Did Stuart Heritage keep it together when he cooked crumble for his longtime crush on her new TV show The Taste?
Things are not going to plan. After harbouring an intergalactically huge crush on her for longer than I care to remember, I'm now sitting in the same room as Nigella Lawson. This would be the greatest moment of my life, except she's sitting next to a surly Frenchman, and I'm pretty sure he hates me.
Nigella and the Frenchman – a chef called Ludo Lefebvre – are, along with Anthony Bourdain, the judges on Channel 4's upcoming new cookery competition The Taste. Already a moderate success in America, The Taste is best summarised as one part MasterChef to one part The Voice. Contestants cook dishes, and are judged on a single spoonful. Eventually, presumably, someone wins something.
Reading on mobile? Click to view
I'm here on a press day, seeing how the format works by trying it out for myself. These things are usually enjoyably zero-stake affairs, where nobody tries because nobody wins. But this time, the stress of meeting Nigella – not to mention the angry Frenchman – means I'm cacking myself. And that means I've started babbling.
"Why are you staring at me?" I gibber at Ludo. "You're very intimidating. Has anyone ever told you how intimidating you are? Why aren't you blinking? Do you have a condition? I like your tattoos. Where did you …" Ludo cuts me off by silently pointing at his temple. This means he's either thinking or that he wants me dead. It's hard to tell.
I've made them an apple and loganberry crumble and custard. As they are visitors to this country, I wanted Bourdain and Lefebvre to try something traditionally British. Also, the recipe is quite easy and I only had 45 minutes. The cooking itself was quite stressful – the counter was too small, the scales and timer didn't work, I hadn't worked out how to get any of it on to the poxy spoons – but it was nothing compared to the judging.
My heart beating in my chest, I sat down in front of Nigella, Ludo and Anthony. They stared at my slate, splodged with dodgy custard and molten fruit. They put the spoons into their mouths. And then …
And then they were quite nice, actually. Nigella, repaying my years of infatuation, was the first to compliment my crumble. Bourdain – who, for all his famed edge, has basically softened and aged into Elliott Gould – told me that he didn't like puddings, but that he'd happily eat mine in a restaurant.
And then Ludo. I have a feeling that Ludo will be the breakout star of The Taste, given that he is singularly the most intimidating man who has ever walked the face of the Earth. He'd only eaten half of the crumble. But after a moment's contemplation, he nodded and ate the rest. He asked if it was my own recipe, then displayed aggressive disbelief when I told him it was. He complimented the state of my custard. "Do you want more of it? I made loads. I can go and get some for you if you want. I can put it in a glass. Would you like a glass of custard?" I babbled. Apparently, Ludo did not want a glass of custard.
Nigella explained the show's format. Like The Voice, she explained that the judges are also mentors. If only one of them liked your food, they would become your mentor. If two liked your spoon, they would duke it out to mentor you. Nigella explained that I'd found myself in a threeway. "If this was the real show, we'd now have to convince you to join us."
"Do it!" I bellowed. "Fight for me!" So they did. Bourdain, polishing up a monologue he'd clearly used before, leaned across the table and told me he could see into my soul. Nigella declared herself to be a champion of good food like mine. Ludo muttered something indecipherable. With a predictability that sickened even myself, I chose Nigella. "We could make such beautiful food together," she cooed. I turned bright red, shouted "Fhrhrfhrhfrh" at her and ran away like a bloody schoolboy.
So The Taste, then. If my experience is any indication, it's just like MasterChef, except you get to spectacularly blow it with people you fancy.
Stuart's apple and loganberry crumble and custard
For the filling
300g braeburn apples
30g unsalted butter
30g golden caster sugar
Half a lemon, juiced
1 tsp vanilla paste
1 tsp cinnamon
For the crumble
120g plain flour
60g unsalted butter, softened
60g demerara sugar
For the custard
150ml whole milk
150ml double cream
1 tsp vanilla paste
2 egg yolks
25g caster sugar
Heat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6.
Peel, core and chop the apples. Melt the butter and sugar in a saucepan until it just starts to form a caramel. Add the apples and cook until they begin to break down. Add the loganberries, lemon juice, vanilla and cinnamon. Cook for another five minutes, pour into ovenproof dish, then set aside.
Mix the flour and butter with your fingers until they resemble breadcrumbs. Add the sugar, mix it together, sprinkle it on top of the filling and then bake for 20 minutes.
Pour the milk, cream and vanilla into a saucepan and heat until simmering. Remove from the heat.
Mix the egg yolks and sugar with an electric whisk. Slowly pour the hot milk mixture over the egg and whisk hard. Return to the saucepan. Heat gently, stirring, until it thickens.
• The Taste begins on 7 January on Channel 4.