Last year, Claire Lara became the first woman to win Masterchef: The Professionals. She spoke to Janie Stamford about how the BBC series has helped her career.
How did it feel becoming the first female Masterchef? It felt brilliant. I couldn't really take it in to be honest. It felt surreal until about three months afterwards. There was some tough competition, but it wasn't important that I was up against fellas.
What advice would you give to aspiring female chefs? Your hard work will pay off so just keep at it. When I first started I came across quite a bit of sexism, but over the years that's changed quite a lot and there's a lot less of it. It is a really hard job, but if you're good at it then you're good at it regardless of your gender.
Did you always want to be a chef? Yes, absolutely. You're always told that women should be in the kitchen but when there are women in the kitchen they're told to get out. What the hell is going on? You can't win. But adversity drove me on even more. If someone tells me I can't do something it makes me more determined.
What's next for you? I'm opening my own place in August called La Mouette, in the Royal Hillbury hotel and spa in Hoylake, serving a modern European menu. My ethos is all about good, tasty food that represents real value for money. I want to make people happy, get bums on seats and see empty plates.
How did being pregnant affect you on Masterchef? I felt sick every single day. I was tired and nauseous constantly but so was everyone else so I just put all my symptoms down to cooking for Michel Roux Jr. Once I'd won the show I got home and I was still being sick. Michel told me to see the doctor and I found I out I was about three months pregnant. I don't think I'd have been able to do the show if I'd known because my mind would have been half on something else.
Has having a baby affected your career? My son is 19 weeks old now. It's not a barrier it just means I have to do things a little bit differently. Without my family support network it would be much more of a challenge.
Masterchef: The Professionals 2011 are now open. Visit www.masterchef.com for details.