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David Hall - Master Chef Goes LargeAnybody with any interest in the subject of food will know all about a show on BBC2 called Master Chef Goes Large. Revamped from the original creation, famously headed by Lloyd Grossman, it is safe to say that the format resembles little of its former self. The old format had middle class housewives cooking retro three course meals in a relaxed atmosphere with seemingly little pressure. The new format has everyday folks being tested and scrutinised by two probing judges whilst taking part in cooking challenges as far removed from reality as could be. Yes, Master Chef has changed all right. And I am one of those who decided to participate in the competition . . . twice!

I'm not exactly sure what spurred me on to originally fill in the application form for Master Chef Goes Large. I can remember throughout the 80s and 90s having a necessity to want to take part in the old format of Master Chef. At the time, it was born more of a want to rebel. Watching the show as a fan, I was also a critic in that I hated the fact it appeared everybody cooking on the show possessed a bad haircut, terrible clothes and awful taste in food. And the music! In other words, as a be-quiffed Smiths fanatic with a rock and roll attitude to life, I wanted to go on there with little knowledge or application and kick up a storm. To show them that anybody could win a competition like that. How glad I am that I never had the guts to enter at the time.

In February 2005, my life changed forever when my daughter Cerys came into my life. Before Cerys was born, I think I had her food map in life written out. Well, how I would have liked it to be. Naivety has been overtaken by reality in the two years since. But during paternity leave that month, I watched agog as the BBC advertised this show called Master Chef Goes Large. I never knew that it was back on our TVs again. And how different it looked. High pressure. New scary presenters. Modern music. People visibly breaking down in front of the camera. YES! My dream show had arrived and I wanted to be part of it. Rushing upstairs with babe in arms, I filled in the application form for the next series with one hand and sent it off in eager anticipation.

Watching the show unveil the new format as the weeks went by, I started to have doubts as to why anybody with any sanity would want to enter such a show. Contestants were taking it so seriously that it became unwatchable at times. With unwatchable fast becoming compulsive viewing. We are all fascinated by human weakness and resolve, and Master Chef shows both sides with gusto. From ex-public schoolboys with high power jobs in the City claiming to want to earn £10,000 a year as a chef's dog's body, to frustrated everyday people who are stuck in life and have a genuine need for change. The show sucks you up and keeps you there, making you and everybody else believe that it is your life, it is what you want to be, it is going to change your life.

David Hall - Master Chef Goes LargeIn summer 2005, I was lucky enough to be invited to a food and screen test which fast became an invite onto the show itself. They said that we were one hundred and thirty-two fortunate souls plucked from an original entry of five thousand. Pretty impressive I thought. Then you see the mixed standard of cooking in front of your eyes and it makes you wonder if it has in fact become a joke. In my initial heat, one lady poached a pig's liver in milk and served it rare. Another guy served a pheasant breast rare. I scraped through and braced myself for the next round. What was I lining myself up for?

In the second round, you are expected to hold your own in a professional kitchen. If you have never worked in that environment before, you are in for a shock. Fast, loud, hot and emotional, I can only compare the pressure to being an amateur at a particular sport and being asked to play in a full International. You are so out of your depth from the start, and with hands being burned and tempers frayed, it makes for classic television for the ever-hungry cameras that seem to be in your face at all times. From the heat of a professional kitchen and back to the heat of the TV kitchen, the pressure never stops and two courses later, I'm through to the Quarter Finals. Things are getting very scary.

Just thinking about what happened next makes me shiver. After a couple of hours being filmed in a market sniffing various vegetables and trying to look like a food expert (quite hard when you are gurning at a carrot and nodding in an agreeable manner), you are whisked back to the studio for two tests that knock any fears I had as a young lad sitting my O Levels out of the window. The Recognition Test. Various cuts of meat and oils were displayed on a table in a tiny room. In the room, you were pressed against the table with John and Gregg staring at you and the camera and sound crew magnifying each bead of sweat. 'What's this David?', as you pick up what is clearly a beautiful piece of venison, press it against your nose causing a bloody smear to appear on your snout, then announce after several stressful minutes that it is, 'a piece of lamb John'. Bits and pieces, bits and pieces. Then the Passion Test - one minute to gabble on about how much you want your life to change. Within an hour I was walking down a back lane somewhere in London with the rain falling hard on a humdrum Geordie. Drowning in the seasons and soon drowning in Guinness, it was a bitter pill to swallow that gave me months of sleepless nights. Watching yourself on television, double chins and all, makes for a disturbing experience. Watching yourself on television with venison blood on your nose is even worse. Why oh why did I put myself through it all?

I swore that I would never do anything like that again. Then I watched the second series in full and saw that they had put in a new element in which twelve previous contestants were invited back for a crack at a semi-final place. Then I began to wonder if I would be invited back. And I was. And I went back. And things went mental and I somehow found myself in the final four. I was so close to this prize. Then cruel fate played a game on me and I went to pieces when I was otherwise having a ball and once again, I was walking down a back lane somewhere in London with the rain falling hard on a humdrum Geordie. Deja vu strikes again. This time it would certainly be the end of reality TV cooking shows for me.

Months upon months of preparation; sleepless nights; driving your wife and friends crazy as you talk incessantly about food and your creations; spitting out three course meals on a Monday night and reading Larousse's Gastronomique back to front. These are just a few of the mad things I put myself through in the two year duration of preparing, participating and reflecting on Master Chef Goes Large. I think I have aged a few years and I certainly have put my life on hold for parts of it. I've tested my relationship with my beautiful wife and I have driven everybody up the wall with my obsessive food related behaviour. But would I change any of it and do I regret it? The answer is simple. Absolutely not.

MasterChef Goes Large 2007 was won by Steve Wallis

When I was on the last Master Chef Goes Large, I was eyeballing Gregg Wallace and John Torode and telling them how much I wanted to change my life, how I was taking time out of an otherwise successful career to chase a little dream. I wasn't playing the game. I meant every single word. Literally three days after being ejected from the Master Chef Goes Large camp, I was back on the A1 driving North with my family and returning from a fourteen year absence in Leeds to return to my native North East. My wife and I had decided well before filming began that we were going to move back and follow some kind of a dream. What that dream was we had no idea, but I knew that it had to involve food somehow. Were we going to open a deli? Or a sandwich shop? Or a cheese and wine shop? Or was I going to go and work in a professional kitchen and become the creative monster that I always wanted to be and feed people my inventions?

I know now that I did not need to win Master Chef Goes Large to change my life. I have changed my life, and it was NOT winning that indeed made me realise my true dreams about working in food, that I just had to do it. After picking myself up and dusting off my utterly disappointed dirt, I knew that I owed it to myself to get involved in food. With no plan in place and no idea what I was going to do, I have taken a huge risk by exploring every gastronomic avenue and continuing to take a break from what I had been doing for ten years as a professional buyer in the world of IT. I have decided to not go the professional chef route due to the unsocial hours, a decision that I did not take lightly as it was the natural route to take. Instead I have tested the waters with a bit of personalised Fine Dining. This I love, as it gives me autonomy to dictate what I want to cook and the creativity to design my own menus. I can look my customer in the eye and ask them personally about their experience, as opposed to feeding two hundred customers in a short schedule and not seeing any of them. I have now set up my own business called BookTheCook.

David Hall - ExpoChefIf I had stayed on for the final part of Master Chef Goes Large, I would not have read an article by chance on a guy called Mark Earnden of Expochef, who provides interactional and inspiring lessons in food to children and communities, teaching them that food can be easy, tasty and healthy. I got in touch, and Mark has allowed me to tail him for a couple of months. I am so happy to say that I am now a fellow Expocheffer and taking his amazing philosophy onto the road myself. I love it and it is what I always thought I could be - an inspiration to others, feeding them not only my food but my enthusiasm, passion and love for the subject. I have also rediscovered my old writing bug and have been writing articles and recipes all year and displaying them on my own Blog. The five minutes of fame that Master Chef Goes Large has given me has made it a popular Blog, with readers from all over the world, and I now have a desire to move into the world of food journalism too. One day, I will certainly delve into trying to run my own restaurant.

So what does all of this tell you as a reader? Well, first of all, I would hope that you can see that anybody can realise their dreams. I'm an everyday and unremarkable guy with no pretensions and a lot of dreams. Not unlike the majority of this country I suppose. It is still early days for me and I am still in the embryonic stage of 'changing my life', but with a lot of application and belief, as well as the support of your loved ones, I am now a staunch believer that anybody can make a change in their life if they really want to. Secondly, if you want to experience humiliation and elation in equal measure as well as test your own resolve to the limit, enter Master Chef Goes Large and let John and Gregg prod and poke you to submission. I'm one of the daft ones who did it twice. But being on Master Chef Goes Large has helped me to get out of a rut. It prised out my natural love of food and cooking through the need to be competitive and make good television. Who would have thought that something so unrealistic could become so realistic? I'm now living the dream. Cooking does not get tougher than this. And it really does change your life.

Written by David Hall
of Master Chef Goes Large fame

David Hall is a dedicated and passionate UK based food lover, who through his own Blog <click here> provides honest thoughts, observations and recipes on the best subject in the world - FOOD! He is a self taught cook who is committed and dedicated to good honest food. In 2007, he reached the final four of the BBC's successful Master Chef Goes Large series, demonstrating his love and passion for British food. He is available for educational demonstrations and journalistic assignments. He also runs his own personalised fine dining service where you can 'BookTheCook' and then experience his wonderful cooking in your own home.

© Copyright 2007 David Hall - www.bookthecook.blogspot.com

Published 12 November 2006

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