What was your first industry job?
After winning MasterChef I changed my career of 18 years as a bank manager to the world of restaurants and hospitality. I completed stages at the Black Swan in Oldstead and worked in kitchens around the UK to hone my skills and learn the real side of what it takes to run a kitchen before setting out to open my first restaurant, PITCH in West Sussex.
If you weren’t in kitchens, what would you do?
I would most likely still be pushing paper at the bank... that or an international spy.
What industry figure do you most admire, and why?
I have several inspirations. Tommy Banks was so good to me after I got into this world. I love the way he’s not restricted by the seasons as he makes use of fermenting, pickling and preserving so he can use the best seasonal ingredients throughout the year, and his food continues to change and develop constantly with the ever-changing trends. Raymond Blanc was also very supportive, and I will always remember the time I spent with him having a long chat about the do’s & don’ts in the industry.
Pet hate in the kitchen?
Not consistently tasting the food. No one is that good!
What’s the oddest thing a customer has said to you?
A lady once praised me and had a long conversation about how I was the runner up in the Great British Bake Off and how I was her favourite. I really had to style that one out as the conversation was too far gone. Luckily, I do a mean scone.
Sum up your cooking style in a single sentence…
Produce led and unashamedly simple.
What’s the worst review you’ve ever had?
That I should have been taken outside and shot for our Yorkshire puddings. The restaurant had only been open for a week, but I still remember that one. We have now been voted one of the best roasts in the UK so it definitely fuelled the fire.
What would you choose to eat for your last meal?
A big plate of fresh shellfish with fresh lemon and garlic mayonnaise, and a pile of Nashville hot chicken with the pickles; washed down with a cold pint of Estrella.
À la carte or tasting menu?
À la carte.
What’s the best meal you’ve ever had in a restaurant?
The whole fried seabass with toasted rice at Som Saa restaurant made me well up. I always remember that meal for the food and the company.
Favourite fast-food joint?
I’m a sucker for a good KFC or Five Guys.
What’s the dish you wish you’d thought of?
I’m punching here but the roasted bone marrow, toast, and parsley salad by Fergus Henderson is such a simple, beautiful thing.
MasterChef or Great British Menu?
Most overrated food?
I think enough pork has been pulled.
Restaurant dictator for a day – what would you ban?
I’d ban mean or rude customers especially when it’s completely unjustified. They are the exception, but if you aren’t in the mood to be pleasant, just stay home.
Who would your dream dinner party guests be?
Jack Nicholson, Matthew McConaughey, Katherine Ryan and my Dad
What’s your earliest food memory?
Sitting by the beach on the Sussex coast eating fresh boiled crab with brown bread, thick butter and malt vinegar with my mum.
Twitter or Instagram?
Instagram; Twitter can be brutal.
What’s the closest you’ve ever come to death?
I used to go to a club in my teens that was on a pier in Worthing. I used to think it was funny to swing off of the railings at the end with a good 30–40-foot pitch black drop below me after several drinks, I’m sure I was close to death several times and the thought makes me feel nauseous now.
Where do you go when you want to let your hair down?
Usually get into Brighton and crawl the multitude of bars and eateries.
Tipple of choice?
A dry gin and tonic or a Dark and Stormy.
Favourite food and drink pairing (the more obscure, the better)?
Not sure I’m going to win any awards for this… but I love a fried chicken sandwich with buffalo sauce and ranch dressing, all washed down with a couple of bottles of Cocio Chocolate Milk. Perhaps still a child at heart!
What do you consider your signature dish?
My winning starter on MasterChef was Orkney scallop, smoked cauliflower, pickled shimeji mushroom, bacon and chicken butter. It makes an appearance regularly at the restaurant.
Which single item of kitchen equipment could you not live without?
The Thermomix is a real workhorse, so much so that we now have two.
What advice would you give someone starting out in the industry?
- Be true to yourself! It’s right that you can’t please everyone as food is very subjective so keep it simple and be the best at what you are passionate about.