MasterChef is back on our screens on BBC One. Now in its 26th year on television, the MasterChef format has been exported to over 40 countries all over the world, including Ireland. The Irish version was relatively short lived compared to its longevity in countries like the United Kingdom and Australia; it lasted only three seasons on RTÉ One with one spin off series of Celebrity MasterChef.
The show gave amateur chefs in Ireland the chance to cook for award winning chef Dylan McGrath and maitre d’ Nick Munier. Throughout its three seasons over 50 contestants took part, attempting to impress the judges with their recipes and skills. Many of the contestants went on to work in the food industry including Niamh Mannion and Darina Coffey, both of whom are writing for TheTaste.
You might have been wondering what happened to the others, did they return to their normal lives away from the cameras? Or did their experiences inspire them to take the leap into the food industry? We caught up with some of them to find out.
South African Tamarin had travelled the world before settling down in Ireland. She took a chance applying for MasterChef and found herself learning a lot along the way. “I can’t watch reality TV in the same way that’s for sure! When I see someone walk through a door on a reality TV show I wonder how many times they did that to get the perfect shot. I loved cooking on the show and the challenges. I wish the Irish show was more like the Australian one as we would have gained so much more from it but I still enjoyed my time on the Irish MC and have no regrets.”
Tamarin got a lot from the experience, in particular her close friendships with fellow contestants and an education, “My cooking has improved immensely after winning the show. I try new things, experiment, write recipes and have so much more confidence in the kitchen. My life always was about the love of food but now it’s just bigger and better!” Winning the show opened doors for Tamarin who went on to work in kitchens, run pop up restaurants write a cookbook and open her own catering business called Good Food Folk with fellow contestant Brian Topping. Now living in New Zealand, Tamarin is still cooking and planning lots of food projects in her new country.
Jarek was working in a bagel bar when he applied to go on MasterChef. Originally from Poland and living in Dublin with wife Sarah and daughter Emily, it was Jarek’s family that got him to apply. “I have always enjoyed cooking and my family suggested that I should enter the show. They thought I had what it takes to get in and it happened.
Taking part in the show was stressful for Jarek as he was filming for hours across long days. He enjoyed the process nevertheless and met some ‘interesting’ people. After the show he launched his own food business called Jarek’s Kitchen. “After MasterChef I realised I wanted a career in the food industry. I cater for small family get togethers like Communions and Christenings as well as trading in lunchtime and Farmers Markets all over Dublin.”
Having been a restaurant reviewer in Australia, it was clear to MasterChef viewers that Sinead has a great passion for food. “A friend of mine sent me the application form. I had never watched it before and because I was so into cooking she thought it would be great to do… little did I know… ha ha!” Sinead had a lot of fun during the show and made some great friends who she is still in touch with.
She says it was a great learning experience and it made her stronger. “You can achieve anything if you push yourself hard enough. It gave me more confidence and belief in myself.” Nowadays Sinead is busy with projects for her design company Sinead Considine Interiors but still adores cooking. “I find it a great way to de-stress and will immerse myself for hours experimenting with recipes but I usually only cook for family and friends.”
Kildare Mum of two Edel was always a big fan of MasterChef and admits she was jealous watching other people learning from top chefs. She says the judges both brought their own style to the show. “For the judges it really is all about the food and the flavour. Dylan and Nick gave feedback from different perspectives which is really important to get.” Edel says the show gave her a boost of confidence and the motivation she needed to get back into work after staying at home for a few years. “Being part of the show made it clear to me that my next job would have to be more hands on food focused and I’m really lucky to have found that.”
Her career has rocketed since the show and Edel is now the Head of Food and Business Development for KC Peaches. “The beauty of my job is that is allows me the best of both worlds where I can use my management experience and still spend time in the kitchen – literally, my office is in the middle of the kitchen! We feed thousands of people every day through our stores, catering contracts and private events. It’s busy but lots of fun!”
It was fate that made Terry apply for MasterChef when he saw an ad on TV while in the process of voluntary redundancy. He loved travelling to London and Stockholm for challenges and meeting the other contestants “It is important to remember that it is first and foremost a TV programme and, as I got to the final, I really did get to enjoy the best of it. But for some contestants, there was a lot of sitting around and possibly only a few hours of cooking. And you had no idea how the final program was going to be edited.”
Although he worked in Brother Hubbards Café for a few months after the show, that experience showed Terry that a career in food was not for him. “I learned so much about food and running a food business and I have the highest respect for anyone that owns or works in it. It is tough work and long hours.” Now Terry lives in Clonakilty with his wife and two kids and is still really passionate about food, even sampling some of Diana’s fare at the FOOD Depot. “I am back working for a global technology company called PGi but in my spare time I still like to get involved in all things food in the area. I try to keep my blog going, but cooking these days is less MasterChef, and more whatever-the-kids-will-eat-chef!”
Kerri loved cooking from an early age but it was sibling rivalry that led her to enter MasterChef. “I think I was a bit jealous of my sister who had just started studying culinary arts, something I would have loved to do, so there may have been a competitive element to it!” Her time on the show was notoriously short after Dylan refused to eat her signature profiteroles dish. Although things didn’t go as planned and Kerri’s confidence took a knock, she enjoyed the experience. “I felt like I had embarrassed myself and I didn’t cook for a very long time afterwards. But over time I felt that applying for MasterChef and getting on the show, when I was so much less experienced and knowledgeable than all of the other contests, proved that I had guts – and maybe some potential.”
Kerri completed an MA in Creative Writing and now works in children’s publishing in the UK. She is cooking and baking more than ever and even applied for the last season of the Great British Bake Off. “Last year I got some lessons in traditional Chinese cooking while I was travelling around China so I’ve been experimenting with that too. I’ve been writing down and collating my own recipes, but I am perfectly content being a home cook – my meals aren’t beautiful, or professional, or high cuisine, but they are made with love and care, and for me that’s what cooking is about.”
Clare Anne was already involved in the food industry when she entered MasterChef. Having studied Specialty Food Production, she was working for Green Saffron Spices when she made the decision. “I realised I actually loved creating dishes rather than working in the food science side of things, so MasterChef came up at just the right time and seemed like a great opportunity to cook at a certain level.” Clare Anne found the process interesting and says director Linda McQuaid was ‘inspirational’.
After expanding her creative boundaries Clare Anne embraced a career in food. She moved to Dublin and tried lots of different areas, even curating the EDIBLE exhibit for the Science Gallery. Now living in Stoneybatter with partner Colin and four month old Alexander, Clare Anne is working as a food stylist and writer for several publications and is consulting with SuperValu. “I still get to use my quirky creative cooking by continuing to work with the Science Gallery. The next event I will be cooking/performing at is ArtMeatFlesh.”
Diana is originally from Hungary and lives in Cork with husband Michael O’Donovan. She applied for MasterChef to find out if she was as good as people told her she was, “I needed professional criticism and self-validation in order to believe in myself and prove that being in the kitchen is my destiny.” The experience for Diana was exhilarating and stressful at the same time, she has a lot of respect for her fellow contestants. “Only people with real determination, passion and focus will enter a competition like this. I loved meeting the contestants and all the extremely hard working people on the show, behind the scenes.”
Since leaving the show Diana set up her own food business FOOD Depot – Gourmet Street Kitchen with husband Mike. They have a prep kitchen in the garden called The Clubhouse where friends and family test the dishes that they sell from their food truck in Courtmacsherry in Cork. “The show gives you a platform, a sense of self belief. I knew we needed to start our own business immediately and continue this beautiful learning process in the real world. It wasn’t easy to say the least. This was our dream, having our own place, working hard together for the same reason – we just love food. We are still learning every day, we keep motivating and training ourselves, I don’t think that will ever stop. We are too hungry for it!”
Thailand born Nicha lived in Ireland for 11 years before applying for MasterChef. Having spent years cooking nutritious Thai food for her family, Nicha’s husband urged her to go for it. “I wanted to know where my level of cooking was so when MasterChef were looking for contestants my husband said this is your chance to find out, so I did.” MasterChef was emotional and stressful at times but an unforgettable experience for Nicha, one that importantly introduced her to the food industry.
The next project for Nicha is quite a step up from managing her Subway stores.She is just about to realise her dream of owning her own pub and restaurant. “This is the exciting bit, in two weeks we’re taking over the pub and restaurant formerly known as “The Silver Tankard” between Navan and Kells. The food is going to be gastro pub but I will introduce a bit of Thai in it, because that’s my root. I think the experience from running the Subway stores could help, it won’t be easy but we’re up for the challenge.”
Having dreamed of a career in the food industry, applying for MasterChef was a brave way for Brian to seek out a new path. Through long days and a lot of hanging around, Brian enjoyed the actual cooking part the most. “It was also great to learn from Dylan and the other guest chefs during filming and I think I left a better cook than when I entered the process.”
Brian made many friends on the show and even went on to work with series winner Tamarin on various projects, including their own catering company. He has spent the last few months travelling the world on a ‘personal food odyssey’. “I’ve been collecting and writing recipes, attending cookery schools and eating with the locals, trying to understand their food culture and the part it plays in their lives.” Brian says he is lucky to be living the foodie dream.
Alison has been writing since she could hold a pen, which came in handy for her degree in English, Media and Cultural Studies. She has been working in media since graduating and is the latest features writer for TheTaste.
Writing for TheTaste allows her to combine her passion for the written word with her love of food and drink. Find her on Twitter @AliDalyo