'It was big shoes to fill but she paved the way for a female judge to come in'

Alex South

Alex South


Anna Haugh and Leyla Kazim discuss the behind the scenes of MasterChef: The Professionals and stepping into 'big shoes'.

In the first episode of the fifth series of Grilled by The Staff Canteen, editor Cara Houchen, was joined by new co-host Anna Haugh, Chef Owner of Myrtle, and their guest, Leyla Kazim, travel and food presenter, broadcaster, host, journalist, speaker, digital creator and a MasterChef: The Professionals critic.


During the episode, the pair discussed the weirdest food combinations they’ve eaten as well as their favourite TV chef judges.

Anna joined MasterChef: The Professionals as a judge in 2022, replacing Monica Galetti, Chef Owner of Mere, who had been judging on the programme for the last fourteen years, with Monica making the difficult decision to step down to focus on her family and restaurant.

When asked who her favourite TV chef judge was, Anna picked Monica Galetti explaining that she was true to herself, and paved the way for women in the industry and high-end competitions.

Revealing how it felt to step into Monica’s shoes last year, Anna explained: "She’s been doing it for so long, so people wouldn’t be used to her not being there, so the expectation of how you performed was there. It was big shoes to fill but she paved the way for a female judge to come in and it should not be something to be taken for granted."

Replying to Anna’s comments, Leyla who also appeared on last year’s programme as a critic, expressed how Anna took to the role and performed incredibly as a judge next to Gregg Wallace and Marcus Wareing.

Leyla said: "You were really great! I can’t imagine the pressure you must have felt; people don’t like change until they get used to the change and Monica has been on it for years, and you stepped in and your character and the way to treat the chefs, I just think you did so well and you were brilliant."

As well as working on MasterChef: The Professionals, Leyla is known widely for her work as a travel and food presenter, where she presents on BBC Radio 4’s award-winning The Food Programme, judges for annual BBC Food & Farming Awards, and previously judged on Channel 4’s cooking competition show Beat The Chef.


Describing how she critiques and what she does to avoid hurting people’s feelings whilst still being objective and critical, Leyla discusses her time being a critic on MasterChef: The Professionals.

"The first day of filming MasterChef or before then I was like, what kind of a critic am I? What if I'm a bitch like shit, like, I have no idea how it's going to happen," she revealed.

Explaining the moment she was greeted by the first contestant on programme, Leyla said: "The first contestant who brought their dishes in, honestly my heart was just melting for them because they come in and they're like pulsating with energy, heat, they're throbbing, their hands are still going and it's like getting near the sun you can feel their heat, when they've just walked in there their whole big has gone into it."

For Leyla, a good critic is someone who looks at the whole creative process as well as the final dish. "There's as much value in the process as well as the end result, it's not all just about the end product. If a dish hasn't wowed me basically, there's always something that is that is worthy of praise, I think,” she explained.

Agreeing with Leyla, Anna said: “Depending on the calibre of chefs that are cooking for you, in general like on a programme like MasterChef, the kind of people are putting themselves forward are very, very brave and there's a real feeling of adventure of these people and authentically trying to give a piece of themselves. So, I really relate to what you're saying that there's so much more to the build-up of the dish than just looking at the dish and going I like it, I don't like.”

She added: “I agree with you, pretty much all of the contestants I felt that the energy of them giving a piece of themselves, and that is what cooking should always be about, that they are giving you a piece of what they think is remarkable, and I think our industry should always be protecting that.”


This week’s sponsored question from Rotacloud was what can the restaurant industry do to attract and retain staff? This led to praise and respect from Leyla who highlighted the difficult economic and political environment threatening UK hospitality.

Leyla commented: "When I speak to restauranteurs, for the past few years I’m just amazed at you guys for doing this job because I think it’s just so tough, there’s so many challenges; whether it’s retaining or hiring staff, it’s the price of things going up and rates, and rent."

Talking about her family’s involvement within hospitality, she explained: "My dad had a café for years and he sold it three years ago, and he regularly says that he was so glad he sold it because one day it’s the dishwasher leaking or staff not turning up. I just think the people who creating these amazing experiences and this amazing food, the stuff hospitality has to go with, it never ends."

She added: "I have massive respect for anyone who runs and operates a restaurant because you’re so good at making the experience seem seamless at the front that most people don’t realise how much work goes on at the back, and staff is a big one."

Giving her thoughts on the issue of staff, recruitment and retention, Anna explained how changes within the industry have helped galvanise staff of the present and future.

"When I started cooking in London our industry was very old fashioned. It was limited in it’s cuisine, it was very focused on French and Italian cuisine, and I think what we really good for our industry was that you had people who were excited and passionate about experiencing things, eating things, understanding it more. It made eating out cooler, it made cooler and working cooler for chefs."

"I think our industry needs to keep drumming up that relationship between the people who are excited with what we do, and the restaurants need to keep doing what they do. We have to modernise more, there’s so much that we do that is still so old fashioned and people’s mindsets are still so old fashioned."

"There’s this martyr syndrome that lots of people have that it’s expected as a chef that we work 90 hours a week. When I first started as a chef yes, I did work 90 hours a week which is shocking to think now, but that really is the only way to attract new people to the industry by fixing the hours having people like Leyla opening the door to things people love."


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Alex South

Alex South

Editor 17th March 2023

'It was big shoes to fill but she paved the way for a female judge to come in'