Saturday, March 21, 2009

The food takes over, the final days

Part 3 - If you haven’t worked it out by my absence, no I haven’t been last minute invited back into the reality tv fold, I’m just a little bored with it. I keep twisting and contorting my words; what is the meaning of all this? What is it really about?
Well I still don’t know, and quite frankly I’m bored with it. I couldn’t be bothered to waste any more time right now torturing myself recounting a week in food hell.
But for the sake of a happy ending, I realise I must share. I know there are unanswered questions (yes, they were all asked of me at the recent bloggers get together). So let’s go, lets finish this off… for now at least. I do have something else up my sleeve for what could be an interesting week in April once this all goes to air…

Day 4 - Wednesday
Today appeared at first to be an interesting day. It had been overheard that the contestants that who had failed at the challenge the day before were up earlier than the rest for a special excursion to an iconic Sydney food destination. The rest of us winners (though once we learnt of their adventures we considered ourselves losers, as we wished we were taking part) were up a little later for breakfast before the studio. As I ate my scrambled eggs and as much tinned fruit as I could stomach, I was glad we could change outfits and more importantly shoes today, the standing, no seats provided, was killing my legs, I just felt so stiff for the lack of exercise.
Upon arrival at the studio we were ferried to our little windowless room that we shared with the chocolate bars and soft drink. Stuffed full from breakfast still, I popped down to the internal café and ordered my uninspiring coffee. No doubt the café staffs are getting very sick of the fussy coffee people in the white aprons!

Shortly we were shuffled into the studio and saw the first of our small victories for the day; rows of stools! Cheers of excitement rang out as you would expect from a class of children in an underprivileged school, we could sit today. But a waving red flag crossed my mind, if today is so different from yesterday and the day before, that we get stools for how long will we be perched and is it the opposite hell to standing in the same spot? The answers developed slowly, painfully slowly as we sat all day in the same position being animated about food we could not see and judging that we could not hear. So much for the opportunity to learn from others mistakes.
Lunch crept up on me today, it must have been the excitement of a stool that filled in a few hours, as next thing I knew I was presented with another cold lunchbox filled with another chewy roll and more of the same as yesterday. The chocolate basket also featured packets of jubes today and the soft drink, well, how exciting can it be?

The afternoon rolled on with more of the same and we were shipped back to the hotel by 7.30pm, I immediately got changed and headed to a local gym to have my treat for the week, a pound on a treadmill. The cardio theatre was full of news of the bushfires that didn’t mean anything to me at the time; I was still under the impression that a few houses were lost and people missing. Returning home to Melbourne a couple of hazy days later, brought the rush of exhaustion and grief for the week of Victorian horror that I knew very little about.

Sweat laden and finished at the gym yet still strangely wired, I headed to a late night book store in Paddington, were I pretended for an hour or so that I was at home flipping through some new cookbook purchases in my lounge room. As a tool of fantasy food porn, my couch and some cookbooks was not too far off the pinnacle of my desire. A now sleepy but hungry cab back towards the hotel reminded me I was in Sydney, and in the same neighbour that I called home for a few years, I asked the cabbie to detour to Goulburn St and I reminisced about my experiences in Sydney over a bowl of combination short and long soup and a Tsingtao beer at BBQ King. Finally dinner. Followed up on the short stroll home, by a cup of bitter chocolate sorbet from Gelatissimo, so rich it reminded me of being in Spain the year before. I love how flavours can alter your mood.

Day 5 -Thursday
Today brought with it the knowledge that it was the final challenge for the competition so far, and the excitement that nobody was going home, so no unnecessary bag packing this morning. Breakfast was losing its appeal, same stuff different day, but at least I could put together a nourishing meal that satisfied my some what deflated food soul and stomach.
Today became known in polite circles as the day of the pig, some won and some lost and I can tell you whom the biggests losers were and that day it was definitely the judges.
Fancy tasting some 37 combinations of the same ingredients, some cooked only an hour before, some cooked a lengthy six (yes, SIX!) hours before tasting/judgement. I sincerely felt sorry for the judges, no wonder we didn’t break for lunch until 5.30pm (thank Christ for the scrambled eggs this morning), the main driving force behind the breaks – the talent - were full and so, not interested in eating anything more than what the queue of plates in front of them.

Now at this stage I want to briefly depart from my little food world here and beg of you, should you actually get to see my finished dish on tv, please don’t hate it, just feel sorry for the judges that ate it 6 hours after I prepared it, it had a brief encounter with the fridge, a sheet of paper towelling and a spray bottle, but how is anything to look or taste good when its that old. Unfortunately I was judged third last…

The most interesting thing about the extended filming today was the sugar doing the rounds, bags of snakes materialised from thin air, (is the natural confectionary company another sponsor?) Cokes were guzzled, cherry ripes were nibbled at, and all while our second victory in two days waited for us in the lunch room… the boxes were gone and the items were plattered in like groups so we could pick and choice the components we wanted, the bread was room temperature and the salads cold. In a nut shell, a victory for us, nag power does work! Our keepers were using our strategically wired chests for good not evil (this time at least).

A few more hours of filming saw us then head back to the hotel. The feeling was quite jovial, no one had just been sent home and we were all in the same boat in regards to our topsy-turvy feelings about the final judgement the next day.
Feeling heavy headed, I complied with the opportunity for a beer at the pub across the road. We tried not to talk about the pig, but she kept rearing her head. “So would you have done it differently?”, “How boring was that one, and they loved it”, “I’m sick to god of talking about pork chops, lets talk about bolongese…” ha!
As can happen when you’re exhausted emotionally and physically, one beer became two and then I bailed quickly before it was suddenly four and a hangover to boot the next day.

Not being bothered to actually travel anywhere for good food (note; another out of character foodie experience), I headed into Chinatown in search of chicken soup for my soul. I stumbled across a shiny looking Vietnamese pho joint and stumbled in. I knew just from looking around that it just wasn’t going to be mind boggling good; those moments are saved for scary looking hole in the wall places at 11pm when you are lost in Hanoi… The soup was fine, but what did I expect. Melbourne has coffee and Vietnamese food, Sydney has Thai and lots of top-end dining. Lets not compete on these, we know they are facts. I can live with it, and love it.

Day 6 - Friday
My soon to be determined last day as a guest of the production company was a jumble of emotions. I had a feeling it wasn’t right and that I’d be going home (the to-be-selected Top 20 were staying another night for briefings etc). I had reflected and realised that I had got my tv ‘persona’ all wrong. I should have done the challenge differently; I hadn’t performed within the guidelines expected of me…
It was also the earliest rise of them all, up at 4.30 to be in the foyer by 5.30am all packed and ready to go, breakfast was to be served by the infamous catering company at the studio. Oh I wished I hadn’t said I was bored with it yesterday now!
Well after, let’s just say a little hiccup, with our arrival and a hour plus wait in an idling bus outside of the studio, we finally arrived and were shuffled to our room. In came our breakfast, egg and bacon rolls. Sounds alright? Well it funny enough as if they were trying to amuse me for one last time we were served rolls with egg, and, rolls with bacon, yes individually and in the same quantities that you would expect if they were together; one piece of bacon and a table spoon of scrambled egg, separately! The cook that put these together must have been a robot to not have worked out the error. Some of my fellow contestants, took the liberty of putting the components of two rolls together for themselves, and then others blindly took an empty roll and then complained of the lack of anything but greasy bread. It really was quite funny. I positioned myself with my ordinary coffee and watched for entertainment as this happened over and over again until more rolls were delivered –correctly filled- just mere moments before we were whisked out of the sugar room.

Judgement day brought a new room, set up with prop furniture that I am familiar with from those overpriced hire companies. Weird bright vases with no flowers, OTT stuffed cushions, it’s meant to be comfortable yet if anything I’d feel more comfortable now in a cement room and a hard stool.
Today I’m feeling emotional, I think it’s the lack of sleep catching up with me, I am watching the people I have come to know quite well, get told yes or no. Most cry, which makes me strangely teary as well. It’s not like me, I should have found this inner sook earlier and perhaps I would have gotten a more positive response when my turn came in front of the judges. Again, you may not see me; my shoes were the real star that day, if you see some killer black platform numbers –their mine!
Lunch was a blur of party pies (without the party) and sadness for the very emotional room. Poor form by the production company saw people bribed with access to their phones, so they would talk on camera to their loved ones. Others stood firm and denied the immediate access to family and waited to talk off camera later. Others that were on a dip of emotions, tiredness and far too, too, much sugar balled and wailed for the cameras. I to my embarrassment had a couple of tears, mainly because the waiting room could not believe me when I said I was going home, not selected.

As I sit here now, I’m so grateful at this confusing moment. Perhaps the judges did me a knowing favour, I’m not sure but should I have been given a thumbs up it would have been a very big ethical decision to accept or not.

Dumped at the airport with four hours to wait for our flight home (don’t worry the lovely Qantas people altered it for us), some people were mad, some relieved, all exhausted. To appease my now very dry sense of humour, we were served some dinner of steamed-rice-and-brown-curry airline food on the way home. The world can be a cruel place.

A while has past now since my brush with reality tv, I have remained in contact with a handful of people and have recently learned of the happenings in the Top 20 ‘house’. I feel absolutely relieved in the knowledge, that I don’t need to wake up in the morning with a camera crew in my face… or deal with bullying games/tactics. Thanks George, Gary and Matt; you made the right decision, it’s not for me.

The highlight of my trip funny enough, happened at the airport on the way home, the weary judges (all from Melbourne too) awaited their flights. We jovially chatted like real people comparing notes from each side of the fence. I asked my loaded question, so what were the judges eating while we ate all this? Well the answer surprised. Just the same as us.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Home made (better than) chips

Five easy steps to chip success

1. take these gorgeous, addictive potatoes and boil too many a couple of days earlier

2. crush then with the palm of your hand, until they look all arty like this

3. drizzle with olive oil, heaps of Murry River salt, pepper and some thyme from the garden

4. bake on 220C until they are golden brown, crunchy on the outside and a creamy, fluffyness on the inside

5. try not to share too many!