Sunday, February 22, 2009

Masterchef: 'I’ll Stick My Face In It'

“So, Lennie, tell me about your passion for cooking...” the researcher from the Masterchef show began.

She asked me pretty much the same questions I’d filled in on the application form. I tried to remember what I’d written. The more I listened to her gushing about the programme, the more I realised it was all a con. From her voice, she genuinely seemed to think Masterchef was offering people a chance to, as both Egg and Toad liked to say, “embark on an absolute, life-changing journey”.

There were no details about the prize cooking job, of course, just lots about what sort of contestants they were looking for. She wanted to know whether I’d worked full-time as a professional chef before, if I had received an NVQ catering qualification or similar in the past ten years, and whether I had the required level of enthusiasm, drive, love of food, and desire, to change my life.

At one point, she asked if I had ever been convicted of a “serious crime”. I kept quiet about that. If it came out later, I’d bring up Egg’s conviction for football hooliganism.

I began drifting off, listening to the spiel. She had the same irritating, husky, mee-jar voice as the show’s narrator...

“After 15 years in prison, Lennie is desperate for a life in food. In his heat, he blew the judges away with his chicken vindaloo."

“I’ll quite happily stick my face in it,” says Egg.

“But sometimes he gives himself too much to do, and more often than not, it tastes better than it looks...”

The bitch, I thought.

Then I wondered whether I’d said the word out loud. But the researcher was still talking.

“So the next stage is a casting day,” she gushed. “You may get invited along for that. But we’ll be interviewing about 8,000 people across the country and only choose 100 for the show...”

I had a one in 80 chance. I needed to get a job.

I went for a walk, and passed a catering agency advertising cooking jobs for £6 an hour. They didn’t ask whether I had any experience. Once I’d filled out a few forms, a short, fat, cocky man with a goatee (think Ricky Gervais locked in a Frey Bentos factory for two weeks), threw a few questions at me. The interview was over in seconds.

“How do you make a béchamel sauce?”

“First you infuse the milk…”


“Yeah, boil the milk with bay leaves, peppercorns, and you can use an onion…”

He waved me on irritably.

“Then melt some butter in a pan, stir in some flour to make a roux…then slowly whisk in…”

“Yeah, yeah fine.”

All he wanted to know was whether I knew how to make a fucking lasagne.

He phoned the next morning, but I was in bed. By the time I phoned back, the job was gone. But I didn’t want to work as a dinner lady anyway.

A week later I got an email from Masterchef, saying they were “very impressed by my application” and invited me for a casting day at the Brunei Gallery in London. It said:

“Please bring along a sample of your cooking for our judges to taste. You only need to bring one dish. The team will be tasting lots of food so it does not need to be a big portion. It can be sweet or savoury and must be cold or something that can be eaten/tasted cold. We will take into account that the food is cold and has had to travel. Please note there are NO REHEATING FACILITIES and there will be minimal preparation time/facilities but you will have to plate and serve your dish.

“The auditions will be filmed for broadcast so we want you looking and feeling your best. Please avoid wearing white or cream, any logos and steer clear of thin stripes, small spots or geometric patterns. Remember we want your personality to shine through so make sure you feel happy and comfortable as possible….

“Due to the large number of applicants we will be unable to contact unsuccessful applicants.”

I sat there thinking about what dish to go for, and whether I had any clean shirts, let alone any that weren’t striped.

It’d have to be something that could sit happily in a humid Tube carriage half-way across London. Looking back on it now, I still don’t know why I went for sushi.


Some Chilean Woman said...

Lennie you're such a tease! I want more immediately!

Kate said...


Lennie Nash said...

Thanks for your kind words. More on the way - got time to write now I'm out of the kitchen!


Jane Setter said...

Don't stop there! What happens next? Love the blog - it's really witty, but can't you write quicker!!!

Nicky said...

sushi! madness .... but somehow, inspired ....

Julian said...

just finished reading through your old posts (and signed up for your twitter) and i wanted to let you know ow interesting your writing is. I always intended to do *something* in the food industry and after growing up in a restaurant run by my mum and dad in london i had very little illusions about how much work when into it. after i got my A-Levels i went to Westminster-Kingsway to do their chef's diploma (they count among their allumni some unbearable smug TV chefs (Ainsly, Jamie, AWT) but the course was sound and built upon what skills i had already) but i ended up only completing a year before leaving for university. there were a number of reasons (a long distance girlfriend and being forced to live with my grandparents amoung them) but mostly it was the *boredom* i was prepared for the graft, but not how little brain work i'd have to put in. right now i'm in my second year at university, planning on doing my dissertaion in food writing and...something, possibly memoir but we'll see. there are still days i regret not sticking it out though, and i still have no idea what i actually want to do with my life, but time will tell i suppose, and as you yourself prove, it's never too late.

Lennie Nash said...

Thanks Nicky! Inspired, but foolish...

Lennie Nash said...

Thanks for your great comments Julian!

You're right, never too late. Maybe you should do a bit more cooking, and that will help the food writing. It's amazing how many food writers there are out there, who don't even know the basics.

Good luck with it all, and stay in touch. Professional cooking is mind-numbingly dull at times, but the good days are fantastic, and the buzz is like nothing else.

All the best!


Julian said...

yeah, I still cook at home and i bake a lot. situation isn't helped by a partner that wont eat onions, or garlic, or seafood (but likes sushi somehow) i swear he's the fussiest eater ever. still rather frustrating. also being on a students budget is day though