Proud cockney Natalie Coleman has become the third woman to be crowned best amateur chef, beating Welshmen Larkin Cen and Dale Williams in the final. After a tip-off, RadioTimes.com gave her a bell…
Congratulations. Where are you watching tonight’s episode?
Thanks. I’m watching it with my mum, dad and little sister. Only my mum and grandad know. I’ve had to swear them to secrecy otherwise I’d be shot, I think!
What did your grandad say when you won?
“I didn’t have any doubts. I knew you would.” He was 100% certain that I was going to win but obviously he didn’t see the fantastic dishes Larkin and Dale were cooking.
Has it been tough keeping it a secret?
Very. The last day of filming was 11 December so it’s been a long time. I’ve had to stop answering messages from my friends, especially on Facebook. I feel bad not replying but I just press “like” instead.
How did it feel to hold that trophy?
It didn’t sink in at first. You hear the words but it doesn’t register. I think I was in shock. There was no bitterness. The boys and I agreed beforehand: whoever wins, good luck to them.
Did John have any words of wisdom?
He said he would sit down with me and advise me about what to do next. It’s his opinion I value the most because he’s a chef. When we’d be cooking the studio, he’d come round and give you little pointers.
Gregg just likes being fed. As long as he’s got something good in his belly, he’s a happy chappie. I had a great laugh with him. He’d come over – especially if you were stressed out or nervous – and tell you a little joke and make you giggle. He’d chill you out.
What’s it been like watching it back?
It’s been quite weird – I thought I sounded different. You can look back on it now and enjoy it, whereas before you were always worrying about whether you were going to be go home, or what you had to do next. As soon as we finished recording I’d be rushing off home to practice or read up on recipes.
Which part of your Italian trip did you enjoy most?
The day we spent with Mamma Agata was something else. They own so much land – stretching right down to the sea – where they grow all their vegetables. They make all their own passata, bottle and sell it, and dry all their own herbs and tomatoes.
Dale said he wanted to marry into the family. Did you hope you’d be adopted?
I wouldn’t mind! Obviously I couldn’t understand a word Mamma Agata said but you could tell how much she enjoyed cooking from the faces she was pulling. At one point she put her hand on my hip and gave it a squeeze. I thought it was because I’d put on weight but her daughter translated: “you need to eat more; you can’t be a chef because you’re too skinny.” That made me feel a lot better because I’d put on a stone!
Who was the most intimidating of the Michelin-starred chefs?
Marcus Wareing because he’s known for his razor-tongue and I really value his opinion; he didn’t get two stars for nothing. Deep down I’m sure he’s a bit of a soft touch – but that’s just because I got away with it!
Dale often shook but you seemed calmer as the competition went on…
You saw quite a few tears in the beginning because my nerves were shot to pieces. Especially when I cooked for the previous winners: I was shaking like a leaf. Your emotions are up and down all the time, and I wasn’t sleeping very well. Eventually my mum said: “get some of that Rescue Remedy spray”. I used a whole bottle in a week – and you’re very chilled when you’ve taken a whole bottle of Rescue Remedy! I also think I grew in confidence.
Did you take a break when it was all over?
I chilled out that weekend and the following week I was back down Borough Market. I still cook for my grandad everyday. I love it. Because I was at the market all the time during the competition, a girl on one of the stalls kept saying “why do you keep buying all these different things?” And I’d say, “Oh, I’m just doing a cookery course.”
The boys and I have been working on a cookbook. There are 15 recipes each from the show and 15 we’ve written especially for the book. In June we’re going up to the NEC in Birmingham to do the BBC Good Food Show. Aunty Saira, as I call her, will be there too. She’s who I used to go to for hugs.