Ash is King: Masterchef crowns a deserving champ

The recent ‘Masterchef: The Professionals’ final was quite something, didn’t you think? When you get to that kind of level, just how are you supposed to pick contestants apart?

I suppose it comes down to the little things, the small touches, a complete absence of any errors, and a certain degree of magic that lifts one chef slightly above the rest. That being the case, I don’t think we can argue that the right person ended up with the top prize. That Ash Mair from Tasmania, he’s quite a talent, isn’t he?

One of the things I loved most about this guy was that his food told us something of his personal story. It was wonderful to see the way he applied his creativity to the basque tastes and traditions which were obviously such a big influence on him. TV doesn’t do tastes and smells, but I felt I could almost taste that roasted monkfish with the black lentils and basque piperade!

This series has certainly generated a lot of talk, and I think that’s a very good thing. My chefs and I sometimes discuss the effect – if any – that all these cooking programmes are having on the general population’s food outlook and eating habits. We British have some excellent culinary traditions, but we’re not exactly known around the world as a food nation. Ironically, we actually do have some of the finest chefs in the world.

There is one line of thought that says you can never change a deeply embedded culture and that we shouldn’t strive to change people’s food  outlook and their eating habits.

I’m afraid I don’t buy that one at all. After all, just look at what we at Cucina have managed to do, in our own small way.

We went into our first school with a vision – which was actually, to change a culture – a school-food culture. This was the culture of mediocre, bought-in food. The culture of slow service. The culture of poor planning, the culture of low standards allied to a distinct lack of…fun! And I’m proud to say we have changed it. Or I should say we are changing it, because there’s always much more to do, and we must always aspire.

And that brings me back to where I started, with Masterchef. The competing chefs talked constantly about their aspirations – where they wanted to take their cooking and what higher planes they wanted to rise to with it. I think if we don’t have those aspirations, we tend to stagnate.

I also think we need people to inspire us to greatness. Having to cook for a roll-call of 36 of the world’s best chefs certainly seemed to do that for the Masterchef finalists. One of my inspirational foodie moments was visiting Sat Bains’ restaurant in Nottingham. And then there was an earlier visit to Manoir Aux Quatre Saisons. Mmmmmm! Food experiences like that just lift the roof off your expectations, don’t they? They show you what is possible with a bit of genius and lot of dedication, planning and hard work.

And who knows what future food geniuses we may be inspiring in our own Cucina restaurants right now? I’ll suppose we’ll just have to wait and see!

Till next time,

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