And then there were twelve. The remaining MasterChef contestants are stepping up their game this week for Knockout week, trying to win just one of four places in next week’s semi-finals. Ollie Hunter talks to Lucy Holden.
How are you standing the heat?
Well, I’m blindly optimistic in all parts of life! What gets me through is passion. I get through a lot of shit because people interpret passion to be talent. It carries you through. It’s working so far anyway – if you’re enjoying something, the buzz makes it easy.
Your brother, Barnaby, was in the same heat as you but didn’t make it through to the next round. How’d he take it?
Barney was gutted, we’d talked about the show a lot before and so we were really excited. He’s a very talented chef, but he hadn’t really been in a competition environment before. I have, so I knew more about how you need to shine in a room full of people and I think my cooking showed that. Barney didn’t have that killer instinct. He’s more of a subtle chef, but he’ll come back to cooking later on – he’s got big plans for life, but eventually we’ll probably open a place together.
How did you end up in the MasterChef kitchen?
I’ve always worked front of house in restaurants because I’ve never had the confidence to cook. I never thought I had the skill – Barney’s better at that, hands down; his technique is insane. But it’s awesome to be around food, flavours, ideas. I started at Jamie’s Italian, and I naturally veer towards Italian cooking because of the simple, shining ingredients. The Italians angle their lives around food. I’ve travelled quite a lot and even in the poorest parts of the world – South America, India – community is held together by food, these huge shared meals, everyone sitting around a pot. That’s what I would want to bring to a restaurant, if I ever opened one.
Gregg Wallace called your cooking ‘edible art’…
If my cooking was a kind of art, it would be impressionist if anything; I just dab colour on the plate, there’s not a huge amount of technique, it’s lively. I have this thing with colour; if it looks good on a plate, it should work – like the bright yellow of turmeric with the pale creaminess of the monkfish I cooked in the heats. It’s all about truth being beauty, and beauty truth. I think Keats said that.
So when’s this new restaurant of yours opening?
My friend Hayden and I are going to be regularly trading in Lambeth markets from June, so we’ll be in Brixton, Venn and Waterloo. We’re going to call our place Pangea, which was also the continent when all the continents were joined together. I want all the ‘flavours of the world’ under one roof serving simple, creative bites from around the world. There’d only be a few things on the menu and everything would change regularly – different part of the world, new flavours, colours, smells. It would be an entirely sensory experience. Food can be smell, sight, touch; but also nostalgia, memory, emotion, and I think it’s important that the personality of the owner comes through as well.
What couldn’t you live without?
Mussels and a pint of cider by the Cornish sea – it’s my soul, where my creative soul is, my family go every summer.
You seem like a bit of a risk taker…
Every day’s a risk – but there’s more to come. Everything I’m cooking on the show I made up about a week and a half before. They aren’t my favourite dishes, I don’t cook them all the time; I just do what comes to me. I do believe that when you’re creative, you’ve just got to do it, get it out. If you could put that in the article that’d be great! (He laughs, flashing a smile.)
Ollie will next appear on MasterChef on Thursday 4th April 2013, BBC One, 8pm.