Who’d be a MasterChef?

Winning the cookery contest can be life-changing – but it’s not all celebrity and Michelin stars, finds Rosie Millard

If you aren’t going to open a restaurant, though, you could sit down and write cookbooks. How about more than a dozen? That’s what 2007 finalist Hannah Miles did. Her MasterChef “moment” gave her the authority to fly as a cookbook writer. Her book Cheesecake has sold more than 70,000 copies and has been translated into eight languages. “I can just see recipes in my head,” she says simply. “I often wake up in the middle of the night and I can see how they can be.” 

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That’s another thing you need if you’re going to make it in the cheffy business, an ability to wake up in the middle of the night and write things down. Torode knows all about that; as a young man, he was in charge of the entire catering logistics for a giant sporting company in Sydney.

“On a really big day, I would serve 5,000 people,” he says casually. Didn’t that give you sleepless nights? “Nah,” he says. Well, sort of. But there was a point to them. “At three in the morning, I would get out of bed, write everything down and sort it all out. That was normal for me. I did that for years. That’s what you do as a chef.”

Is this why working in a professional kitchen is rumoured to be disastrous for one’s private life? Torode dismisses this. “It’s true of any industry. People think the restaurant industry is hard and takes no prisoners, but so does baking, so does retail and so does bus driving. You can’t blame your job. You have to control your own destiny and make your own choices.”

He has been married twice, has four children and is now dating actress – and 2010 Celebrity MasterChef winner – Lisa Faulkner (above). “You can’t blame another person for your world being different – or things like divorce. It gets right on my goat when people don’t take responsibility. My first wife, Angela, is very happy living in Cornwall, doing what she is doing, in a camper van. But I don’t camp. I am not going to go outside with a shovel and poo in the corner of a field. That’s not what I do.”

“My second marriage to Jessica just fell apart. It was nothing to do with restaurants. I was very fortunate when we opened my restaurant Smiths of Smithfield, because I was the boss and I could dictate my own hours. Yes, I have been lucky, but I have worked really hard. I stick my head down and work and I absorb as much as I can. That’s why I admire Tommie [Thomasina Miers, the first MasterChef winner in 2005]. She turns up and gets on with it.” 

MasterChef sells you the dream,” admits Miers. “But if you win, MasterChef cannot wave a magic wand. Life is the same as it was before the show. You have to work out what is going to happen. I had no game plan. When I set up my first Wahaca restaurant [it’s now a chain], I didn’t see anyone for at least two years. I lost contact with everyone. It was like having a child. Now I have children [both of whom are still toddlers], it’s a double-edged sword.”

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“I work part-time, I have a recipe column in a newspaper, and I write books. When I’m with the children, I’m with them. I’m careful not to do that whole social media thing. But at night, I work, researching food and writing up recipes. I guess it does get like this in the creative industries; every time I cook supper at home I’m thinking of ingredients or recipes. Work is my life.”