MasterChef contestant Simon Toohey didn't watch the episode where he forgot to feed 12 guests during a team challenge at the Leeuwin Estate Safari Club in Margaret River. Thinking everyone had been fed his team found 12 plates still warming in the oven and, without enough food left, he had to pull together a dish with the leftovers.
"That hurt," he said. "Big time."
He can laugh about it now, he says. If there's one thing that being under the pump in the MasterChef kitchen has taught him, it's not to beat himself up when things go bad. Because for this talented cook, things went right most of the time.
Toohey is still there, going into final's week, part of the final five alongside Tim Bone, Tessa Boersma, Larissa Takchi and Nicole Scott.
Toohey says it's been an interesting process to watch it all again now they're out of the house.
"Its had its good moments and its bad, I'm not going to lie. There were times when I closed my eyes and I definitely missed an episode or two.
"Someone asked me the other day if it was all real and it is. Everything you see is pretty much what happens.
"It's a beautiful environment, the people are kind to each other, the feedback is constructive and positive, everyone looks after each other because we know we're in the same boat and it's a very stressful time."
Toohey is as affable in person as he appears on the show. Growing up in Canberra, attending Canberra Grammar School, he can't wait to get back for a visit. He's asking about new restaurants, talking about how great the food scene in Canberra, naming his favourite restaurants.
"I used to work at Parlour Wine Room, I love their food, 86 is great, Chairman and Yip, and you would always find me at Tilley's on a Sunday afternoon."
His first job out of school was at the legendary Filthy's.
"I loved that place. It was just so much fun," he said. He studied hospitality management at CIT and tourism management at the University of Canberra. He lived in Byron Bay for several years, lived and worked in London and now calls Melbourne home.
When someone with the global standing of Massimo Bottura comes in and says let's feed the poor, let's stop wasting food, it was just the most incredible moment.Simon Toohey
He still can't quite believe he's been on MasterChef.
"It was the most intense experience and I can't believe it's over.
"Even under the worst pressure you just had to stop and turn around the nerves into positive energy and smile and think how lucky you were because it's something I will never be able to do it again, get back into the MasterChef kitchen as a contestant."
One of my favourite cooks, I tell him, was the train challenge where teams of two had to prepare dishes on the station platform and then serve them on the train. Toohey was paired with Derek Lau and it looked as though they were having way to much fun.
"We really laughed the whole way through that cook and although we didn't win, we got to the end and said that was one of the best cooks we ever had. It was so much fun.
"I hadn't been doing great in team challenges so being able to come off the back of that with a positive made me feel good about what was to come.
"Derek and I were roommates as well, we had a similar sense of humour, we didn't take things too seriously."
Toohey promises "hand on heart", he says, that there were never any issues inside the house. Indeed that some of the best moments were the house dinners cooked by the contestants.
"There was good food every night, there were five bedrooms and each night a different room would cook. Because of the mix of people we'd be getting all sorts of things. Tati would be cooking the most beautiful Indonesian food, Dee would be making Sri Lankan, Yossra and Walleed were cooking these beautiful Middle Eastern slow-braised stews, it was just awesome.
"House dinners came back to thinking about what do I feel like eating today, it wasn't if I have to cook with this ingredient therefore ... sometimes after a big week of intense creating and brainwork all you want is something beautiful and hearty where you could just sit down and relax."
He also enjoyed meeting two of his idols, Rick Stein and Nigella Lawson.
"I've been a massive fan of Rick Stein since I was young. I've watched everything of his, I have all his books, follow his style. He has this beautiful thing with food in his shows, he doesn't sit back and cook a dish because he likes the dish, he goes to a country, talks about why that food is important, talks to the locals about why the food is important to their culture and history and when he finds that out he can create a dish with the utmost respect. I love how he wholly immerses himself in a culture before he creates the cuisine."
He admits to having a fanboy moment when Lawson visited the kitchen.
"I was there and cooking and I'm thinking is Nigella really talking to me. She is a powerful woman, an amazing feminist, she took no shit from the judges, she didn't put up with George, Gary and Matt's boys humour. She gets stuff done, she works hard, she knows what she's good at. People have this perception of her from when she first started, they perceived her as this sexually attractive woman cooking on television but it was never about that."
But his absolute highlight was the night with Massimo Bottura where it was all about food wastage.
"When someone of that global standing comes in and says let's feed the poor, let's stop wasting food, it was just incredible.
"My future will be driving that message, I want to become an advocate for minimising food waste. I want to look at sustainability of food in Australia and the culture of food in Australia, not at where we've gone wrong but what we're doing right."
He's passionate about producers, businesses who are looking at new ways to do things, urban beekeepers, people growing rooftop gardens, farmers looking to rewild their land to focus on quality not quantity.
And he says it needs to start at home.
I question him about what seems like a lot of food wastage on MasterChef, a whole fish cut up for one fillet, a bag of spice opened for one teaspoon.
"A lot of people don't know but the majority of the food goes to Second Bite [a leading national food rescue organisation which works with food suppliers and redistributes it to local charities]. Anything that's been opened, oils, spices, sauces, fruit and vegetables, proteins which have refrigerated and looked after and they use it to feed the homeless." What can't be rescued is composted on site and put back into the garden.
"If a big operation like MasterChef can do it there is no reason why everyone can't do it at home."
Perhaps it's somewhat ironic then that one of Toohey's worst MasterChef moments was saved by making a meal out of leftovers.
MasterChef Australia is on 10 and WIN Network, Sunday to Tuesday, at 7.30pm.
Cauliflower Three Ways
2 cauliflower, cut into florets, inner leaves reserved
200ml Champagne vinegar
200g caster sugar
20g dried chamomile flowers
100g Parmesan, grated
3 eggs, lightly beaten
25g thickened cream
reserved cauliflower leaves
30ml olive oil
4 slices sourdough
6 sage leaves
6 sprigs thyme, leaves only
1 shallot thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, peeled, minced
Prepare a hibachi grill, BBQ or grill pan. Preheat oven to 180C.
For the pickled grilled cauliflower, bring a medium saucepan of water to the boil.
Place the vinegar and sugar into a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.
Add the chamomile and set aside to infuse for 5 minutes. Strain through a fine sieve into bowl. Add the smaller cauliflower florets and set aside for 10 minutes. Drain well, reserving the pickling liquid and set aside.
Place the medium florets into boiling water and refresh in cold water. Drain well to serve.
Place the larger florets onto the grill and cook until tender and charred. Remove from the heat and set aside.
For the parmesan custard, place the parmesan into a small food processor blend until smooth. Add the eggs and cream and blend until just combined.
Place into a small saucepan and stir over the low heat until mixture reaches 70C.
Remove from the heat, season with salt and pass through a fine sieve. Transfer to a piping bag and set aside in the fridge.
For the roasted leaves, toss ingredients together on a small baking tray. Place into the oven and bake until golden, about 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside.
For the sage breadcrumb, place the bread onto a baking tray and toast in the oven until dry and crisp, about 15 minutes. Break into shards and place into a food processor and pulse to a fine crumb. Set aside.
Place the butter in a large frypan and melt over low heat. Add the remaining ingredients along with the crumbs and cook, stirring, until golden and crisp. Remove from the heat and set aside.
To serve, arrange the cauliflower elements onto each serving plate. Pipe some parmesan custard onto the plates and sprinkle with the sage breadcrumb. Garnish with crispy cauliflower leaves and finish with a little reserved pickling liquid.
Pan-fried prawns with tarragon and parsley chermoula
Roasted and pickled carrots
8 baby carrots, peeled, leafy tops reserved
40ml olive oil
80g caster sugar
80ml white vinegar
40ml lemon juice
zest 1 lemon
100g reserved carrot tops, roughly chopped
50ml extra virgin olive oil
juice 1 lemon
20g parsely leaves
10g tarragon leaves
1 tsp cumin seeds, toasted
1 tsp coriander seeds, toasted
salt and pepper, to season
12 green extra large prawns, peeled, deveined
40g unsalted butter
thinly shaved fennel
nastirtium leaves and petals
Preheat oven to 180C.
For the roasted carrots, place 6 carrots into a small roasting dish and drizzle with oil. Roast in the oven for 30 minutes, until golden and tender. Remove from the oven and slice the carrots into rounds. Set aside.
For the pickled carrots, place the vinegar, sugar and 80ml water into a medium bowl and stir to combine. Using a vegetable peeler, slice strips from the remaining 2 carrots and place into the pickling liquid. Set aside for 20 minutes, drain and set aside.
For the labne, place ingredients into a medium bowl and mix gently to combine.
For the chermoula, place ingredients into a food processor and process to a coarse paste. Set aside in the fridge.
For the prawns, place the butter and oil into a large frypan. Season the prawns with salt and fry until golden and cooked through, about 2 minutes on each side.
To serve, place the labne into the base of each serving bowl. Top with the prawns, surround with some shaved fennel and roasted and pickled carrots. Drizzle with chermoula and garnish with capers, chive flowers and nasturtium leaves and petals.