Just how do you rattle those pots and pans to a victory on Celebrity Masterchef? Well, one person who can certainly tell us, is former champion, writer and actress Emma Kennedy…
Don’t enter to win
It never crossed my mind I might win. I got the call asking if I was interested and I leapt at the chance. I have always loved MasterChef, I’ve always wanted to do a cookery course and I was between books. “What a perfect way to spend my week off,” I thought. Two months later I was crawling across my kitchen floor on my hands and knees crying because I couldn’t work out why my chicken liver parfait wasn’t setting.
If you approach the competition as an opportunity for you to become a better cook then you will get the most out of every moment. When I began, I had never made sauces, never made puddings, but I knuckled down. Work your socks off and you’ll see the rewards.
Listen to John and Gregg
John Torode and Gregg Wallace want you to be the best you can be. If they tell you you’re using too much seasoning, pick a dish that will help you hone your seasoning skills and show them you’ve listened and learned.
At every stage, when I had to decide what I would be cooking, I always chose something that pushed me a little bit further. At one point I cooked pan-fried turbot with a clam, pea and broad bean broth. John and Greg told me my broth was too thin. I was yet to learn about reductions and emulsions so the next time I cooked for them, I taught myself how to make a thick and silky beurre blanc. Woe betide the person who ignores what they say. They remember everything.
Keep an eye on the time
Timing is very strict on MasterChef. When they call time, it really is tools down. You are only allowed to go over when you’re cooking for ex-contestants or food critics but if you do go over, it counts against you.
If you can’t finish your dishes on time at home then you aren’t going to finish them on time in the studio. It is far better to deliver a completed perfect dish that is simple and beautifully executed than produce a half-done attempt at something fancy. The other thing to know is that, because dishes have to be filmed and other contestants may be judged before you, your dish may not be tasted until over an hour after you’ve finished. Avoid food that is going to melt or sink.
Practise like hell
You really do get no help on MasterChef so practice is essential. You’ll get one day off a week and that’s the only time you’re going to have to try out your dishes. I would often start at 7am and not finish till after midnight. Have some sauces up your sleeve. Think of one you can use for white meat, one for red and one for fish. The invention box is fiendishly challenging, but a good sauce will get you a long way.
But cook something you’ve never done before at your peril. I made the mistake of cooking a duck breast for the very first time. It was a disaster and I ended up with some chewy duck sitting in a doughnut of blood. I never made that mistake again.
You are kept completely in the dark at all times. Apart from the days when you know you’ll be cooking your own recipes, you will turn up and not have the first clue what you’ll be doing or where you’ll be going. But remember there will always be a mass catering test, a chicken test, an outside catering test and many visits to professional kitchens so think ahead about what that might involve and what you might be able to cook. When you arrive you’re thrown in all guns blazing so keeping a steady mind and not panicking will help you enormously.
Relish every minute
I didn’t enter for a change of career. I’m a writer and always will be. It’s what I love. But can I now wow my friends and family with delicious food? You betcha. And that’s a gift that will last me a lifetime. Enjoy yourself. You’re having fun, remember?
Celebrity Masterchef starts tonight at 8pm on BBC1