Sunday 28 April 2019

Karen's MasterChef Australia Experience

MasterChef Australia is one of the highest rating television programs in the country. It pitches amateur cooks against each other in a competition that is far more a developmental culinary journey than confrontational beat up based on artificial personalities found in many ‘reality’ programs.

Given her passion for cooking, it’s not surprising that Master Chef is Karen’s favourite television show by far. Each season thousands of hopefuls apply for a place on the show. These are whittled down to just sixty or so in each State who get to actually cook for the producers as part of the audition process. In 2019 Karen was one of those select few. Below is her account of the adventure.

Karen's cooking is normally done in Our Dreamtime's small but efficient galley.

Wow wow wow! ... I never thought I would be standing in front of a bench in a commercial kitchen eyes riveted on a MasterChef Mystery Box but here I was. The day had started extremely early with a trip to my local Farmers Market to ensure I had everything ready for my audition cook, and now, at 5pm, I was one of thirty hopefuls who stood waiting to hear those words, "Your time starts now".

After completing the intensive application process I had waited for the notification to see if I had made it through the 1st screening test. With your personal life history laid out for the scrutiny of the show’s producers, you hope that you showed a great enough love of cooking and commitment to your future food ambitions. I feared my listed future ambitions may have been my weak point. I didn't have grandiose dreams of opening my own restaurant or pop-up, I simply wanted to learn more, and be able to continue to blog and vlog about my food experience as we sail the world to remote places. I want to bring the new diverse food experiences we enjoy into other people's lives. Thousands of hopefuls apply but only a few are chosen. So when the brief email appeared in my inbox inviting me to actually audition to appear on Master Chef Australia I was excited to say the least. The date and venue were set and then a further detailed email arrived giving very precise instructions on what I was in for.

Audition #1 would be a Mystery Box with a 1 hour cooking time. Your food and suitability for the show would be judged. If successful you would be invited back the following day for Audition #2 to cook your signature dish. "Signature Dish", what signature dish? It's not like I run a restaurant and am known for one outstanding dish. Rob is lucky to have the same dish twice as I am always experimenting and utilising whatever fresh ingredients available in season at whatever place we are in at the time. Problem number one, what to cook.

I had two weeks from the time of being notified to the audition date. Now the pressure was on. I finally decided on making Thai style stuffed squid my new, and first, signature dish. I chose it as, firstly, Moreton Bay was teeming with them at the time. Secondly, it would showcase our lifestyle of living on board, and thirdly, I was confident in producing a flavoursome dish in the one hour time frame.

Each night for a fortnight Rob would call “Your time starts now” and I’d launch into producing a Masterchef worthy masterpiece before he shouted “Time’s up” sixty minutes later. We’d then sit down to diner, critically picking apart everything from presentation on the plate to every nuance of the dish. By the end of the two weeks of experimenting and tweaking the recipe, Rob and I were wondering if we would ever want to eat squid again, specially Thai stuffed squid. At the time I really didn't want to see another squid in my life let alone cook one under the pressure of television cameras in your face while producers fired questions. 

This is TV right. So you have to be honest. Not only were your cooking skills going to be scrutinised but how you presented, spoke and your knowledge and love of food had to shine. So for the first time in 8 months I went to the hairdresser, cut, colour, and blow dry. Then I had to choose an outfit to comply with the instructions of long pants and closed in shoes, practicality and safety first.

So back to audition day.  After my trip to the market, I carefully went through the ingredients I would require for my "Signature Dish" and packed them ready for transportation. Next came the equipment I would require. Nothing but knives and hard fixed appliances would be provided. I had to bring everything else I needed to cook and plate my dish. This is of course if I got through Audition #1, As we were not going to find out if we were through to Audition #2 until early evening on the Saturday night and would need to be back the following morning, I felt forward planning was essential for my piece of mind. It also kept me busy thinking about Day 2 and not what I was going to face in a couple of hours. The nerves were building regardless.

Arriving a bit early at the venue, there was one other person waiting. With my instant thought being ‘thank goodness I'm not the first’,  we fell into easy conversation and found our love of food a great uniter. As time drew closer the crowd grew with many bringing family and friends for support. Chloe and Ben, top ten and runner up of the 2018 season, arrived to chat to us. This eased the nerves as it gave us a great opportunity to ask questions about the 2018 show and the living arrangements in the MasterChef House. At this point I discovered that four of the people auditioning in my group had also auditioned in previous years. Wow! It can't be that traumatic if they are willing to do it a 2nd or 3rd time.

Before I knew it, I was standing in front of the "Mystery Box" and the words "Your time starts now" echoed in my head. The first peak at the produce was both exhilarating and terrifying. Provided was a selection of protein, and an array of product and produce that could send you in either a savoury or sweet way. However usual combinations weren't so obvious and you had to improvise. I immediately looked to my comfort zone, savoury and started planning my dish. Seafood of course. The hour did go by quickly with the production team coming up and constantly asking what your dish was, where did the influence come from, how were you going to plate up, and asking you questions about yourself etc.... the final ten second countdown began with everyone joining in and then the hooter sounded. “Step away from your plate!”

One by one our dishes were tasted with us waiting eagerly for the judges to make their decision. This is where the self-doubt sets in. Did I do enough? Is it cooked correctly? Are the flavours coherent? Are the flavours exciting? Is my dish a winner? Do I fit what they’re looking for? While quite complimentary of my efforts, unfortunately that’s where my Master Chef journey ended.

As I sat chronicling my fantastic experience the following day, the six talented Master Chef hopefuls chosen from our audition were cooking their "Signature Dish". Good luck to each of them. I’m sure they cooked their hearts out.  I for one will be watching the 2019 MasterChef Australian edition knowing it's a tough road to get to the top 50 let alone the top 10. I hope I see some familiar faces.

There was one final challenge though.  Rob and I had to eat our way through my "Signature Dish". More squid.  Such is life in Our Galley.

Cheers Karen.

Check out Karen's "Dreamtime Sail - Our Galley" blog for much more food and cooking.

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  1. Just came across your blog via the Women who sail group on FB- what a beautiful boat you guys have. I loved this post probably because I can really relate- I applied to audition for MC in 2014. I had to perform in the mystery box challenge audition the day after we arrived home from a holiday in Sweden (helloooo jet lag!) but somehow managed to get through this first audition to compete with 29 others the next day for my so called signature dish (like you, I like variety and cook something different nearly every day- there's nothing signature about the way I cook!) Anyway I decided to do some middle eastern inspired lamb dish. Well the excitement of making it through to the second round coupled with my fear of forgetting my recipe and the already existing jet lag meant I barely slept a wink that night. Surprise surprise, I wasn't thinking straight and burnt my spices (twice!) then stuffed up the couscous and water ratio (who does that??) and finally ran out of time to finish the dish properly- and there ended my journey too. Interestingly I was sitting beside Georgia at my audition who went on to win that year and I still count it as a really special experience. Never again though. Thanks for sharing your stories- I look forward to living vicariously through your journey while we work toward our yachty dreams...

  2. Oh it is so nice to read your experience... I count it as one in a lifetime .... where are you planning on sailing? The WWSA FB group are so resourceful so many wonderful women who so like to share their good, bad, experiences �� we will need to keep in touch Cheers Karen


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