BBC’s MasterChef needs little introduction. Originally airing in 1990 (though with several short hiatuses in between) this cookery competition has entertained foodies for years with its popularity sparking several spin-offs from the original amateur format, pitting celebrities against each other, as well as testing the skills of professional chefs.
On Friday 16th May, Ping Coombes became MasterChef champion 2014. A full-time mum aged 32, Ping decided to enter the cookery competition when she was made redundant from her role as an assistant hotel manager for a private hospital.
From her first round, Ping showed impressive skill, surprising judges John Torode and Gregg Wallace with flavours from her Malaysian heritage and bravely going beyond the takeaway to show the masses what real Asian food is about. She excelled in the professional kitchens, was consistently on time with her dishes and led her motivated team through the mass catering challenge of cooking for the cast and crew of EastEnders to an impressive finish.
Ping gave a touching nod to her mother’s influence and highlighting the fact that home-style food (combined with a little technique and flair learnt along the way), can prove to be just as exciting as restaurant food. It was her culinary homage to her childhood food memories that won over John and Gregg and earned her the title of MasterChef champion 2014.
Undoubtedly the programme has been a stepping stone for its winners and finalists, with most of them going on to own their own restaurants, catering companies or working in some of the finest kitchens in Britain. An example of a winner who has experienced great success is Thomasina Miers in 2005, a cook, writer and television presenter who also founded Wahaca, a growing chain of Mexican street food restaurants.
On the other hand, Mat Follas (MasterChef champion 2009) has experienced both the highs and lows of a career in the restaurant industry. He opened ‘The Wild Garlic’ in Beaminster, Dorset in 2009 to great critical success, however relocating his restaurant to a larger venue in 2013 was a difficult move and the venue change proved unsuccessful. Still, Follas continues to strive past the bump in the road and is now undertaking a new venture at The Casterbridge Hotel, Dorchester.
In the twenty-one series of amateur MasterChef, Ping Coombes is notably the first and only South East Asian winner. Perhaps there is something profoundly important about this event. The South East Asian community is still much underrepresented in the media and her win has provided a welcome boost in revealing Asia’s culinary scene. She has confidently represented the Asian community by showcasing traditional dishes and opening the eyes of the masses to the delights of real home cooked food.
Even John and Gregg admitted they were previously inexperienced with the dishes that Ping produced; a prime example being a dish she cooked to stay in the running for the final three, a simple, hearty, earthy soup of pork, liver and ginger. Although both judges were apprehensive when Ping initially described the soup to them, upon tasting John and Gregg commented on how the flavour was so outstanding that should they ever see it on a restaurant menu, they would be ordering it.
So what is Ping’s legacy? Well, her post-win adventure is just beginning. She’ll be participating in a MasterChef pop up restaurant in September this year, where she and other fellow winners and finalists will cook recipes for paying punters. Though after being faced with cooking for the likes of Ferran Adrià of El Bulli fame, a crowd of customers might seem like a walk in the park.
Will you be tempted to try out for MasterChef 2015?