Olivia Burt was one of the final three contenders in BBC TV’s MasterChef: The Professionals. The 24-year-old sous chef at Claridge’s hotel in London’s Mayfair tells Katherine Price how dedication is the key to success
How did you get into hospitality?
After leaving school at 18, I headed to Ballymaloe Cookery School in Ireland to train for a ski season in the Alps, before I returned to London to study at Le Cordon Bleu for three months. I then moved to Paris to finish the remainder of my studies. My first position was for Joël Robuchon at his two-Michelin-starred restaurant l’Atelier Etoile on the Champs Élysées. After Paris I travelled in South America and cooked privately along the way before heading home to take up a position at Simon Rogan’s one-Michelin-starred Fera at Claridge's.
Why did you decide to enter MasterChef: The Professionals?
Making the decision to join MasterChef was not easy. Showcasing your food and skills on TV for the criticism and commentary of the nation was a drastic decision to make, not only for myself but also my career.
For me it was about showcasing the food that I am all about, proving to myself that I can cook at this level, and making sure that I was confident with every dish. I am extremely lucky to have had the backing and support of Claridge's and the Maybourne Group; without them my success in the competition would not have been possible.
How did the experience help develop as a chef?
The journey from start to finish was a total learning curve, especially the opportunity to trial and test different techniques and styles and be able to receive direct feedback. Cooking is a constant challenge, ensuring I am constantly better than I was before, expanding my knowledge for both me and my team around me.
The best experience was going to Ynyshir in Machynlleth to meet Gareth Ward and his team. Gareth has been a huge inspiration to me for many years, so to get the chance to spend time in his kitchen and learn so much was second to none.
How would you describe your cooking style?
If guess it would be ‘Modern British’. I want to continue exploring the ingredients that the UK has to offer and making the most of what we have with the changing seasons.
My career took a real turn when I met Simon Rogan with head chef Dan Cox. Simon continues to influence me with his passion and use of truly British ingredients, foraged herbs and flowers. I love his simplicity and pure respect for British cooking.
Why do you think so few female chefs make it to the MasterChef finals? What would your advice be to young female chefs?
It is difficult to answer. Of course, we are in an extremely male-dominated industry and that doesn’t make it easy. The journey through the competition is tough, whether you are female or male.
The biggest piece of advice I can give to young female chefs is just to keep at it, stand your ground and stay strong. You always need to make sure that you are learning, developing and growing, remain confident in your talent and work your way up in the kitchen.
What would your advice be to young female chefs looking to break into the industry?
The key to success is dedication. Becoming a chef and being successful is never going to be an easy journey, and you need support from a lot of others around you. For any chefs thinking that they want to give it a go, don’t hold back, there is nothing to lose. Remain confident in yourself and your style and the rest will be history.
What are your plans now, what would you like to achieve in your career?
2020 is going to be the biggest year in my career so far and I am so very excited to get back into the kitchen. It would be amazing to get published and begin the start of a very exciting journey towards building my own restaurant.
Five years ago, I would never had imagined I’d be where I am now. The fantastic thing about this career is that it’s constantly evolving and there is always more to learn and share around each corner.
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