We begin Part 2 of the behind the scenes adventures from my The Taste experience in a Pizza Express in Slough! Now if your joining the party late and missed Flashback Part 1 I won The Taste 2014 and its a year on anniversary and my review of the stuff that went on, show, people etc anyway back to it …
The Pizza Express Slough has a small raised area and people were congregating their, nervously, anticipatory that sense of who , why and what was to come. 25 contestants, ultimately thats what it was a food game show knock out competition .
RECIPE FOR EPISODE 1 CLICK HERE
25 strangers all with a passion for food some professional and some novice, some home-cooks that was the brief, crowded into this space and meeting each other with the politeness and also checking out status! The production team introduced themselves, gave us a all a reading pack with instructions, brief, specifics about filming, times, meetings, what nots and what to do’s .
I had grabbed a sofa that was back facing the action and was joined by Joan from Birmingham ( a mum and home-cook who now runs The Baking Housewife specialising in Rum Cakes seen her at a few Food Shows great product), Kelly who was a Professional Chef teaching at Bristol Bordeaux Quay, Another lady who I cant remember her name but had a great job doing food walks, and gourmet events in Yorkshire.
We were fed a buffet of Pizza Express food, I had a tension knot in my stomach not certain of what was to come or what i thought of everyone, not a lover of orchestrated events so with a few new people met, we meandered with our new found knowledge and contacts our way back to the hotel headed back to our bed for the night, clutching our folders of wisdom. Now I can only speak for myself as I have no idea what others amy or may not have got up to but for me no wild party, no drinking till the wee hours, just bed.
We had all been booked in to the TravelLodge Slough, everyones names where booked for a whole month so as not to I presume make any assumptions on who would or wouldn’t stay! The Slough residence was right next door to the train station, convenient and cost effective to get people to and from home, ( more about that later), always a delightful place to sleep with trains passing every few minutes, NOT!
Next day was minibus ferrying day for our first (* and some last) cooking day on TV, we were taken to Pinewood Studios, which was about 30-40 minutes away from the hotel. The bus journeys to and from the studio/hotel/became something of a fun element, getting to know you better sessions, letting off steam part of the adventure as time went on. But today was our first day and there were 3 minibuses and cars.
When arrived, security passed, name checked, we were initiated into the 2 of smallest rooms possible for 25 strangers to be pushed into and waited around a lot! We met makeup people, home economists, sound people and wardrobe people who covered up anything that looked like a logo, a lot of production runners, and where told to wait our turn to cook.
The Rules of being On TV and in Pinewood filming where laid out to us.
- You cannot access anywhere unless chaperoned (this includes the toilet)
- You must request breaks, food drinks and they will be brought to you
- You CANNOT take your mobile phone anywhere or bring your own equipment, personal belongings onto set
- You cannot discuss, call or text anything that occurs on set,offset until notified (this ended up being March the year later!)
- Clothing you must wear the same clothes for both days, hair and makeup same for continuity.
Several even more boring ones…..
I don’t know what was more nerve wracking at this point so many strangers and new faces, the anticipation of actually meeting Nigella and her co conspirators or the cooking. The day was set out with 8 of us cooking at a time in the studio each with an hour to cook our dishes. We had been drawn out of a hat our allotted times and guess what I was in the last 4 cooking at 4pm, now I don’t recollect what i did most of that day- a true blur,day, i must have been doing something, talking but I don’t recall what.
We did have our first collective filming session during the day , had our makeup done which I have to say was a treat and a glorious first experience they wanted us to be our natural selves and not over glamourised and I truly did feel they accomplished that just made my skin look lovely! (note that as time progressed I did NOT like my makeup being done at all!) My hair was tidied up and we were spruced and touched up (makeup wise) up through the day. This was initially for our introduction to the judges and our first ever filming with 25 contestants. We were paraded through the backs of the sets, all 25 its a lot of people enmasse and we were lined up in front of the kitchen sets (our first peek into what we had let ourselves in for).
We were asked to be very quiet, keep still and -we were filming-a boom hanging mike came flying overhead and a camera on steroids followed suit and situated itself at the foot of the stairs. At the end I was stood we had a camera man loitering at the back, and I had such a girl thought “what do I look like from behind, he’s not going to film that ??!”
My thoughts were broken as we all heard a door open on the raised area above us , In the far right corner was a industrial steel staircase and down the staircase came our 3 judges/mentors. Nigella first carefully carrying herself in a beautiful blue bodycon dress wrapping her perfectly tiny figure, high heels clicking on the steel steps, large warm smile, looking like human chocolate as she sauntered or glided down the steps. Behind her followed a casual dressed waistcoated, white shirted Ludo in sleeves rolled up, tattoo’s showing, the rockstar of American/French cooking (relatively unknown to the British public at this point-although he made himself very popular through the show!), and a smartly dressed quite demure Antony Bourdain which didn’t express the hardcore food, drug addled persona he had written about in his entertaining book (yes the one I read as soon as I found out he was a judge!).
So there they were stood in front of 25 hopefuls, Im assuming all us feeling pretty much the same or a combination of ; Oh gosh aren’t they good looking, small, tall, slim and Im going to have you tasting my food soon excitement and nerves all wrapped up in one.
There was a pause ( we would get used to this), and then Nigella declared she was listening to a voice in her ear and how distracting it was,as a collective we gave out a nervous rumble of giggles , the production team, someone said ok, stop or cut I am unsure of the actual words, Actually if we ever heard action, cut etc I genuinely don’t recall!
A reset ( another thing we got used too), move left, move right, stand there, Nigella started again introduced herself , then Antony and then Ludo who really was mumbling and had to do his but 3 times, with an apology fro Nigella for him being french!
Anyway the filming session was over as quickly as it started and we were all moved back to the 2 small rooms not big enough for 25 and waited our turn to cook.
So time was up, 4pm came round, and we headed off to the set, through the wired covered floors, plain boarded propped up set walls, through the break room, off to cook only 3 of us not 4 as there were 25 for 12 places and ! . I was cooking with Kalpna Mistry, classed as homecook, (Manchester based), Keeley Haworth (Nigel Haworth’s from Northcote fame’s daughter has her own business called FoodBomb).
The studio corridors of Pinewood are decorated with fabulous photographs of old movie stars, the corridors are clinical hospital colours and then with a wall of doors you walk into the back of a studio, wires everywhere , the backs of the sets wood, props, and until you actually walk onto the set it doesn’t feel real. The actual “The Taste” set was over 5 areas:
- The kitchen/ cooking/mentor set. 3 kitchens all colour co-ordinated for each judge/mentor
- The fishbowl- the judges lair set in front of the kitchen set. A large glass and steel box with chairs facing backwards across a huge steel table, lush decor and big comfy chairs
- The break room – offset and where we walked to and from when we entered each episode, a room that was set up with loads of cookbooks (inspiration), coffee area, benches and where we hung our aprons each night. Not a comfy place to be and we sat in there for long periods at a time and the nerves really grabbed you it became habitual to feel tense and giggly
- Judges Den- upstairs on the set was a room allocated for the judges/mentors to conspire, discuss and sometimes shout when the deliberated their decisions, this was above the break out room. you couldn’t hear the discussion but muffled and sometimes a Ludo shout.
- The interview room sets, set around the periphery of the full set, tiny and I mean tiny box rooms with one camera, false wall, 2 chairs, they got exceedingly hot due to the intense lighting, the sound man sat outside the room monitoring the interview and EVERYTHING was recorded! Each judge/mentor had their own interview room in their colours for when we had finished cooking, to incite us into happy, anger, competitiveness , bitchness what ever the interviewer wanted to. Each Judge’s team had their own interviewer so you kept a continuity and I suspect a relationship to open up, and maybe say that TV gem!
We were based in the studio kitchen ,(it was Antony’s kitchen we were actually cooking in), the set which had 3 kitchens each a different colour for each judge (Brown- Antony, Blue-Nigella, Red Ludo) and 4 working stations in each, as you walked in the Kitchen studio sets where stocked with every piece of equipment you could imagine – cooks paradise, in front of each set was a huge antique butchers block and then The Fishbowl, where the judges tasted the spoon, made their decision for this episode.
Watching on episode 1 doesn’t show the same flow as we filmed it, the show has Peter (a rather uppity Chef from London, with great credentials, who I can openly say was rude to everyone and had pomposity about that was very unappealing) Kalpna and myself. This as you will see was not the order we were cooking in.
All you see is not the same in TV land, edited in a way thats different as we cooked in and it didn’t show the real tension it created. We had submitted our recipes prior to arriving- we were provided with every ingredient we requested , with each of us having our spoon REALLY tasted by the Judges/Mentors Nigella, Ludo and Antony;
- Keeley did a smokey chorzio risotto
- Kalpna did Indian Paturi with tomato and Coriander (recipe)
- I made Truffle , Wild Mushroom Chicken Ballotine
The cooking nerves only kicked in when I was IN the kitchen studio and realised I was cooking and it was a competition, I took one huge deep breath and got my head down, we were allowed our recipe and recipe plan with us, so not all freefall! My dish had a few components to build, techniques , stages to cook and I needed to watch my timings in one hour its amazing how quickly it flies by.
I was making for a spoon taster but made extras and FULL size portions so I could create the best spoons I could. I needed to prepare, stuff, make stuffing, sauce ,poach, coat, fry, dress, slice and serve. The time is inconceivably fast, I just did what i needed to do, my ballottine split on a couple so worked with the best ones, spearing it with Rosemary skewers as a last minute thought to keep it together, and adding Za’atar as a last minute spice hint. I thought my white wine and cream, sauce was going to split but it kept together thankfully.
Throughout the whole cooking process you have a camera, and an interviewer asking you questions, distracting you, even moving stuff around blooming annoying but I’d decided that game face on-smile- be polite and cook no matter what! Keeley was cooking at a station behind me, she wasn’t happy as she felt she hadn’t cooked her risotto enough and was disappointed, Kalpna was cooking her dish in a different kitchen so I had no idea how her dishes had gone.
As I dressed the 3 spoons my hands shook terribly, quite awkward as you need steady calm hands, throughout the whole series I did not ever have unshaky hands at plating up, when dishing onto such a small delicate small spoon your dish in a specific time limits its also difficult to make look truly appealing, but I tried my best. I was asked to carry my 3 spoons on a slate rectangle to a butchers block at the front where a dressed waiter took them into the “Fishbowl” for the judges to taste.
Now at the time of cooking we didn’t know that only 2 places existed and their was 3 of us left! So one of us was going home definitely, so instead of each of us watching the other go through the tasting, we would be separated so we didn’t know the result of each other.
I watched my spoons be taken into the FishBowl and the comments of the judges not enough seasoning, nothing sounded to great, ok etc.
I entered the Fishbowl unsure of what to except,the room was warm with the heat of the lighting, 4 cameras positioned around the rom , and one peeking through disguised in a cupboard behind me.
I sat down and expectantly waited to be addressed, Tony started by saying his team was full and i could feel my heart drop, not thinking just digesting thats one chance to go, Nigella then spoke to me saying it needed more seasoning as a cook this is the worst thing you want to hear as its the simplest thing to remedy i she said it was a No, Im not sure what i really thought at this point I was just amazed i was sat there.
Then the thick heavy accented tones of Ludo said he thought too thought it was under seasoned but showed skill and he would like me on his team, it was a brief 1 minute of time and I was through, I was going to be on a TV show cooking!
I left the fishbowl and was directed to the breakout room and asked my thoughts on camera of course, the next month of my thoughts, face pulling, moods, nerves, anger, happiness,sadness where going to recorded. I said I was pleased. I was asked to wait on my own as the other 2 hadn’t been seen yet. Kalpna came in and she was through too, so that was that all the teams had been created and we had 12 contestants now from the 25 of the start of the day.
We got separated from then the 12 from the 25, although a few of us met up at the Hotel later, chatted and have a few drinks, some taking the news better than others!
GOSSIP! Now for some it seems that when they didn’t get through it wasn’t a happy experience, and one of the contestants who was a professional chef, really wasn’t happy read here Newspaper its an interesting look into a world that is driven by PR/ Marketing and noise and bad losers!
Ready to start a new day as team members and competitors i the same team, being mentored by our new Judges/mentor guides and our Andy Warhol’esque 15 minutes of fame starting to be realised.
The programme now went into its normal mode which was as follows everything was served on a spoon and It was about The Taste and not judged on the look although at times it was commented on!
- 2 Parts to each episode IMMUNITY and ELIMINATION
- Each Episode would have us cooking twice to win immunity, to stay in the show (this was filmed over 2 days one cook off per
- Each episode would start with an introduction to the Guest Chef and a theme for 2 cookoffs
- Our Mentor would then teach us some techniques, demonstrate ideas, and we would prepare a dish with them cooking and helping with us, for the guest chef to taste. This dish was not a recipe we had prepared or knew in advance this was off the cuff. Our mentor would then chose one of the teams dishes to let the guest chef taste if that dish was chosen by the guest chef you achieved IMMUNITY and couldn’t leave the show for that episode (this became my saving grace!)
- The second part of the cook off was us cooking on on our own and the Mentors became Blind tasting Judges, a BEST DISH was chosen and also3 Bottom dishes were chosen and one of those had to leave.
INTERESTING FACT OR NOT! The wardrobe team had to make 225 aprons with our names on as we had to have one for each team that we could be picked for and they only had a 2 days to make them. The team worked over time as each one was handmade and sewn!
Now from a TV viewer perspective this was 5 week of TV for us filming it was 8 days filming!
Watch the episodes here I’ve added a brief summary by each episode :
- Leaver this week was Barry Johnston (Team Antony) ,
- Guest Chef was Richard Corrigan
- Theme was Classics
- I got BEST DISH for Sticky Toffee Pudding Pie
- Leaver this week was Claire Continho,(Team Nigella)
- Guest Chef was Michael Caines, Theme was Comfort Food
- I won IMMUNITY with Chicken Curry Pie and then got
- Bottom 3 but was saved due to winning immunity
- Leaver this week was James Sherwin (Team Ludo)
- Guest Chef was Yottom Ollenghi ,
- Theme was Spice
- I won BEST DISH for Chicken Nam Jim Curry
This was my most emotional episode, and I am openly aggravated by anyone who cries on a game show/reality programme etc, Im one of those who said why do those people cry its only a food programme, their only cooking – I said all of this myself but this episode hit a real personal nerve, ( read on to find out why in Flashback Part 3!)
- Leaver this week was Justin Akpa (Team Antony)
- Guest Chef was Ruthie Rogers
- Theme Was Hand Me Down
- I was in Bottom 3
- Leaver this week was Raj Bahra (Team Nigella)
- Guest Chef was Eric Lanlard
- Theme was Chocolate
- Won Best Dish with Chilli Chocolate Cake with Pistachio, Salted Carmel and creme anglais
- Leaver this week was Kirsty Langschmidt (Team Ludo)
- Guest Chef was Simon Rogan
- Theme was Waste Not Want Not
- I won IMMUNITY with Cauliflower Risotto
- Leaver this week was Guan Chau
- Guest Chef was Fergus Henderson
- Theme was Nose to Tail
- I was in the Bottom 3
- Leaver this week was Kalpna Mistry
- Guest Chef was Angela Hartnett
- Theme was 3 spoons same ingredient
- I was in the Bottom 3
Episode 10 is the final with hero Pierre Koffman ( and in Flashback part 3) and its a 2 parter, with 4 of us left all girl final 2 professionals, 1 home cook and me classed as a cook untrained : Dixie, Kelly, Chloe and me
There is so much to write maybe I will write each episode up separately in a different blog as I writing a novel at this point! I will do summarise for now and follow up with episode details, as we cooked, were mentored and lots to talk about, as I keep remembering stuff to tell!Ive also asked my husband to guest blog as he went through his own experience with my ups and downs and be interesting to see his perspective as well. My best friend Hayley i used to text i the evening (or a sneak text when i popped to the loo -which wasnt allowed but hey,) her texts tell a story in themselves too.
The “real” programme format kicked in for us on our 3rd day of being in Pinewood/Slough and it was truly great fun, as we waited around a lot the dynamics of the group formed and the personalities and characters of the individuals came out. As 12 we were in one room for a lot of the time , we cooked for 1 hour per day which probably took about 3- 4 hours filming. We got collected at 730am each day and for the first few filming days returned back to the hotel approximately about 8pm
We had 2 allocated rooms opposite the studio corridor one where we all had our makeup done ( by Nikki) in turns and the soundmen fixed us up before and after each filming session when wardrobe would arrive with clean aprons for us at the start of the day and even bring our dirty ones back so they had conitnuuity! . We always had a “chaperone” a, runner with us or 2 or 3 (Alice, Jonathan and Rhys), the production team Victoria and Claire popped their head in now and then
We had makeup done, wardrobe done, waited , waited and waited . We had LOCKDOWN when the Guest Chef arrived in the studio and we weren’t allowed out the room at all, this became frustrating with everyone dealing with it their own way.
Alleviating waiting boredom, Pranks
One day we got so bored of waiting we thought we would play a trick on our “chaperones”, they had left us alone which didn’t happen a lot, we opened the window in the room and all of us squeezed into a tiny cloakroom in the room. We heard the “oh no where are they?” exclamations, we giggled and laughed and got caught immediately but you have to create some sort of fun. As Miranda’s mum would say “such fun”! You had to be there to I suppose!
Another day we used to walk from the break room to a countdown into the studio kitchens and be filmed walking to our stations, we would be waiting and waiting in the very uncomfortable break-room and one day did the conga onto the floor – which wasn’t well received by the producer and another day we walked in backwards, all part of alleviating the boredom of some of the hours we had to waste and also tease the team whom other than the producers thought it was funny to!
Whilst we waited and we bonded routine soon set in which in itself is interesting . Guan used to review his shares and stocks, Justin used to sleep on the floor sticking out of the bathroom (he’s Tall), Dixie, Kelly, Me, Chloe, Kalpna, Claire,Kirsty used to chat away, read cookbooks , Raj and Barry became our comedy duo affectionally nicknamed BaRaji and James was our mature teenager! Chloe also had the amazing ability to make songs up, sing lyrics and use voices a complete entertainment centre in herself in the waiting rooms and on the minibus back to the hotel.
I can only say it was a great collective of people- there didn’t seem to be a real element of competition, a lot of support, openness, sharing certain people going through their own personal situations which always came out in conversation, it was – well for me a nice place to be with nice people. Im a home bird and did miss the kids and my husband terribly but it was a short instance in my life doing something so different it was worth the mini pain!
Ultimately these situations are like a little social studies experiment for the observers who are the TV companies representatives and for us the observed , how we were getting along , watching, seeing others reactions to situations in our forced food greenhouse. I also felt that it was not real and that as it wasn’t live , it was pre-recorded we filmed in October 2013 and it was shown in January -March 2014 it had this sense of being unreal.
We didn’t socialise, interact with the guest chefs or the judges/mentors. We didn’t see them between filming or cooking with them, even in between filming they would slink of individually or together to their respective trailers parked out the back of the studio for a cigarette or break whatever it is they did there.
Now back to the filming there was a lot of food always about and then we ate shockingly bad food from a catering van- why is beyond me when we could have eaten our own food happily.
Each day of cooking we were allotted stations so that we didn’t cook on the same space every time, and this also created the order we walked onto set each day prior to filming, everything was planned to the finest detail.
We were issued with a notebook ( this changed a few times as they took them away after each filming and then returned them, this was to stop the others seeing our notes I presume this soon changed to us keeping the same notebook throughout the show whilst you were on it
I loved writing my notes and mentoring sessions, ideas, recipes always used colour when Im writing, heres a few examples of my notes.
Change of plan
Except for at Episode 4 it changed,( and even though i did win best dish) we were summoned to the Judges in the studio – this wasn’t filmed- we were given a dressing down , a bollocking from each judge about how disappointed they were with the standard, the cooking wasn’t up to scratch, its a competition, fight for your place etc. Now at this point it seemed obvious this would happen as we had no practice cooking time. we were cooking from memory and research, we had to create our own recipes but without practice and in allotted filmed pressure tank exercise it wasn’t working out, people were making ore mistakes than they normally wouldn’t I’m sure.
So it was arranged that EVERY night after filming we would go to a local culinary college use their facilities and practice our dishes ( the ones for Elimination only – as we didn’t know what the immunity would be). The process of informing us of the next recipe was 48 hours notice , submit your recipe on a set format. Now we could practice the one things this did do was remove the element of competition even more, we as a group had bonded, even if was for this short period, and we all set out to help each other.
It wasn’t meant to be that way, we would have to cook separately and not discuss, taste, question each other but reality kicks in and we even shared ingredients when we were practicing. The time cooking alongside each other was great as we only saw our own mini teams cooking and we also got the opportunity to eat each others food always a bonus! Im certain that as a competitive show this wasn’t meant to happen but we really did get on as a daily dwindling group , we lost a person every 2 days ( Mondays, Wednesday and Fridays were elimination days so the cooking practice only lasted for the last 4-5 episodes ) and the cooking practice did help in improving the standard and confidence as the filming went on.
Now thats a lot of reading, if you enjoyed it , Flashback Part 3 will see each recipe, each cooking mentoring session and each episode including my rows with Chef Ludo and some of the not so nice things……….and what really happened on Final day!