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

Are Dhruv Baker and Alex Rushmer, winner and finalist of the 2010 competition, cut from the same cloth? It seems so. Baker is causing a buzz in south London with his gastro-pub The Jolly Gardeners in Earlsfield, while Rushmer has won plaudits for his restaurant The Hole in the Wall, outside Cambridge.

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“I quit my job as soon as I knew I’d got to the finals,” says Baker, a former sales director in a media agency. “It was a leap of faith and a gamble, I will admit to that.” He set up a catering business, the Earlsfield Kitchen, and now runs the pub. “Nothing prepares you for what running a restaurant entails. It’s sleepless nights for weeks on end, worrying about petty things like a broken tap, to big things like staff numbers. Or whether we will have enough food. I have learnt, though, to filter out negative thoughts. I mean, I could get struck by lightning, couldn’t I? I tend to gloss over those bits.”

Just get on with it, advises Rushmer. “I opened my restaurant with a simple menu, cooking the sort of food I knew I could cook to a decent level, for the number of covers we had. The main problem was trying to find finance in the middle of a recession. I couldn’t borrow any money from banks. I had to self-fund, which meant a slow process, but it has enabled me to focus on the food and the offer. And I have a very understanding fiancée. Ultimately I love what I am doing. That shows.” 

First MasterChef winner and Wahaca founder Thomasina Miers

Love, love, love, says Torode. You have to love it. When he arrived in London, he took a very lowly job in the kitchen at Terence Conran’s Le Pont de la Tour. Cycling home after his first day, he was beaten up by an irate driver. He sustained two black eyes, but was back on the job the next day. He arrived every morning before everyone else. Every day. He offered to cook the specials. Every day.

He was promoted within a fortnight; after six months, he was a senior chef. “And that’s how you succeed,” he says. He makes it sound easy. The sweating faces of the MasterChef contestants, however? That’s the reality.

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MasterChef returns to BBC1 tonight (Tuesday 10th March) at 9.00pm