Day 1 (cont.): elimination challenge #1. This was tough. It was a stall of meats, cheeses, fruits, vegetables, and more. I wasn’t wearing my glasses, so could not tell exactly what the challengers had to work with. All I could see was a new friend struggling with the choices before her and my heart went out to her. With such a broad selection to choose from, that could so easily have been me.
Dinner was provided as an intermission prior to judging; I felt so sorry for the challengers, who now had to wait even longer for their verdict. Six were sent home. My struggling friend made it through with flying colours and all the Perthians stayed safe.
Day 1 of filming finished at around midnight. A 17-hr day. And I suddenly found myself with a new room-mate. The TV was switched on as soon as we entered the room. We were listening for news. The Victorian bushfires raged out of control. Hundreds of properties were being destroyed; people were dying. It seemed so unreal. Here we were, cosseted away from reality. Yet even in this environment we were not completely cocooned from life on the outside. And life was harsh.
I expressed for an hour before bed, exhausted, missing my little boy. This is not the fantasy I had pictured.
Day 2: the bolognese battle. Tasting bolognese may sound easy — it was anything but. We knew there were 17 ingredients to start with, and we all lined up for our 3-minute exam with different ideas of what went into a traditional bolognese or ragu.
In the end, I tried to block everyone else out with some yogic breathing, which seemed to be working until George talked to me. Everything I knew scuttled out of my ears and sizzled nerves blocked its return. When I was de-miked, I knew exactly where I had gone wrong. I felt myself turn a shade of pink as I realised that, although ‘carrots and celery’ had been a kind of mantra in the line on the way to the pot, I had forgotten to write them down. I tried not to dwell on my error, but it was hard to keep a steady head when everyone else was dissecting the experience all around me.
As the ingredients were revealed, I tried to remember everything I had written down but it was a blur. I could have got nine or eleven correct. I couldn’t remember. There was one ingredient that had me miffed: veal. I had violated one of my oldest principles for the sake of two mystery mouthfuls. [I make a point of not eating veal because of how it is raised — removed from mummy cow too young and raised in a confined space from birth; no exercise; no proper nutrition]. I felt duped. Tricked into eating a morally-contentious product for the sake of television. Darn that delicious bolognese.
When a line of contestants was called on to step forward and went through, I was awash with a sense of dread. If they were safe, were 20 of us cooking in the next challenge? There weren’t enough workspaces for all of us; then again, they did fit three to a bench at once stage during auditions… My gut told me I was up for elimination. I tried to remember what others had said was in the produce stall from the day before, planning what I would make with the ingredients.
Then my name was called. It was so unexpected, and I became instantly and inexplicably happy. The biggest wave of relief rushed over me. Looking back, it seems so silly. Why such high emotion? Why was I so affected by this tiny event? I had to remind myself that I had a great life to go back to outside of this show, that what happened on the show wasn’t real life, didn’t matter in the greater scheme of things. And yet it meant so much, would mean so much, if only I could win…
This time, we arrived at the hotel in time to eat out. Dinner at Cafe Sydney was just gorgeous with my new food mentor and another stylish new friend, who was very into her shoes as well as her cooking. [Was it the Salvatore Ferragamo’s that night, or the Manolo Blahnik’s? Maybe Dior. I forget. I must have been too dazzled by the utter fabulousness.]
That meal, I did something I had never done before as a non-tourist: I asked for a copy of the menu. And the waitstaff kindly obliged. For all three of us. They were incredibly patient as we asked what was in this or that. I learned so much just by listening to the questions and answers around me. It was sheer bliss, enjoying a meal with two people who loved food as much as I.
It wasn’t too late when we returned to the hotel. Once again, my day ended as it had started — expressing while listening to an iPhone recording of my baby boy’s laughter. I missed my son incredibly.
Tomorrow: elimination challenge #2.