New Zealander Mat Follas is the 2009 winner of the BBC's MasterChef series who now runs his own restaurant, Wild Garlic in Beaminster, Dorset. He tells Kerstin Kühn the trials of moving from IT geek to professional chef
Caterer Why did you decide to enter MasterChef?Mat Follas I was an IT geek before, running repair centres across Europe for IBM and managing a budget of around £40m a year. I guess entering MasterChef was a spur of the moment thing. I obviously loved my cooking and had a vague ambition to open my own caff but I did it for a bit of a laugh and so that my kids could see their dad on TV. I didn't think for a minute that I would get very far. Even in the final I didn't think I would beat Andy Oliver who was a much more technically able chef than me and now works at the Michelin-starred Nahm.
Caterer When you won MasterChef in 2009 you said you wanted to launch your own restaurant. How long did it take you to open Wild Garlic?MF It took me three months to open the restaurant. I started negotiating on the site before the final had been screened - I wanted to keep the price down - but I didn't start trading until after the final had been aired.
Caterer What have been the biggest lessons you've learned about running a restaurant?MF The thing that shocked me the most was the high level of staff turnover. All of the staff I opened the restaurant with have since moved on. The other thing that shocked me is how low the margins are. The business turned over a few hundred thousand pounds in the first year but we just broke even. The goal now is to make more money.
Caterer Tell us about your cooking.MF It's a rustic style of cooking and I make use of a lot of wild plants and flowers, sea vegetables, wild vegetables and berries which are both foraged and grown by people we know. The dishes balance traditional and wild ingredients - I'm in a rural location and have to cater for the tastes of my customers.
Caterer MasterChef: The Professionals is airing on BBC2 at the moment. What's your advice to the competitors?MF I think it's very important to have your own style and stick to it. If you try too hard to do what you think the judges want you will fail. It's better to go out in a blaze of glory doing something the judges hate than cooking something that's not what you're about.
Caterer You're involved with the Happy Egg Company. Tell us more.MF I'm representing the brand this week, which is British Egg Week (4-10 October), and have created a series of simple recipes. I'm a bit nervous about selling out but the Happy Egg Company is very relaxed. They don't preach about free range and their chickens are genuinely happy - they have personalities which you wouldn't expect and definitely don't find with battery hens.
Mat Follas is a brand ambassador for the Happy Egg Company
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By Kerstin KÁ¼hn
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