Belfast Telegraph

My MasterChef diet is going down a treat

By Frances Burscough

Is it poor programme scheduling or intentional cruelty that has lead to so many cookery programmes being shown in the month when we’re all supposed to be stressing about our weight?

After much indulgence over the holidays I finally gave into peer pressure at the beginning of January and half-heartedly started a diet, only to find Come Dine With Me and MasterChef on TV almost every time I switch it on. That’s just mean.

Now as you can probably tell if you’re a regular reader, I’ve never been good at self-discipline of any sort, so an actual proper diet, per se, is something I’ve never managed to finish. Or even start, for that matter.

I can’t do calorie-counting because I can’t add up, so number-crunching while I’m munching is definitely not for me. And I’m too busy (and, quite honestly, proud) to join a slimming class or go to aerobics. Heck, I’m only a size 12 after all, so even though my height/ build percentile chart — and my GP — suggests I should really be a size eight, I’m not exactly obese.

Instead I do probably the most stupid alternative — the one which they tell you ad nauseum in magazines never to do — which is simply cutting out meals. So, naturally, I cut out the one reputed to be the most important of all — ie breakfast, because it’s the easiest.

Mornings in our house are such a mad chaotic rush anyway, so it’s usually not even intentional. Although as a conscientious mum I insist that both boys, all three dogs and even the birds in the garden get a square meal in the morning, I have a coffee and nothing else, until I start to feel hungry. And even then, when I’m toiling over my laptop with a deadline looming, I often completely forget to eat until I stand up and almost faint from lack of energy. Sensible, eh?

So you could hardly describe my ‘diet’ as nutritionally, calorifically or even sensibly balanced in any way. But I do love food and I’d eat almost anything without restraint or prejudice if I had the opportunity and the wherewithal. If only I had a personal chef, things would be so much easier

Which brings me back to MasterChef, the latest series, which began last week and had me hooked before the first familiar credits rolled.

“Cooking doesn’t get tougher than this!” shouts John Torode as I sit there, half-starved from my half-baked diet, drooling my way through every scene, shot and ingredient close-up.

Like one of Pavlov’s dogs, as soon as the music starts up, I begin to salivate then the stomach-wrenching hunger pangs kick in as I pine for each succulent pan-fried scallop on a bed of spinach; followed by parmesan and pancetta crostini topped with a soft poached egg dripping in warm glossy hollandaise sauce; followed by monkfish in a beurre blanc dressing served with celeriac mash and asparagus tips; followed by pear Belle-Hélène with a white chocolate feuille; followed by So finally I give in to temptation, go to the fridge . and all I can find is half a packet of Jacob’s cream crackers and a couple of Dairylea triangles.

Tuesday night’s episode was a perfect case in point. The 10 remaining contestants were each preparing a course to be served in restaurant conditions to all the past winners of the series. They were out to impress, or lose their coveted MasterChef apron and face the walk of shame back into obscurity.

Once again, I was starving as I watched it, having burnt far more calories than I’d eaten after a day of frenetic typing.

Someone was roasting a poussin with a golden honey glaze and I almost had to stop myself licking the TV screen.

Then the cameras moved over to the next contestant who was tackling seared lobster tails, topped with crispy prosciutto on a parsnip and pistachio purée.

“That’s an elaborate and unusual combination, isn’t it?” says Gregg Wallace, looking unconvinced, “Are you sure it’ll work?”

“Hey, you don’t get to the quarter finals of MasterChef by serving egg and chips!” comes the reply.

Mmmmm ... Egg and chips now that’s something I can do, I thought as I headed towards the kitchen

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