You don't have to be a vegetarian to love vegetarian food.

Weekend Carnivore goes to Masterchef Live

Filed under: Vegetarian London — Sarah Jayne @ 11:19 pm November 19, 2009

Hang on to your seat – this is going to be a long update! I haven’t posted for a little while because I have been travelling but I have returned to London and am somewhat back to normal now.

Last weekend, I celebrated my return to London by attending the Masterchef Live event which was held at Olympia. I had been to this event before but in previous years it had been called The Good Food Show after the BBC Good Food magazine. In those times, it was all very much about Ready Steady Cook but since, I guess, Masterchef is the popular cooking program of the moment they have re-branded. I can’t blame them because I do enjoy watching Masterchef and it was clear that many other people did too since the place was packed from the moment the doors opened on Saturday!

Masterchef Cook Off

We started off our day at Masterchef Live by attending a live Masterchef cook off. That really turned out to be a lot of fun! It was hosted by wine expert Olly Smith. Olly Smith will be a familiar face to anybody that watches either Saturday Kitchen on the BBC or Market Kitchen on the Good Food channel. He came off as a very likeable guy and got the audience pumped up. No small task for if being first thing on a Saturday morning.

Once Olly Smith had us all warmed up, it was onto the real stars of Masterchef. Both of the judges, Gregg Wallace and John Torode came on stage carrying their Masterchef Live bags full of food. Obviously, these were going to be the ingredients available to the two chefs cooking in the Masterchef cook off. That bit did feel a tad bit Ready Steady Cook but I suppose there wasn’t much better of a way for them to bring out the ingredients.

I can’t fully recall all of the items they had in the bags but they did include brioche, lentils, chocolate, cod and pancetta. In addition, the two competing chefs could use a variety of things such as eggs, milk and herbs and spices available in the larder (again very Ready Steady Cook in feel). The next mystery was who would be the two chefs competing in the Masterchef cook off.

I am pretty sure the pattern of contestants in our showing was replicated in the other Masterchef cook offs throughout the event. One of the contestants was from Celebrity Masterchef and the other was a past winner of the normal Masterchef series. We had the interesting pairing of Wendi Peters from Celebrity Masterchef and 2008 Masterchef winner James Nathan.

They had a few moments to contemplate the ingredients before starting to cook. Certainly, they went in totally opposite directions. James Nathan went for a cod and lentil dish with capers and peppers in the mix somewhere.

Wendi Peters was much more vegetarian friendly by going for using the brioche to make a chocolate caramel French toast. Yummy! Given that Gregg Wallace is infamous for having a sweet tooth, that sounded like a winner. Judging by the reaction from the audience when she announced her intentions, it was a crowd pleaser too!

She certainly provided the comedy of the event by using a plastic bowl to form a double boiler for melting her chocolate. It wouldn’t take too much imagination to think that using plastic over heat would melt the bowl but she went with it until John Torode stepped in with his health and safety hat and took it off the heat.

After they had used every bit of their allotted 30 minutes to cook their dishes, it was time for the all important Masterchef judging from Gregg Wallace and John Torode.

They tucked into the dish from James Nathan first and gave it very positive reviews. As James Nathan is now working at one of Rick Stein’s seafood restaurants in Cornwall, it is probably not all too much of a shock that he would have produced a good tasting fish dish.

They also oohed and aahed over the seriously lush looking sweet offering from Wendi Peters. Even John Torode, who usually says he doesn’t like sweet things, was very enthusiastic about it. I know, that I would have loved the chance to sample that dish. It was piled high with sticky gooey chocolate and caramel and then topped with whipped cream. Total yum and vegetarian. So, of course it would have gotten my vote.

I couldn’t get a very good photo of the dish that Wendi Peters cooked because of my location in the audience. However, I decided to share this photo of Gregg Wallace directly after he tasted it to demonstrate how much he enjoyed it. Not only can you see Wendi Peters looking a bit taken back by his reaction but you can even see a little smudge of the chocolate still on the corner of his mouth. That, is total enjoyment of a dish.

Gregg and John then went into their huddle to whisper and debate who would be the winner of the Masterchef cook off. Despite the overwhelmingly positive reaction to the French toast, they awarded the win to James Nathan. Not really all that shocking since he was the actual Masterchef winner but still a lot of fun to watch it play out.

Invention Test

From there, the next stop on our Masterchef Live adventure was to a viewing of the live Invention Test round. Anybody that has ever watched Masterchef on the BBC knows the invention test is really the best part of the show. A bunch of contestants show up and are presented with a bunch of ingredients and they have to quickly make something out of them. The ones that make something that please John and Gregg stay and the others are gone for good.

One of the main features of Masterchef Live was that visitors to the event could pay to take part in a mass live invention test. It was pretty costly to take part – something like £60 – but you could be in the audience and watch for a few pounds. So, we went for the audience option. Judging by the fear on the eyes of the contestants as they came out to compete, I think we made the right choice! Plus, their main ingredient was chicken which wasn’t amazingly vegetarian friendly, once again. It was still fun to watch though.

Gregg Wallace and John Torode were back to judge the invention test and the whole event was hosted by, former Celebrity Masterchef contestant, Andi Peters.

The invention test contestants were also provided with two Masterchef alumni as advisers. In our round, they were Wendi Peters (again) and 2009 Masterchef Winner Mat Follas. We were excited by that because all of us had been big champions of Mat Follas during his season on Masterchef and were really happy to see him win. If you have never checked out the food blog that Mat Follas does be sure to check it out now – The Wild Garlic Blog. I would love a chance to eat at his restaurant on one of my Weekend Carnivore days.

Whilst the bewildered invention test contestants cooked away, Wendi Peters, Mat Follas and John and Gregg made their way around the different stations tasting and advising as they went. There was a really nice spirit of good nature to the whole event.

Without question, another highlight was the inclusion of the Bounty Ladies (now the Plenty Ladies since the name change) Brenda and Audrey. The pair were so much fun throughout the event. The reception they got shows just how many people advertising reaches!

The Food

The real star of Masterchef Live was the food. The whole venue was packed full of different food suppliers and nearly all of them were offering tastings. A real treasure trove for any foodie! Whilst there certainly were a lot of meat products to taste (lots of different types of sausages) there was still a fantastic selection for anybody following a vegetarian diet.

That was particularly the case if you love cheese because you really couldn’t move without somebody offering you a stick with some fantastic (usually) British cheese stuck on the end. Most were cheddar varieties but the one that got the vote of my tastebuds was this buffalo mozzarella from Laverstoke Park Farm.

Apart from cheese, it was very apparent that different types of oil is very much on trend with foodies. All over the Masterchef Live venue, there were different types of olive oils to sample. For me though, the oil stand that was not just the best oil on offer, but also possibly the best product I sampled at the whole show was the avocado oil from Olivado Natural Nutrition

I had never actually had avocado oil before but it was so good and I had heard about its health benefits. So, I for sure had to buy a couple bottles – one of their extra virgin avocado oil and one of their truly wonderful avocado zest oil which has a great lemony to it.

Plus, the people at the stand were so nice and friendly. They also threw in a bottle of macadamia nut oil with the bundle. So, watch this space for a ton of new recipes coming up from me using both avocado and macadamia nut oil. Seriously though, watch out because I have a hunch that avocado oil is about to become a real ‘it’ food.

Another of my favourite stalls was that of The Garlic Farm. I had seen them at a previous event and they have been stuck in my head since. They are, as their name would suggest, masters of all things garlic. Never a bad thing for me since I love garlic! Their stand was overflowing with huge stacks of garlic. Some of that was smoked garlic which smelled so stunningly good that I bought a bulb. Now, I just have to figure out how to use it. Any suggestions?

A product of their’s which I have really enjoyed in the past was a banana and garlic chutney (I *know* but it really works!) called Cheeky Monkey. I was really sad that it wasn’t on sale at their Masterchef Live stand but they did have its spicy cousin called Raging Ape. I am not at all one for very hot and spicy things but I was so in love with the idea of taking home some Cheeky Monkey that I bought one of the Raging Ape. It turned out to be seriously good too and was fantastic used as a condiment on a cheese sandwich I made after the event. Really, don’t hesitate if you get the chance try this stuff. I would never have thought of garlic with banana but it really works.

On the subject of things that sound like they shouldn’t work but do, we move to the booze section of the show. There were so many free samples of booze that it would be very possible to get drunk on them alone. At a previous event, I had tried a Welsh toffee vodka called Toffoc. I am not a drinker but with just one sip I bought a bottle. The problem is, that none of my friends will try it because they have trouble imagining it tastes good.

So, I was thrilled to see that Toffoc had a tasting stand at this year’s Masterchef Live too. I insisted my friends try it and they enjoyed it. Finally, I was proven right! I bet my bottle isn’t safe this New Year’s Eve now! If you like toffee try it! We did try another toffee vodka at the show but it wasn’t as nice. So, try Toffoc first. Plus, there is always the novelty of having Welsh vodka.

Not everything ‘different’ actually worked for me though. After having seen a lot of foodie press lately about black garlic, I was keen to try it at their tasting stand. Now, as I have said, I am a huge garlic fan. However, I am sorry to say there was nothing resembling garlic about the taste of this at all. The texture was gummy and almost similar to that of a date. The taste wasn’t all that dissimilar to a date either but a very burnt one. I am afraid this is one foodie trend I will not be following.

That was our day at Masterchef Live and it really was a fantastic day out. We ate so many new things and got slightly tipsy on free booze samples. Mix that in with a bit of John and Gregg and what more could a London foodie ask for on a Saturday afternoon?

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