It’s so strange to see myself on TV – I am sure I don’t look like that in real life! I actually got emotional watching MasterChef tonight, reminiscing over Top 50 week and the friends I made. In case you missed it, you’ll find tonight’s episode (and last night’s, for that matter) on the Channel 10 website.
Audition Day 2. We arrived at 7:08am. I had a few more friends joining me, and this time Xander & my partner would be there. We left our board games at home, having been told that Day 2 would move much faster. There were three workbenches and, for me, cooking started around 10pm.
>BTW, there were still contestants being judged at 1:30am… Makes my 17-hour day look like a walk in the park.
When the first few people were returned to us with sullen countenance, other contestants questioned dish choices and quantities. I chose my dish because I knew I would be nervous and it was something I could do with my eyes closed. Or so I thought. Was it too simple? Should I be cooking more than one dish? I had enough ingredients for three dishes, but only if the judges asked to see more.
The snippets of conversations we picked up from judged contestants helped so much: from these we learned that the hotplates were superhot, that the judges preferred our creation of just one dish to two (as per the initial brief), that the judges had eaten too much mashed potato and chicken for one day.
The butterfly in my stomach grew as more rejection stories emerged from the judgement room. At least I had my friends there to reassure me [even if one of their assurances was that, if I didn’t make it in MasterChef, at least there would be the spin-off series: MILF Island. Thanks guys, that de-stressed me completely…].
My visions of finishing up by lunchtime were soon shattered – as were our dinner plans. We realised by about 3pm that we would have to cancel.
Adrenaline pumped everytime someone walked in with a clipboard. Would our names be called next? The answer was inevitably a no. As the day progressed into afternoon, a real ‘us versus them’ mentality had pervaded the holding area. Rumours abounded with respect to our cooking order, the temperament of the judges, the prize at the end. The format changed several times throughout, however the judges were moving through us fairly quickly by night’s (or, rather, morning’s) end. Dinner, in the form of takeaway pizza and party pies, helped to dissipate the negative feelings in the room. I was too full of butterflies to eat more than a mouthful.
My judgement time came after 10:30pm. Having been there for as long as we had, they surprised me with their energy. They were honest and fair in their criticism, not at all nasty as I semi-expected [although the poor guy with the “vile” cheese sauce may beg to differ]. They loved my ingredients, but my food was overcooked. I made the mistake of cooking tom yum gai – a dish that Matt Preston had tasted only recently in a Michelin-starred restaurant. Crap.
In the end, I made it through by the skin of my teeth. After twenty-something hopefuls, I was the third ‘yes’ for WA & Australia.
By then, I was relieved and also so overtired that I my mouth worked faster than my brain. Looking back, I see a number of potentially embarrassing sound bytes arising from my interviews. Not the least of which came directly after my judgement. The show’s lovely host, Sarah, asked me what convinced the third judge to change his ‘no’ to a ‘yes’ and I replied, “Obviously my charm and good looks” – and I was about to follow that up with, “because it certainly wasn’t my food”, when she agreed and jumped into the next question. I am pretty lucky they didn’t use that one! As for my killer heels…
It was only afterwards that I found out the next ‘audition’ would actually be a semifinal in Sydney. And it would be a week rather than a few days. This put a sour taste in my mouth. I was upset at myself for not asking for more details up front – like any good Project Manager should – yet I was completely compelled to continue on this rollercoaster. After all, isn’t that what life is all about?
What was going through my head several days later. MasterChef was just a pipe dream for me until ~11pm on Saturday, 17 January. Then my dream began to breathe and I experienced mere hours between walking on a cloud and having reality bite me hard in the butt.
I started to see that my MasterChef dream potentially conflicted with two commitments I made (in discussion with my partner) before Xander was born:
- I would breastfeed until Xander was a year old; and
- External childcare was not an option until after Xander turned 2.
The benefits of breastfeeding past 6 months. I realised that I was pretty flimsy on the “why” of breastfeeding past 6 months, which was what allowed me to entertain the possibility of weaning Xander at 7 months, despite my commitment.
I knew that further research would help me to make a more informed decision. Crazily, I was getting all emotional about the issue: I was already grieving for something I hadn’t yet lost. Hence I was online at 4:30am on Sunday morning. It wasn’t like I could sleep off all of that adrenalin anyway!
I found several sites with strong health reasons behind feeding for longer than 6 months, two of the best being:
- Stork Net – explains that, in comparison to breastfeeding for a shorter time, a year or more of breastfeeding can result in a baby who has a higher IQ and greater self-confidence, and prevent diseases such as diabetes, asthma, obesity and heart disease in later life. [A good friend of mine did point out the lack of causal evidence attached to these claims. I still choose to believe.]; and
- kellymom – references a number of worthy sources (including the WHO) and details the fact that extended breastfeeding can reduce my risk of common cancers.
My solution: express, express, express. I aimed to have enough milk to tide Xander over for the week in Sydney.
In terms of childcare, my partner & I discussed the option of him looking after Xander if I made it past the semifinal, and he was willing to ask his workplace for leave.
A huge thing that I did not contemplate before: what if the finals were ‘locked down’? That is, zero contact with friends and family. This was a major point of conjecture among contestants on Audition Day 2. When I asked one of the producers if I could take my son with me, I expected that he meant ‘no’ to having him on set for the semifinal. I started to wonder if he meant no contact at all for the 3-4 months of series filming. If that was the case, I had some major thinking to do.
There were also economic considerations to think about. For example, would MasterChef pay my household expenses if I got into the finals series? My part-time income is not insignificant. I could foresee financial strain, due to mortgage, utilities bills, etc.
In addition, Australia seemed on the verge of following the rest of the world into a recession [27/04: and we’re still teetering on the edge…], which could impact on the attractiveness on the as-yet unknown prize. On Audition Day 2, there was much speculation amongst contestants during the long wait. General consensus made it either a restaurant or a TV show. As much as I would have loved to win a restaurant, I thought it to be a financially unsound move for a newcomer to the industry – for at least the next three years. A cooking show, on the other hand, could be a viable move. In times of financial crisis, don’t people eat in more?
>27/04: the prize was revealed in a news.com.au article: $100k + book deal. Very, very awesome.
On top of all this, there was my prep for the semifinal. I revised old recipes, tried out a few new things, held dinner parties every few days, and familiarised myself with cooking times/methods for different meats.
My biggest prep, though, was in the form of yoga and meditation. I allowed adrenalin to take over during the auditions and it really affected my skin, my sleep, Xander’s sleep. I tried to remember that I was selected to be a part of MasterChef for a reason: I am talented and passionate. Having reached the top 50 from over 7,000 applicants, I had to celebrate my success thus far and also know that what will be, will be.
Next posts: my tom yum gai recipe + more MasterChef adventures to follow (as they go to air).