IT COULD’VE been the most embarrassing thing I’ve ever done, but I decided to do it anyway. The offer was to appear on the TV series Celebrity MasterChef, and the main problem was that I could cook about as well as I can speak Swahili. But that oft-repeated mantra of “take yourself out of your comfort zone”, and a desire to learn something new took hold. As preparation, I booked myself some private lessons. I found myself grilling, frying and roasting things I’d seen more in business meetings than in kitchens.
I was told there’s less risk of cutting yourself with a sharp knife than a blunt knife – a logic I understood, but which didn’t prevent me from arriving for the first day’s filming with several band aids on my fingers; blue in case they slipped into someone’s stew.
For my first task, I cooked chicken breast filled with Gorgonzola cheese and wrapped in Prosciutto ham, just like I’d been taught. Then I selected a bunch of vegetables and, just like I’d been taught, I cut them into small pieces so they’d roast evenly and quickly enough for the ticking clock. As I was putting them in the oven, I had a sudden “inspiration” and, just like I hadn’t been taught, I cut some apple into small pieces and mixed it in as well. Soon it was time to present my output to the judges.
They liked the chicken. That’s great, I thought to myself. The producers had assured me that my complete lack of experience would be taken into account. A bit like a one-year-old learning to walk, I’d be judged on promise not on performance. Then the judges saw the roasted vegetables. The Aussie judge, John Torode, was incredulous. “When was the last time you had apple with your garden vegetables, Richard?” he demanded loudly and sarcastically. I didn’t like him; even when the cameras were off, he stood with his arms folded, scowling at everyone like we were morons. “Yes, it might be unusual, but isn’t invention and creativity a good thing? Besides, you can always leave the apple to one side.” But John just sniffed at such naivety. I suspect, if it had been up to him, newly-invented fusion food would have gone the way Decca booted the Beatles.
The next task was a tempura vegetable dish. I was confused, but with a lot of mess I managed to make mayonnaise from scratch. However, unsure of how much to cook the tempura, I made two attempts which the judges thought were both over-cooked. So I tried a joke. “I’m not sure how, err, burnt, people like them.” John didn’t laugh.
Eventually all the contestants were lined up to be told who would be cut. Nerves all around. My nerves were different though – I was worried that somehow I wouldn’t be cut. The next day’s task was making desserts, something I hadn’t learned. Luckily for me, I was sent home. Back to my comfort zone.
Richard Farleigh has operated as a business angel for many years, backing more early-stage companies than anyone else in the UK.