Singer Niamh Kavanagh wins Celebrity MasterChef 2017

Her cheesecake bowled over the judges to take the Celebrity MasterChef 2017 title

With perfect scores for her food – and perfect musical pitch after a thyroid operation in January that had posed a threat to her voice – former Eurovision winner Niamh Kavanagh peaked at just the right moment in the TV3 Celebrity MasterChef kitchen.

Her food was hitting all the right notes too. For the final, the singer brought out her secret weapon, a lime cheesecake with raspberries that had judges Robin Gill and Daniel Clifford lost for words and giggling like schoolboys rather than grown-up, professional chefs.

“I think it has power over people,” Kavanagh whispered, as the pair mainlined sugar and dried raspberry dust that may or may not have been made from the picked over contents of a certain cereal box.

Mystery ingredients

Gill and Clifford have turned out to be the mystery ingredients that have made this latest MasterChef such a success. They said at the outset they would do the show only if they could approach it in a positive way and help the participants to become better cooks, and it has paid off. They've been easy to watch, funny, generous and truthful, without ever having to resort to cheap shots.


It was “anyone’s game” and they should “cook from the heart” Dublin-born, London-based Gill assured the three finalists as they prepared their last supper – a three-course menu of their own choice – in the studio kitchen in Dún Laoghaire.

“Bring it on,” was Kavanagh’s steely response. “I’ve always thought they feel it when I put myself on the plate,” she added, not in the least bit suggestively.

The tsunami of superlatives continued to flow when Niamh Kavanagh gave them ox cheek and mash – which must really have tasted better than it looked

TV presenter and actor Simon Delaney, who had been the most impressive of the final trio in the professional kitchens, chose this inopportune moment to admit that that he'd "never cooked a three-course meal" in his life, while getting to work on an ambitious menu inspired by and dedicated to his wife Lisa.

“She’s had a rough couple of months; she gave birth to our fourth beautiful, healthy baby boy and then eight weeks later she broke her leg, badly,” he said, playing the sympathy card maybe just a tad too obviously.

GAA All Star Oisín McConville, meanwhile, was looking and sounding just a little lost. “ I don’t recognise the person I was when I walked into this competition. Not only do I not recognise the cook, I don’t recognise the person.” And he hadn’t even had a sliver of the spellbinding cheesecake.

“Get your game face on Oisín,” was Clifford’s advice.

Tough cop

The Michelin-starred UK chef was taking on the tough cop role in the face of his co-judge’s sudden dissolution into a puddle of anxiety. “I think you need to take five minutes out because you’re so stressed by it,” he told a grey-faced Gill, who was pacing nervously around the kitchen, adjusting an oven temperature here, prodding a lump of pasta dough there and seemingly incapable of keeping his hands to himself.

“I can see you’re finding it quite difficult to sit back and watch it happen,” nodded Clifford from the sidelines.

It got easier, though, and by the time Niamh Kavanagh served her egg raviolo starter, and Oisín McConville presented his John Dory with asparagus (white and green), both judges were running out of superlatives – and viewers never wanted to hear the words "delicious" or "wow" again.

It was almost a relief when Simon Delaney’s scallops missed the mark slightly and we didn’t have to hear the d-word or w-word. “It’s not smashing me in the face,” Clifford said (a good thing, some might say).

There was worse to come for Delaney when his pork main course was damned by faint praise. "Nice, nice," Gill said. "Nice," Clifford agreed. "Nice" just doesn't cut it on MasterChef.

A despondent Oisín McConville knew the game was up when his tonka bean crème caramel stubbornly refused to set

“Guys, you’ve got some lamb, aubergine puree, a carrot and some mash,” shrugged Oisín McConville, never known to oversell his efforts. But the Achill blackface lamb rump with whipped potatoes, heritage carrot, miso aubergine puree, mushrooms and lamb jus (or juice as McConville prefers), unleashed yet another “delicious” from Clifford, and a nod of approved from Gill.


The tsunami of superlatives continued to flow when Niamh Kavanagh gave them ox cheek and mash – which must really have tasted better than it looked. By now it was looking like a two horse race, unless Simon Delaney’s dessert of “chocolate, and chocolate, with chocolate, chocolate on the side, and a little bit of pistachio sponge” could get him back in contention.

It didn’t. Seemingly forgetting Clifford’s earlier advice to plate up his food with a small spoon rather than a JCB, the actor’s generosity got the better of him again and it was another “less might have been more” moment.

“I would say ‘Enjoy!’, but that might be hard.” A despondent Oisín McConville knew the game was up when his tonka bean crème caramel stubbornly refused to set, and Daniel Clifford wasn’t letting the faux pas pass him by. “I can’t put that in my mouth. That’s not a crème caramel, that’s like really bad bath water,” he said, raising speculation about the state of the waterworks in his home town of Cambridge.

Then Niamh Kavanagh’s cheesecake, and raspberry dusted balls of cheesecake, worked their magic. Gill pronounced it the best cheesecake he’d ever eaten. Across the table, Daniel Clifford was grinning again and doing a double dip with the words, “Oh wow, that’s delicious.”

In her Eurovision-winning ballad Kavanagh sang about "showing no emotion", but the Celebrity MasterChef studio was awash with sentiment when she was named the series winner, and got to wave TV's ugliest trophy around.

Then reality hit home: “Oh God, they’re not going to ask me to do a cookbook are they?”

Do it, we’d buy it for that cheesecake recipe alone.

Memorable moments from the series

Celeriacgate: Recreating judge Daniel Clifford's complex molecular gastronomy recipe proved to be a challenge too far and none of the contestants managed to complete the complicated dish.

Sonia O'Sullivan's tears: It was hard to watch her struggle to control her emotions when she was the surprise loser in her first heat. It wasn't meant to go that way.

The pregnant grouse that wasn't: Gizzards can be mistaken for baby birds when you're rummaging inside a carcass, as Samantha Mumba discovered

The Daniel Clifford/Mundy bromance: Who says chefs are hard? "I've grown really attached to you" the honorary Irishman told the singer as he – reluctantly – showed him the door.

"Carry it like it's a baby, not a f***ing pizza!": Chef Andy McFadden delivered the line of the series as the semi-finalists served lunch in his London restaurant Pied à Terre.

Dún Laoghaire: Barbecues on the pier, lingering shots of the harbour, the south Co Dublin suburb where the series was filmed stole the show in a cameo role.

Marie Claire Digby

Marie Claire Digby

Marie Claire Digby is Senior Food Writer at The Irish Times