Former JCR President Dan Kirkpatrick recently appeared on TV’s ‘Dinner Date’ programme, which challenges singletons to impress an eligible girl with a specially cooked feast. Here Dan talks us through his fifteen minutes of fame….
So at the start of this year I found myself single for the first time in a little while and, having always been one for “newer” ways of meeting people such as speed dating and internet dating perhaps it was always going to be likely that I might move on to a TV dating show. For anybody who hasn’t seen Dinner Date a quick summary would be – a single man or woman gets a choice of 5 menus (no photo or anything about the person) and has to pick 3 people to cook for them in their own homes and then this person picks their favourite to go for a meal with (whilst the other two get a ready meal for one at their door)
As to how I came to apply… I was browsing Twitter and saw that somebody I had followed had re-tweeted a request for anybody interested in appearing on Dinner Date in South Manchester to email. Now 99% of the time I’d probably have just ignored this but it caught me off guard, I thought it seemed a great idea and what were the chances that I’d ever hear anything?
Well, as things happen I heard from them within 24 hours! I was driving to a work meeting with a colleague in the car when a call came through from them asking for a good time to call me for a phone interview – bang went any hope of keeping it quiet in the office! The phone interview was arranged for that evening – 30 minutes of questions such as “Why am I single”, “Who is your dream Dinner Date”, “What are your hobbies” – nothing too testing fortunately. I must have said something right as a “screen test” had been booked in by the end of the call – I later found out that the screen test was primarily to check my home was suitable, although it did also involve the phone interview pretty much being repeated but this time in front of a camera.
Again, this screen test must have gone well as I got a call a couple of days later saying that I was going to be in the show and asking for my menu – now this is where I started to worry, as whilst I love food it’s normally eating out rather than cooking. In fact you could probably count on one hand the number of times I’d cooked a meal in the previous couple of years!
I knew one of my courses was going to be risotto but what I didn’t know is that my recipe would change a week before filming. I was down in London with work and decided to treat myself to a meal at Alyn Williams at The Westbury (Marcus Wareing’s ex Head Chef) and one of the courses on the tasting menu was the best risotto I’d had. After the meal the Maitre D’ came over and asked if I’d like to have a look at the kitchen – I took them up on this offer and even got speaking to Alyn himself who had been told I was going to be on the programme. He asked what I was cooking and when I said risotto and that the one I’d had that night was beautiful Alyn went and got an apron to put on me, took me to the stove (in the middle of a busy service) and showed me how to make his risotto – an amazing experience!
So that was my starter sorted and as a lover of steak my main course was pretty easy (especially as not huge amounts of cooking ability would be needed) but dessert was a much more difficult choice as I’d never made a dessert. Don’t ask me why but I decided to make Baked Alaska – a bit of a strange choice having never made sponge or meringue! This meant that my menu was to be as follows
- Saffron Risotto with Pancetta and Walnuts
- Steak and Homemade Chips with Rocket and Parmesan Salad
- Baked Alaska
A week after sending my menu over I got the call I was dreading/waiting for – the girl had chosen my menu and I was going to be cooking on TV! I had less than 2 weeks to get ready for it – these 2 weeks flew by, so much so that I didn’t get any chance to practice before the day. An elementary error if ever there was one…
So to the actual day – having hardly slept from nerves/excitement I was up at 9am touring Didsbury to pick up my ingredients. Fortunately I’d been organised the night before and written down everything that I needed (although did forget table decorations until that morning but my local florists put a gorgeous bouquet together at short notice). Having finishing shopping and unpacking (10.30am) I had a couple of hours before the film crew turned up, so this was used cleaning and tidying my flat, although a couple of workmates took great pleasure in pointing out I’d forgotten to clean the hob.
The film crew arrived early as we needed to film the action shot at the start of the programme- this involved me hitting a squash ball against a wall for almost an hour, so not only was I cooking for the first time in a long time but I was doing it with an aching arm! Straight after this they filmed my interview (a repeat of the questions at the start of the process) – one thing that came out from my interview was a love of ice cream, with my record of 13 flavours of ice cream in my freezer getting mentioned twice!
And then at about 3pm it was prep time for the cooking – as any budding chefs out there reading this may realise, I’d selected a menu that pretty much involved cooking when my date was here. I didn’t really think about this at the menu choice time but fortunately I’m in an open plan kitchen/diner so we could keep talking. The only prep I did was a practice round of meringues, the chopping and parboiling of my chips, the parcooking of my risotto rice and my first effort of baking. Embarrassingly, part of my sponge did burn and did stick to the tin (no greasing the tin) so during the programme they played “Stuck on You” in the background – the only other real embarrassment was me using butter straight from the fridge which, when mixing it, kept flying out of the bowl and hitting the cameraman!
So before I even knew what was happening my date was here (6.30pm) – the knock on the door came and it was one of just three times where we had to “re-film a scene”. The others were the “goodbye” and the placing of the plates on each table – it wasn’t because they’d gone wrong but because they needed the best angle. Gemma (my date) and I had 30 minutes of chat on my sofa, where she heaped the pressure on by saying my menu sounded the best and her mum made the best risotto ever so the challenge was on. The making of the risotto went well and was on the plates within 15 minutes and was all gone from both our sides within 5 minutes – mission 1 accomplished!
Up next was the main course – this was pretty simple in that it meant tossing some salad, putting a steak on a griddle pan (rare for me and medium for Gemma) and putting my homemade chips in the oven. Before I served up I asked Gemma to check her steak was cooked to her liking – it was (but on the programme she did say that this made it appear I wasn’t confident in my cooking… the steak was actually the one thing I was confident I’d cooked okay). Again an empty plate was left by both of us (although Gemma did leave her salad). Mission 2 accomplished!
And to the final challenge – Baked Alaska! She’d never had Baked Alaska so the good thing was that this would be the best one she’d ever had. The sponge was ready, the jam was spread on the sponge (although I’ve since made it from Nutella), the ice cream laid on top and, like an artist, I painted the meringue over it all leaving no gaps (or at least praying I hadn’t as any gaps would mean a melted Baked Alaska). After 15 minutes in the oven it was done – the only disaster I faced was the transition of it from the baking tray to the serving plate. Whilst it didn’t look particularly appetising, it tasted pretty good, so much so that it was the “course of the night” for Gemma and was again 2 empty plates. Mission 3 accomplished!
By now it was just shy of midnight so it was time to say our goodbyes – it’d been a long day but it had absolutely flown by. We said our goodbyes, did our final interviews and comments and I gave my star rating (2 out of 3) – at this point I was told that the final scene would be filmed at 10.30am the next morning.
Unlike the night before there were no difficulties sleeping – so much so that I slept straight through to my alarm and it was then time again to get ready for the cameras. The two possible outcomes for the final scene was either Gemma would be at my door asking me to go to a restaurant for a meal or there would be a ready meal for 1 waiting under a cloche with a mini bottle of wine and a rose – by now you’ll have seen the photo on this page so you’ll know what I had waiting for me!
If I’m honest I wasn’t too surprised – whilst we’d had a nice evening there was no chemistry (and the photo on this page was the most memorable possible from the whole experience). The only slightly weird thing was having to eat a Chicken Arribiata pasta bake (from M&S) and drink a glass of white wine at 10.30am. After all this I then had to go into work – a bit of a come down after 36 hours of excitement and enjoyment (if not a long way out of my comfort zone).
All in all if anybody has ever thought of doing anything like this I’d highly recommend it – who knows; you might see me on ‘Come Dine with Me’ next? Or perhaps even ‘Take Me Out’…
If anybody wants any of the recipes and / or to have the meal cooked for them by me just get in touch on email@example.com!