We met at the BBC Good Food Show. Between her various appearances I managed to tear myself away from munching samples to spend some time with her chatting about life after the show and what she's doing next. After a malfunctioning phone recorder and a gobble of strawberries as well as a lecture from Mummy Bites to all and sundry about not drinking enough water (it was very warm and she's a nurse don't you know), I got down to asking my questions.
Congratulation on winning MasterChef! It’s been quite a while since it was on our TVs
but must seem even longer since you were actually on the show. What have you been doing since?
I’ve been doing lots of ‘stages’, which is basically a posh word for work experience in some of the UK’s top restaurants. I’ve visited so far Michel Roux Jr, Marcus Wareing, Simon Rogan, Tom Kerridge, Nuno Mendes, Tom Kitchin…. And still have many more to get through. Also since the competition ended myself, Larkin and Dale have written “MasterChef: The Finalists” - our cookbook that will be out in October published by Absolute Press, part of Bloomsbury publishing.
When did you decide to apply to the show and how did you prep?
I applied five years running to get onto the show. My aunt Ellen made me apply every year as she said I wasting my life working in an office job I hated and she said I was good enough to work in a kitchen, so she kept making me apply every year until I got on the show.
What would be your one piece of advice for anyone thinking of applying to be on the show?
Practice Practice Practice. Always have a few recipes up your sleeve and know your basic sauces.
What is your earliest cooking memory?
Cooking fairy cakes with my Nan on a Sunday. My sister and myself used to do some baking as kids with her. She was the best cook ever!
Two of challenges you did on MasterChef were cooking en mass for the BA engineers canteen and then cooking in the very intimate family setting in Italy – which was the bigger challenge and why?
(EEEEK - queue major embarrassment and failure as an interviewer!)
I actually cooked for the firemen in that round… hehe! But both were big challenges. The mass catering was for 200 people and those firemen work hard every day to save lives. So I wanted to make sure they had a decent lunch. With Mamma Agata she taught us rustic Italian cooking in her beautiful home and I wanted to make sure I got her dish right as I wanted to show I had learnt lots that day in the kitchen with her and her daughter Chiara. It was two very different challenges.
You’re a woman after my own heart – pork belly and scotch eggs! Was it difficult to decide what to cook for your MasterChef final? I actually was going to cook a venison dish. However I had cooked so much game in previous rounds I changed it a few days before the final to a Pimped up Sunday Roast. Sunday roast is my fave dinner of all time and you can’t get more British than that. Looking back it’s a bit cheeky serving up a Sunday roast with a scotch egg to John and Gregg in the final. But it did the trick and made them smile.
I read recently that you’d been working with Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley? What were you doing there and is he as scary in real life as he appears on TV?
I have done a stage at the Berkeley and will be going to the Gilbert Scott in August for another stage. I didn’t see him as he was busy promoting his new book, but his Head Chef Mark and Sous Chef Shauna looked after me and I had a great time in their kitchen.
What do you find most challenging about working in a professional kitchen?Everything… Well not everything. Every kitchen is very different from another. So it’s getting used to the chef’s/kitchen’s way of doing things. You could prep veg in one way in one restaurant and completely different in another. Just like service too, - some are ‘tasting menus’, some are A La Carte. Kitchens are hard work, but I’m loving it as it pushes you to be a better cook.
Who would you rather be locked in a cupboard with? John or Gregg?
John definitely. Gregg would tell too many bad jokes, hehehe. John and me could have a food geek conversation!
What's the most memorable meal you've ever had?
I think when I ate at Viajante in January that was pretty memorable. After eating there it opened my eyes to the techniques they use in cooking. It’s very different to anything I’ve seen before and anything else in London. Nuno Mendes is a genius and does mad things with food. His desserts use a lot of savoury elements and he pairs ingredients you would never normally associate together like cucumber, mint and milk or carrots and caraway. Very clever, and very interesting. After that it went straight on my dream list of stages to do.
If you had to eat the same thing every day what would you choose?
I am terrible, as when I love something I tend to repeatedly eat it over and over again. I guess if I had all the money in the world I’d go to Viajante every day or maybe to Tom Kerridge’s, as the food is unbelievable. But if I was at home… Sunday roast as you can change the meat!
What is the most bizarre thing you've ever eaten?
I ate a live prawn once. When we were filming MasterChef, at my masterclass with Adam Byatt he had a crate of live prawns, like the little ones they serve in Noma. He said you can eat them live. So he gave me one to eat. I ate it, and after him and the chefs said they thought there was no way I was gonna eat it! It was really sweet, but a little crunchy. I guess you have to try everything once.
I decided to finish with a quickfire round. I think these are the questions we all want to know really... :-)
Cheeseboard / cheesecake?
Bacon / Sausage?
Brown Bread / White Bread?
Mash / Roasties?
Roasties all the way
Takeaway - Indian/Chinese
Eggs – poached or fried
Roast dinner – pork or beef
Pork couldn’t live without crackling….