Friday, 16 March 2007

Masterchef 2007!!!!

Wow, wow, wow.... watching last night's show was such a rollercoaster of emotions. I think I might have to take myself and my poor adrenal glands off to somewhere quiet to recoup, as I can't believe how much adrenalin was running through me watching last night's show! Hannah, Ben and myself had known who the winner was since the filming wrapped, tonight's outcome and watching it as a viewer and not the participant was really moving, and had finally allowed everyone who is close to us the chance to see what we really achieved and how much we evolved not just as cooks, but as people.

It's just amazing to reconnect with the emotions that final day; all of the tension, with the big question of 'had I done enough?' 'had I planned properly?' - or had I again got carried away with over complication and screwed my chances. Everyone's nerves were so fraught, and I guess the biggest thing was that after this, after months of reading, planning, cooking and labouring over dish after dish, this was it, the final day had come. Well for once I got it right, and I will never forget hearing my name being called as the three of us stood there shaking as we waited for the verdict.

I need to say many words about Hannah and Ben, who in my mind are two of the most amazing people I have ever met. The three of us had spent over five weeks together filming, travelling together, and not once did we bicker or allow ourselves to be consumed by the competition. Whenever one of us had a bad day, lack of confidence or need to whinge, we were all there to pick each other up and hastily made tea, and dished out the pep talks. Both of them , with their extraordinary talents kept the pace and standard of the Masterchef finals so high, there were many days when I glumly realised I couldn't compete and would have to admirably concede to defeat. Without them, I wouldn't have had the amazing, amazing time during the finals (and the semis too..), with all the laughs and stories on the way. Here's to them;

Hannah is a true star, and the most naturally gifted cook I will ever meet. We got on from day one, and I have just been so enamoured by her amazing warmth and incredible spirit. Her talent is so fascinating and I find the way she works is like a poet or writer from the 17th Century. She artfully juggles ingredients and flavours like a perfumer, and makes it look so easy. Her style is effortless, and cooks so much from the heart, she creates the kind of food that I know many people in this country will love and want much, much more of. Its rare to meet such kindred spirits in life, and Hannah is definately one of them, one of the people you know will be a part of your life for the rest of your life. I think that the episode with us on sunloungers on a Cyprus beach at 3am, roaring and cackling like wild beasts was one of the best moments of my life.
We would both like to start cooking together at some point, as we both share so much and are moved and inspired by similar things. The best bit about us though is that we always laugh together, and and I think that is something very special indeed.

I have always admired Ben for his incredible sophistication, artistry and brilliant execution - I can't say enough how much he derserves praise for his creative genius. Ben has always demostrated through his cooking his technical brilliance and exceptional palette and sublime understanding of flavours. I have no doubts that he will achieve such high excellence within the industry, and becomes a legendary chef. I wouldn't be surprised if Ben gets his stars in a few years time, and I will look forward to toasting his every success.

I have to thank the amazing chefs I have worked with during the show for their incredible words and guidance, and allowing me to gain access to their incredible worlds. I hope to continue learning from you all and many, many more of you too. Thanks to Brendan, Grace and Richard at Bentley's for making me understand elegant simplicity, Patrice and Jerome at the Savoy (and thanks for the oak chips for my final meal too!) Christophe at the Ritz Paris, Yannick's hardcore haute vision, and insanely beautiful work, and to Michel Roux Jr. - with whom I look forward to starting work with in the next few weeks.

I have got so many people to say thankyou to for helping me navigate me through all of this, and for always believing in me when my self-belief failed; most importantly my family and friends who have stuck by me through thick and thin, and whose patience I have tested to the limits on many an occassion. I love you all and am honoured to have you in my life. (Sounding like an Oscars acceptance speech here...)

I have a say a huge thankyou also to all of the people that have stopped me in the street and wished me well, and for all the wonderful emails of support and congratulations. Thanks also to all of those of you on the message boards that have been so supportive, and have written such great things. It really means so much to me. Thankyou! Thankyou! Thankyou!

Lastly, I need to thank John, Gregg, Karen, David, Beth and all the crew for taking me on this journey, and for opening my eyes to my own potential and ability as a cook. Your vision and support over these past few months has been truly amazing. Thankyou for reconnecting me with my gifts and allowing me this amazing platform from which I can really transform who I am.


Saturday, 10 March 2007

how cute??

Spicy Squid & Cucumber Salad

After a mooch about Borough Market this morning, I came home with a couple of beautifully fresh squid (one of my absolute favourite foods) from Appleby's Fish stall, among other things. It has been a beautiful bright day, which put me in the mood to cook and eat something light, fresh and full of chilli heat. After a good root around my cupboards at home, I managed to pull together this rendition of spiced squid that is vaguely Thai inspired, as it takes in salt, sweet, spice and sour notes. The base of this salad is cucumber, cut into shards. I finished it off with chive stalks, Maldon salt flakes and a good squeeze of lime juice.

Serves 2
2 Medium Squid, gutted, membranes and quill removed and rinsed thoroughly.
I Banana shallot
3 cloves Garlic
I thumb sized piece of Ginger (or Galangal)
1 or 2 Red Chillies (depending on your preference for heat)
I tspn Tumeric
I Star Anise
1 tspn Pink Peppercorns
1 tbspn Nam Plah
2 tspn Mirin
1 tspn Demarera Sugar
Juice of 1/2 a Lime
Small bunch of Coriander
1 tbspn of light Olive Oil or Peanut Oil
2/3 Cucumber
Maldon Sea Salt

1. Clean the squid thoroughly, and flatten out the body. Score the surface with diagonal cuts to form a fine lattice. Cut the into 5cm strips. Separate the tentacles into two pieces. Set aside.
2. In a small frying pan lightly toast the pink peppercorns and star anise until they release their fragrance. Pound them in mortar and pestle to a rough 'dust'.
3. In a food processor place the chillies, banana shallot, garlic cloves, coriander stalks, and olive oil. Add the crushed spices and tumeric and blitz to create a paste.
4. In a non stick pan heat a tspn of oil and fry the paste on a med/high heat for 7/8 minutes until the mixture starts to soften. Add the nam plah and sugar, stir well and cook on a high heat for a futher 3/4 minutes. Add the mirin and keep stirring until the mixture starts to caramelise.
5. Add the squid to the pan, and cook on a high heat for 3/4 minutes until the squid curls into frond like pieces. Remove from the heat and squeeze over the lime juice and scatter with chopped coriander leaves.
6. Cut the cucumber into shards and divide between two plates.
7. Pile the squid on top of the cucumber and scatter the chives and a pinch of sea salt. Serve with a lime wedges.


Friday, 9 March 2007

and then there were three..

I just have to say that it was really tough to watch tonight's programme, particularly as it was the point on our journey where Hannah, Ben and myself had to say goodbye to David. Seeing his Masterchef dream end so abruptly that night was tough to witness, and even though we had the opportunity to sup champagne and celebrate our collective successes, I was only too aware of the long journey home he faced, with all of the day's tribulations running through his mind.
I think David has already proven he is an original and highly skilled cook, whose style and charisma is as fulfulling and fantastic as his brilliant cooking. I have every faith David will continue to inspire so many people with his talent for creating food with such honesty and integrity, and make famous long forgotten dishes like the Pan Haggerty.
It may be the end of David's run on Masterchef 2007, be I am certain this won't be the last anyone will be hearing from him.
Go work your magic Davey boy!!!

Thursday, 8 March 2007

things that catch my eye...

I have a bit of a thing for grafitti and urban graphics that litter buildings and walls. There's something so fascinating about the graphic content, the artistic sensibilty and locations. I know these have sod all to do with food, but I happen to like them and find them inspiring.

My kitchen audience...

Some of my 'friends' collected from my travels here and there.

Looking wistful..