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Conrad Brunton gets the inside scoop from the Birmingham-based rising stars seen on this year's MasterChef: The Professionals

 

MasterChef: The Professionals 2017 has seen not one, not two, but three chefs from the Birmingham area take on TV's ultimate culinary challenge. Not only that, but they excelled, reaching the knockout stages. Conrad Brunton, Birmingham restaurant expert and founder of Tonic Talent, caught up with the fantastic local finalists...

The Birmingham food scene is thriving, as we all know. A brilliant barometer of this has been the fact that we have three chefs representing the region in this year's MasterChef: The Professionals.

There's Brett Connor, a development chef from Leicester who has worked at the excellent Peels at Hampton Manor, and Birmingham-born -and-bred Leo Kattou from the mighty Simpson’s Restaurant, who made it all the way to the semi finals.

Then there's the impressive Louisa Ellis who has made it all the way to the final and is currently senior chef de partie at The Wilderness (hotly tipped for a Michelin star).

My team and I are lucky enough to meet and talk to lots of people in the restaurant and bar industry as we help them with career advice, recruitment and general support. So it just so happens we know all three of the local Masterchefs.

I wanted to find out more about their experiences on the show, why they entered and whether it measured up to their expectations. 

Brett Connor: Development Chef (formerly at Peel's at Hampton Manor)

Why did you enter?

I wanted a challenge and as a platform to put what I have learnt over the years into practice. You never know what can come from nationwide exposure!

How did the experience measure up to your expectations?

The experience was quite surreal, it’s a different type of pressure, it’s not every day you’re working in a kitchen with a camera following around... but it was good fun! A great learning experience.

What did you learn?

I learned that I could cope quite well under pressure and adapt to a situation. I tried to focus on what I was doing rather that what was happening around me

What advice would you give to young chefs starting their career?

Don’t be in a rush to get somewhere. Learn as much as you can, every day should be a school day!

What is the best single piece of advice you've been given by a mentor?

“You can’t build a house until you know how to lay the foundations” I think that was a brilliant piece of advice, it’s basically saying understand the basics and the fundamentals understand why things are done certain ways, there are so many chefs nowadays who can cook a beautiful piece of meat in a water bath, but take that away and give them a pan and some butter and they would struggle!

Leo Kattou: Simpsons Restaurant: Semi-Finalist

Why did you enter?

It has crossed my mind in the past, with a few family and friends mentioning it to me but I never really thought I would actually enter it. The opportunity came up and my Chef Director Luke Tipping said “Yes, 100% do it!”, so I took the chance and applied from there.

How did the experience measure up to your expectations?

To be honest, it was a lot harder than  I thought it was going to be. I didn’t expect the pressure to be so high and dealing with the cameras in your face was another level too, but the experience was thoroughly enjoyable.

What did you learn?

I learnt how to keep myself composed, especially through the Invention Test we faced in the quarter final. Obviously, I messed up in that challenge so it was dealing with my nerves and the pressure to create something on the spot and start my dish all over again, whilst keeping calm and composed.

What advice would you give a young chef starting their career?

Be yourself. Don’t try to be a famous Michelin-starred chef right away. As most chefs will always say, we are not looking for ability we are looking for attitude, positive attitude and the ability comes with experience. The main thing is, cooking can be hard but as long as you enjoy it then it becomes easy.

What is the best single piece of advice you have been given by a mentor?

One who I shall not name said to me once upon a time ago, I can lead you to the bowl of water but if you are not going to drink out of it then there is nothing else I can do. Other than that, always make sure you respect everyone in the kitchen because they are there to help you and not to be your enemy.

Louisa Ellis: The Wilderness: Finalist

Why did you enter?

I wanted to challenge myself as a young chef. I love a challenge and love learning. This was the best opportunity to grow myself and my career, not only as a chef but as a person.

How did the experience measure up to your expectations?

Overall the whole MasterChef experience was incredible. I knew it would be a challenge and oh my it was! If you are not prepared to be physically and mentally challenged then this is not for you. It challenges you in a good way, it helps you grow from your mistakes and builds your confidence when you get something right.

What did you learn?

When I walked into that room I was petrified but at the same time I felt so privileged to be there and I felt comfortable in my own skin when I got going as I knew if I was panicking the end result would be bad. The end result of my Skills Test in my opinion was not good. Silly mistakes really, I over cooked my pigeon. Cooking the pigeon on the crown is most definitely the best way to cook a pigeon and that is what I have learnt and will continue to do as a chef.

The Signature Dish was then my chance to make a statement and go back in with a fighting attitude – which worked as it received some very good comments which I’m very chuffed about. It taught me that having a positive attitude even after something hasn’t gone as planned is much better than being upset.

In the Invention Test. I chose to make something which I knew would work. It’s far too risky using ingredients you haven’t used before in an Invention Test, you have to know that the flavours will work and you have to find a balance. I wanted to cook for the critics so badly. I managed to please Marcus with one of the best chicken sauces he has ever tasted!

What advice would you give to young chefs starting their career?

My advice to young chefs starting out in their career would be to maintain drive and passion, even though sometimes you have to do tedious jobs in the kitchen that you don’t particularly enjoy! Be positive and be kind to yourself and others.

What is the best single piece of advice you have been given by a mentor?

My teachers used to always push me and always wanted the best for me, and I’m really grateful for that now looking back at it. The best advice I was given is never give up and carry on doing what you enjoy.


You can watch the final four episodes of MasterChefs: The Professionals on 15, 19, 20 and 21 Dec on BBC Two at 8pm.

About the author: Conrad Brunton

Conrad Brunton has been in hospitality since the age of 14, moving from kitchen work to restaurant service, including a stint at Michelin-starred Simpsons. Naturally, he went to Birmingham College of Food, graduating with first class honours. From the fast-paced pubs of Mitchells & Butlers to Heston Blumenthal's The Fat Duck, he earned his stripes before opening The Great British Eatery, named England's No. 1 fish and chip shop. Conrad then moved into recruitment; in 2016 he launched Birmingham hospitality recruitment agency Tonic Talent, and in 2017 started the CHEF industry forum.

Posted by Conrad Brunton

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