Confessions of a MasterChef contestant

What it's actually like to take part

Words by Lorna Robertson

MasterChef filming days are full on and always involve an early start. The night before, I’d often take a long bath to try and relax but that’s easier said than done. The whole time, I’d be running through my recipe for the following day in my head from start to finish, obsessing over the minor details.

For rounds that weren’t an invention test, we were sent a brief beforehand and would have a short period of time to design a dish and submit a final recipe, but time was always the enemy when you’re juggling a full time job and MasterChef!

I’d ensure my hair was washed, blow-dried and curled the night before so I didn’t have to do it in the morning and could have the maximum amount of time in bed as my alarm would go off at 6AM sharp.

MasterChef is filmed during the winter so it’s always pitch black and freezing when you wake up but the adrenalin kicks in immediately. I am a big on make-up kind of girl and took the more-is-more approach to putting my face on for MasterChef and I’m very glad I did and there’s no one on hand to do your make-up – it’s all down to you.

The MasterChef studios are in Stratford and while their kitchens have just about any piece of equipment you may need, we were able to bring in bits from home. Personally, I’ve found that nothing gets a puree quite as smooth as my blender so more often than not, I’d be lugging a carrier bag full of blender pieces in with me as well.

By 8.15AM, everyone had arrived at the studio so we would all line up outside to film the famous slow-motion walking shots. Never one to stick to suitable flat shoes, I spent a lot of time ruining takes by slipping on the wet cobbles, much to the amusement of the cameramen. It’s also surprisingly hard to walk together as a group, in time, while looking straight ahead – so it’s no wonder we all look so serious!

By 9.30AM, it’s time for the interviews. These last around 15-20 minutes where we’d be talking about anything from what dish we were cooking to how well we thought you were doing so far in the competition.

Unless it was an invention test, we would always go into the kitchen beforehand around 10.30AM to block our ingredients with someone from the home economics team. They would have the recipe and method we had already submitted and would work down the list to ensure that nothing was missed off. I was utterly rubbish at writing down my method and equipment list so there would always be something I had forgotten.

By 11AM, it’s lunchtime. It may be a cooking competition, but we’ve still got to eat. Lunch was courtesy of an outside catering company which must be a tall ask for the entire cast and crew of MasterChef. 

Once we’d all finished around 12.30PM, it was our turn to cook. A quick freshen up of make-up and a trip to the loo and we were whisked out the door and into the studio where John and Gregg were stood waiting. As soon as John had uttered ‘you’ve one hour and thirty minutes, let’s cook’ everyone sprang into action.

There are no clocks in the kitchen and as I don’t wear a watch, my first step was to always start my kitchen timer so I knew exactly how long I had left. Time seems to go twice as fast as normal in that kitchen. At some point, Gregg and the team would come along to chat with you about your dish.

As the time came to an end and we stepped away from our benches, it was always nice to have a reassuring hug from everyone else and a quick look at what they had done, before being taken back into the green room, while the team took shots of the food while it was still fresh. At this point, a much needed sugar rush was overdue, so cans of coke were chugged and bars of chocolate inhaled while we waited to go back in for judging.

The call would come around 3PM when the judges were ready and we would all line up nervously awaiting our fate. One by one, we would take our plates up to John and Gregg for the tasting. On screen, each person has around 30 seconds – one minute of judging but in reality it’s SO much longer! This means that inevitably there are some negative comments in there and regardless of the positives, all you seem to remember are the negatives. Fortunately everyone is in the same boat and although it’s a competition, you can’t help but feel genuinely sad when one of your fellow contestants gets bad comments.

Then comes the never ending wait. Once judging has ended, it’s back into the green room to wait for John and Gregg to decide who’s leaving. The majority of the time, you could tell who in the room had got the worst feedback and was the most likely to go, however that doesn’t make it any easier when you know you’re in the lower end of the pack. No one is guaranteed safety so it’s always a very long and nerve-wracking wait.

A decision is made around 5.30PM when the group is called back into the kitchen and lined up. Then it was usually time for a quick drink at the pub with the remaining group, before heading home to research, test or write up more recipes before doing it all again!

But, I’m guessing you probably still have some questions, so here goes…

Doesn’t the food go cold before the judges eat it?

All of the food is eaten at room temperature on the show when it is cooked in the MasterChef kitchen.

Do you still have a job?

Yes of course I still have a job! As much as I would like to just do MasterChef for the rest of my life, I would be very poor, very quickly.

Do you have to buy your own ingredients?

For practising at home yes, but for cooking on the day, there is an incredible home economics team who order all of your ingredients for you and make sure everything is laid out ready to go before you start cooking. This is why you have to be so precise and careful when submitting final recipes because if it’s not on the list, it probably won’t be on your bench.

Does filming take up a lot of time?

It takes up a lot of time yes. I averaged at about 2-3 days a week for roughly three months which really takes its toll when you are trying to hold down a normal day job at the same time! MasterChef is a once in a lifetime opportunity though so you just have to knuckle down. The days spent filming were always the ones I looked forward to most so it was definitely worth it.

Is there someone there to do your make-up?

No there isn’t! You go onto camera exactly as you are which for me was very nerve-wracking. I love makeup and was very into my lipstick during MasterChef but you just have no idea what you’ll look like on camera! The majority of the comments I’ve had since MasterChef has aired have been about makeup and not my cooking though, so I must have done something right!

Do they tell you what to wear?

In a way, yes, They recommend you don’t wear stripes or a white top as they can do funny things to the camera. Also anything with a logo on isn’t allowed, but apart from that it’s up to you.

MasterChef finals week continues tonight and Thursday at 8pm, and conclude Friday 8.30pm on BBC One

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