Monday, 14 November 2011

Masterchef Live

This last weekend, I was lucky enough to experience a VIP trip to the Masterchef Live show at Kensington Olympia in London. This was on the strength of a fantastic prize that Jane won in a competition at last year's BBC Good Food Show. The prize was for four people, so our daughter Emma and her husband Dave joined us. It included VIP admission to the show on two consecutive days, overnight hotel accommodation, lots of goodies and freebies, and £500 of spending money!

The Masterchef stars / hosts: John Torode and Gregg Wallace

The show is basically a Masterchef-themed celebration of food, cookery and eating. Lots and lots of stalls selling food and drink (plus the obligatory vegetable-peelers and kitchen-cleaning gizmos of course), interspersed with talks, demonstrations and "Food Theatre" performances.

With admission to the show for two days, we were able to go at a fairly leisurely pace, with frequent rests in the VIP lounge, where complimentary food and drink was constantly available. Actually the best aspect of the arrangement was simply having somewhere relatively quiet to retreat to for a sit down and a drink. We spent the first day having a good look round, trying lots of different products (most of the traders offer free samples) and making plans for what we would buy on the second day. First stop was at the Gower Cottage Brownies stall, where we had a chat with Kate Jenkins (with whom Jane frequently converses via Twitter). Kate very generously provided us with some free samples of her gorgeous brownies. Emma took care of those for us (she's currently "eating for two", if you know what I mean). Moving on, this huge display of chillis by Edible Ornamentals naturally attracted my attention for a while. I liked the fact that you could buy the chillis singly, rather than having to buy them in bags or packs.

Probably the most common product on offer at the show was the hot chilli / curry sauce. There must have been literally dozens of stalls specialising in the stuff! In Britain today we have a large community of people whose origins are in the Indian sub-continent, and they have exercised a huge influence on our food culture. Chicken Tikka Masala is now more likely to be seen as our national dish than roast beef and Yorkshire pudding.

My son-in-law Dave was probably more interested in this handsome beast though (I know that he is toying with the idea of having a Hog-roast of his own, put on by his local butchers...)

During the afternoon we visited the Wine part of the show, and sampled a wide variety of different offerings. It was nice to see English vineyards well represented (English wine has improved a lot in the last few years), but I was less impressed with the Croatian and Uruguayan wines! It would take a lot to convince me that there is a nicer type of wine in the world than the New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Without a doubt, the best wine we sampled was the Jackson's Estate Sauvignon Blanc, from Marlborough. It's exactly what I like best.

Towards the end of the first afternoon we attended one of the Food Theatre events, and watched Michael Caines cooking alongside Nick Pickard ("Tony Hutchinson" from Hollyoaks), a recent Celebrity Masterchef contestant. For those of you who don't know him, Michael Caines is a chef very well known in the UK, holder of two Michelin stars, and Executive Chef (+ owner) at the fabulous Gidleigh Park in Devon. You would hardly know this, but he only has one arm, having lost the other in a car accident! The final of the recent Celebrity Masterchef series was filmed at Gidleigh Park, so Michael and Nick were well known to one another - as you could tell from the constant banter between them. They both cooked (different) dishes using Duck. Considering that they only had about 25 minutes to do it in (during which they also had to endure repeated questioning by the compere), they both did really well, but naturally enough Micheal's dish was the best from the culinary perspective.

On Day 2 we were queuing up at the doors as the show opened. First on the agenda was another Food Theatre performance. This time it was the 'A' team: John and Gregg, alongside Tim Anderson (the adventurous young American winner of this year's Masterchef contest) and former England Rugby captain Phil Vickery (this year's winner of the "Celebrity Masterchef ").

Tim, John, Gregg, Phil
This performance was pure entertainment. OK, yes the two "contestants" did cook some food, but really it was a chance for us all to hear and see a bit of the stars. John and Gregg were good hosts (a bit more relaxed than the rather harsh image of them we tend to see on the TV!), and there was lots of good-natured repartee winging to and fro. Tim produced an amazingly complex street-food style East-meets-West meal (including a "Korean taco" from scratch), whereas Phil stuck with his Cornish heritage and went for a simpler option involving Mackerel. Tim even brought along a portable sound system to play us the "sounds of L.A." (i.e traffic noise!) - which allegedly helps one to appreciate the food in its true context. A great performance, slickly presented.

After spending the rest of the morning having another look at some of the stalls, and making a few purchases, we were escorted into the VVIPs' lounge - the place where all the celebs go to get out of the public gaze, in between their stage appearances. Over (another) glass of wine we were able to mix with some of the people who we had seen on stage earlier, and have a brief chat with some of them. Here is Jane with Michael Caines (right) and Marcus Bean (left) - winner of "Iron Chef UK 2010".

And with Tim Anderson:

We didn't get to speak with John or Gregg, but we did see them at close quarters - particularly Gregg, whose dynamic personality and incredibly loud voice it is impossible to miss!

Finally, home to Fleet on the train, exhausted and laden down with bags of goodies, but happy after an amazing outing.


  1. How wonderful. Your Jane must be very lucky... Isn't that the second prize I've read about that she's won?

  2. Hi VG: Jane is not just lucky - she's skillful too! Actually, she runs a business which is all about competitions (The Competition Grapevine - see links in my sidebar) so you would expect her to be quite good at such things! She does win quite a lot.

  3. What a fantastic trip....
    I'm a HUGE fan of all the Masterchef series both from the UK and here in Australia. I'm currently hooked onto the Junior Masterchef competition that's ongoing at the moment....they're down to the last eight. These kids are amazing ~

    How special to be able to see all the celebrities up close and personal, watch the cooking demo's, shop and sampling all the goodies.
    I agree with you about Jackson's Estate Sauvignon Blanc, from Marlborough. It's one of my favourites too, although I'm steadily working through all the wines to find the best one...hic!
    Congrats to Jane for winning and loved seeing and hearing all the inside info ;D

  4. Right up your street Mark - I bet you were exhausted by the time you got home. Glad you enjoyed yourselves.

  5. What a perfect win Mark for you and Jane to enjoy with family. As I was reading your post, I kept thinking to myself how you must have been in heaven for a few days as this venue was right up your alley :)

  6. I love the picture of John and Greg - how many times have they had those exact same expressions on their faces on the telly - most entertaining.

  7. Well that sounds like a brilliant couple of days. Such an apt compeition for you and Jane to win, something right up your alley. Nice that you got to take your family with you too, it's good to be able to share these experiences. Congratulations to Emma and Dave, it sounds like Lara will be having a little playmate soon.

  8. What a great time you had. I'm always amazed by Michael Caines.

    Must admit we aren't watching the pro Master Chef and we were a bit bored of watching the celebs frantically trying to peel potatoes or clean shrimps in time to actually get down to some cooking. A real chef would have someone to do that for him. It really meant that often the cooking bit was spoiled due to lack of time.

    We have seen John Torode do a cookery demo and he was really great keeping everyone entertain with his banter.

  9. Sounds like a fabulous trip.
    You have good taste in wine - I have yet to find a white to beat Marlborough's Sauvignon Blancs. I spent a very happy day cycling round the vineyards of Marlborough with a friend a few years ago, tasting their products. The ride back to our hostel at the end of the day was a little wobbly :).

  10. Sounds like the perfect prize for your household Mark, and having a quiet lounge to retreat to must have been wonderful, it would make any large event like that more bearable.

  11. I want Jane to blow some of her good luck dust this way. What a fantastic prize, and money to spend too! Really pleased for you all x

  12. Winning a grand holiday for four! Wow! What a fantastic trip. Just reading about it made me so happy.
    I've heard before about Chicken Tikka masala being very popular in the UK. But you might find it surprising that here in India, we're not such huge fans of the dish. In fact in South India, from where I come, I doubt many have ever tasted it. But yes, chillies are the predominant spice in Indian cuisine.


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