THE great March MasterChef cook-off has begun!
Friday evening at the Lundin Links Hotel saw the first of two cookery competitions inspired by the hugely popular BBC television series.
After the historic hotel launched a search for local non-professional culinary enthusiasts who felt they could stand the heat, the contest began in earnest.
Entrants had to prepare a three-course menu, to be cooked in the hotel kitchen and served to a panel of judges.
The main prize, in addition to the title of Amateur MasterChef of Lundin Links, is a free night’s stay for two at the Wheatsheaf Hotel and Restaurant in the Borders.
With the ‘MasterChef’ series and its variations on television so frequently, and many other food programmes filling the schedules, the contest was designed as a bit of fun to let people come in and cook, said hotel owner Martin White .
Medical worker Jacalyn Moffat, from Leven, was first to step up to the plate, cooking a meal on Friday for a quartet of judges.
The four - Martin White, with hotel general manager Craig Hill, East Fife Mail community reporter Ralph Mellon and Fife Free Press Group photographer Walter Neilson - individually marked each course out of 10, while Jacalyn also prepared a helping for a non-scoring guest, Marjory Moffat (no relation) of Lower Largo.
Jacalyn (34) was also marked out of 20 by Lundin Links head chef Jeanette Adam on preparation, calmness under pressure, timing, how well she knew the ingredients, maintaining good organisation, and co-operating with the head chef and waiting staff.
Self-taught Jacalyn - whose other main hobby is skiing - set herself an additional challenge by selecting a menu she had never prepared before.
Ingredients were both seasonal and local, and her starter was east coast scallop resting on caramelised apple and Simpson of Leven black pudding, and a mango puree accompanied by a pea and Arbroath smokie mousse and beetroot puree.
The main course was a rack of ‘seriously good’ venison sitting atop Ardross potato and white truffle mash, surrounded by a bramble and chambord jus and cauliflower puree, accompanied by a wee Ardross carrot, baby leek and honey parcel, and purple sprouting broccoli, finished with a spiced beetroot jelly.
Her dessert comprised deconstructed rhubarb and apple crumble, with bitter chocolate, and warm, salted caramel cream.
Afterwards, Jacalyn admitted to a bout of nerves but hoped it had gone OK – adding it would mean a great deal to her to win the prize, as she realised how much she had put herself through to make a good impression.
The judges complemented Jacalyn on doing very well with an untested menu, and coping with the pressure - even though it was for fun, there was a certain amount at stake, cooking for people she did not know in an unfamiliar kitchen.
“I thought I had prepared everything fine and on the button, but once I got here, the time went very quickly,” she said. “There were so many fiddly things, with no one to help me.
“I thought the food was all right, although a couple of things didn’t really work - it was just a bit of the unknown.
“You have to have nine hands that are asbestos so they don’t burn.”
Jacalyn, a big fan of all the TV cookery programmes, admitted she “quite liked being scared” by choosing an untried menu.
She told the hotel bosses: “I think it’s great that you guys are doing this, and it’s obviously a prestigous hotel in the area.”
The judges’ marks were collected in secret and the second finalist, Christopher Taylor, from St Monans, will be serving up his creations on March 15, with the overall winner due to be announced during the following week.