What a very good climax to weeks of viewing. The Masterchef final was tonight, and now it's over. There's a winner. This is the annual BBC2 competition to discover a supremely good new chef of potential Michelin two-star standard. Forget Wembley and Wimbledon and the Olympic Games. This is the kind of contest I like to watch. Unusually there were three finalists - Ash Mair (age 34), Steve Barringer (25) and Claire Hutchings (22) - all of them so outstanding that they all went through. They were astonishingly accomplished. And all three were hungry (if not ravenous) for the title. But I was pleased to see how pleasant they were to each other. Nothing bitter about the keen rivalry, at least not on-screen.
I was intrigued how each put their personalities into a series of very daring, complex and clever dishes. How I wish that I too could be there with judges Michel Roux Junior and Gregg Wallace, sampling these delightful offerings. Alas, television can't give you flavours and aromas and textures!
You'd think, wouldn't you, that if I get this much of a kick out of food, that I must be a really good cook myself. I'm afraid not. OK, I can turn out a properly-prepared lunch or evening meal for just myself. And on occasions, I've cooked something tasty for two. But I baulk at cooking for six. I've never thrown a dinner-party for ordinary mortals, let alone anybody discerning. And yet I'd really like to cook as well as these three finalists; and it's a skill that I could develop in the years ahead, although I'm not at the age to embark on any kind of professional cooking. To achieve excellence in that you clearly need to be young. And driven.
It was hard not to identify with Ash, Steve and Claire. If not with their actual personalities, then with their approach. Although I was not surprised that Ash won, I was totally astonished with the innovation, flair and skills shown by the other two, and amazed that such finished dishes - delivered under pressure, remember - could be created by such young chefs. Even though they didn't win, surely Steve and Claire will now be launched on brilliant careers. I just hope that I can, very occasionally, treat myself to the kind of meals that they can create.
In case you thought I was putting myself down, here's a photographic selection of lunches and evening meals that I have prepared for myself during 2011. I'm not completely lazy when it comes to cooking. I like to avoid 'meals out of a packet' and I nearly always use fresh raw ingredients cooked from scratch. But I'm happy to open a tin of baked beans for just a midday snack. I like strong colour, and strong flavours. So if I add a blob of bright red tomato ketchup, or bright yellow mustard, it's mostly to add something colourful to the presentation - although why I bother is a mystery, because there's only me to care! I could so easily just dump the cooked food in one big pile onto the plate, with no attempt at arrangement. But I always make at least a minimum effort for my own satisfaction. Most of my evening meals take no more than 35 minutes to prepare, which is fast enough.
Breakfasts are lean and frugal. And I don't usually have a proper dessert - just an apple. Even so, you can see why I've put on weight over the months.