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Now that you’ve had some time to look back on your experience of being joint winner of MasterChef: the Professionals, how would you sum it up?
I’ve learnt an awful lot from being on that show and it’s made me into a different person. It’s given me a lot more confidence in how I project myself and in my self-belief because I always used to doubt myself and what I did. I’d always treated my cooking as just a job before. I was always behind the scenes and I never wanted to be out the front, or thought I was good enough to show anyone what to do. But that’s all completely changed. I’ve recently been doing some live demos and I love doing them. I love speaking in front of people and explaining why we do things in certain ways.
Did it surprise you that you would enjoy those kinds of things being, as you say, quite a shy person?
Very much so, when I first walked into the MasterChef studio and saw those cameras, my heart just sank and there was just this realisation of – oh my God Keri, what are you doing? I think I must have looked so scared!
When was the moment that you realised you could actually do this?
I think it first came at the chef’s table – that was the most phenomenal event because I wasn’t actually happy with my dessert, but then when you go outside and they’re all there cheering you, you think “oh my God!”The chefs that actually commented on my dish were the ones that I looked at as my mentors when I was training – Anton Mosimann and Michel Roux Sr – theirs were the first two books I bought as a trainee chef and I still have them so I was completely overwhelmed; they were so complimentary that I thought “maybe, just maybe I’m all right”.
We were all having a drink in the bar afterwards and everyone was so complimentary; Daniel Clifford offered me a job at Midsummer House and Tom Kerridge really took me under his wing, and of course Michel Roux Jr – I couldn’t ask for anything better; he’s just phenomenal.
Michel Roux Jr has really taken you under his wing as well, hasn’t he?
Yes, I call him for advice. I’m trying not to call him too regularly! When I speak to him he’s so lovely; he’ll be like, “just come over and we’ll have a chat”. If I’ve got any difficult decisions then I’ll send him a message and he’s always there to give me advice and guidance.
You did a lot of contract catering in your career before MasterChef; was that something you enjoyed?
Yes, I loved it because every day was different; you might be going out to a museum or someone’s house or a marquee and you do a full service in an hour and a half or two hours and you’ve just served like 400 people in such a short space of time.
Last year you catered the Olympics; how was that as an experience?
I felt very privileged to be there but it was also hard work. I don’t think people actually realise how hard it is to set things up like that, and logistic-wise it’s very difficult. We had at least 40 chefs in the main kitchen alone with 10 maybe 12 on pastry plus a couple of general assistants, and that was every day. We also catered the pre-opening event party and a closing party as well; on the opening party alone we had six different deserts and possibly 600-800 each of those.
The way we looked at it was that we were catering for 12 different restaurants and each one was doing breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and an evening meal. I did at least one 24-hour shift. Our fridges were the size of shipping storage containers and we had eight of those and two freezers the same size!
You’ve now left The Corner Restaurant and Champagne Bar at Selfridges, your first project since winning MasterChef; what were your reasons for that?
I had a great time there but I decided to move on because I wanted to explore different avenues within catering and cooking and to really focus on doing something which was totally my own venture rather than working for someone else.
Which is exactly what you’re doing now, right?
Yes, I have started my own event company called Crumbs London and our newest venture is a pub and restaurant called The Patch. We’re trying to keep everything as local as possible so ideally all produce will be within a 75 mile radius with most things sourced even more locally. It’s based in East Dulwich on Lordship Lane which is a very foodie road. In time we’re going to grow our herbs and seasonal vegetables; and hopefully some fruits on the roof. A lot of the plants will be grown hydroponically. It’s the first time vertical growing has been brought over to the UK from America in such a capacity so we’re kind of launching the vertical growing concept in the UK, which is really exciting.
We’ve got a local organic butcher and fishmonger on board and their produce is just phenomenal. We’ve got local allotments on board as well who will supply us with speciality or extra vegetables. Everything is very community based; we’ve got local beers; we’re working with a company making a local gin and we’re looking at a local vodka as well; we’re even trying to keep the staffing within the local area. It’s a very exciting project.