Things get catty in battle for home cooking glory
A knock on the door.
It was Simon Gault, the celebrity chef from the wildly popular MasterChef television programme.
He was here to judge the cook-off between my wife and me for the title of Domestic MasterChef. The cameras were already in place and we went to our kitchen bench.
"One of you is not going to win," he announced grandly, standing in front of us like a sentinel as we donned our pinnies.
"Are you sure you haven't been distracted by all the lovey-dovey romantic stuff that's been going on in your MasterChef home?" he asked, with a broad smile on his cherubic face. "You need to be 100 per cent focused on the cooking."
"As you know Simon, when you get to our age, it's all about the food, so no worries there for me," I said. My wife nodded.
"Righto, then. Let's get on with the challenge. Tonight I've got a very special challenge for you. You both have to cook an amazing main-course dish for me consisting of one of your pets and whatever is in your fridge. And I expect something inventive and delicious."
What a challenge! Not only was he testing our cooking abilities, but he was seeing how badly we wanted the title. After all, our pets are dearly loved members of our family.
We both ran to the fridge. I cleaned out the top shelf and had everything I needed for a gourmet dish: a little butter, some dried-up cheese, a bit of leftover sausage, half a can of corn and some desiccated tomato paste still in its original container.
My wife is a creative cook, but I wondered what she was going to do with a bit of curled-up salami, some leftover roast vegetables, the remnants of a jar of pesto and some boiled potatoes.
My wife quickly headed off to the chicken pen and I soon heard some squawking. She had the jump on me.
I needed something young, free-range, organic and with nicely marbled meat. I can assure you, Doris didn't feel a thing.
She had been a leisurely cat, so I didn't expect her to need a lot of cooking. I went for the traditional grilled cat dish, but with a little twist.
I butterflied Doris, rolled her in a mixture of fresh herbs and cooked her slowly on the barbecue, basting her periodically with a mixture of grated ginger, olive oil, garlic, oyster sauce and the tomato paste, revived with a bit of water. The smells were delicious.
Paula roasted her chicken, but I noticed she was making a special stuffing out of the chicken livers and her leftover salami. Goodness knows what she was doing with the pesto.
Time up and Paula was called to put her dish before Simon. He slowly cut a piece of breast meat off the carcass and added some stuffing to his fork, along with a bit of pureed potato.
He chewed, noncommittally. The suspense. He chewed some more.
"You've done it again, Paula. That is just delicious," he burst out finally. "I'm gobsmacked. That is so good. I'm putting it on the menu at my restaurant, which I will just mention the name of so I can get a bit of free advertising."
Now it was my turn. My dish looked sumptuous, with the cat presented on a bed of pearl couscous, with fresh greens and a cheesy corn sauce, thickened with the butter and sausage.
Simon went bananas over the look of the dish and tucked in.
"This is just flippin' sensational, Martin. The cat is perfectly cooked and your sauce is just right. It doesn't overpower the lovely cat flavour and you've worked a miracle with the sauce of sausage scraps and corn. I want a whole plate of this. Just great. Congratulations. Well done, mate."
Paula and I stood nervously beside each other to wait for the verdict. It was almost like getting married. "OK, Paula, do you think I should give the title to Martin?" the high chef asked.
She looked at me so the camera could catch the agony and then said: "I do not. I would enjoy seeing him squirm, Simon."
"What about you, Martin? Do you think Paula deserves to win?"
"No," I said. "My food was definitely superior and I deserve marks for the unconventional meat."
"Well, Martin, I think you have real flair and technically you are extremely good. What you did with the cat was unbelievable. Paula, your chicken was the work of a first- rate chef and really it breaks my heart to have to name a winner.
"But Paula, you just had that edge with the beautiful pesto- flavoured stuffing. Martin, that means you must leave the kitchen."
I fought back the tears. The camera was right in my face. "Thanks for the opportunity, Simon. It has been an honour to have you taste my cat."
I walked through the kitchen door not looking back. I felt unbelievably bad and not only about Doris.