I was very disappointed not to fulfil my potential on Celebrity Masterchef in 2007. If I had felt my potential was to get trolleyed on wine that was supposed to be destined for a lovely sauce, insult one of the hosts, and be escorted from the building, then happy days, job done, but that wasn’t really the plan.
I’ve always enjoyed cooking. In terms of my skills, I can do a thousand things with mince, but I mostly enjoy the therapeutic aspect of it. When the call came from Masterchef, however, the old competitive instincts kicked in so I called in reinforcements. My mate Liam is a head chef, so the Sunday before the first round – where they give you a set of ingredients and you have to rustle something up off the top of your head – he came round to give me some tips.
He shows me how to cook chicken, then a piece of fish, but he says he reckons it’ll be scallops because it’s all seasonal ingredients. Lovely. I cooked scallops with Gordon Ramsay in his posh restaurant for his TV show a few years before and know how to do them.
I’ve gone blank. All I can think of is mash – cheddar mash, celeriac mash, garlic mash
Next day, I turn up at the studio. I’m up against my future Strictly nemesis Craig Revel-Horwood and children’s TV presenter Rani Price. Sure enough, we get scallops in the invention test.
Knob of butter in the pan, place the scallops in the pan in a clock face – one, two, three, four, five, six – a couple of beats, then turn them in the order you put them in. Done. Make a nice celeriac mash, wilted greens and a salsa verde sauce, plate it all up and present it to the hosts, John Torode, a chef famous for his carnivorous restaurant, Smiths, opposite Smithfield Market in London, and Gregg Wallace, a greengrocer with a big appetite.
The comments couldn’t be better – ‘The scallops are cooked perfectly, beautifully seasoned’; ‘Phil, this is almost restaurant food.’
I’m feeling very full of myself as we go off to do our next task, a shift in a professional kitchen at the Aurora restaurant. Throw myself in and absolutely love it. All going well.
Next, we have to cook a two-course meal of our own choice. I hate desserts, so I decide to do a starter and a main course. But then, all of a sudden, I’ve gone blank. All I can think of is mash – cheddar mash, celeriac mash, garlic mash . . . I mean, think of something that’s not potato, Phil.
I soon hit upon the rather uninspired combination of mushrooms and toast and olive oil for my starter
I’m getting more and more nervous thinking about it, so to unlock my inner chef I open one of the bottles of white wine they’ve provided us with to make sauces.
I soon hit upon the rather uninspired combination of mushrooms and toast and olive oil for my starter, but I’ve got absolutely no idea for the main, so I pour another glass of wine and give Liam a call. He says just do a breast of chicken with a beurre blanc on some mash with chorizo or something. Sounds doable, so I ask for a chicken breast and all the other ingredients I need.
By the time we start the challenge, I’ve made excellent inroads into the bottle of wine, but I’m a bit shocked when I see the chicken breast they’ve given me. It’s on the bone and it’s the biggest breast of chicken I’ve ever seen in my life – like a pterodactyl breast. Massive.
I’m standing there thinking, what the hell do I do with this? So I heave it into the pan like Fred Flintstone, add a few aromatics and a slosh of white wine, brown it up, and jam it in the oven. This leaves me free to make my butter sauce and trademark mash.
I retire to the green room for a few more glasses of white wine, topping up the bottle I’ve drunk while cooking
When it’s time to plate up, I drag the pterodactyl out of the oven and plonk it on the plate. Bosh. I add the mash and a butter sauce that looks rather thin, which I realise may be because I forgot to add the butter to it. Oh well, too late now, so I tart it up as best I can.
Actually, although the beurre blanc is a bit of a non-event, John and Gregg say the pterodactyl tastes all right – beautifully cooked – it’s just the size of the bloody thing. Apparently, I should have taken the bone out.
Only one of the three contestants can go through to the next round, but as we line up to hear the judges’ verdict, I’m still feeling reasonably confident because I’d done well in the other challenges and Revel-Horwood has just produced a spag bol which makes my pterodactyl look positively Michelin-star.
Not best pleased, then, when Revel-Horwood gets the nod, and Rani and I are eliminated.
I retire to the green room for a few more glasses of white wine, topping up the bottle I’ve drunk while cooking. By the time John and Gregg walk in, I’m absolutely lashed and the feeling that I’ve been robbed has intensified. John’s explanation that my seasoning was a bit off is cutting no ice. I wouldn’t usually say anything, but I feel like I’ve left a lot of love out there, I deserve to have got through. Perhaps I don’t express this in the most tactful manner, though, because the next thing I know they’re going, ‘Can you get a taxi for Mr Tufnell?’
As two security guards are ushering me out of the room, I turn round and shout, ‘Torode, you’re just a burger chef! You know nothing about seasoning!’
I apologised to John next time I saw him and I’ve been down to his ‘burger restaurant’ Smiths a few times since because the food there is great. We actually get on. Still tell him I was robbed, though!
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