Irish finalist in BBC MasterChef stays in contention

Dubliner’s lamb dish gets a mixed reaction at judging, but she makes it into the final eight

"The challenges are about to get a lot tougher." MasterChef judge Gregg Wallace opened Monday night's programme, the first of the semi-finals, with those words of warning for the nine amateur cooks still in the competition, from 25,000 who applied to take part in the BBC television show.

Among them is 30-year-old Dubliner Alison O’Reilly, who works as a marketing consultant in London and has shone in the televised rounds for her precise cooking, use of bold flavours, and steely demeanour.

The contestants were given 90 minutes to cook with their favourite ingredient, and elevate it to an “extraordinary dish”. Choices of ingredient included cauliflower, seaweed, rhubarb, pork and Sauternes wine.

"I actually found this challenge quite difficult, because there were so many favourite ingredients to choose from. I found it so hard to settle on one. In the end I chose lamb because I cook it all the time, it is quite versatile and definitely my favourite of the red meats," O'Reilly told The Irish Times.


Risk factor

Her dish, loin of lamb served with shaved fennel, aubergine caviar, roasted tomatoes, olive puree and mint yoghurt, was accompanied by a lamb neck pie. “The biggest risk factor is the pie. That whole process will easily take an hour and 15 minutes, so I’ve very little margin for error,” she told the judges before getting started on the task.

She needn't have bothered. The pie was a hit with judge Gregg Wallace, who described it as magnificent, but questioned whether it went with the other elements of the dish. John Torode was more blunt. "Why there's a pie on the side I'm not quite sure. For me that buttery pastry doesn't work with the rest of the dish."

O’Reilly acknowledged that the pie may have been a mistake. “I was disappointed in myself for adding elements to the dish that I knew didn’t need to be there. It was a classic case of over thinking the brief and trying to be too literal. Judging is always quite an unknown, but based on the fact that they really liked the rest of the dish, and after the comments I got in the last round, I was hopeful I would just make it through,” she said.


Her hope was well-placed, and in Wednesday's semi-final round, she joins semi-finalists in Elstree Studios, where they will be split into two teams of four to cook lunch for 120 members of the cast and crew of the television series, Holby City. The weakest team will return to the MasterChef kitchen to cook-off against each other for a place in the next round.