After hours with… Claire Lara

By Becky Paskin, 05-Nov-2010

Related topics: Business, Events & Awards, People, Restaurants, Career Profile

Claire Lara, the 30-year old winner of Masterchef: The Professionals 2010 found out she was pregnant during filming of the show, but is adamant that having a baby will not hamper her chances of one day opening her own Le Manoir-style restaurant.

How I got here:

When I left school I did a youth training scheme and quickly found myself working two jobs – in Cadburys’ canteen and at Grove House Hotel on the Wirral as a commis chef, eventually becoming chef de partie.

I then moved to Paris and went straight back down to commis chef, but really that was okay as I was technically the weakest link in the kitchen and had a lot to learn. It was extremely nerve-wracking there – standards were very high and you really had to get your head down and work hard to get anywhere.

After five years in Paris I came back to Liverpool and worked at the London Carraige Works as sous chef and then pastry chef. After three years I left for another Liverpool restaurant called Panoramic, where I was head pastry chef. I think pastry is really where my heart lies.

But after a year I decided I wanted something completely different, so I went to work in a loose leaf tea shop, which was an incredible experience. It was an easy job, just making a lot of pickles, jams and preservatives really, but so interesting as I was learning so much about the tea and how to incorporate it in to food. It wasn’t fine dining but still really good food.

Eventually I moved on and found myself teaching at Liverpool Community College two mornings a week. I was also working full-time in a restaurant so fit my school hours into my days off.

But as I applied for Masterchef in December last year, my boss at the restaurant refused to give me any time off. A competition that big does take over your life, but some people just don’t see the bigger picture. So I took a risk and quit my job. I don’t want to name that restaurant because I don’t want to give them the publicity. I ended up concentrating on being a part-time catering tutor instead.

Obviously I got through to Masterchef: The Professionals and we finished filming in May. I found out I was pregnant during the show, which I think helped me really as I had a heightened sense of smell.

Being on Masterchef:

The competition was extremely hard. It was immense pressure and really creates an accurate impression of the industry. It’s not contrived at all. The filming was really intense. In those months you think of nothing else but the show because you don’t want to let yourself down. You don’t sleep properly for that time. You just want to impress them – it’s not every day you get to cook for Michel Roux Jr is it?

Becoming a female role model:

I feel proud to be the first woman to win Masterchef: The Professionals. I hope I’ve influenced young female chefs to go all the way, because if I can do it they can too. There’s no reason why women can’t win and reach the top.

My biggest achievements:

Going to work in Paris and sticking it out for so long was a big achievement, but then Masterchef was just so unreal. Some of the challenges we faced, like cooking with Pierre Hermes, Rene Redzepi at Noma and Tom Kitchin in Scotland, were out of this world. It sounds cheesy but it’s what dreams are made of.

On teaching:

It’s really satisfying passing on knowledge to keen youngsters. While it’s not quite the buzz of a Saturday night service, if you get a young kid and give them options for their future, it’s rewarding to see them grow.

My future:

My baby boy is due in two weeks. After that I hope to get some experience in a few restaurants, including with Michel at Le Gavroche in the new year. Obviously because I’ll have a baby I won’t go back to work full-time, but I’ve still got determination and drive and I believe nothing’s impossible, even with a baby. One day I’d like to have a small restaurant with rooms in the countryside, something similar to Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, but all in good time.