Alex Casey is very good at watching cooking shows and very bad at cooking in real life. She took up the My Food Bag challenge to become a Masterchef in her own home.
Despite spending close to 40,000 hours watching My Kitchen Rules NZ last year, I somehow remain the worst cook in the entire world. I will sit on the couch, slurring profanities at someone’s undercooked chicken sous vide and murky consomme, despite the fact that I am yet to poach an egg without scream-weeping. My idiocy doesn’t just extend to cooking – it has also spent a fair bit of time destroying the world of baking from the inside out. Literally. Here’s a cake I made earlier this year:
With Masterchef starting up again, I am reminded weekly of my own culinary shortcomings. I dry out chicken. I burn pizza. I drop entire bowls of instant pudding. Meanwhile a fish and chip lady is whipping up pigeon nine ways on my screens every Sunday. I’m doomed!
Or am I?
Someone at My Food Bag obviously felt my spiritual angst, and got in touch on the emails. I said yes to the free food, because I’m a human, and then totally forgot about it. Weeks later, a sumptuous parcel was plopped on my doorstep, presumably delivered by Al Brown dressed as an evergreen Santa Claus. Holy. Not only was it free food, it was gourmet free food. For lunch that day I had eaten a stale tortilla with a slice of cheese on it, just for some context.
As My Food Bag is the primary sponsor of Masterchef and founded by cooking competition goddess Nadia Lim, I couldn’t help but think I was being recruited. It wouldn’t be the first time someone in my family has made inexplicable waves in the Masterchef world.
“Ah, to be privvy to a huge disaster,” I immediately thought. The cat had already made her way into the food bag, and was probably injecting the duck breast with a jus of toxoplasmosis. Is that what molecular gastronomy is? Hard to know. Either way, it’s more sophisticated than anything I had attempted prior to this moment. My cat’s butt is already a more finessed chef than I am.
This instantly became my own personal Masterchef challenge: can I do this without screwing it up or killing anyone? Will I impress the spirit of seemingly-deceased Simon Gault lingering in the corner of my kitchen? I opened the Mystery Box known as the My Food Bag chillbox. Hmm. Something that looks like intestines, some part of a fish, two duck boobs. And this unidentified object:
I whacked at it and tried to pry it open, convinced that it contained the frozen flesh of an exotic creature, like at least a fox or something. It slid off the table and donked onto my foot. Ah, it’s a fucking block of ice. That I now need, handily, to calm the bruising on my ice-block-inflicted injury. Stop laughing at me Al, I’m new to this.
“I’m going to cook the mandarin glazed duck,” I announced to my boyfriend. He made a face that cannot be described in words, but looks a lot like this: o_O. “But you eat Chinese food, you’ll love duck,” I cooed, ignoring the fact that he only ever eats potatoes and rice from the Chinese place at the food court.
I turned the oven on and get the jug boiling for the rice, already exhausted. I can’t find the measuring cups, and the damn cat has just snuck into the running shower upstairs. I think Masterchef could really do with a few cats around, just to spice up festivities. And add a dusting of cat hair, in the style of its mutant reality cousin Come Dine With Me.
While the rice is hissing like a serpent, hopefully fine, I trim the fat off the duck with a pair of scissors. I nearly spew a couple of times. I feel like Hannibal Lecter, or a really rough amateur plastic surgeon. They never show people dry-retching on Masterchef, which is actually weird considering how disgusting everything to do with meat preparation really is.
I’m told to “score the meat” which, to my knowledge, means drunkenly give it a perfect 10 in the back of a co-op taxi. I hit Google. It means to do aggressive lashings on the skin with a knife. I do just that, only gently slicing the fine webbing of skin between my index and middle finger.
I look down at my good work so far, and am blessed to be in the presence of two duck meat mittens that could belong only to Shane “meat hands” Cameron on Dancing With the Stars. When you think about it, this duck is to me what dancing is to Shane. It must be a sign of good things to come.
I bung the duck knockers in the pan and am forced to meet the art of “rendering fat” IRL. I am star struck. It’s like meeting Aaron and Heather’s Boca Loca on MKRNZ, or Laura Cassai’s Sicilian Snapper on Masterchef Australia. Fat, rendering right before my eyes. I’m doing something like the people on the telly maybe!
After five minutes in the pan, I am instructed to cover them in foil and rest the breast. Roadblock: I don’t have foil. Sorry that I’m not running a bloody TINNIE HOUSE over here Nadia Lim. Nice try. I figure the duck can deal with some relaxing time in a plastic container instead, where it can get very sweaty and probably leech a lot of nice chemicals for that extra kick. Take that, Heston Blumenthal.
Whilst the duck is stewing in its own potentially poisonous sauna, I start mixing up the glaze. It needs mandarin segments, soy sauce, sweet chilli sauce and white wine, all of which came in the bag except the vino. I had to buy a tiny bottle of cheeky sav at the supermarket, it’s miniature size making me feel appropriately enormous. I am a chef giant, standing on the shoulders of Nadia Lim, standing on the spectral shoulders of the ghost of Simon Gault.
At this point, I am maybe a better chef than Ratatouille. Something I never thought I would say.
I chop the butt off the bok choy, and am delighted to find that I have been given a beautiful bok choy rose from the kitchen Bachelor! I am here for the right reasons, and my main reasoning is SEASONING (salt and pepper).
The bok choy goes to have a piping hot bath for a few minutes, and I fold some spinach through the rice like I was born with a wooden spoon in my mouth. I reduce down my glaze, reeling in regards to at least two of those words. The rice goes on the plate, the duck goes on the rice, the glaze goes on the duck. The bok choy goes… somewhere around it, thrown with the flourish of a wrist because I am clearly a chef genius.
I plate up with haste, only about 40 minutes later than the recipe suggested. And, I’ll be honest, it’s a smash hit. “A very sharp flavour at the back of the throat,” my boyfriend says, an instantly changed man. “That would be the mandarin reduction,” I retort wisely, as we both raise our newly-acquired monocles in a toast to fine dining. I got my invisible Masterchef badge that night and, somewhere out there, I’d like to think Simon Gault got his wings.
The Spinoff would like to make it clear that we received nothing for writing this post outside of some lovely sumptuous duck breast.
Masterchef NZ airs on TV3 Sundays at 7pm and Mondays at 7.30pm
This content, like everything we do at The Spinoff, is brought you thanks to the truly wonderful people at Lightbox. Do us and yourself a favour by clicking here to start a FREE 30 day trial of this amazing service.
The Spinoff Daily gets you all the day's best reading in one handy package, fresh to your inbox Monday-Friday at 5pm.