Meet Michaela – Little Miss MasterChef
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INTERVIEW

Meet Michaela – Little Miss MasterChef

You may have missed her on MasterChef, but domestic goddess Michaela Jay is still queen of her own kitchen (and you can watch on catch up)

Louisa Walters is Features Editor at the Jewish News and specialises in food and travel writing

Her mum runs a cupcake business, her boyfriend works for Just Eat, her sister works for Gousto. Couple all this with regular family Friday night dinners and her own cooking hobby and it’s safe to say that food plays a pivotal role in Michaela Jay’s life. The 27-year-old insights client director from Whetstone made it through to the quarterfinals on MasterChef before divided opinion on one of her dishes led to her having to hang up her apron.

Despite being laid low with Covid, Michaela was full of enthusiasm for her MasterChef experience when I chatted to her earlier this week. “I loved my time on the show. I’ve always had an interest in food – my mum is a really good cook and I would often help her at home. I moved out nearly three years ago and when we went into lockdown my cooking really took off. I was working from home and instead of going from my desk to my sofa with a takeaway every evening I went into the kitchen and challenged myself to learn new techniques such as baking my own bread making pasta from scratch. I have lots of cookbooks, but I tend to use them just for inspiration and then create my own recipes.

“I’m a huge fan of cookery shows on tv. At the end of last year’s series of MasterChef there was an onscreen prompt to apply for the next series and I just thought – why not? I got through the application round and then the interview stage and then I was invited to cook for a judgement team. I made pan fried duck breast with one large muti-layered potato chip, honey and black pepper roasted carrots and beef and red wine jus, topped with a sprinkling of lemon thyme. I practised it so many times at home to perfect it and it was good enough to earn me a place.”

Michaela likes to keep things simple when she cooks. “I like to cook what I like to eat – I’ve never been into fussy dishes with lots of components. For me it’s about good food cooked well and going big on flavour.” Her first dish on the show was prawn tortellini. She laughs when I point out that this was a rather interesting choice for a Jewish girl to cook live on tv. “Everyone said this! Even my grandma called to say she noticed the edit went from me saying I was Jewish to the voiceover saying I was cooking prawns. But I didn’t even think about it – it’s a dish I knew I could do well and I knew would impress the judges, which it did.”

One of the briefs was to create a dish that was interactive and playful. Michaela enjoyed having the opportunity to be creative and the fun side of her personality shone through as she produced a sweet dish that looked savoury – ‘sausage roll’ (apple pie) and ‘chips’ (shortbread fingers) with ‘ketchup’ (raspberry sauce), ‘mayonnaise’ (custard) and ‘coleslaw’ (thin apple sticks in thick cream). Evening Standard restaurant critic Jimi Famurewa was brought in to judge this round. “It was surreal watching all these experts eat my food! I loved cooking for Jimmy – he immediately put us all at ease and I really valued his opinions. John was always very to the point about the actual dish whereas Gregg would remember things he’d seen when walking around while we were cooking.”

Michaela and the other quarter finalists

The crunch came in the quarter finals when it was time to cook for three previous MasterChef winners. Despite a superb chocolate fondant, opinions were divided on her steak with parsnip puree and parsnip crisps, with Gregg announcing that it was undercooked and other judges saying that the dish needed a sauce.

Michaela was realistic about the judges’ decision. “I am relatively young and inexperienced, and I knew I was up against some amazing cooks. Some of the smells in that kitchen were amazing but I never got to taste anyone else’s food – I barely had time to taste my own! I was genuinely happy for those who got through to the semis. Of course, I’d love to have gone further but I am so proud of getting to the quarter final. Had I stayed in longer I would likely have progressed to dishes showing more technical expertise and I might have showcased some middle eastern flavours to reflect my Jewish heritage.”

Even when the pressure was on Michaela appeared unflustered. “I was surprised at how calm I was, but when I’m cooking, I’m in the zone and I forget about everything around me. It was a huge pressure to get the dishes plated up in time, especially as even though I had practised each dish I didn’t factor in having John and Gregg coming over to chat to me. When I cook at home I don’t like to be interrupted so this was a challenge! They only show few seconds but in reality these ‘chats’ can go on for five minutes and when you only have just over an hour that’s a big chunk out of it!”

Michaela has her own Instagram page (@xoxo_greedygirl) where she posts videos and recipes of dishes she has cooked. “I love it when people say they’ve followed my recipes. Food is such a big part of my life and while I don’t see myself opening a restaurant, I have considered perhaps doing something in a catering capacity – possibly with my mum.”

Michaela’s personal ‘MasterChef’ is Marcus Wareing but she also admires Instagram chefs such as Thomas Straker and Thom Bateman, who are doing dishes and recipes that are more accessible. “Even when I eat out I like to keep it simple. A memorable dish for me was mushrooms on toast at Social Eating House. I was blown away by the complexity of flavours in such a simple sounding dish – this is my kind of cooking.”

 

You can catch up on Michaela’s MasterChef episodes now on BBC iPlayer.

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