I survived ‘Celebrity MasterChef’ but got my fingers burnt
I surprised myself by standing the heat in the kitchen, but the flames finally got me
It’s four in the morning and I’m sitting on my kitchen floor in bits. Just like my shortbread. Until this evening I’d never baked so much as a single biscuit but now I am on my sixth batch of shortbread and it’s still not coming together. Too much butter? Too little? Too much heat? Too little? I’ve no idea and have stopped caring. I know now that winning Celebrity MasterChef is beyond me and I want it to be over.
Just 12 hours later, it is.
I agreed to take part last April on a whim despite being neither a celebrity nor a chef and without having watched a full episode of the programme. When I said Yes, the relief in the voice of the woman who had popped the question was as gratifying as it was clear. It was only later I realised her gratitude didn’t stem from her securing a much sought-after star but because so many proper celebs had rejected her advances and she was running out of time to fill her kitchen with faces.
Ray Darcy, who likes to cook, said No as did George Hook, who doesn’t. At least two other Irish Times writers also turned their noses up at the chance to go toe to toe with Dylan McGrath and Nick Munier. By the time they got to me, I suspect they were kind of desperate.
When I breezily tell friends and colleagues what I’ve done – breaking at least six confidentiality clauses in my contract – there is universal agreement that I will be not be okay. I will, instead, be filleted by Dylan McGrath, the fiercest chef in Ireland. It is only at this point I start to worry.
I don’t give a rashers about Dylan – how scary could he be? – but I don’t want to disgrace myself in front of 400,000 viewers. When recording starts I am up to high dough. Sorry.
Day one in the Celebrity MasterChef kitchen and I meet my fellow chefs. It doesn’t go well. Gary Cooke greets me with an affable “You’re a sports journalist, right?” Eh, no. A silent hour passed before he tries again. “Oh, that’s you right, you write about politics?” No.
From the off I worry about Tracy Piggott. She seems to know what she’s about. She uses French terms when talking about food and got five stars in The Restaurant. Maia Dunphy talks down her chances but I reckon she’s spinning me a yarn, like the girl outside the exam hall who insists she’s done no study before coming out with straight As.
Aengus Mac Grianna is harder to read than a news bulletin about moon landings while Yvonne Keating frets about the syringe she needs for a feast of molecular gastronomy she has planned. David Gillick looks focused and fearful and Kamal Ibrahim is supremely confident.
Putting ourselves on a plate is the first task. Maia Dunphy goes for “cheap and fun” Asian street food, Yvonne for a boozed-up bloody lamb. The rest of us cook fish. I tart mine up with basil chiffonades, not because they look or taste nice or say anything about me but because I learned what chiffonades were overnight and can pronounce the word. It sounds posh.
But before chiffonades, we have to meet the men who will judge us. They have a mean reputation, Dylan and Nick, but they are pussycats, really. Dylan with his shaved head and stubble looks awfully menacing. He has a great line in withering stares and can be a grumpy auld bollix when the mood takes him, but he is mostly lovely and always helpful – except when you’ve messed up your work station. He also knows food and really cares about it.
Nick looks friendlier, with his hipster-geek glasses and his big, broad smile. It’s all about the food for him too. He has very high standards. They make for a great double act.
War has been described as long periods of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror. That’s what MasterChef is like.
On day two, we arrive on set before 9am and are sent to the green room where the producers tell us we have to perform just one task but we must do it in isolation. Once we leave the green room we will not be allowed return. They even sequester our phones. So we all sit around wondering what lies ahead when the radio belonging to the young researcher guarding us crackles into life.