MasterChef: Where are last year’s finalists now?

2013's champion Natalie Coleman and finalists Dale Williams and Larkin Cen talk us through life since MasterChef

Once the MasterChef doors close, judges John Torode and Gregg Wallace go on their way and the Great British public find something else to watch, what happens to the finalists?


Well, there’s a whole lot of cooking, designing cookery books and embarking on new businesses to be done, as last year’s champion Natalie Coleman and runners up Dale Williams and Larkin Cen explain… 

Natalie Coleman, 30, from Hackney
- series nine champion in 2013

What’s it like being a MasterChef champion?

“It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me! It was a bit of a shock, because I thought Larkin was going to win.

What were your best and worst moments on the show?

“Making John cry with my pigeon was a best, that was quite emotional, and got me through to the semi-finals. Actually, Marcus Wareing was pretty top too, because he crucified everyone else, but I got away unscathed! Also cooking for Michael Caines, that was pretty up there. There are a lot!

“Toughest moment was probably the Bond Girls challenge, because I had a bit of an accident a couple of days before and had to go to hospital to get my finger stitched up. I didn’t think I was going to get through it, I thought I was going to walk out of the kitchen, but I pushed through and got on with it.

What advice would you give this year’s contestants?

“Practice your dishes as many times as you can – I cooked every one of mine at least three times before putting them in front of John and Gregg.
“It’s also important to cook food that reflects you as a person, don’t try to be something you’re not!

So, what have you been up to since MasterChef?

“Since winning it’s been crazy. We launched the MasterChef: The Finalists book, I’ve been demoing at numerous food shows across the country. I’ve also been getting loads of experience in professional kitchens with some of the country’s best chefs including Tom Kerridge, Tom Kitchen, Daniel Clifford, Simon Rogan, St Johns, Michel Roux Jr and Marcus Wareing,

“There’s lots going on cooking wise with children; I run cookery lessons for children in half terms in East London. [I’ve] been doing projects with Borough Market and Jamie’s 15: teaching the chefs there. I’ve also just finished writing my own cookbook, which is due out in October. It’s been busy!

And what’s next?

“Settling down in the kitchen, and getting a job is the next step! I’m continuing the cookery classes with children two days a week in every half term, which I love. One day, maybe in the next three to five years, to have my own restaurant. That’s the dream.”

Dale Williams, 29, from Cardiff
- series nine finalist in 2013

What’s it like being a MasterChef finalist?

“Being a finalist on the show was a bit of a dream come true really, because when you enter the process you really want to get to the end, then once you become a finalist it’s kind of like “breathe, that target’s achieved” … and then you try and win it!

What were your best and worst moments on the show?

“My best moment had to be reaching the final. We cooked for 12 restaurant critics, myself, Natalie and Larkin, and Saira at the time, which was scary! It was kind of the last shot, last chance saloon, and definitely the best moment – being told I was a finalist.

“Failures are the toughest parts to take. Cooking for Marcus Wareing on the series was a really difficult time for me – he is somebody I look up to, and I didn’t really achieve what I wanted to in that round. It was probably my toughest round.

What have you been up to since MasterChef?

“After MasterChef I just really took stock of where I was, and carried on with the recruitment business, which is growing at a really fast rate. I’ve been demoing at food festivals and launched the MasterChef: The Finalists cookbook.

“Larkin and myself have also been setting up a business together; an Asian inspired takeaway restaurant effectively.

“We did a pop up at the Celtic Manor Hotel in Newport back in November and did 1000 covers in four days – we were bruised, blistered, there were tears, tantrums, but happiness too, because it went really well.

So, what’s next for you?

“[Larkin and I have] are planning to open a restaurant this year. The restaurant concept we’re working on is called Hokkei, which is basically a stripped back, high-end version of an Asian takeaway. We’re launching in the south west primarily and filming a TV series alongside, following the progress of the restaurant. It’s an exciting time.”

Larkin Cen, 29 from Bristol
- series nine finalist in 2013

What’s it like being a MasterChef finalist?

“It was fantastic. It was one of the most surreal things I’ve ever done, but also one of the most rewarding, so I wouldn’t have changed anything, other than winning of course!
I was a completely different cook at the end of the competition, but that’s not the end of it. The real adventure starts after the final. It was a truly life changing moment.

What were your best and worst moments on the show?

“My best moment was being able to do experimental food. Beforehand I’ve only just jotted my ideas down on a piece of paper and a lot of the time they get chucked in the bin. One of my favourite moments was when I did my paella dish; it was experimental, and I pulled off.

“My toughest moment was the bad patch I went through during the competition. I just could not get out of it – I kept making mistakes, and the mistakes were putting more pressure on me in the other rounds and it just had a bit of a snowball effect. The pressure might have got to me a bit then.

What have you been up to since MasterChef?

“Since MasterChef I’ve handed in my notice – I’m no longer a lawyer – and decided to embark on my lifelong dream to become an entrepreneur. I grew up in my parents’ Chinese takeaway in Cardiff and, at the age of 16, I drafted my first business plan, which mapped out a complete overhaul of the Chinese hot food takeaway sector. I noted that the Chinese food sector was too fragmented, the businesses lacked scalability and most importantly the food was outdated and generally unhealthy.

“I applied for MasterChef with the knowledge that I needed to give myself some credibility in relation to food. Despite hardly ever cooking due to the pressures of my day job, I trusted in what I felt was my natural (albeit raw) talent and in my heritage. I am now a third generation chef in my family.

“I had been on the look out for a business partner, who shared the same values as me for a while, then met fellow Welsh finalist, Dale Williams, on MasterChef. After the series we have not only become great friends but also business partners, with the sole purpose of establishing the Hokkei brand. Hokkei is an Asian takeaway like no other and we promise the dishes will be absolutely delicious and affordable. Our ambition is to have outlets in all major cities within a very short time period.

“Dale and I are currently filming for a new BBC documentary that is due to air in September this year. In terms of a sneak peak, episode two involves a food journey to Hong Kong where we rediscover the beauty of Chinese food. I’m also really excited to be working with MasterChef Travel, being the foodie expert on culinary holidays to China, during October this year.

So, what’s next for you?

“My immediate plan is to make sure Hokkei is completely self sustaining. After that the dream would be to have my own restaurant one day, and try to chase down a star or three! I’ve sketched some pretty outrageous dishes in my sketchbook and I can’t wait to cook them professionally.”

MasterChef returns Wednesday 26 March at 9:00pm on BBC1