You are currently browsing the daily archive for May 9, 2013.

MasterChef in all its incarnations has become a series my better half and I tend to watch at the weekend. If we watched it during the week, it would just wind us up too much before retiring for the night.

Regardless of whether it’s amateur, professional or celebrity, John Torode and Gregg Wallace invariably choose a ‘champion’ who is pomo or poncy. We root for very few of the winners. Notable exceptions were Thomasina Miers (amateur) and rugby player Phil Vickery (celebrity). MasterChef aficionados might be interested to find out what happened to the amateur winners over the past eight years.

This year’s amateur contest, which finished late last week, featured a three-episode run-off between recruitment consultant Dale Williams, 28; solicitor (attorney) Larkin Cen, 28 and credit controller Natalie Coleman, 29.

The Radio Times (May 4-11, 2013, pp. 10-13) featured interviews with all three finalists (as well as with Saira Hamilton, who had lost the week before). Reading what they had to say about food and family was a revelation.

Dale Williams revealed that he and his three sisters found inspiration in their mother’s varied home cooking. When they were older, they began taking turns preparing three-course dinners which eventually incorporated an amuse-bouche as well as a cheese course.  In the MasterChef final, we saw that Dale’s father, an entrepreneur, has a strong success-oriented work ethic. Dale told the Radio Times that he would like to ‘get into food production or the restaurant trade’.

Larkin Cen told the magazine that his family and friends would be surprised to see him behind a stove. He hasn’t really cooked, relying on dinners out. However, his parents emigrated to the UK from China and opened up a takeaway restaurant near Bristol. They discouraged Larkin from cooking, insisting that he concentrate on his studies — hence, law school. Yet, he is the third generation in his family to find food captivating; Larkin borrowed a few of his restaurateur grandfather’s Chinese recipes for the final. Larkin would like to ‘showcase Chinese food on TV’.

Whilst Dale and Larkin’s offerings were often inventive and — according to John and Gregg — tasty, they were often inconsistent and skimpy. Larkin shocked us at home when he deep-fried a cod skeleton and served it as a vertical centrepiece on his plate featuring a fish dinner.  It was one of the most hideous things we’ve ever seen.  Typically of John and Gregg, they oohed and ahhed before tasting it and enthusing some more. Errgh.

Things started going pear-shaped for the two when Michelin-starred chef Marcus Wareing appeared as a guest judge. Larkin had a few problems, among them a sparse main course. Wareing wouldn’t even taste his two dishes. How I wished that Larkin had served the cod skeleton monstrosity that day. Dale’s dishes didn’t meet with Wareing’s approval, either.

Natalie Coleman Daily Mail article-2318574-1998EC53000005DC-813_306x325However, the chef fell in love with Natalie’s dinner and dessert. When she walked back to her station, Wareing looked at her with the expression that a father reserves for a beloved daughter. Blink and you would have missed it but it was a rare televisual moment, especially from Wareing.

The Mirror reported (emphases mine):

The 29-year-old Londoner’s talent impressed the top chef so much he has invited her to join him at The Berkeley in London’s Knightsbridge.

Last night Natalie told how much she is looking forward to her new life in cooking after quitting her job in credit control two weeks ago.

She said: “I want to work in a kitchen and Marcus Wareing taking me on would be a dream come true.

“I think I would be able to nail the final details which would really make me stand out.

“I cooked him chocolate fondant and teal and he praised me – it was one of my highlights of the show.

He is a two-star chef and he wants perfection and that is the moment I seemed to separate from the two other finalists Larkin and Dale.

I have a wish list of chefs I want to work with like a child’s Christmas list including Nathan Outlaw, Angela Harnett and at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal.”

And Wareing is not the only top chef Natalie impressed. She also cooked for Adam Byatt of Trinity in Clapham. Her work in his kitchen so impressed him that he, too, has offered her a job:

‘I thought Natalie was a natural, she had a good pallet [‘palate’, Mail, ‘palate’!!], was a tough character and listened really well, Mr Byatt said.

‘I have been in contact with Natalie since her time with us and I was extremely proud to see her win Masterchef.

I am in talks with her around working with us in the future. Every kitchen needs a Natalie.’

From the off, Natalie proved to be a conscientious, careful cook. She did wonders with game and poultry, boning the birds like a pro. Natalie taught herself how to cook and is a big fan of cookery shows.

And — unlike Larkin who never really cooked before this series (and, as such, should not have qualified just yet) — Natalie told the Radio Times she had applied four previous times to MasterChef. They accepted her on this, her fifth attempt. Perseverance pays off.

Although she told the Radio Times she was made redundant last year — around the time she was accepted for MasterChefanother Mirror article said:

Natalie, whose two favourite things in life are food and music, has been working as a credit controller for 12 years and a DJ for five years, before deciding to pursue her dream of a future in cooking.

She added: “I wanted to be a chef when I was 15, but then I went off the idea and wanted to be a PE teacher, then a fire fighter. But my mum said as I was good at maths, I should go and do something in finance. I’m quite good at what I do, but it’s not what I love.

Natalie cooked at all hours, mostly for her grandfather, a widower. Chris, age 78, originally from Dublin told the Daily Mail:

She manages to make everything tasty,’ he says. ‘But she uses a lot of salt and oil. I tell her if I didn’t like it. She cooked something once with . . . how can I explain, it was like sawdust.’

‘Oh that stuff,’ Chris continues, slapping his thigh with contempt. ‘Yes, absolute junk. Useless.

‘Sometimes it was ridiculous. One night she came running in at a quarter to midnight. I was just going to bed and she said no, you’ve got to try this. One day I’d had a three-course dinner by midday.’

The final was the first time Chris had watched the show. ‘It’s quite good,’ he says. ‘Your man’s a bit over the top, the bald one [Gregg Wallace]. He never uses a word when you can drum a sentence in instead.’

But he felt Natalie was in with a shout. ‘I thought she had a fair chance. If they’d been running a book on it, I’d have put a bet on her.’

Natalie is a real East End — self-described ‘proper Cockney’ — girl. She’s lived in Hackney and Chingford. I was sorry to read that some people made fun of her authentic accent. The Independent reported:

“I know some people say I sound like a reject off of EastEnders, but do you know what, I don’t actually care.

I wasn’t on MasterMind, I was on MasterChef. Like I said on the show, it’s a good job they’re judging cooking and not speaking because I wouldn’t have got very far.”

And, true to her roots, she cooks British classics but with a Continental flair. In fact, this is the first MasterChef where a contestant has won with a roast dinner. SpouseMouse and I were thrilled for the dish and for Natalie:

The 29-year-old impressed judges John Torode and Gregg Wallace with her lobster tail starter accompanied with fennel; a main of roast pork belly with quail’s scotch egg, pomme puree and caramelised shallots; and a vanilla panna cotta accompanied by a chocolate tuile, caramelised pears and a trio of hazelnut biscuits.

The inspiration for her main course, she says, came from a traditional British roast. “I don’t think anyone’s cooked a ponce-d up British roast dinner on a MasterChef final before! But it’s the most British dish you can cook apart from fish and chips. I thought: go for it.”

Absolutely — it’s been something we’ve longed to see over the years on any of the show’s incarnations.

Natalie is only the third woman to win the amateur series. Besides her and restaurateur Thomasina Miers, there is only Shelina Permalloo who won last year’s contest. She has a part-time cooking school (in season) in Mauritius.

Natalie knows that a lot of hard work lies ahead. She anticipates 14-hour days and wants to work for top chefs to earn her stripes before striking out on her own. She has the indefatiguable drive and quiet ambition to make it happen.

I hope she will stick with British food classics. She told The Guardian she chose her final menu because:

I wanted to do something really British, because that’s what I’m all about.

And scotch eggs are one of her favourites:

You know sometimes when you’re out on the weekend, and you just want something just to fill that little gap? My friends go: “Nat, how can you eat scotch eggs?” and I go: “Scotch eggs are amazing!”

Perhaps she’ll feature them at the annual BBC Good Food Show in Birmingham in a few weeks’ time:

I’m trying out new recipes to demonstrate in June. Also, I’m getting ready to do publicity for a book that’s out in October with Larkin and Dale.

MasterChef co-presenter and judge John Torode said:

I think Natalie is destined for great things,” said Torode. “She not only understands finery of great food but she cooks for the people, food that people want to eat. She makes people smile. And she’s not fazed by a thing.

“Natalie’s got it, she is a very, very clever woman and her food is fantastic.”

Message to MasterChef producers: please give us more Natalies (boys, too). Our country needs them!

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