Former barrister James Nathan was crowned the 2008 BBC MasterChef last week, beating stiff competition in a final that saw him cook a three-course meal that wowed judges John Torode and Gregg Wallace. He spoke to Janet Harmer
What inspired you to enter MasterChef?
I saw it as a means of breaking into the catering industry, something which is quite difficult to do at the age of 34. I'd always wanted to be a chef, but my academic abilities were strong and so, instead, I studied law and became a barrister - but it wasn't something I enjoyed. There are several similarities, though, between working as a barrister and a chef, particularly the need to perform under intense pressure. Both jobs can be incredibly frantic yet, at the same time, require you to remain calm and in control.
What was the highlight of the competition?
Working at Michel Bras's three-Michelin-starred restaurant in Aubrac, France, was absolutely thrilling. I felt very comfortable there and really believed that I could work in a place like that, and nobody seemed to raise an eyebrow that I was there. What most impressed me was the fact that the enormous rugby player-sized chefs appeared to be so nervous before service, because they take their job so seriously and really care about every plate of food they prepare. It is something I aspire to.
And the toughest moment?
I really struggled on the day that we worked in the kitchens at London's Dorchester hotel when we cooked a meal for seven top chefs including Michel Roux, Andrew Fairlie and Michael Caines. I made a lot of little mistakes, including damaging a whole batch of scallops on opening them. I felt I really performed badly, but when I went into the room afterwards to meet the chefs, I received some wonderful comments about my turbot dish. It was a very emotional and confusing experience, and I cried on camera.
Who is your culinary role model?
Marco Pierre White has been an influence for many years - I kept a copy of his book White Heat by my side throughout the competition. I'm totally intrigued by his enthusiasm and genius.
What are your plans now as the MasterChef winner?
I want to become a professional chef, and it is important that I now receive proper training. A lot of people have been talking about investing in setting me up in a restaurant, but I've got no idea how to run the pass, let alone manage a restaurant. There is so much I need to learn first. I have spoken to Michael Caines and he has invited me to Gidleigh Park to spend a couple of days in the kitchen there. I really like the idea of being in a rural environment and being able to cook with ingredients that reflect the land around you.