Gran’s culinary inspiration sees Mike through to semi-finals of MasterChef

A WOKING man whose love of food was sparked by his Italian grandmother has progressed to the semi-finals of the TV cookery show MasterChef.

Mike Tomkins grew up in West Byfleet with his father Pete and mother Carmela, whose Italian parents moved to Woking as teenagers.

RECIPE FOR SUCCESS – Mike Tomkins with the MasterChef logo

“They lived a couple of villages apart and met at St Dunstan’s Catholic Church,” Mike said.

He attributes his culinary skills to his “nonna” Tina and Carmela, who ran a campaign called “Love food, hate waste” and taught cookery.

Mike went along to some of his mother’s cooking demonstrations and was taken for a birthday to Le Gavroche in London, opened by Albert and Michel Roux and now run by Michel Jr.

“That was a real eye-opener,” he said.

Mike honed his skills while studying at the University of Bournemouth.

“I spent quite a lot of money on fine ingredients,” he said.

Mike had watched MasterChef  for many years and was encouraged to apply by his girlfriend, Megan McIntosh, and her family, for whom he cooked regularly.

Mike prepares one of his judge pleasing dishes

He went through the application process and was then called to say he was in.

“That was very surreal,” Mike said.

After progressing through two rounds of the 17th series of the BBC show, Mike was in a quarter-final with four other contestants.

The guest judge was writer and restaurant critic William Sitwell, who set the five chefs a task of creating a dish inspired by a holiday.

“I chose a trip to Hong Kong, which was my first holiday with Megan,” Mike said.

He cooked duck breast with a five-spice jus, celeriac purée, caramelised chicory, duck leg bonbons and lemongrass roast potatoes.

Sitwell and regular judges Greg Wallace and John Torode where unanimous in their praise of Mike’s dish.

Sitwell called it “phenomenal” while Wallace said it was a brilliant fusion of Chinese flavour and European-style cooking.

In their discussions as to who would go through, Wallace and Torode unanimously chose Mike for one of the two places and then deliberated longer over the second one.

Mike said the comments he received were everything he had hoped for.

“It felt brilliant to be there and you don’t feel like you’re competing against other chefs as they’re sharing the same experience as you.

“Everyone just wants to put their best foot forward and then hope that that is enough on the day.

“I still keep in contact with the other contestants and hopefully, when lockdown lifts, I’ll finally be able to try their food as due to COVID restrictions we couldn’t at the time.”

He works in London as a sales executive for a technology company but is considering expanding his hobby, depending on how he fares in the competition.

“I have a lot of respect for the men and women who do it as a living; it’s incredibly tough,” Mike said.

He is sharing his recipes and other aspects of his cooking on Instagram on @thenotecook.

* The semi-final of MasterChef with Mike will be shown on BBC One on 1 April at 9pm. His quarter-final (episode six of series 17) will be repeated at 1.30am on Friday 26 March on BBC Two or is available on BBC iPlayer.

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