Scottish chef Derek Johnstone last month became the inaugural winner of Masterchef The Professionals, an offshoot of the BBC television programme’s competition for amateur cooks. He spoke to Joanna Wood about the experience
How did you hear about the competition?
The hotel I was working at, the Macdonald Crutherland House hotel in East Kilbride, was sent details by the BBC and my head chef encouraged me to get involved. I’d done some competitions before, at ScotHot, but nothing as big as Masterchef. I thought it would be a bit of a challenge, so I filled in the application form.
What was it like having Michel Roux Jnr judge you throughout the competition?
It was nerve-wracking. But I knew that by doing the competition I was putting myself on the line for a lot of criticism. After the first couple of times it got easier, because I realised that I could do the things that were being asked of me. I think Michel and Gregg Wallace were looking for someone who learnt as they went along, and I tried to do that.
What were the most difficult parts of the competition?
Working in the Hibiscus kitchen was tough as it was the first Michelin-starred kitchen I’d ever been in. The standards are really high and it takes a lot out of you, physically, doing a service in a place like that, but it was very inspiring. We also had to cook a banquet for 30 of the UK’s top chefs as well as three former Michelin guide inspectors, and that was very daunting. You really don’t want to make a mess of things on TV with all those people.
Was it difficult being shadowed by a film crew all the time?
It was at first, but you learnt to just go with the flow. After a while, you adapt to it and forget the cameras. Getting to know the crew helped and it made it easier to speak to the camera and be natural. The major things I was told were: don’t look directly at the camera and don’t wear stripes.
How did you feel when you won the competition?
I was very surprised. I felt that I’d been getting better throughout the series but I didn’t think that I’d been cooking at 100% of my ability because of all the pressure of the filming process.
What did you win?
I won a trophy and £4,000 prize money.
No, but I really wanted to come to London, so Michel suggested I come down to Le Gavroche for a while. I’m chef de partie on meat, but I think I’ll be moved around the kitchen. Everybody here’s been fantastic and I feel like I’m just one of the boys. Masterchef doesn’t matter I have to prove myself from now on. The plan is, if all goes well, to be here for at least the next year.