We Caught Up With Pete From This Year’s Masterchef

To talk the show, Japanese food and what the future holds...

Pete Masterchef 2015

You’ve probably been asked this a million times, but why did you apply to be on Masterchef? I’d seen it before, but I’d never seen a whole series from start to finish and I watched it for the first time from start to finish last year with a good friend of mine. I obviously cooked a lot for her, and she was like, “Why don’t you go on and do it?” and it sort of developed from there. I applied straightaway after it had finished and then sent off the application. I think it was about 3 months until anything actually came of it, and I’d just forgotten about it. I thought, I didn’t get in and I didn’t get considered sorta thing. Then I got a phone call whilst at work and they did an interview with me, and then they invited me down to do a face to face interview and then from there, I was on the show. I just thought, why not, I’ll give it ago, you can’t lose anything can you?

So were you surprised when you made it? Yeah, really surprised! Like I said, 3 months went by and I’d forgotten about it, then I got the phone call at work. It all sort of snowballed from there.

Did you tell anybody? Well, I was on the phone for a good 40 minutes at work, so I had to tell somebody! In your contract it says you can only tell one person – that’s impossible isn’t it?! I told my mum – that was that one person I started off telling, and she likes to gossip! That then went into hundreds.

You created a lot of Japanese inspired dishes. Where did this passion come from? The first taste of Japanese food I ever had was – I must have been about 11 – was Wagamama. I can remember that being my first experience of Japanese food, and I think it was for a lot of our generation as kids, and for the majority of the UK. I think Wagamama was the first mass-produced Japanese restaurant. I think that’s where a lot of people try Japanese food for the first time. I can remember every birthday, if my mum turned round to me and said “Where do you want to eat in town?” it’d be Wagamama every time without fail. And then it just grew from there. I got the cook book when I was 16 as a birthday present, and then I just started looking into it more – going to different restaurants in London, Skinny Sumo which is now Bonzai which is in Hockley (Nottingham). It just developed from there. It was just something I’d never eaten. Our family is big about food, but it was just so different to anything I ever had – it was exciting.

Japanese food was just something I’d never eaten. Our family is big about food, but it was just so different to anything I ever had – it was exciting.

Did you wonder what John and Gregg would say about it when you produced Japanese food as your calling card in the first round? I got a bit of stick actually from people on Twitter that, because I was a white British lad, why am I cooking Japanese food? Shouldn’t I be cooking a roast or a steak or a shepherd’s pie, which I found quite amusing because the majority of modern British food, its basis is in classical French cooking. They use classical French techniques that have been around for a couple of hundred years. It’s quite amusing that you would have a go at a modern British chef in the UK and say, “Why are you cooking French food?”. There’s a lot of people out there that do it like Theo Randall, a Michelin starred chef that cooks Italian food… It’s by the by really.

So do you still make your parents Japanese food? I do, yeah! I’m a bit of a lazy cook….

Are you?! Yeah, ha ha.

But you were so technical…. You had to be! On the show, I started off wanting to do Japanese inspired street food because that’s what the business [idea I have] is and that’s the industry I want to go into. Fairly straight forward wholesome food, not fine dining, really intricate, fiddly stuff. See as the competition progresses, you’ve got to push the boundaries. You can’t be doing basic food – you have to push what you do. That’s the reason I did all that complex stuff. I’d never cooked like that until the show. I learnt so much during that process. I didn’t think I’d ever cook that sort of food, not that I’m not interested in it – I am. I enjoy it.

Pete Masterchef 2015 3

What was the most difficult thing you experienced during the show? The toughest thing for me, and you can tell it was the toughest when you watch it, is that challenge at Michael Caines. We were cooking for Churchill’s 50th anniversary of his death. I was just in there hazed for the whole 4 hours, I didn’t know what I was doing. I looked at the recipe and just had 3 sheets of gobbledygook really. I just couldn’t understand it. It was techniques and methods that I’ve never done before and I just got really confused. For 4 hours I sort of bumbled through it and amazingly managed to get something out on the plate that was edible, ha ha.

Was it also the pressure of who you were cooking for? Yeah, that came into it. I mean, Michael Caines is a 2 Michelin starred chef and he’s done it with one arm. The bloke’s got a whole arm missing and the determination and the passion in him was inspiring. It was scary to be cooking for somebody of that calibre and he demands a certain standard. He may seem nice on the telly, which he is, but behind that there is still a serious, professional chef in him that wants you to produce something good. That was really tough.

Was there anything challenging whilst not cooking? I hadn’t had the best night’s sleep that night. I can’t sleep that well in hotels, so I was tired anyway and then coming in and seeing the recipe… There were a couple of mistakes on that recipe sheet that I don’t know whether were on purpose to trip us up or a mistake made by the person putting the recipe together who was printing them out because I think Michael had given them a recipe, then they’d re-printed it and laminated it for us. At the beginning of that episode I make a mistake with the sugar work for the Italian meringue, I ended up putting 200 grams of sugar in the pan and 15ml of water thinking I was making caramel. I’ve never made Italian meringue before so I didn’t have a clue what I was meant to be doing. So I’ve started off thinking what I thought I should be doing and then he’s come over and gone, “Why you doing that? You’re making a caramel. How much water did it say to put in?”, I said “15ml”. He said, “It should be 150ml. You should dissolve it first and then heat it up to a syrup”. So that on the recipe was wrong. I pointed it out, ha ha, but obviously you don’t see that on the telly!

Ha ha, of course not! So you made it to Finals Week. Were you expecting to be sent home? Ha ha, to be fair, I’d given up at that point. After the round at Michael Caines, that challenge wore me down. I was a bit annoyed at the fact that the recipe wasn’t right, and annoyed at the fact I’d put out a decent dish – maybe not at the standard he wanted it. I was just knackered, and then we had to go back. I was tired of all the travelling. I was travelling from London to Notts all the time. I had to go back to Notts that night and I didn’t get in until 2am, and then I had to get up at 8am to practice my dish and then go back to London that evening to be up at 7am, to be at the studio to cook that dish. It was madness, it was just so hectic. That Friday when we had to go into the studio to cook the apple tart, which I messed up and went out on – I’d said to myself, I’m not bothered if I go home, I’d be happy. I’ll go out at the weekend, I’ll get drunk and I’ll just relax. That Finals Week was nuts. The minute they finished on Friday they were off to Stockholm on the Saturday, and they were in Stockholm for like 3 days, and then they were back in London doing a fish dish for Nathan Outlaw and then they had a day, two days at most to practice for the final. I hadn’t even come up with a dish for the final – I had to come up with a starter, a main and a dessert and I hadn’t even thought about it. I had my fish dish, but not a starter, main or dessert. I just couldn’t envisage how that week was going to work out for me.

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What are presenters Gregg and John like? They’re lovely; Greg’s very funny, John is incredibly knowledgeable. It was quite daunting for me to cook Asian food for John because he’s big into his Thai food being from Australia with South East Asia on his doorstep, so he’s been there a lot and eaten a lot of the food. He knows what he’s talking about, so to put up food that’s trying to stand up against what he knows and his knowledge is quite daunting. The two of them are lovely. We don’t see a huge amount of them because they keep their distance because they have to judge it at the end of the day, that’s their role, they have to judge the competition. So they can’t be seen to have any favouritism so they can’t be pals with anybody. They’ll come in, be nice and say hello and do the judging, but then after that they go.

They seem to be there for a long time when you watch it. They’re in the studio the whole time. They’re there for the whole hour and 20 minutes, or however long it may be, and when you do the challenge as well they’re always walking around and they’ll always chat to you, but you don’t hang out.

Was it ever off-putting when they spoke to you whilst you were trying to cook? Every time! Even when you’re in a kitchen at home, and you’re doing something and it’s complex, or you’re in the moment and you’ve got a load of things on – something in the oven and two things on the hob and things are going off then someone coming over and having a fucking chinwag with you, ha ha! I used to have it when I cooked for my mates back in Bristol, there’d be like nine or ten of us round the flat and I’d be cooking in the kitchen for a good hour and then everybody would come round, and they’d pile into this little kitchen drinking and shouting having a laugh, while I’m trying to concentrate and they’d be like, “Can I help you with this?” and I’m like “No, fuck off! I’m sorted, just go into the lounge and chill out”. It does, it stresses you out! That was one of the reasons I messed up on my tart because when they came over to me, I was right in the middle of doing the custard for the tart and I had to put all of that down and stop it and that just completely threw me off. I couldn’t really pick up my rhythm after that.

John knows what he’s talking about, so to put up food that’s trying to stand up against what he knows and his knowledge is quite daunting.

Do you find baking more difficult than cooking? Yes, I’m rubbish at desserts.

No Great British Bake Off then? Not a chance! Baking is such a precise procedure. Everything is very accurate. It takes time – if you’ve overfilled the scales then you’ve got to take it out. The custard wasn’t set in the tart because I didn’t put the right amount of stabiliser xanthan gum in it, so that’s got to be weighed out by the gram. It’s a lot more time-consuming and fiddly, and I’m not good with fiddly!

Are you getting recognised now? That’s why I’ve got the hat on, ha ha!

Doing a Justin Bieber… Ha ha, trying to blend in! I do but not all the time. Sometimes I get stopped in the street, I got stopped the other day by a woman. I wear a hat a lot, and I didn’t on the show because I couldn’t in the studio. I don’t know, I think a lot of people double take. I got stopped on the tube the other week in London. The woman was sat there scowling at me and couldn’t quite place it and I looked at her and was like, “Ya alright?” and she was like, “Are you Pete from…” and I’m like “Yeah, I am”. It’s the hat, innit? They can’t quite tell!

So now Masterchef is over, what are your plans? I’m just in the process of setting up the food van. I’ve just bought that from the U.S. I’m just waiting for it to be shipped! So that should be over here in a month. It’s a big Grumman Olson Stepvan, similar to USP vans with the big sliding doors and big box on the back. I’ve got to fit the kitchen in that before I can start doing anything. That van should hopefully be here at the end of May, beginning of June and then I’m aiming to be up and running by the end of July, beginning of August.

So are you going to travel around the UK? Yeah. For this summer I’m going to be touring around the UK doing all the food festivals; London, Manchester, Leeds – wherever. Do as many of them as possible. Be in Notts, and hopefully do a monthly food event at Mimm. And yeah, just touring around and then decide where I’m going to base myself in the winter. But yeah, doing events like weddings, birthdays, whatever I can do… When I’ve got money, music festivals like Glastonbury. It’s like twelve grand for the weekend to rent and I don’t have that sort of cash knocking about. I’m doing an event in Exeter celebrating people who have been working there for 15 years and they asked me to come down and cook. Then I’ve got the Nottinghamshire County Show this weekend just doing a Q&A which is a bit scary because I don’t know what sort of questions are going to be asked! Coming to chat to you, you want to know all about Masterchef, but I’ll be sat on the stage with audience members firing questions at me. I don’t know how many people are going to be there, if any! It might be my mum, my dad… Ha ha. I don’t think it’ll ever sink in fully, the scale of it. It happened so quickly doing it. I still haven’t watched all the episodes. I did a couple of interviews for Notts TV, but I still haven’t watched that. I don’t particularly like watching myself.

There are a lot of actors like that though, aren’t there? Not that I’m relating myself to John Malkovich, but I was watching a thing with John Malkovich and he was saying he cannot stand to watch himself or hear his voice. He says he sounds like a recovering drug addict – he’s got this slur to his voice and he hates it. Maybe there’s an element of that… Not that I sound like a recovering drug addict!VH


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