Christian Day: My MasterChef experience and cooking during lockdown – BBC Sport

As the coronavirus pandemic puts much of the world into lockdown, people around the globe have had their lives turned upside down.

Sports stars, current and former, have also been forced to deal with a situation that has left them without sport to play and their commitments put on pause.

In the next part of our ‘In isolation with…’ series, Christian Day – former Northampton Saints lock and rugby player liaison officer for the Rugby Players’ Association – talks about his love of cooking, his recent stint on MasterChef, and also gives us his “Dish of the Day”.

Going on MasterChef is something I always wanted to do and I could never do it while playing. You can’t really book a week or two off during the season.

My playing career finished, it was the summer and an advert to apply to go on the show popped up on my Twitter feed.

After four or five interviews, I got through and off we went.

I was pretty unfazed when I started the process on MasterChef, as being a professional rugby player, I’d played in front of television cameras a lot during my career.

The producers in my interview asked me what I would feel like if I got sent home during the process and, as a sportsman, I just said ‘well I’ll go home then!’

During my career I was used to losing just as much as I was just to winning and this was no different.

It was tough. It was five weeks of hell, really. They make it stressful and the days are long. There’s a lot of sitting around and waiting while filming takes place.

However, it would be a bit boring if you just go into the kitchen and cook up some lasagnes and it all goes fine.

The physical demands of cooking are a bit different from playing, but mentally it’s a tough environment.

It’s difficult to describe. In a television studio you’ve got the cameras rammed in your face, which changed the pressure, but working to a timescale is different.

If you did it at home and messed it up you’d be like ‘oh I’ve messed it up’ or you’d do it again and say it would come in half an hour.

But in a professional kitchen you know you’re putting your job on the line every time you put stuff out and if you put bad stuff out too many times, you’re out of a job.

Rugby is a bit like that. You perform each weekend and if you perform poorly too many times, you won’t get a new contract.

They ramp up the pressure and do some pretty weird things, but overall it was really enjoyable and I met a really nice group of people so it was good fun.

Sport opens up opportunities you might not always get so I did get to meet some chefs along the way.

Christian Day (back row, second from left) reached the semi-final of the most recent series of MasterChef

I’d always had a big interest in cooking but doing it on the television is a bit different.

In all, I cooked 12 times on the show and eventually reached the semi-final.

I knew exactly what I needed to do with my dish to reach the final but, for whatever reason, it just didn’t happen.

I stuck it up there and I felt it was a bit harsh that I went home that day, but you’ve just got to smile and walk out the room.

Since I stopped playing rugby, one thing that has changed in my life is that these days I don’t consume quite so many calories.

When I was playing I would have a cooked breakfast, cooked lunch and cooked dinner, whereas these days I snack more.

I’ve gone from consuming 5,000 to 6,000 calories a day to about 3,000.

During the lockdown, we’ve been quite fortunate in our area. We live in Northamptonshire, which is the bread basket of England and, luckily enough, the shelves in the supermarket have been quite well stocked.

One thing that we’ve seen has been in short supply around the country is flour, which is a shame as I like doing a fair amount of baking.

If you aren’t much of a cook, something basic you can start with is to cook bolognese.

It’s a versatile dish that you can expand to other areas. You start by chopping vegetables and using them as the base in a tomato sauce and then you effectively braise a cheap cut of meat – mince – in that sauce.

From there you can master a Sunday roast or gravy because it’s the same steps that you take.

Christian’s Dish of the Day

Stuck at home and need a recipe that suits some of the beautiful weather we have had in Britain of late?

Christian has you covered with this dish of the day – BBQ steak with a chimichurri sauce, served with roasted rosemary and garlic new potatoes and a feta, watermelon, mint and black olive salad.

For the steak…

  • I always prefer to buy ribeye – the extra fat makes it extra tasty and it is more suited to a barbecue, I feel.
  • Firstly, get it out of the fridge an hour before you cook, otherwise it is practically impossible to get it pink with a nice seared exterior.
  • Salt it heavily with fine table salt. If it is a standard supermarket steak then sear for 90-120 seconds on each side. Turn only once.
  • Once it’s had roughly four minutes on the barbecue, put the steak onto a board with a lip and let it rest for at least five minutes.

For the chimichurri…

  • Use a knife rather than a blender as it produces the correct consistency.
  • Take a handful of parsley (a standard supermarket fresh bag will do), grip it by the leaves and twist off the bottom half (the stalks). Do the same to half a packet of coriander.
  • Chop the leaves coarsely.
  • In a bowl, place about eight tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil with two tablespoons of red wine vinegar, a finely diced garlic clove (or a teaspoon of garlic paste) and a teaspoon of dried chilli flakes. You can omit the flakes if you don’t like chilli heat.
  • Add the leaves and stir – the sauce should be fluid in consistency, not too thick. You can adjust with more oil or vinegar if necessary.
  • Leave to infuse for at least half an hour.

For the potatoes…

  • Get a bag of new potatoes, or mini potatoes, and halve any larger ones.
  • Put them in a roasting tin with a good glug of oil, three smashed garlic cloves (bash them with the flat of your knife – leave the skins on), salt, pepper and a small handful of fresh rosemary.
  • Toss the contents of the tin around and then roast in a 200C oven for 45 minutes. Give them a shake every now and then and check that they aren’t catching on the tin.

For the salad…

  • Cube the feta and fresh watermelon to equal bitesize chunks – something similar to the size of a grape.
  • Slice a handful of black olives, chop a small handful of mint.
  • Mix the ingredients gently in a bowl. Add a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil and a teaspoon of red wine vinegar. Season with salt and pepper.

To serve…

  • Slice the rested steak into centimetre-thick slices and sprinkle on a touch more salt and ground black pepper. Spoon over the chimichurri sauce. Place the potatoes and salad on the side.
  • Enjoy with a cold beer in the garden!

Christian Day was talking to BBC Sport’s Jay Freeman.

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