Exose Grant Lopo-Ndinga was one of the final three contenders in BBC TV's MasterChef: The Professionals. The chef de partie at James Martin Manchester and founder of Granted Cakes tells Emma Lake about throwing himself in the deep end.
What sparked your interest in becoming a chef?
From a young age I was always interested in food. My mum would cook African dishes and I would be in the kitchen watching and asking questions. When I went to high school I studied food technology and loved it. One day we had to make a sauce, and although we all had the same ingredients, the teacher gathered everyone around to try mine – I was so pleased! That teacher gave me the confidence to pursue my career as a chef.
You launched your company Granted Cakes aged just 17 – what drove you to take that step?
I have always loved to bake cakes at home and create my own recipes and designs. One year I was asked to make a cake for my niece's birthday and everyone loved it. I knew my passion for baking was more than a hobby, so I decided to start Granted Cakes. I make sure my cakes always look and taste amazing.
How do you balance running Granted Cakes with your position at James Martin Manchester?
Time is a tough thing to balance. Being a chef means working evening and weekends, but I'm used to it now. Sometimes, after a 12-hour shift, I will still go home to bake cakes. I always try to remember that hard work pays off. I really enjoy balancing the team camaraderie of James Martin Manchester and baking on my own at home.
How did you find your time on MasterChef: The Professionals?
I found the whole experience phenomenal. Don't get me wrong, it was also stressful and scary, but I wouldn't change a thing. It's one of the best experiences of my life.
How did you go about creating dishes for the competition?
I wanted to put myself on a plate and create dishes with ingredients that I personally like to eat. I wanted to push myself and show what I could do. Work has also inspired me; I like to reinvent and put my own ‘Exose' twist on dishes from the menu I love.
Your desserts received high praise. Do you see your future in pastry?
As much as I enjoy pastry, I also love savoury dishes and I want to continue to learn both sides. There's still a lot for me to learn. I'm excited to be back in the kitchen at James Martin Manchester to develop my new skills and take inspiration from the show.
You also competed on Bake Off: The Professionals in 2019. What's driven you to take part in these high-profile competitions?
I didn't actually apply for Bake Off, my friend applied on my behalf as it's a team competition, so she called me and said we're in! It was a great surprise and I loved the experience so much that I then decided to apply for MasterChef: The Professionals. I threw myself in the deep end. I kept thinking I needed more experience but then I just thought, why not give it a go?
What are your career ambitions?
Growing up, I always had dreams of opening my own African restaurant. I'd love to go to Africa for a few years and learn more about the local dishes and cuisines. I will also continue to focus on Granted Cakes and see where it goes and, of course, I love working with the team at James Martin Manchester – it feels like home.
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