Prep for Semi Final
Well, in short I made it to the Semi Final! My goodness. After about 3 telephone calls which included some of the toughest questions I have ever had in my life - e.g. if you could describe yourself as one food, what would it be and why? - all I could think of answering was, 'Cornflakes'. Why? 'Because they are great to get up to in the morning!' However, then realising how that would actually come across if it was ever repeated on the show, I went for a more sedate yet more cheesy and cringe worthy ‘chocolate cake.' Why? ‘Because it is sweet and everyone loves it.' Still closing my eyes in disgust.
It seemed to work, and I was asked to create a three course meal in preparation for a panel of judges made up of the Celebrity Chefs. When told this on the phone, I casually said it wasn't a problem, but in reality I was scared. Not only did I have to devise a three course meal, but also compete against professional chefs and, to top it off, my efforts (or impending humiliation) were going be judged by three amazing cooks. The phrase, ‘what on earth am I doing' is designed for situations like this, and like any good male, I sought refuge in the pub. This place of sanctuary was probably misplaced, as after my mates had finally stopped rolling around on the floor laughing at me, their menu choice just didn't really have the right ‘panache' to impress; they didn't seem to get that a pork scratching sarni wasn't a valid starter. It was only when I parted with my friends in the car park, when Rob yelled, "We must get together for another ‘fake' roast dinner sometime." He was referring to a Sunday meal I cooked for him and his wife about six months previously. I had invited them round for a roast, and did an amazingly crispy pork belly with a chilli and soy dipping source and pak choy. Dave, a hearty northerner, complained that he wanted a ‘proper' roast dinner, rather than this Thai impostor. I tried to explain to him that actually mixing cultures and foods can be such a good combination. He was smug with his observation that if the Titanic hadn't left Southampton then it would never had sunk, less so with the quip that if the Pinta hadn't set sail you wouldn't have chips!
The Thai Sunday roast got me thinking. If we can add a foreign element to a traditional meal can we do it in individual dishes? Of course it has been done before, many times, but could we go further than chips with ‘curry' sauce? With that, I had the source of my inspiration for the three-course meal: an English dish with a European influence, or vice versa; a European dish with an English twist.
Alas, the next few days coincided with me going on a holiday to France, but I was still wrestling with what to cook for the Semi Final. The day before I jetted off, I was out with a few friends for my birthday. We went to a cocktail bar and one of the girls wanted Pimms whilst another wanted Champagne; they compromised in a rather giggly, girly fashion on a new cocktail which I had never heard of: a Pimms Royal, which in essence is using Champagne instead of lemonade. I took my notebook out and scribbled this down. This became the principle of my desert, using the traditional English summer thirst quencher and the French sparkler that is champers, all set in a jelly. It works and the bubbles dance on your tongue all mellowed by lashings of an orange cream.
The main was always going to be steak and chips, so simple yet brilliant. The rosemary infused salt was the brainchild of Liz K, wanting to ‘jazz' the spuds up. The European influence comes from my love of dunking my chips into tomato ketchup, hence the Pizzailo sauce, with the crunch of fresh capers.
The starter simply came from me sitting in a bar in France eating moules-frites, and noticing that they did Magners, which made me chuckle, but I had to have a bottle and the sweetness really complimented the mussels. The chorizo was added for a bit of a kick and meatiness.
With a few tweaks, I had a menu that I was happy with and at the very least was better than the pork scratching sarnie! So, just onto semi final day now...