitted before she cooked it that her choice was “quite a risky dish”, but when John Torode described it as: “Just completely bonkers, it’s right out there. It’s fabulous. I love it”, the Dubliner, and her fans, breathed a sigh of relief.

Take our polls

The only problem was, across the kitchen the other three finalists were also excelling. Sound engineer Steve Kielty’s rabbit stew was the dish of the day. Music teacher Giovanna Ryan’s apple crumble also rated highly, and one can only assume the “tightest of margins” decider came down O’Reilly’s fried chicken and the fish and chips reinterpreted with spices, cooked by doctor Saliha Mahmood-Ahmed.

With no mistakes to rule anyone out, the judges decided to vote on their three favourite dishes, and Wallace said it was “with real regret” that Alison was shown the door.

“It was an incredibly tough round – everyone did extremely well and got great feedback and in the end my dish was the judges’ least favourite,” O’Reilly said.

“All I can say about the whole experience is – it was life-changing. I learnt more about food and about myself than I ever thought possible. I will always look back at this time as one of the happiest and most exciting of my life.

Exciting time

“Before the show, I felt like I was floundering a little bit – turning 30 was an unwelcomed milestone and I found myself constantly questioning what I wanted to do with my career and how I could do something more fulfilling. Now I have these answers and a new direction and it’s just such an exciting time.”

She is currently head of marketing for a street food business called KERB, based on London and also plans to run supper clubs in London and Dublin next month. Dates are still to be confirmed by you can sign up at foodbyalison.com to get notified.

“I would like these supper clubs to focus on Irish food. After cooking with so many different flavours and cuisines in the competition, I am now going back to my roots. I want to explore what ‘Irish’ food means to people today, where has it come from and where is it going.”

She is also doing a supper club in London with two of tonight’s finalists. “I can’t say who, until the show is over. Tickets will go on sale next week.”

For now, O’Reilly is still based in Willesden – “a proper Irish part of London”. But she says “ Ireland is still very much home. I go back as often as possible (nearly every month) and hope to settle back there one day in the not too distant future.”

Cookbook

She also has plans to write a cookbook. “I am researching and writing as much as I can about the Irish food scene. Both these activities will help me to develop a repertoire of recipes which I can hopefully turn into an Irish cookbook. This is a really saturated market, but that’s the dream.”

The final four: Giovanna Ryan, Saliha Mahmood-Ahmed, Steve Kielty and Alison O’Reilly
Giovanna Ryan, Saliha Mahmood-Ahmed, Steve Kielty and Alison O’Reilly

The series was filmed last winter, and the contestants have been bound by confidentiality agreements. “It was hard keeping it quiet, more so for my parents then me.” Her father is Irish and mother is Australian and she has dual-nationality.

“They were so excited during filming and wanted to shout it from the roof tops, but couldn’t. They are absolutely loving it now though. All their friends (and all my friends) are constantly congratulating me and cheering me on. From texts and phonecalls, to pictures in shop windows, it’s been amazing. I think they are as shocked as I am at how far I got. It’s been an emotional and stirring experience for us all – in a very good way.”

The experience of being on MasterChef has been a life changing one, she says. “I think what was most surprising was what I learned about myself. I genuinely enjoyed every minute and didn’t really get too flustered or stressed out. I dealt with the pressure better than I thought I would.”

Even with those two hovering judges looming into shot at just the worst possible moments? “John and Greg are brilliant. Really funny and really friendly. They made us feel at ease and were always laughing and joking with us during filming.”

MasterChef: The Final is on BBC One on Friday, May 12th, 8.30pm

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