Stu Deeley, Steven Edwards on MasterChef: The Professionals: 'If you don't have a Michelin star, you're not relevant to the elite level in the industry'

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor

Some chefs don't consider winning MasterChef: The Professionals as worthy as becoming NCOTY, winning the Roux Scholarship or a Michelin star, but maybe they should, argues chef Stu Deeley

MasterChef: The Professionals is back, once again pitting 32 chefs against each other in their bid to become this year's champion.

Love it or hate it, the BBC programme has given many a spot in the limelight, progressing their careers in ways they may not have been afforded otherwise.

This, at least, was the argument posited by 2019 champion chef Stu Deeley and latest co-host on our Grilled podcast, Steven Edwards of newly-refurbished Hove restaurant Etch, who won series 6 in 2013.

"You need that lucky break sometimes," Stu said. "There are a few people that have done MasterChef that have gone on to build big empires of restaurants, and it's not a fluke. It is that you get exposure to five or six million people, and you only need one with lots of money to back you and take you on the journey that you want to go on."

While the chef's new project, a 45-seater restaurant Smoke at Hampton Manor, wasn't what he had originially intended when he won the competition, as his plans to open his own independent restaurant were scuppered by Covid-19, it has allowed him the independence and creative freedom he had been seeking - and the opportunity may not have arisen had he not won MasterChef.

"It's not a continuation of MasterChef, I don't want people to look at it as that," he said, but in the same way that when a restaurant gets any other accolade, people visit it to bask in some of the glitz that goes with it, so too do they do so because he won MasterChef.

"Every night I go out because a table will ask to speak to me. I'll end up speaking to the majority of the tables and it is all MasterChef related - so it shows that even though for me MasterChef was nearly two years ago, people really are still invested in the programme and in your own personal growth throughout the show."

And while being known only for this may grow old over time, Stu said, "as long as it puts bums on seats, I'm happy to talk about it."

A dividing matter

While taking part in the competition does allow one a level of notoriety with the public and opens up otherwise unlikely opportunities, it remains one of the less respected competitions and accolades within the industry.

It isn't quite as clear cut within the chef community as to whether being on MasterChef should earn you respect in the same way that say, having four AA-Rosettes or winning the Craft Guild of ChefsNational Chef of the Year competition, at least for a proportion of chefs, it does.

"It's a mixed bag," Stu said. "Some chefs really admire you for doing it - especially the ones that have done it or won it," but a proportion of other, more traditionally-minded chefs think differently.

"For them, the only competition is the Roux Scholarship, National Chef of the Year, or the other benchmark you get judged by is Michelin stars and that's it.

"If you've not got one of those, you're not relevant to the elite level in the industry," Stu said. 

To both of the chefs' minds, doing well on the programme is a validation of one's abilities as a chef, not least because the further you progress, the more well-respected chefs get to taste your food.

For Stu, this is partly thanks to the 'Chefs' Table' element, whereby finalists get to cook for dozens of the industry's most prominent chefs. "Because when you've got 28-30 chefs in there that have all got Michelin stars and they sing your praises," he said, "all of a sudden, other people start to believe it as well."

As chef competitions go, MasterChef: The Professionals is tough

Say what you will about the competition, it is a good test of skill, if nothing else attesting to one's ability to cope under pressure.

"Before I went on MasterChef," Steven said, "as a head chef in a hotel, all of these little things were niggling me, like 'why is that table not seated,' all the challenges that you face on a day-to-day operation. "After MasterChef, all of those pressures are nothing," he said, "because you're in such a pressured environment that everything feels a lot easier coming out of it.

"The way you approach things is completely different. If you can't do it, you branch out. You feel free not to take that pressure on."

Stu agreed, and added: "It's probably the most intense pressure that you'll ever feel, not just in terms of being in a competition because it's not just about that.

"It's the psychological thought of like, 'actually, if I mess this up, there's millions of people that are going to see it. You've got to be careful of what you say and how you come across, because when you do something like that, you really just want to show your personality."

Victory isn't enough

For Steven, winning MasterChef was just one feather to his hat, and hasn't dampened his ambitions to achieve more great things in his career.

"Ultimately, we've got to make our names for something different as well," he said. "I don't want to just be known as a MasterChef winner."

"As the years go on, I really want to better it, I really want to better that accolade, I don't want to feel like that was the best thing I've achieved, when personally I think I've achieved more since then."

"Unless you get four Rosettes or a Michelin star," he added, "that's going to be the biggest thing."

The chef caveated his words, saying that "it feels bad complaining about it, but I'm just a competitive person and I want to progress further in my career."

Tips from a Winner on how to win MasterChef: The PRofessionals

Whilst it is too late for the contestants in this year's series, Stu kindly shared his tips for how to succeed in the competition with our podcast listeners.

He said: "When you've got someone above you giving you direction, you have to take that advice on board. If you're resilient to their advice, that's going to keep getting referenced and you'll find that you won't make it very far in the process.

"If they say to you, 'this isn't acidic enough,' make sure that the next time you're correcting that mistake and you don't make that same mistake twice. And just try and have fun with it."

"Sometimes you've just got to have fun with it, and just say to yourself 'what can I achieve personally,' and just be honest with yourself."

What's more, he said, a good amount of practice never goes amiss.

"Don't be afraid to say to your employer, 'I need time to practice,'" he said, "because the exposure that employers get off the back of MasterChef is worth its weight in gold."

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Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Tanwen Dawn-Hiscox

Deputy Editor 10th November 2021

Stu Deeley, Steven Edwards on MasterChef: The Professionals: 'If you don't have a Michelin star, you're not relevant to the elite level in the industry'