Semi Final Day
It was a crisp, late August morning and the car was due to pick me up at 07.30. One of those mornings where it is lovely to be up early, but you know at the back of your head that actually in a few hours time excitement will be replaced with nerves and competition.
I arrive at Leiths cookery school and stride in: this is an attempt to hide my nerves. I meet the production team who are immediately very friendly and make me feel instantly at ease. This is short lived as I meet two of my fellow competitors, who both introduce themselves to me and on further investigation it transpires that they are professional chefs! At this stage I begin to wonder once again why on earth I am here.
The first of the celebrity chefs to come through into the kitchen is Rosemary, a warm, cottage loaf of a woman who is instantly likeable. She announces loudly that she -isn't doing anything until she has put her face on.' I like her. Phil Vickery makes a very understated entrance, eclipsed by the vivacious Gino, demanding coffee from anyone who will listen, making sure it is ‘proper' coffee and not the instant sh$t! We collectively say hi, and there is a touch of pantomime around the whole scenario. It's fun, and for a moment I forget just how big the task is that lies in front of me/us. It is soon made apparent as we get a "5 minutes" call and do some short action shots to the camera.
Rosemary beckons us to start cooking and suddenly I go into auto drive. The cameras are completely forgotten about and I focus on my Pimms Royal with an Orange cream, knowing that it is essential to get this in the freezer to ensure a solid set. I chop, dissolve, I zest. The Celebrity Chefs talk to me, and I am relaxed. Indeed, with the addition of a large glass of wine, this could be remarkably similar to any dinner party that I have ever hosted. Even Gino's banter about the size of my chips and whether I have fried my garlic off for long enough doesn't really seem to faze me. Half an hour goes by and there is a buzz in the kitchen; it is organised chaos with everyone bringing dishes together. Adam who is opposite me is rolling his pasta and creating concoctions and potions. It looks impressive. It is fun. I sear my fillet, create the sauce and start to cook my chips. The mussels are beautifully plump and juicy and the chefs have nearly eaten the chorizo before I put it in my dish! Before I know it there are only 10 minutes left, and enough time to plate up. I do so, and despite burning the ciabatta it looked ok. In fact, it looked good. I am happy, the jelly has set, the steak is perfectly cooked and the chips seasoned in a mist of salt with a hint of rosemary. I am happy.
The hard work is done and the hour and a half is up. Gino winks at me, although I expect he does this to everyone. It makes me smile; there is definitely a bromance starting with him and I can understand why woman adore him and men want to be mates with him. The judges digest and ponder over my food; to my amazement they like it. Simple, clean flavours washed down with some of the left over champagne that Gino adopted. It is a brilliant feeling, something that I am proud of: top chefs enjoying my food, and describing it as something they would like to eat more of.
In honesty, I can't remember what the judges actually said, but it was the sounds they were making which made me realise that it was ok, more than ok. However, the other dishes were of such a high standard, I wondered whether I had done enough.
We lined up for the results. Nerves were omnipresent once again, and it felt like we in front of the firing line, with three rifles aimed at us in the form of the judges. My relief was noticeable on my face when they said that the first person to go through was, (dramatic pause), Tarrant. Words do not do my feelings justice on the relief that I felt. Wow. I did it, or at least I half did it. It was explained later that the final consisted of cooking on live television with a panel of judges! I anxiously sighed; for now I was just going to enjoy the moment of getting into the final. Two hurdles over and cleared, one more rather large intimidating jump to go. That's it.