Dale, 28, is a recruitment consultant from Cardiff
Toughest moment: beef bourguignon for 100
The mass-catering round didn’t play to my strengths at all: a cut of meat that needed slow-cooking, two and a half hours and 100 people to feed. If I were doing beef bourguignon at home, I’d cook it for five hours. But the worst moment came the next day when my team-mates, Larkin and Saira, were fast-tracked and I had to go into the knockout. One minute we were standing there arm-in-arm; the next I was on my own. I thought my time was up.
Recipe for success
I’m from a tight-knit family and food has always been part of our coming together. As a kid, I was spoilt because my mum rarely cooked the same thing twice. Every month or so, my three sisters and I take it in turns to host. We started off throwing together one course, but once one person did a three-course meal, the next person would beat it by adding an amuse-bouche, the next would add a cheese board… over the years it’s turned into six-course menus with matching wine! There’s always been a competitive edge to my cooking.
Showstopper: chicken burger with coleslaw, fries and barbecue sauce, served with chicken lollipops and crispy chicken skin
The look on John and Gregg’s faces when I said I was making chicken burgers! I was doing it for shock value: I wanted to cook something more fun, more like the food I make at home. Normally I’m quite a measured bloke but the pressure was building, building, building… The nerves make your hands shake; something that would be really simple any other time turns into a Rubik’s cube. So when you get good feedback, the relief pulls on your heartstrings a little.
I’d like to get into food production or the restaurant trade. I’ve a lot of respect and admiration for chefs but it’s never been a desire of mine; I couldn’t do what those guys do and work 15 hours a day in a kitchen
Larkin, 28, was born in Cardiff and works as a solicitor in Bristol
Toughest moment: Irish fish chowder with soda bread
I thought I’d blown my chances after the palate test because I was the only one who didn’t replicate the dish at all. Everyone else made a chowder. I did some sort of… I don’t know what I did. I was racking my brains trying to remember the last time I made bread. I’ve never even eaten soda bread so I didn’t realise that’s what it was; I just knew there was something dense and weird about it. When it came to the chowder I was going on instinct. Perhaps my subconscious didn’t like the fact that the prawns looked a bit boiled; I prefer mine caramelised. In any case
I did my own thing without thinking.
Recipe for success
I hardly ever cook. I find it difficult to fit in around work. I’ve surprised a lot of my friends and family because they’ve never seen me behind a stove. My parents have a Chinese takeaway but tried to keep me away from the kitchen so I’d focus on my studies. I was always interested, though: I remember watching my mum chopping away, soaking it all up. I daydream all the time about food and dishes I’d like to do, but my ideas rarely make it onto a plate. I have a good palate, what I didn’t have is experience or techniques. Before I applied for MasterChef, I’d never made a dessert in my life. So I’ve had to teach myself a lot along the way.
Showstopper: smoked paella with breast of guinea fowl, lobster and black pudding
No one in their right mind would try and make this in an hour and a half. I came up with the idea on the train home from the previous round and that night I made my first ever paella. The trickiest bit was balancing the smoke: too strong and it tastes like burnt wood. Even the day before the competition, it wasn’t quite right and I was sick of paella because I’d eaten so much – no wonder I’ve turned into a right little porker! I was so chuffed when it worked.
If the opportunity arose, I’d really like to showcase Chinese food on TV. When people think of Chinese food, they often think: fried, colouring, MSG. But there’s so much more to it than dirty takeaways. In my opinion it rivals French cuisine for amazing tastes, textures and skill.
Natalie, 29, lives in London, and combines a job in finance with DJ work
Toughest moment: stir-fry beef with peanuts and choi sum
I was out of my depth. I’ve cooked Thai food in the past but following a recipe, and nothing more complicated than a Pad Thai. They didn’t show it but I actually cooked two dishes and threw one in the bin! I started off stir-frying peanuts and chillies. Halfway through I thought, “This is wrong” and began again, making a paste instead. That wasn’t the only stressful round. Often I was only sleeping two or three hours a night because of the nerves.
Recipe for success
I’m self-taught. I moved out when I was 18 so it was purely a practical thing. Then I became addicted to cookery programmes: some weekends I’d watch them from the minute I woke until I went to bed. I’d think, “Oh, I could do that.” Last year I got made redundant and really wanted to do a food diploma, but I had to put it off because I couldn’t find a part-time job to support myself. And then I got accepted onto MasterChef. It’s the fifth year I’ve applied; to finally be here is probably the best thing that’s ever happened to me.
Showstopper: pigeon breast served on a celeriac purée with orange-braised lentils, chicory and roasted hazelnuts
I’d eaten pigeon once when I was out and I wanted to cook something new. So I spent three days creating a recipe with the help of my flavour thesaurus. I practised it five times. I even got up at five o’clock that morning to cook it before I went in. My mum wouldn’t test it – she thinks pigeons are vermin – so the only person I’d tested it on was myself. That’s why I cried when I got those lovely comments from John and Gregg. I couldn’t help myself.
I’d like to work in a restaurant because there’s still so much to learn. I loved the professional kitchen round. When we walked in, it was like being in a sauna and we were running around like headless chickens. But once we got into the service and I started getting it right, there was a real buzz. I didn’t want it to end. I thought, “This is what I want to do.”