Masterchef finals - Diary

This is the diary my wife kept during the finals weeks ... these were her notes and impressions from our chats each night ... please read in this context

Final challenges

  • The filming for the final is made-up of groups of days … 3 days, 5 days, 1 day (filming at home), 1 day, 2 days (Copenhagen) and 2 days

Monday 25th August:

Location: Outside London Event: Travel day / overnight (They flew to Inverness … they’re with the Black Watch regiment).

Mat is thrilled because his Great Grandad was with the Black Watch. So, while Mat was in the stores being kitted-out for tomorrows filming, he rather cheekily asked whether they had a spare set of red feathers for his Great-Grandad’s hat (edit Mat - its a Tam O Shanter and the feathers are called Red Hackles) , and they gave him some! That alone has made the trip to Scotland worthwhile, Mat feels really honoured and humbled to get the feathers. We’re planning to ask a friend to make a frame that’ll fit the hat, and its new feathers.

The contestants and the Production team all went out for dinner together this evening. We’re guessing that tomorrow will consist of a Mass catering exercise feeding the Black Watch troops, followed by cooking a posh dinner for the officers in the evening.

Tuesday 26th August:

Location: Outside London Event: Film day / overnight

They were filming at a gorgeous location this morning; it was by a Loch. As we suspected, they were cooking for the troops; They had set-up three tents, each with a BBQ made out of a steel drum, and the contestants had to make two main courses and a pudding out of ration packs. Mat made Chilli, pasta with steak and tomatoes followed by sponge pudding with chocolate custard. As always happens, there was a mad rush at the end as the time was suddenly cut short. For Mat, it went well and he really enjoyed it;

He paced himself though, knowing that that was only the first of todays tasks. By 4pm they’d finished the morning task and were on their way to another location … the Officer’s Mess.

This evening the contestants were cooking for a Regimental Dinner. Andy made the starter (fish), Christopher made the main course (Duck with mash ) and vegetables) and Mat made the pudding (Chocolate Pot with Strawberries, Chantilly cream and shortbread). The diners said that Andy’s dish was the best on balance and that Mat’s needed more strawberries and Chantilly cream.The officers said Mat’s shortbread was some of the best they’d ever had, quite a complement from a Scottish regiment !.

Will John and Gregg think Mat was too busy helping Christopher making his mash for him, when he should have been concentrating on making his own pudding as good as it could be, this is a cooking competition after all. Will they think Mat should have taken more ownership of plating-up his pudding especially when PRESENTATION is his key issue ? Is Mat enjoying it too much, being too distracted by the fun of the occasion, to take making his food seriously enough? Maybe they’ll think Mat doesn’t want this as much as Andy !

Wednesday 27th August:

Location: Outside London Event: Travel day

Mat stayed up until 2am chatting to Gregg, John, the Production team and the other contestants. Then up at 6am’ish to travel back to London and then home; he was a bit tired when he got in !

Friday 29th August:

No filming on this day

We went foraging for Elderberries and Rowan berries today: The children had a great time learning which tree was which and discovering what fun ‘helicopters’ from Sycamore trees are to play with. (Mat would like to make a berry jelly to go with his rabbit dish for the starter in his final menu).

Saturday 30th August:

No filming on this day

We went foraging for seashore vegetables on the beach at West Bexington. We found Sea Kale, Sea Beet, Chamomile, Mallow and Sea Campion. I love the pink coloured pebbles on Chesil Beach and managed to amass quite a collection while we sat recovering from our plant hunt.

Sunday 31st August:

No filming on this day

Lamb roast dinner with the family and then Mat travelled back up to London, ready for tomorrow’s filming. Mat was feeling very down leaving the family behind as he thinks he’s going to struggle this week with the fine dining challenges and is worrying about his repertoire of food being up to the standard.

Monday 1st September:

Location: London Event: Film day (Cooking two salmon dishes in 1 hour)

They had to cook two dishes. Mat made Thai fish cakes with a sweet chilli dipping sauce and then a broth with vegetables (leeks, celeriac and pak choi) and mushrooms with a piece of salmon (poached in stock) placed on top. John and Gregg loved the Thai fish cakes, Gregg said that the fishcakes should be more flaky, so John corrected him, saying that Thai fish cakes should be exactly like Mat had made them. The presentation was great. However, John and Gregg didn’t like the salmon with vegetable broth as much. They said that the broth washed-out the other flavours, but the salmon was cooked perfectly.

Christopher made salmon carbonara, then a piece of salmon with celeriac mash and vegetables.

Andy made Ravioli, then an asian flavoured piece of salmon.

Tuesday 2nd September:

Location: London Event: Film day (60 Canapes in 1 hour 15 minutes)

They have to cook 20 Hot canapés, 20 Cold canapés and 20 sweet canapés. Mat’s going to cook hot mini jacket potatoes with goats cheese and chopped chives dressed with a chive flower, cold clams with caper mayonnaise and a thyme flower, and Burnt Creams for the sweet.

Arghhhhh Beth can’t get thyme or chive flowers, so there goes the presentation ! Bugger !

Beth then spent the morning trying to find flowers for Mat, and she did, she found beautiful pink mint flowers for the clam canapés which looked absolutely great.

The good news is that all three contestants completed 60 canapés each. Mat’s mini jacket potatoes, they hated. John said “you should have done something expensive with them like fois gras or truffles”. Of course ! It seems obvious now ! They liked the Burnt Cream canapés, they thought it was ‘very Mat’. Best of all, they absolutely loved the Clam canapés; even Beth said that she was going to steal the recipe for her wedding next year. Mat made the best and possibly the worst canapés today, but John and Gregg applauded him for taking a risk and said that you have to get things wrong sometimes to enable you to produce something great.

Apparently, Christopher’s canapés looked like dinner party canapés which just isn’t good enough for MasterChef. He made Strawberries dipped in chocolate, Ricotta cheese with toasted pine nuts, wrapped in courgette (which tasted good), and Choux buns with ham. Unfortunately he finished 15 minutes before the task ended;

Andy made Rye bread with smoked eel and horseradish, Onion bhajis and he also made Strawberries dipped in chocolate but presented them on cream.

Wednesday 3rd September:

Location: London Event: Film day (Buckingham Palace) / travel & overnight

It’s my birthday and the first day back at school for the children after the summer holidays.

Mat phoned at 07:30 to say happy birthday, oh and by the way, I’m at Buckingham Palace. My jaw dropped and I felt very sick with excitement and nerves for about 3 hours.

They were Cooking lunch for the queen’s household, about 550 people. They each made a main course and a pudding. Chris and Mat needed to make 100 portions each of their main course (Christopher ended up doing 200), Andy needed to make 200. They were all supposed to make 70 puddings each. The production team put Mat in charge.

Mat made Thai Green vegetable curry (which turned out really well and chef liked it) followed by a Cheesecake. Andy made Roast lamb (which all three contestants spent the first half an hour preparing) with dauphinoise potatoes and vegetables, followed by a fruit salad (which John and Gregg stepped-in to make)

Christopher made fish on a ratatouie with new potatoes, followed by apple crumble

This afternoon they traveled to Rutland, The Barnsdale Hotel Just across the water from their hotel is Hambleton Hall, with the award winning Restaurant of Michelin star Chef, Aaron Patterson. Aaron produced a trio of Rabbit for his heat of The Great British Menu. Mat’s starter for his final menu is a trio of Rabbit (we know Aaron did a trio of rabbit but can’t find out what cuts of meat he used or how he did it, or presented it, or anything about it !Mat remembers there being a rack). They could also be going to the Land Rover Burghley Horse Trials which starts tomorrow or pie making in Melton Mowbray.

Thursday 4th September:

Location: Outside London Event: Film day (Burghley Horse Trials) / Travel back to London

They were up at 6am and off at 7am. When they arrived at Burghley House, The Lady of the house (Miranda Rock) was busy bundling her children into a car to get them off for their first day at school. Rather poignantly, John and Gregg were both missing one of their children’s first day at school.

It was going to be a long day, 18-20 hours or so until home-time.

The contestants each had to produce 200 plates of beautiful food. Mat’s was a plate with 3 individual creations on it; a crab meat quenelle on green beans, Gravadlax with celeriac salad and a tiny portion of mackerel marinated in sweet chilli sauce. Greg came over and gave Mat a cuddle at the end of the day, so it must have been obvious to everyone just how hard it had been. Andy made Chocolate tarts and Panna Cotta. Chris had the same sort of day as Mat. The contestants all went out into the restaurant and got a big round of applause from the diners – the Olympic horse team, Zara Phillips and Capt. Mark Phillips, amongst others.

Wednesday 10th September:

No filming on this day

Tidying and cleaning the house ready for the crew to arrive tomorrow

Thursday 11th September:

Location: Dorset Event: Film day (Filming at our house)

We kept all three children off school for the day, so that they could share the experience with us and it’s great for them to see how a television programme is made. We had four crew, Director, Cameraman, Soundman and runner. They were all lovely; completely professional and really great company for the day.

They started by interviewing Mat in the garden for an hour or so, then the family walked out of the front door three times, trying not to look at the camera, then down the road twice, before walking along by the river at the end of the road and playing pooh sticks over the bridge with helicopters from the Sycamore tree. Next, they filmed scenes around Beaminster because it’s so beautiful and then people we know, like Charlie at the butchers. And that was the morning finished. So we all decamped to the Hive Beach Café for lunch. Yummy food but a howling gale, still, who cares when you’re by the sea.

So, on to the afternoons filming. We, the family, walked along Chesil Beach and back twice, then across the beach and back twice, and along the beach silhouetted by the bright sun, and back again, twice, or was it three times. We’d reached a point where we were all a bit tired and had achey calves, so they sat the children and I on a rock and asked a few questions.

Meadow was climbing on the rock and trying to reach the guinea pig (it’s what we told her the soundman’s boom was) which was positioned just above my head, and giggling uncontrollably every time it moved out of her reach just as she grabbed for it. All this encouraged Jack (who was standing in front of me and whom I was desperately gripping between my knees so that he couldn’t move very much) to join in too. So, whilst Meadow mountaineered up my back and Jack waved his arms in front of my face, I tried to answer Ed’s questions. It didn’t go well. I remember thinking at the time, why are you talking so fast? why are you rambling? why can’t you say a sentence without sounding like you didn’t finish school? They quickly tired of me. I exclaimed that my mouth was really dry and apologized for my complete inability to talk on camera. The Director was generous and reassured me that the same thing even happens to heads of industry when a camera is pointed in their faces; it was very kind of him, what a nice chap. I’ll be very surprised if any of that footage is aired.

Next, it was time to go back to the house and the children and I were done. I put them in their rooms for a bit of quiet time and made a cup of tea.

Mat and the crew loaded up his diving gear into their van and after filming him leave the street on his Harley Davidson a couple of times, they all left for West Bay. They filmed Mat in his dive gear on the boat for a while holding some huge spider crabs, then they were finished.

When they got back to the house, they all looked absolutely shattered; like they’d had alot of sea air and were going to sleep like babies tonight.

I’m so glad that’s over; it was fun, a great experience and the TV people are really lovely but I wouldn’t choose to do it again. That was the second time, the first crew came down to see us in June at the start of the semi-finals … twice is enough for any camera shy wife who doesn’t like to scrutinize herself too closely.

Monday 15th September:

Location: London Event: Film day (Cooking for 8 Michelin starred chefs – they have 16 stars between them). They were Michel Roux jr.

Eric Chavot

Michael Caines

Shane Osborn

Helene Darozze

John Campbell

Tom Kitchin

Christopher is making the starter, scallops amongst lots of other lovely stuff; Andy is making the main course, rib of lamb etc. etc.; and Mat is making the pudding, Chocolate mousse etc. etc.

Mat phoned briefly at 5pm to say good night to the children. He’d escaped for half an hour because the chef’s didn’t feel he was under enough pressure, so they’d sent him out while they devised a plan to make life more difficult for him.

Mat’s having a wonderful time, he’s having a great masterclass.

The chef who’s looking after him and over his shoulder today, is Elisha Carter (, who was in the South-West heats of the Great British menu. Mat say’s he’s very cool and has been a really big help.

When the meal was served, the Michelin Starred Chefs all said good things, Mat received no criticism at all; they said they were amazed that such a large bloke could make something so delicate and precise. How wonderful !

As Trigger (production crew) was escorting the Chefs to their cars Eric Chavot was singing Mat’s praises to the other Chefs … brill … we love Eric !!!

Tuesday 16th September:

No filming on this day

Mat has a day off in London. He’s going to a Kiwi Coffee Shop for a ‘real’ cup of coffee, Fortnum & Masons food hall, a Japanese supermarket, a pro cook shop etc. etc. He’s relaxing and ruminating about the details of his final menu … which he’s submitting at the end of the day. He’s particularly interested in changing his pudding after the amazing things he learnt yesterday.

Thursday 18th September:

Location: Outside London Event: Film day (Copenhagen) / travel

Very early start … Mat flew to Copenhagen with the crew. He’s going to be working at Noma in Copenhagen, the 10th best restaurant in the world. Apparently, the restaurant is all about foraging, hooray! Chris went to France, Andy went to Spain, both at 3 Michelin Star restaurants which they worked in today. Mat is working at Noma tomorrow because Chef was in New York and has just arrived back. He’ll be doing lunch service and then preparing Chef’s signature dish for him to critique.

The crew with Mat are Ed (Director), Fiona (production), Mike (soundman who came to our house), Craig (Kiwi cameraman) and Suzi (Floor manager)

Mike, the soundman said that John and Greg judge purely on the food whether they like the contestant or not, and that he never knows who they are going to choose.

Ed asked Mat who he thought is going to win. Mat said he thought it was between Andy and himself . Both Andy and Mat have both had up-days and low-days, Scotland was an up-day for Mat, and Burghley was a low-day. Mat said he thought it would come down to the final menu; he’s going to do something quite different and really put himself on the line and if he executes it really well, he feels he may just win.

Friday 19th September:

Location: Outside London Event: Film day (Noma) / travel back to London

First, lunch service. Mat did really well; he was responsible for part of a dish and was working with a sous called James (who has worked for Rick Stein …). Chef (Renee, an incredibly charismatic man) and the sous in the kitchen, said that they were really surprised by Mat’s skill level and his natural ability to achieve results that even they had only managed after several practice attempts.

Then, it was time for Mat to make Chef’s signature dish. Having seen Mat’s abilities at cooking fish, Chef decided the dish was too simple, so he changed it to make it more of a challenge. The dish was all about presentation and precision in plating-up. Mat did it perfectly and Chef said he had no criticism at all; everyone was amazed by how well he did it. Afterwards, Mat spent some time discussing his food career plans with Chef.

Noma is in epitome of everything Mat could aspire to, a two Michelin starred Restaurant that produces local, seasonal, foraged, un-messed-with, exquisitely presented, delicious food. Today was probably the most important day of the competition so far for Mat, because it showed him just how far he can take his style of food.

I imagine that Andy also did extremely well at the Michelin star restaurant he was at in Spain, so it really is going to come down to that final menu.

The flight from Copenhagen landed at Stansted at 10pm, and then Mat drove home, arriving at 2am.

Saturday 20th September:

No filming on this day

Mat at home. We did the timed run-through of Mat’s final menu. It took 2 hours, 30 minutes, He’ll have just 2 hours on Tuesday, plus he’ll need to allow extra time for chats with John and Greg and the inevitable stress and confusion of the day. Having said that, the plates looked absolutely amazing! I wrote-up the overall method for the 3 courses, so we’ll see how much time we can save on tomorrow’s run-through.

We went to ‘Little Groves’, our local garden centre, to pick-up some edible plants to go with the main course. We bought Pineapple Sage (the flowers are incredibly sweet and scarlet red), Salad Burnet (the leaves are the most exotic shape), Cinammon Basil (the tiny flowers are pale lilac and very beautiful) and Lemon Thyme (with pale lilac flowers).

Sunday 21st September:

No filming on this day

Mat at home. We did the second run-through of Mat’s final menu. Everything came out beautifully. Mat’s really delighted with the final menu; he thinks that if he executes it perfectly on Tuesday, he’ll win; and he really wants to win. I hope he does.

This afternoon, Mat went to West Bay to pick-up some Spider Crabs for his final menu and the children and I went hunting for fresh, young nettles. Then we all sat around the table and enjoyed a roast lamb dinner together; it was like ‘The Last Supper’ before the MasterChef final, and Jack, our 5 year old, said “I think my Dad will win”. That may seem extreme (and I’m sure it will when I read this again in the future) but the competition has been going on for so long, it really has assumed biblical proportions in our minds.

Monday 22nd September:

Location: London (St. Pancras and Studio) Event: Film day

Mat left at 5am to ride up to London on his motor bike. He took the live Spider Crabs, herbs, flowers, nettles, wild garlic puree etc. for his final menu, all stuffed in his roll bag. After breakfast at Kings Cross, he went to St. Pancras Station for filming.

Mat then delivered his cargo of fresh ingredients to Beth so that she can take care of them until tomorrow’s Final Menu challenge.

This afternoon they were back in the studio doing an invention test. Andy made a Prawn bisque with a piece of filleted fish in the centre. Christopher made a Sweet potato ravioli with chicken wrapped in pancetta. Mat made Venison on wild mushrooms, with a tiny drizzle of a dark plum/raspberry sauce (to make the meat look glossy), sliced roasted baby beetroots, and a sprinkle of crushed roasted cob nut/roasted almonds (with salt, sugar, and slices of chilli).

John and Greg were very complimentary about all the contestants dishes, but they absolutely raved about Mats dish.

Tuesday 23rd September:

Location: London Event: Film Day (The Final Menu)

John and Greg were nice about Chris’ dishes but their hearts weren’t in it, Chris was really upset knowing he’d overcooked some of his food.

Andy made an Asian 3 course meal. A starter of Crab salad, followed by Duck with layers of things on it, and then a Mango icecream with coconut and passion fruit juice for pudding.

Mat cooked his dishes even better than he had over the weekend, but he’d used every last second doing it, blimey, how stressful. They were stunned by his presentation. John said the lavender mousse was like going back to his childhood, and Greg just couldn’t stop eating it. Mat stressed to John and Greg that he’d tried to make a menu that was original and not out of any cook book.

At 7:50pm Mat phoned, “I’m on camera … I’m holding a trophy!” I remember crying a lot, then he said “OK, I’ll talk to you later” and he was gone. There was a sudden deafening silence. “What did he say”, I said to myself. “He didn’t say he’d won did he? what did he say? Did he just phone or did I imagine that?” Then Jack came thundering downstairs, “Why did you scream Mum?” “Did I scream?” I said. Crumbs, I don’t remember screaming … he must have phoned then. Oh my god, HE WON!


  1. congratulations, You deserved to win. Unfortunately i was knocked out in the first round having made the mistake of not frying my garlic before stuffing my tenderloin but at least John thought it was the best looking dish in the room. I really enjoyed the whole experience though. Looking forward to you opening your restaurant as we are just up the road from you at Newton Popplefordand will definately book a table, kind regards Kate Smith

  2. I wondered what the bright red bits on the blackberries were!!! Now I know - Pineapple Sage flowers - nice one Mat! I love nibbling these when I'm tending stuff in my greenhouse. Basil flowers are amazing too and Rosemary flowers taste of ginger - but I expect you knew that.

    I wasn't sure this series of MC was going to live up to past year's cliffhangers, but in the end it definitely did - and the best cook won!

    Well done and good luck with your future plans.


  3. Hi - I just wanted to say congratulations - Mat thoroughly deserved to win and I was rooting for him all along! I wrote a tongue-in-cheek review of the final here:

    Good luck with your future - and I'll definitely be one of the first people at your restaurant!

    meemalee xxx

  4. Just wanted to offer my congratulations on your win. We have been getting this season of Master Chef pretty much live (I'm in Australia) and the day before the finals I stormed into our computer room and told my husband and daughter to keep their fingers crossed for you (I'm such a dork sometimes, but I tell my husband it's like him wanting his team to win at the football). I've recorded the final episode and just now watching the final round of three courses. I had to know who won, it was driving me crazy, so I cheated and googled the answer! I was so hoping it would be you.

    Good luck in the future and I hope you get your restaurant off the ground.

  5. Fantastic blogpost! I've always wondered about the behind-the-scenes stuff that goes on. they're always so coy, talking about what contestants cooked 'yesterday' when it's obvious that there has been a quantum leap in quality between one filming day and the next ;-)

    Congratulations again, keep up the good work!

  6. Enjoyed reading your blog Mat , got a few tips for mine too.I`ve just started my own blog , basically its somewhere to put a few recipes , photos and restaurant pics....bloody hard work though , so im open minded at the moment how often to work on it.
    Take care n cheers

  7. My friend Jane Parker & I Maggie Taylor ate at the Cafe on Saturday 22.01.11, and I have to say the food was superb as was the service, I & Jane would definately go again shame it's an hour away from where we live (Stourhead)but it was worth the trip.

  8. Nice reading, love your blog Matt. Congrats to your win!

  9. great article an interesting read thanks