MasterChef: The Professionals 2019 winner Stu Deeley has told The Caterer how Birmingham's Asian food scene influenced his cooking style and how son Jack inspired him to apply.
Chef Deeley, 28, was crowned the 13th winner of the hit BBC Two show last night.
He impressed judges Gregg Wallace, Monica Galetti and Marcus Wareing with his menu that consisted of a soy and mirin-smoked salmon ballotine starter, a main of lovage and rosemary-brined guinea fowl, and a cep and milk chocolate cookie dessert.
Deeley is leaving his job as head chef at the Wilderness in Birmingham this week and has plans to launch his own venture in the city's Jewellery Quarter.
What made you apply to MasterChef: The Professionals?
"It was really because of my little lad. I've lacked confidence my whole life and when Jack was born I started to make decisions that I wouldn't normally. You expect your kids to do things in life that challenge them, like a first day at school, but how can I tell Jack he's just got to get on with it and succeed with life if I'm not willing to do it?
"So I thought to myself, what is the biggest challenge I could put myself up for? And it was to do MasterChef. I thought, let's apply, let's see what happens. I didn't even expect a response! I just thought that even taking the first step to apply was a major step."
How did you feel when you were announced as the winner?
"It's still really unbelievable to be honest. It's so nice. I've watched MasterChef throughout my career and to think that I'm now one of the winners of the show, that's just so nice and I'm so proud and everything is amazing. It's such an overwhelming feeling."
The final was filmed in September, how did you find keeping the secret?
"It was almost impossible. I had to have regular chats with my partner Tash about what life's going to be like after. Trying not to divulge to anyone else was so, so difficult."
What was the toughest part of the competition?
"Definitely without a doubt it was the skills test. Walking in on the skills test, the confidence that I had built up completely went out the window."
Did you receive advice and support from the judges?
"The judges are so supportive, they just want you to do well. People have this misconception that they're really hard or have favourites. There isn't any of that. It's about who cooks the best dish and they want you to nail it."
Besides the win, what were your competition highlights?
"So many. One of the biggest ones, apart from obviously winning, was cooking the chefs' table. Twenty-six Michelin stars – who can say they've done that?"
How do you describe your culinary style?
"My style, if I could give it one word, would be Brummie! Because Birmingham is like a mosaic, it's such a mix of cultures that all come together in one place. It's really taken influence from the food that's available in Birmingham."
How important is it for chefs to develop their own spin on traditional dishes?
"It's not necessary, you don't have to do it. But if you do, you can show more creativity and be yourself, I think the food benefits because you are more comfortable with what you're doing. If you're stuck to one style, say French or Italian, you're quite limited. Whereas the way I like to cook, there are no limits."
Tomorrow is your last day at The Wilderness, how are you feeling?
"The Wilderness has been the place I developed my style. Alex [Claridge] the owner has been very trusting in me. I was only with him three months before I took over writing the menus and running the kitchen on my own, basically. That was what I needed, but I didn't know that at the time."
What can you tell us about your plans to open a restaurant in Birmingham's Jewellery Quarter?
"It will be true to the style I showed on MasterChef. Brummie food and a mix of different cuisines, sometimes all in one dish. It doesn't matter where it comes from, what matters is how it tastes and how it looks and how it all works together.
"Hopefully. The time frame will see a spring opening; we just want to get the ball rolling as quick as possible. More than anything I just want to be open and to get people in so they can taste what we're up to and to thank people because they've been so supportive."
You met your fiancée Natasha while she was working front of house, was it helpful that she had hospitality experience?
"Tash is so understanding, she's really great, she's there for me no matter what. When I get home, say, at 2am, we can have a chat. She's not always happy about being awake at two in the morning! But we can have a chat about how the day has gone. She's the rock in our partnership, she keeps everything together."
Beyond the restaurant, what are your plans for the future?
"More than anything I just want to be at a point where I can support my family and we can have a really nice life and put down even more roots in Birmingham."
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