MasterChef: The Professionals winners - where are they now?

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 16th October 2019

As MasterChef: The Professionals comes back to our screens for a new series with judges Michelin-starred Marcus Wareing and Monica Galetti, we're looking at the previous winners and what they're up to now.

MasterChef: The Professionals first came to our screens in August 2008 as we saw a number of the most professional chefs in Britain compete for the chance to prove they have the ability to cook to the highest level in the industry.  Exposure for the winners is massive, but is it just a flash in the pan, or do their careers feel a long-term benefit? The Staff Canteen caught up with some past champions to find out.

Derek Johnstone 2019

Derek Johnstone, MasterChef: The Professionals

winner 2008

Derek Johnstone

The very first winner of the show Derek Johnstone was a junior sous chef in Scotland when his head chef convinced him to enter in 2008.

Speaking about how he felt when he won he said: “I was delighted to be the first MasterChef: The Professionals winner. It all happened so quickly that it took a while to sink in.” 

After more than a decade since taking the MasterChef: the Professionals crown, it’s no surprise Derek has been up to a lot.

When the show aired Derek met renowned chef Michel Roux Jr. in London along with one of the directors of MasterChef. They expressed their high hopes for him to work in one of the best restaurants in the country and it was not long until he bagged a job working with Michel.

“I ended up working for both Michel and his father Albert for six years,” he said. “During my time with the Roux family, I was sent on stages to gain knowledge and experience around Europe in 1, 2 and 3 Michelin star restaurants.”  

However, winning MasterChef: The Professionals didn’t just impact his career, it also helped Derek find love as he met his fiancé in London while working at Le Gavroche. He then decided to return home to Scotland in 2010 to take a head chef role at Chez Roux at Greywalls Hotel. 

Then, in 2014, Derek became the chef proprietor for The Golf Inn, Gullane, until it closed in 2018. The restaurant was taken over by Tom Kitchin and now goes by the name The Bonnie Badger.

In 2017 Derek was appiointed head chef at Bothwick Castle in Gorebridge, which has recently undergone a multi-million pound revamp.

Derek came third in the Craft Guild of Chefs' National Chef of the year 2019 competition, and was a runner up in the 2020 awards.

Steve Groves

The second series of Masterchef: The professionals in 2009 snagged a BAFTA award, fending off competition from Heston Blumenthal’s ‘Heston’s feasts’ TV series.

Series winner Steve Groves has been the head chef at Roux at Parliament Square since 2013, and took the 2020 title of National Chef of the Year.

Speaking about his time at the restaurant, Steve said: “It’s a good place to be. Working for the Roux family, one of the best known food families in the country, is quite a privilege.”   

Steve Groves Michel Roux Jr 2019

Steve Groves,

MasterChef: The Professionals

winner 2009 with chef Michel Roux Jr

So what of past champions who won the competition at earlier stages in their careers; were they able to use their newly-filled address books to move up the ladder? It doesn’t hurt, it seems, when the person judging you comes from one of the world’s greatest culinary families.

Steve admitted that his main goal when entering the Masterchef: The professionals competition was to land a job with Michel Roux Jr.

He said: “For me the whole thing about getting on Masterchef: The professionals was to get in contact with chef Michel really. It was always in the back of my mind that I would come and work for him. Initially I thought that would be in Le Gavroche but obviously the opportunity presented itself to work [at Roux at Parliament Square], I thought it was a really good opportunity.” 

After winning Steve stayed at the Michelin-starred Launceston Palace in South Kensington before leaving to commit himself to six months of stages in various restaurants including Noma, The Ledbury and finally Le Gavroche, where he snagged his current role.

Asked what advice he’d give to other hopeful contestants, he said: “Cook things you know, that you’ve tried plenty of times. There are times in the competition that you really need to push the boat out to set yourself apart from others and there are times when you just need to kind of stick to what you know."

"Once it gets towards the end you need to set yourself apart and that’s when it comes time to start taking a few risks.” 

Steve believes MasterChef: The Professionals accelerated what was an already upwardly bound career path.

“It gives you contacts and opportunities,” he said, “but it’s up to you as an individual to make the most out of it. You have to grab the bull by the horns. I think I would have achieved what I wanted to achieve in the industry without it but it definitely helped and getting noticed by chef Michel presented its own opportunities.”

Claire Lara

The Merseyside-born 2010 winner, Claire Lara, was at a different stage in her career when she entered MasterChef: The Professionals. Teaching catering part-time at Liverpool Community College, Claire felt that she needed new challenges and a boost to her flagging confidence.

Claire Lara 2019

MasterChef: The Professionals 2010 winner,

Claire Lara

Winning MasterChef allowed her to get out of the classroom and back into the kitchen, moving back to become head chef and partner in The RiverHill Hotel and Restaurant where she served her YTS apprenticeship years before.

The chef then worked at Llanrhaeadr Springs in Denbigh, Wales  until it closed last year. She now works as as a development chef alongside her husband at Doubletree by Hilton Hotel restaurant, Koukash, in Liverpool. 

Becoming MasterChef: The Professionals champion wasn’t the only surprise, after trying for a baby for seven years Claire discovered that she had been pregnant whilst competing. She said: “I didn’t know I was pregnant on the show. Afterwards, I
was still feeling sick and there was no Michel Roux Jr. in sight!

"Like some of the lads from the competition, we were feeling sick and nauseous because you’re cooking for some of the best chefs in the country. It turned out that I was three months pregnant,” she stops to laugh before continuing.

“I was actually doing MasterChef: The Professionals live on the Saturday and gave birth on the Sunday. When I look back I just think what an idiot because they don’t call it labour for nothing."

Claire's most exciting venture since winning MasterChef has been cooking for none other than Queen Elizabeth.  “Cooking for the Queen has got to be one of the pinnacles of my career. I was asked to pick my own team, then come up with 3 menus and she just picked her favourite,” she said. 

The Queen picked a pressed foie gras terrine, turbot and Claire’s MasterChef: The Professionals winning white chocolate mousse. 

“We had some really brilliant feedback. She doesn’t eat much, she’s a really small lady and apparently, it was the first time she finished a 3 course meal in a long time so that was amazing.”  

Anton Piotrowski and Keri Moss

2012 saw joint winners for the first time in the franchise’s history with Anton Piotrowski and Keri Moss both coming out on top. Sharing the crown didn’t dilute the attention and knock-on benefits to Anton though, who went back to running a suddenly much busier kitchen in the pub where he was the executive chef, The Treby Arms in Devon.

He said: “As soon as it was over, the phone didn’t stop. We were getting 100 – 120 bookings a 

anton piotorowski 2019

Anton Piotrowski,

MasterChef: The Professionals

2012

day every day and it hasn’t stopped. We’re already booked up until the middle of the year.”

But the head chef thinks that the benefits to younger professionals are even greater. “It’s all about the contacts you make,” he said. “If I want to go and work for the Roca brothers I can do that or if I want to go and work for Tom Keller again I can do that. If I was 21 or 22 I’d be out doing that now.”

He took a huge risk when he entered the MasterChef competition. “When I first went on I had only bought my business 6 weeks earlier,” he said. “So it basically, it could’ve ruined my business as well at the same time.”  

He initially entered the Roux Scholarship competition but was rejected after finding out he was just over the age limit. However, he had a stroke of luck when he was privately messaged by the competition holders with a suggestion that he try and enter the MasterChef: The Professionals competition instead.  

While at The Treby Arms, Anton received a Michelin star. “I’m the only contestant to achieve a Michelin star, that’s my claim to fame,” he joked in an interview. 

Anton said  that the MasterChef win had a positive effect on his life, “because MasterChef is such a big programme, it’s watched by quite a lot of people and it’s a platform so people notice you. Unless you get your star by yourself obviously you’d get noticed for that but MasterChef has helped massively.” 

In the summer of 2017,  Anton set up a crowdfunding site to finance his new restaurant, Röski. Despite not raising as much as he'd hoped, the chef opened the Liverpool venue  in December 2017, taking more than 1000 bookings in 24 hours. It has been praised by famous food critic Jay Rayner -  who said the food at Röski was "serious, bourgeois cooking, with no interest in the restrained" - and received several mentions in the BBC Good Food Guide. 

Ash Mair

Before entering MasterChef: The Professionals, series 4 winner, Ash Mair, was working for a catering firm by day and studying web programming at night.

He was becoming disillusioned with the chef trade until MasterChef: The Professionals in 2011 reignited his passion for the industry. “I was actually in the middle of a crisis, having uncertainty if I wanted to stay in the industry or not. After participating in MasterChef though, I was thinking to myself what am I doing? I love food, I love cooking, and I love the industry as a whole," said Ash.  

Ash was selected for the show at the very last minute after another contestant dropped out. As he had had far less preparation than his competitors, he didn’t think he would get as far as he did in the competition. 

He said:I went in to the competition pretty open minded in the fact I might not be there for long, but after getting through to the quarter finals I started to really push myself a lot more.” 

Ash Mair, MasterChef: The Professionals winner 2011

Ash Mair, MasterChef: The

Professionals winner 2011

Since the win Ash said that he was flooded with offers to take part in different and exciting projects.

“The day after the final went out my email went nuts. I was getting some hundred emails a day from people congratulating me to different offers and actually I had to say no to most of them - except the book one -  so I could just concentrate on getting that out.”

He went back to Australia to have some down time with his family before deciding what his next step was.  He wrote his book, entitled 'My Basque Cuisine' before having a short stint helping Spanish Group Bilbao Berria open a restaurant in Lower Regent Street.

Since then, Ash has been working mainly as a development chef and consultant to restaurants and manufacturers, working with companies such as Cucina Catering and Scratch meals.

He has also spent a lot of time doing food development for restaurant Chick'n'Sours, which now has three London locations in in Haggerston, Seven Dials and Islington, as well as the company's offshoot restaurant, Chick'n, located on Baker Street and in Soho.

“Since winning MasterChef it hasn’t really stopped,” he said, “but I’m just glad to be kept busy.”

Steven Edwards

While taking part in the show, 2013 winner Steven Edwards was the head chef at The Camellia Restaurant in the South Lodge Hotel, a role he returned to after winning the programme.

“I stayed with my current employers because I worked at South Lodge for six years leading up to the show and I worked there for almost a year after the show to show gratitude for all the help they had given me.” 

Steven Edwards 2019

Steven Edwards,

MasterChef: The Professionals

winner 2013

Winning the competition ultimately gave Steven the courage to venture out on his own. “It definitely gave me the confidence and self-belief to want to chase my dream of setting up my own restaurant," he explained.

Though he wound up winning the show, Steven almost didn’t even take part, he explained: “It was only my boss Lewis at South Lodge who had the belief in me, I would say he almost made me enter!"

After leaving The Camellia Restaurant in South Lodge, Steven spent a year and half doing pop ups around the country while playing around with different types of foods in an attempt to hone and craft his own identity.

Steven opened The Etch in Hove, Brighton in the spring of 2017, a casual fine dining offering a seasonal tasting menus. 

Reflecting on winning the sixth series of MasterChef: The Professionals, Steven said: “The journey since MasterChef has been incredible but it has also had its ups and downs finding a restaurant.

"I was quite well supported whilst working in the hotel and it’s quite a difficult to succeed out there in the real world.”

Jamie Scott, MasterChef: The Professionals winner 2014

Jamie Scott,

MasterChef: The Professionals winner 2014

Jamie Scott

Following in the footsteps of Steven, Jamie Scott, who won the competition in 2014, also returned to the restaurant that supported him whilst he battled it out on the show.

Jamie stayed at the three AA rosette restaurant, Rocca Bar & Grill in St Andrews, for a further six months before leaving to pursue other ventures.

This included running eight pop-up restaurants in six months before opening his first restaurant, The Newport, in 2016.

The chef said that the boost in publicity offered by MasterChef gave him the confidence to pursue other ventures.

"It gave me the confidence to believe in myself a lot more, because your friends and family all tell you you’re good at your job but they’re never going to say your bad, so to have that peer recognition is a massive confidence builder.”

>>> What dishes does Jamie Scott serve at his restaurant Newport on Tay?

Now as chef patron of his own restaurant, believes in the motto ‘if you’re happy at home you’re happy at work’, and believes that applying it and treating his staff well will ensure he doesn’t have to experience the chef shortage.

He said: “Unfortunately our industry is the last to change. I have worked in a few uninspiring kitchens that are just not very nice to be in. I want people to come in and be happy to work here, because if you’re happy at work you’re happy at home, if you’re happy at home you’re happy at work! You have to find that balance.”

Mark Stinchcombe, MasterChef: The Professionals winner 2015

Mark Stinchcombe, 

MasterChef: The Professionals

winner 2015

Mark Stinchcombe

After winning MasterChef: The Professionals 2015,  Mark Stinchcombe remained in his role as head chef at Eckington Manor in Worcestershire for three years, living and working with his wife and co-head chef, Sue, until recently, when they both moved to Gloucestershire and Mark took over the food offering at The Severn & Wye Smokery alongside culinary director Greg Nicholson.

Prior to Eckington Manor, both Mark and Sue had phenomenal success working for some of the biggest and most talented chefs around.

Namely, Mark worked at Lucknam Park, Ston Easton Park in Somerset and Driftwood in Cornwall, and completed stages at the Fat Duck and Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons.

Sue worked at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in London and staged at the French Laundry with Thomas Keller in California.

Prior to appearing on the show, Mark had toyed with the idea, and was encouraged to enter by his friends and family. After seeing a link to the application through Facebook, he couldn’t let the opportunity pass him by.

Upon his victory, he said: “I can’t believe it. I’m massively proud of what I’ve achieved; it’s been such a long journey. It’s been phenomenal.

 “My ambition is to run a highly acclaimed restaurant in Britain, and to one day have a Michelin star, but I think the most important thing is to have happy customers, and to be happy in the way I cook.”

Gary Maclean

The 2016 MasterChef: The Professionals victor Gary Maclean has remained in his role as senior chef lecturer at the City of Glasgow College where he used to be a student.

Prior to this, the 45 year old Glaswegian chef operated his own restaurant, before heading up the kitchen at Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art and the Burrell Collection and had previously worked at Ferrier Richardson’s Yes restaurant in Glasgow as head chef, as well as at October in Princes Square. His earlier years were spent working in hotels, where he honed his skills and cooking ability, which ultimately helped him earn the title of MasterChef: The Professionals 2016. 

Gary Maclean, MasterChef: The Professionals winner 2016

Gary Maclean, 

MasterChef: The Professionals winner 2016

Speaking about winning the competition, Gary said: "It still doesn't feel real. It's just been an absolute whirlwind and since winning in December I haven't really had the chance to stop and think about it."

Although Gary is still senior chef lecturer at the City of Glasgow College, winning the show hasn't come without its perks. Gary has turned down numerous job offers from all over the country and has appeared on breakfast TV in Asia and held guest spots at a number of restaurants throughout Scotland, something that couldn't have happened without the success that has come with winning the popular competition.

"It's taken my career to a degree that's really quite surreal", Gary explained. "I was at ScotHot for The Staff Canteen Live and after I got off the stage I was there for two hours taking selfies with members of the audience! I'm even getting recognised in the street and taxi drivers are stopping on main roads. It's really taken me by surprise."

Craig Johnston

Craig Johnston 2019

Craig Johnston,

MasterChef: The Professionals

winner 2017

Craig is now a junior sous-chef at The Berkeley - none other than MasterChef: The Professionals judge Marcus Wareing's restaurant.

During the show, Craig cooked for some of the world’s best chefs including Mauro Colagreco, chef patron of two Michelin-starred Mirazur. Judge Marcus Wareing said: “You don’t come across cooks like this very often. We’ve just found a star of the future. What a fabulous talent. Twenty one years old, amazing.”

After the show, Craig was approached by Marcus to come and work at his restaurant at The Berkeley. Craig then spent the day working alongside Mark and Shauna Froydenlund, joint chef patrons of The Berkeley and decided that it was the right place for him to be very quickly.

At the time, he said:  “It’s a pretty exciting time for me at the moment. I’m looking forward to what’s about to come. I’ve got a great opportunity from someone that knows my abilities, who’s got a great reputation in the industry and I think it’s a good move for me to take that next step up, to a two-star restaurant like Marcus.”

He added: “It’s another level from what I’ve done before so I’m looking forward to learning more - a different style, different techniques. That’s my key goal for these next couple of years, is to learn as much as I can.”

From senior chef de partie, Craig progressed to the position of junior sous chef at the restaurant. 

Laurence Henry

MasterChef: The Professionals

2018 winner

Laurence Henry

Laurence Henry

Even before he took part in the competition, MasterChef: The Professionals 2018 winner Laurence Henry had fulfilled the dream most chefs wouldn't dare aspire to, working for Sat Bains at his eponymous two Michelin-starred restaurant in Nottingham.

Prior to working for Sat, Laurence was a sous-chef at Jason Atherton's Pollen Street Social before taking on the position of head chef at The Woodstock Bar & Grill in Mayfair.

Describing the benefit to his career from taking part in the competition, he said: “I tell everyone, It’s a bit like a game of snakes and ladders; MasterChef is like when you land on a ladder and you go up to the next level, you’ve still got quite a long way to go but it’s a great little boost.

"The whole thing, the progress from start to finish upped my confidence massively. It gets you to do lots of different things you wouldn’t get to do normally, like designing your own dishes, which you don’t often get to do in the restaurant.”

As a MasterChef: The Professionals champion, Laurence said he received an outpouring of offers from potential investors, and is currently planning the launch of his own restaurant in his hometown of Nottingham. 

"It’s a bit overwhelming sometimes, when you’re getting all these offers, you don’t know what to do with it all. It’s quite difficult as well as amazing," he said.

Hoping to open the doors early April 2020, the chef said the restaurant will have a separate bar and will offer a tasting menu of modern British dishes, "highlighting local ingredients from my region." 

His advice to the chefs considering taking part in the competition?

"It's a great opportunity regardless of how far you get. My only advice would be make sure you are ready for it, to get the best out of it you should be at a stage in your career where you feel you can get far.” 

All of the previous winners speak of the importance of having some experience or training and also of having the right attitude to what you’re doing. Arrogance, it seems, won’t cut the mustard.

They all have very positive stories about their MasterChef experiences, but also offer strong advice on some of the pitfalls facing aspiring chefs thinking of going on the show.

As Steve Groves said: “Those people who go on there thinking they’ll become a celebrity chef overnight generally come unstuck because unless your motivation is to impress chef Michel and have the right attitude, you’re not going to go that far because he picks up quite quickly who are the right kind of people.”

A humble attitude, a desire to learn and a couple of years’ experience of the industry combined with a certain amount of talent are the ingredients, it seems, that go into making a MasterChef: The Professionals winner. Other than that, it’s all in the hands of the judges – and the gods who decide whether soufflés rise or mousses set.

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 16th October 2019

MasterChef: The Professionals winners - where are they now?