Craig Johnston, sous chef at the Michelin-starred Royal Oak Paley Street near Maidenhead, Berkshire, was crowned the winner of the 2017 series of MasterChef: the Professionals. He talks to Katie Pathiaki about his career to date and the challenges of the competition
Where did you go to school? What did you study? I studied food technology at GCSE level at Furze Platt Senior School in Maidenhead.
Where did you start your career? Boulters restaurant and bar in Maidenhead at 16 years of age.
Have you had a mentor along the way, either formally or informally? During the time I worked at Boulters, the head chef, Daniel Woodhouse, was my mentor.
Was being a chef something you always wanted to do or did you have a different career path in mind? I always wanted to be a chef. I was first inspired through baking flapjacks with my mum. While at Furze Platt I did a day's work experience at the Royal Oak Paley Street, which gave me an insight into working in the kitchen and then I was hooked.
What attracted you to the Royal Oak specifically? The Royal Oak's good reputation and the fact that it held a Michelin star. I was looking for somewhere I could continue to develop my skills as a chef, and the Royal Oak ticked all the right boxes.
Why did you enter MasterChef? To challenge myself. I'd watched it on television and thought, I could do that.
How challenging is the competition? It's extremely challenging. You need to be able to think on your feet, act quickly and accurately, and keep your cool. That's not exactly easy when you're not used to cameras and the judges are watching every move you make. There was also the added difficulty of trying to juggle a full-time job with the filming requirements, especially when I progressed further through the competition.
What is the biggest challenge you had to overcome in the competition? The most challenging moment was the invention test in knockout week. It was such a stressful, long day, and having to cook twice made it even worse! I was kicking myself after that challenge and I had to come back fighting in the elimination round. That's when I started to push my dishes a little bit further.
What is the best thing about being a chef?
What are your plans for the future? To carry on developing my career within the industry. Ultimately, I'd like to earn my own star in my own place, but that's some years away yet.
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