It’s been a year since former data manager Simon Wood was declared the winner of MasterChef 2015. And what a year it’s been for the Greater Manchester based dad of four! First a job as executive chef at his old boyhood football club in Oldham and now a cookery book, At Home With Simon Wood, out in the shops which shares the secrets behind those beautiful dishes that saw him clinch the winning spot on the hit BBC TV show.
We caught up with super chef and all-round nice guy Simon Wood on a quick break from the kitchen just as a new series of MasterChef gets underway.
What a journey you’ve had Simon from aspiring home cook to winning MasterChef! Why did you apply for the series in the first place?
I’d always wanted to do it. And then one day I had an off-morning at work – I don’t even remember what happened. And I spotted the advert looking for MasterChef contestants and just decided to apply. Ever since I was a kid I dreamt about winning MasterChef and used to watch the junior version. So it was a lifelong ambition to do what I’ve done.
How did you feel when you first met John Torode and Gregg Wallace on the first episode?
Frightened to death. The thing is they are lovely but the whole experience is terrifying. So for the first show you’re in the hotel, you’ve not slept properly and you’ve no idea what the other competitors are going to be like. Then you go into the kitchen on camera and meet the judges. You don’t see John and Gregg before that point – it’s not like they stick their head round the door and say good luck guys. You walk in and they say right, get on with it. And you’re just like oh my god!
My biggest fear was keeping on top of my nerves. Even in the final I couldn’t stop my hands from shaking. It was just adrenaline.
What was it like when you were named the MasterChef champion?
That day is such a blur. It was like an out of body experience. The fact 7 million people watched that final is insane. Today I get nervous if I do food festivals and have 200 people watching. Imagine if you could see all the 7 million people who watched the final! It took two or three weeks to process what happened. Winning was a big culture shock for me and my children. To see their dad who used to just go to work and coach football all of a sudden appear on This Morning sat with Philip Schofield and be on the BBC red sofa. It was all a big change.
You’ve just appeared as a guest judge on the new series of MasterChef. What was it like to be on the other side of the table?
It’s different. You’re trying to be constructive and you know how difficult it’s been for them so want to be supportive. But you have to say what you actually think because that’s what happens in a professional kitchen. As a contestant on MasterChef you have to get a thick skin quite quickly. You’re going to get critiques and it’s going to be harsh sometimes. But you can learn from that. If I got something wrong on MasterChef I always tried to add that element onto my next dish.
What’s the idea behind your new and first cookery book, At Home With Simon Wood?
When I was on the show I got a lot of comments that my food always looked amazing. And now, even if I’m cooking at home, I always make it look good and want it to be perfect every time. So I want to help teach people how to make great-looking dishes themselves using simple ingredients and not be daunted by it. I’d like them to be able to pull out a five-course taster menu with barely any stress and for it to look amazing.
What are your top tips for making great-looking food?
First and foremost, it’s about quality ingredients. A lot of people say to me, I can’t get the ingredients you get. But I’m no different now to how I was 12 months ago – all the places I get my ingredients from I’ve been going to for years. So get hold of some microherbs or pea shoots and learn how to garnish properly.
Then learn some basic techniques like how to pipe things, how to sauce properly, how to reduce things. Buy some chefs rings. Be precise. You know, if you’re going to cut something, make sure you cut everything the same size. It’s the little things that make a difference.
Remember it doesn’t have to be expensive. My favourite dish is wild mushroom ravioli with sage butter and sage crisps. I made it on the show for Tracey MacLeod and it’s in the book. And it’s ever so cheap to produce but looks great.
And any advice for budding amateur chefs who might be thinking of applying for MasterChef next year?
Just go for it and believe in yourself. Work hard and practice, practice, practice. And don’t be disappointed. You’re going to get some knocks- you can’t please everyone. But you can inspire yourself to do well and keep getting better.
- At Home With Simon Wood is out now, rrp £20
- MasterChef is on BBC One