2018 started like any other new year for me. Mainly being airbourne flying back to the UK. Although I knew events in the coming months were going to make 2018 anything but a standard year.
MasterChef began in mid march and the final was just over a month later. I’d managed to keep it a secret, so a lot of people got a welcome surprise when I popped up on their TV screens. What did I learn from the show? You certainly push yourself, John and Gregg help to nurture you into what makes a great plate of food. They are both fantastic and such great support. My expectations were quite simple. Survive the invention test, wheel out the beetroot sorbet and then fingers crossed for the next round.
Despite what the “critics” said about this. I’ve now served it to over five hundred people and not had one complaint. People are generally blown away by the texture of the sorbet. Its super smooth and velvety. Shame the only three people in the world that didn’t get it were on national TV! My next dish was my Iberico Presa.
I’ve served this many times too, one person commented that despite eating in some of the best restaurants in the country, this was the best plate of food he’d ever eaten. I’m not saying its the best, but I don’t know any better.
Highlight of the show for me was cooking for the great chefs. Its unfair to single any of them out. They were all such great guys and I learnt from each them. Francesco Mazzei, Tommy Banks, Nathan Outlaw, Gaston Acurio, Virgilio Martinez (watch his Chefs Table on Netflix if you’ve not seen it.), Ashley Palmer-Watts and Johnny Glass. Without doubt Episode 24 when I cooked for Ashley and then unveiled my apple crumble mille-feuille was the best episode for me. The best dish I cooked was the careless wispa. I don’t think anyone can appreciate how difficult chocolate is to work with until you’ve tried it.
I have to be honest and after coming second in a BBC TV show that was watched by 8 million people I expected a few interesting opportunities in my inbox. It was a deadly silence apart from doing a couple of demos at the Foodies Festivals. There is an understandable bias to the winner, who wants a runner up? Doing well on a TV cooking show certainly lets you bypass some of the culinary hierarchy. You are just received as someone who knows what they’re doing, rather than having to work your way through the ranks of a kitchen.
I took the initiative myself and arranged a pop-up at Laithwaites in Alderley Edge. This is the best thing I’ve done by far. I have now done twelve pop-ups and every single one was a sell out. Long may it continue. I love doing the pop-up as its just big enough that I can do all the cooking, and have a couple of helpers to plate up on the day. It is literally like having my own restaurant without any commitments. I’ll change the menu every six weeks and luckily people haven’t got bored of my style yet. Although I am going to cook a Japanese themed menu in the New Year. Probably put my miso caramel chocolate tart on.
A few other people approached me throughout the year. I’ve hosted evenings at restaurants in Manchester city centre, done a few private dining events, cooking demos and videos and been sold at auction for a phenomenal figure to name but a few. All the while covering best part of 250,000 miles in the air! I have a couple of long term projects/goals that I will now spend my time pursuing. Some of it is out of my hands, but could be huge if it comes to fruition. One is to get the wispas into my own online boutique. I need to run them through the labs first though to check shelf life and delivery options. Not an easy job. In the meantime I’ll just keep up with the day job and the pop up at Laithwaites.
Highlights of year will have to be working at Per Se in New York. New Yorks most famous restaurant, second in the US only to Thomas Kellers original three michelin restaurant The French Laundry. It was such an honour to cook there for the day. Thomas Keller was actually in the day I was there. He came round and said hello to each member of staff and treated me like everyone else. A compliment of the highest order really. I’d love to have gotten a photo with him, but I’m not that sort of person and I don’t think he is either. At about 2130 the chefs I was helping run the starters with asked what restaurant I’d come from. (As lots of chefs come in for trials). They were a little taken aback when I told them my office is at 36,000′.
Best thing I’ve eaten all year is a tough one. I’ve eaten a lot of good stuff, a lot of stuff that should be great but wasn’t! Best meal was certainly at Dinner by Heston with the Tipsy Cake winning best dish of the year.
Nothing in life is easy, but if you’re willing to work as hard as possible you never know where it might take you. I’ve loved every minute of cooking this year, but I take my hat off to everyone who works in this industry. Restaurant life is brutal, rewarding but relentless. I’ll just stay on the sidelines dabbling my toe in.