As MasterChef returns tonight: 2018 winner Kenny Tutt gives his tips for the new contenders11th Feb 19 | Lifestyle
First up...you won't get away with a lasagne in the final.
The knives are being sharpened, the cutlery is being polished and Gregg Wallace is, presumably, practising his best culinary innuendos. Yes, the 15th series of MasterChef kicks off tonight, with a brand new set of amateur cooks hoping to wow the judges and take home the coveted MasterChef trophy.
The BBC show has launched the careers of countless successful chefs, including Wahaca co-founder Thomasina Miers and Nanban owner Tim Anderson.
Cast your mind back to last year when Kenny Tutt – the lovable bank manager from West Sussex – took home the title, after stealing the show with his crowd-pleasing British cooking. Now the talented chef is set to open his first restaurant and cookery school, called Pitch, in Worthing this May.
We caught up with Tutt ahead of the start of this year’s series, to get the inside scoop on what it takes to win over the MasterChef judges.
You’re judging the dishes on tonight’s episode of MasterChef. Was it weird going back to the show and being on the other side of the table?
“It was brilliant. I loved it. One of the main reasons I got into MasterChef was just to have that chance to sit there and be fed.
“[The contestants] were all really good though, it’s going to be a really tough competition this year. We had some great dishes and some slightly strange ones that I’d never heard of before.”
When you were a contestant on the show, did you have a game plan ahead of entering the kitchen?
“The more you get into it, the more of a game plan you come up with. At the beginning you’re too starstruck; you watch the show every night and then suddenly you’re standing there in the MasterChef kitchen with John and Gregg in front of you – you’re like a rabbit in the headlights!
“But as time goes on, you get more competitive. You sort of live and breathe it.”
Did you have your menu for the final challenge pre-planned during the whole series?
“No, I felt like the most unorganised one! [The other contestants] would have their briefs all done and I’d think, ‘Jesus, I’ve got a day to submit it’. It was a bit like being back at school – I was always the last to do my homework.
“I came up with [the final menu] fairly late. I originally had three dishes that were Asian influenced, like Japanese-style scallops. I cooked it all and hated it, because I was trying to do something that I hadn’t done before.
“I decided that I’d go British instead, so I was up until about three in the morning cooking. It was all very Last-minute.com. I went for something that spoke of me rather than something that I’m not. ”
Do you think it’s worth taking risks as a MasterChef contestant?
“Towards the beginning of the competition, you’ve got to do food that people like, that’s tasty. [The judges] are not expecting it to be Michelin Star presentation.
“They want to see that it’s good, and that you have some basic [cooking] skills. As time goes on, you have to take risks and it’s got to be exciting. You’re not going to be able to get away with a lasagne in the final, you know?
“You have to push yourself. With the huge wealth of information on the internet, you can afford to look at different techniques and try them.”
What was the hardest challenge that you were set?
“The kitchen in Peru. We did an episode where we cooked for Virgilio Martínez from Central [one of the world’s leading restaurants] and they threw us into this massive commercial kitchen.
“It was about 100 degrees, everything was 20 times the size because it was a catering kitchen and it was just really hard. We didn’t know where anything was, and then you’ve got to come up with your own dishes and cook for a world-leading chef. So that was tough.
“Probably the most nerve-racking [challenges] are where you’re just back in the kitchen with John and Gregg though, because they see everything.”
How did you deal with the pressure on the show?
“I think a lot of the time you’re running on adrenaline; it’s that fight or flight thing.
“I look back on it now and I think, ‘How the hell did I actually do that?’ but I think there’s something inside all of us – if you’re really passionate about something, that adrenaline kicks in and you just go for it.”
“The time is a killer though. MasterChef is like a different time-zone, it goes so instantly.
“If I had any advice for contestants it would be to time yourself while you’re practising, and then knock off ten minutes to make it even harder. Then at least if you know you can do it in 50 minutes – but you’ve got an hour – you can afford to slip up a little bit.
What do you think are the most common mistakes that people make on MasterChef?
“I think it’s about being inventive and taking risks – but don’t let the style take over the substance.
“I’d much rather eat a nice plate of food, that might not be pretty, than just a pile of foam with a bit of micro-cress on top of it.
“Always keep the heart of the dish and try to be yourself – I think that shines through.”
MasterChef starts tonight at 9pm on BBC One.
© Press Association 2019