JOSH Clearihan, who suffered a life-threatening brain injury fourteen months ago, has been eliminated from MasterChef Australia.
The 32-year-old IT administrator, from Victoria, was sent packing after a losing a sudden-death cook-off against Michelle Lukman, Jess Butler and Benjamin Bullock.
The four contestants had 60 minutes to cook whatever they liked as long as potato was the hero of the dish.
Clearihan decided to make a classic gnocchi with tomato and speck sauce. His first mistake was attempting to boil his potatoes whole.
Clearihan finally cut the potatoes in half but they still didn’t boil properly. When he put them through the ricer it was obvious there were texture issues.
Judges Matt Preston, George Calombaris and Gary Mehigan deemed the gnocchi lumpy and sent Clearihan packing.
It was a devastating blow for Clearihan who still is recovering from an incident on the eve of making the judges’ auditions (Top 50) for the 2016 series of the Channel 10 cooking show.
Clearihan was dining at a restaurant in the Melbourne bayside suburb of Port Melbourne in late 2015 when a teenager, later revealed to be high on ice, attempted to steal his car.
When Clearihan gave chase, hanging on to the passenger door, the car reversed, knocking him into a pole. Unconscious, he fell and hit his head on the pavement.
Clearihan spent seven weeks in Melbourne’s Epworth Hospital Brain Rehabilitation Unit. He lost his sense of smell and had to learn to talk again.
But Clearihan refused to blame his early exit from MasterChef Australia on the near-death experience.
“It was pressure on the day,” Clearihan said. “I don’t think the mistakes had anything to do with the injury.
“Of course there was disappointment. It is impossible not to compare yourself to how you would have done before the injury.
“Multi-tasking has been an ongoing issue since the accident. I’ll have an idea and then I’ll forget it 30 seconds later.
“I’ve made gnocchi 50 times in the past. It hurt a lot that I failed on that but getting into the competition after the brain injury felt like a massive achievement.”
The night started with eleven contestants, including Clearihan, being tasked with a potato challenge with 60 minutes to plate up the perfect hot chips with dipping sauce.
Clearihan chose to coat his chips in butter instead of oil. But he used too much which made the chips soggy. A decision to oven bake the chips compounded the problem.
With ten minutes to go, he put them in the deep fryer to try and make them crispy but it was too late.
“With the chips I was re-creating what I do every single weekend,” Clearihan said. “I’ve made this mistake at home before where I put too much butter in initially to coat them and it doesn’t crisp up. I can’t believe I made the same fault in the MasterChef kitchen.”
Lukman, Butler and Bullock were also sent to sudden death because of soggy chips.
In round two, Butler chose to make a dessert of potato dumplings with burnt chocolate ganache and balsamic jelly.
Luckman showcased her Indonesian heritage with a vegetable curry. Preston described the dish as “a warm fuzzy bowl of Indonesian love”.
Bullock had less success with his sweet potato doughnuts. Preston’s was soggy in the middle. Fortunately, Mehigan’s and Calombaris’ were fine and the judges loved the presentation, lemon curd and chantilly cream.
That put Clearihan in the firing line.
“Josh, we loved that sauce of tomato, garlic and smoky bacon … but you undercooked your potatoes and we could taste that your gnocchi were lumpy,” Mehigan said.
Clearihan hasn’t given up on his food dream.
“I have a long-term goal of opening a wine and coffee bar and I’ve been working towards that (since the elimination),” Clearihan said.
“I definitely should have waited another year (to audition for MasterChef Australia) but I can only say that in hindsight. Nothing was going to stop me getting back and giving it a go.”
Originally published as ‘It was pressure on the day’