Press Releases 2016

UWTSD Professor reaches MasterChef Quarter Final


Caerwyn Ash, an Associate Professor of Medical Devices​ at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David (UWTSD) competed in this year’s BBC MasterChef competition, reaching the quarter final stages. Here, Caerwyn shares his experience of the competition:

“As a die-hard MasterChef fan, I have often had fleeting thoughts about entering the competition, but it took a dinner party with friends and family in 2015 to persuade me. I knew I could make tasty food, but I was never fantastic at presenting it like they did on MasterChef.  I have never been trained to cook, but I am instinctive about what I make and the taste combinations I put together.

Many people ask me where my cooking influences come from. Having had many opportunities to travel, both growing up and with my career, I developed a love of interesting and classic tastes, particularly from living in Paris. After work most days I find my kitchen a very relaxing and creative space where I can unwind.

My experience as a contestant on MasterChef was very different from what I expected as a viewer. The show was recorded many months ago, I had to swear my supervisor to secrecy about my involvement, and away I went to the studio in London over a weekend.

For my first task, I was given just 75 minutes to impress Gregg and John with a calling card, a practiced dish that represented me. I cooked pan fried cod in laverbread butter on wasabi & soy mash potato with cockle volute with Pernod and garlic prawns. One by one, we took our dishes up to be assessed. The wait as Greg and John sniffed, prodded and interrogated the plate was agonising. After tasting my dish and those of the other contestants, John and Gregg, without telling each other, each pick their favourite dish. I think I dodged a bullet by going straight through.

For the second challenge I had to cook a two course meal for 2015 finalists Emma Spitzer and Tony Rodd and 2015 champion Simon Wood. This was a surreal experience and I enjoyed every second. In the preparation for the menus I wanted to push an idea of a flavoured rice pudding in a tea cup with vanilla biscuits and chocolate ganache sugar cubes. After work I read 35 recipes for rice pudding and tried 6 of them before deducing my own ratio of ingredients. I then tried and tested and made a few tweaks before finding the right ratio to cook in exactly 75 minutes on a low heat.

Chocolate ganache takes about 2 hours to set, but I had only 75 minutes. Over early morning coffee with UWTSD PhD student Matthew Bellis, we had an idea to design and make a mould out of aluminium, to accelerate the cooling process. After a few minutes with lots of sketching on whiteboards, we had an idea. Matthew graphically inputted the idea into a computer and produced the mould out of a scrap block of aluminium with the help of David Cooper and Graham Howe from the School of Engineering. With a lot of excitement we tested out the mould that evening to the delight of success.

The dessert worked well, with Simon Wood and Emma Spitzer specifically noting the consistency of the chocolate ganache sugar cubes. Greg saying it was one of his all-time favourite desserts will be forever a highlight of my appearance.

As a fan of MasterChef, I am very used to hearing Gregg Wallace utter the immortal words with which he starts each episode: “Cooking doesn’t get tougher than this!” This is true, the pressure of cooking in a strange environment with unfamiliar equipment was surreal.

I learnt valuable lessons from this experience. You cannot practice enough and always research a project thoroughly. At the very least I can say I’m a MasterChef quarterfinalist.”

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  2. Image: BBC