Is this the worst Christmas ever? With most of the land entering Tier 4 from Boxing Day, I try to look on the light side, find light in the dark, and do things to be happy about.
After all, I don't spend the next two days in a smelly truck cab parked at a disused airfield and resort to damp wipes and gas station sandwiches.
One moment of splendor (sorry to brag) was my win at Masterchef Christmas Cook-Off on BBC1 this week.
I beat three other former contestants – Dev Griffin, Vicky Pattison, and Christopher Biggins – with my crazy festive feast of venison pudding and plums, and was rewarded with champagne, flowers, and (best of all) the title of Santa Claus.
With most of the land entering Tier 4 from Boxing Day, I try to look on the good side, find light in the dark, and do things to be happy about. One moment of splendor (sorry to brag) was my win at Masterchef Christmas Cook-Off on BBC1 this week
The reward for two days of chopping, peeling, sweating and cooking. No wonder my face looked like a cooked flapjack.
I have a previous form with Masterchef. Since losing to Ade Edmondson in the 2016 final, I've held a grudge against the judges, former greengrocer Gregg Wallace and chef John Torode.
Ade hit me with a plate of bleak white fish surrounded by symmetrically arranged, beautifully reduced vegetables. Very chic, very perfect, very master chef. Buttocks gripping boring. The Michelin equivalent of the mission position.
I had submitted more sophisticated and rustic dishes – a confit duck shepherd pie that looked a bit messy on the plate, but most of all it was my invention and, secondly, it tasted absolutely brilliant.
My desert was another invention of JSP, chilli and vanilla ice cream – hot and cold, all in one of my art deco cocktail glasses.
When Ade won, I blurted out ungraciously, "It should have been" (sadly, I've never been a good loser) … and (unsurprisingly) I've waited years to be reclaimed to avenge my defeat.
It was in this terrible year of all times that my master chef dream came true.
Getting the invitation to the competition was like Christmas, a birthday and a wild party rolled into one. Like so many of you, cooking was my lifeline during the pandemic, it kept me healthy.
I've never eaten ready-made meals, preferring to cook from scratch, cutting out recipes from magazines and newspapers and putting them in binders.
I have a previous form with Masterchef. Since losing to Ade Edmondson in the 2016 final, I've held a grudge against the judges, former greengrocer Gregg Wallace and chef John Torode
This time around, I beat three other former contestants – Vicky Pattison, Christopher Biggins, and Dev Griffin – with my crazy festive feast of venison pudding and plums, and was rewarded with champagne, flowers, and (best of all) the title of Santa Claus
I cook a new dish every week and try to expand my expertise and experience with new flavors. A little positivity amidst all this negativity and all the rules and dictates of our useless government.
I can't face failure anymore, so I DO NOT bake bread, make cookies, cook fancy cakes or whip puff pastry. Life is too short for all the frolicking – let the lockdown renaissance men do all these show off things.
My kitchen is inventive, but never photogenic. I don't have a cheeky Instagram account.
You won't enjoy the sight of my pantry or even my spice rack. Some things have to be kept secret. I'm not swaying seductively like Nigella, it's not in my DNA.
From the moment I accepted the Masterchef invitation, I started practicing my menu. I cooked the game pudding over and over until I was tired of it. I knew how to produce it in record time.
Then the day came for reality – Masterchef Christmas Cook-Off was filmed in a heatwave in September.
When we were ordered to wear festive sweaters, I refused. Have Panto King Biggins wear a knitted reindeer, I didn't want to look like Su Pollard from Hi-de-Hi!
And so my year ended on a high level. Boris, you can stuff your steps. Matt Hancock, I'm taking a break from your never-ending bad news. I didn't order a Chris Whitty teacup and Jonathan Van Tam is not my new pin
The other (more docile) participants relented, then spent two days sweating and scratching while the sequins in their attention-grabbing novelty sweaters became a subtle form of torture when exposed to a hot stove.
I went for a red (hair and socks) and green (top, skirt, and sneakers – all worn designer kit from the back of my huge closet) color combination – it's festive enough in my book.
In the first round something was whipped from a surprise ingredient, in my case a glass of fruity minced meat.
I knew that the others would play it safe and opt for sausage rolls and hearty cakes – so I played a blind man and developed an exotic snack made of hearty meat and fruit filo – just like the ones I tried on vacation in Marrakech.
It looked flashy but was a breeze to cook. Fortunately, Gregg was very grateful, although he was getting on my nerves with comments about how my "presentation" had improved since my last performance. I had to censor myself for fear of being kicked out for insubordination.
The next round of Biggins and I having to cook something created by John Torode was a disaster. We were supposed to be a team but we divas spent a lot of time yelling at each other and the end results looked reasonably ok but our pork was undervalued.
As for puff pastry, I have no idea how to roll it as thin as a cook except when I'm sitting on it. My Pork Wellington looked like a poorly stuffed draft excluder. At that point, I went home depressed.
That night I dreamed of cooking my festive feast while Gregg Wallace sneered on the edge. My pudding wasn't going to come out of a can and the crew collapsed laughing.
I arrived on the second day and looked even worse when I left the studio after ten hours that evening. But this time I was better prepared than my previous attempt to win the title. I practiced a lot.
My main course was a modern version of a meat pudding that I had researched online. I used puff pastry pressed into a bowl and filled it with a nice stew of game and fruit in a rich wine sauce.
This fruit and meat combination is very traditional and I've tried to use as many seasonal ingredients as possible, such as sprouts, red chicory, and pumpkin. For dessert, I whipped an old-fashioned plum with egg white and cream. Despite all of this preparation, the win came as a huge shock.
And so my year ended on a high level. Boris, you can stuff your steps. Matt Hancock, I'm taking a break from your never-ending bad news. I didn't order a Chris Whitty teacup and Jonathan Van Tam is not my new pin.
I don't even have a Masterchef trophy, just the knowledge that at the age of 73 I finally won something that I had dreamed of for years.
So Tier 4 – go ahead! I don't make a Christmas dinner with toilet paper, wet wipes, dried pasta or tea bags, so there's no need to queue in the rain.
Just don't ask me to have a bloody venison pudding for a few months.
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