Tuesday, 1 April 2014

MasterChef Ireland 2014 - Cooking Under Pressure in Croke Park

Sunday, 8th September 2013; the first time that the MasterChef Ireland final ten contestants came together… and what a day it was! It was a stressful, chaotic, pressurised, exhausting, but brilliant day and one that I will never forget.

The day started early, with the contestants being introduced to each other. I already knew Rich and Charlie as we had all come through the same heat, but I didn’t know the others and was extremely curious to get to meet everyone.
There was little time for conversation as we were bundled onto a coach with no idea of our destination. This added to the collective nervous excitement as none of us knew what to expect. It wasn’t until we saw the unmistakable form of Croke Park in front of us and remembered that it was the day of the All-Ireland Hurling Final between Cork and Clare that we began to speculate whether we might be about to be given some type of cooking challenge in the iconic stadium? We quickly realised that this was the case, but still had no idea exactly what the challenge was going to be.

Edel gives her reaction on hearing what the task is.
Standing by the Liam McCarthy cup in the empty stadium, Nick and Dylan soon informed us that we were to be divided into two teams of five and that each team would be required to prepare and cook 1,050 canapés. These would be served to the teams and their families as soon as the match was finished. It was hard to believe that within a few hours the deserted stadium would be thronged with tens of thousands of supporters shouting for their teams. It was very surreal standing there, looking at the pristine pitch and the magnificent stands and everything seeming so calm.
I was on the blue team along with Rich, Charlie, Edel and Nessa. We were told that we had 350 each of three canapés that we had to prepare within six hours and that they had to be ready to serve immediately once the match was over. We were given recipe outlines for each of the canapés. It was up to each team to decide who to appoint as team captain and how to divide the work.

The three canapés that we had to prepare were:
  • Smoked Gubeen Tartlets
  • Mini Thai Crab Cakes
  • Mini Pitta Breads filled with Marinated Lamb, Baba Ganoush and Rocket
The team agreed that Rich would be team leader and that he would oversee the work and make sure that we all stayed focused.

I volunteered to make the tartlets and immediately set about making the pastry for the 350 individual tartlets. Because of the amount of pastry involved this had to be done in batches. The pastry then had to be rolled out thinly, put into the tart tins, blind baked, before being baked again with the smoked cheese and egg custard mixture.

Me and Rich.
The others had their own challenges to face. There seemed to be no end to the amount of pitta breads that Charlie had to individually bake; Nessa was trying to marinate mountains of lamb and cook it to melting tenderness in the allotted time and Edel had a show-down with some very belligerent crabs, but she prevailed! 
Throughout all of this Rich tried to calm us and halt the quickly developing panic that was setting in. My one overriding memory of the day is of Nessa, Charlie and myself trying to pipe baba ganoush into the beautiful pitta breads so lovingly baked by Charlie, but the ganoush was getting everywhere other than where it was meant to be going. We were covered in the stuff. We invented a new verb for the English language that day – to ganoush or be ganoushed; a very messy activity as the blue team can attest to!
Charlie looking for divine inspiration?
We were given six hours to complete this task, which at the beginning seemed like an eternity… it WASN’T! Time was running out and everyone, not least of all the judges were concerned that we might not have any canapés ready to serve.
We were working in unfamiliar surroundings in make-shift kitchens in rooms under the pitch, preparing food on a large scale but in miniature serving sizes which made everything so finicky to produce. We had to share oven and hob time which became increasingly difficult to co-ordinate as the pressure increased. It was just so stressful, made even more so by the fact that none of us knew each other well and even though we were part of a team we were also competing against each other in the overall competition.
Diana looking calm and composed
All this time, the match was being played above our heads and every so often we would hear the roar of the crowd but we had no idea of what was going on above ground….we just knew that we HAD to produce the blasted canapés!

In the end, we didn’t get the full cohort of canapés completed but our team did manage to finish and serve 900 canapés. In the context of the bizarre situation which we found ourselves in, this was an achievement in itself.
We had been through a stress-filled day surviving on adrenalin and a determination to do our best, but so had the players as the match ended up being a draw; the final score – Cork 3:16 to Clare 0:25. Apparently it was a great match, but all we cared about was that our canapés seemed to have been enjoyed.

In memory of the eventful day we all had in Croke Park, I have recreated a version of the little tartlets that and will post the recipe separately.
This episode first aired on RTE1; 8.30pm, 1st April 2014.

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