My 'Amazing ' Masterchef Experience

Chef at Charlotte's W4 'spills the beans' on being a contestant

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Chef at Charlotte's W4 'spills the beans' on being a contestant

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Charlotte’s Bistro senior sous chef Alex Brown recently competed in the quarter final of the popular television BBC 2 television show Masterchef Professionals.

It was while relaxing after a demanding shift at Corrigan's Mayfair restaurant last year that Alex spotted a Twitter call for contestants for the programme and thought he would "give it a go".

He had previously worked in Charlotte's Bistro in Ealing and prior to that as head chef in the Rose & Crown pub in Ealing, having come to London to further his career after a stint in a hotel in the Lake District. He also worked for a short time at La Trompette in Chiswick.

"I sent off my cv and a photograph and then got a phone call, telling me to come for interview. It was all very secretive and I couldn't even tell my workmates or family."

He was "thrilled" to be chosen to take part and then had to come clean with his head chef in Mayfair, who was very supportive. Three days of filming were then scheduled for last summer at the studio in Bromley by Bow.

Alex, who admits to being very nervous at the start, had to come through a 'skills test' which saw him preparing sea bream escabeche for the judges, Marcus Wareing, Monica Galetti and Greg Wallace.

He came through in flying colours and then for his Signature Dish, prepared panfried halibut, with fennel puree, and a veloute of cockles and mussels. Praise from the judges ensured he went through to the next round where the challenge was for pastry skills.

"My heart sank as that's not my area of expertise. I do enjoy it but it's difficult when you're used to working from a recipe to recall things. We were called into the room and told to make a dessert using a selection of ingredients which were in front of us."

Alex came up with what he describes as "a sort of trifle", making a ginger sponge, passionfruit jelly, white chocolate bavarois and banana mousse. Sadly this did not get him through to the semi-finals and he had to bid goodbye to his new friends.

"The atmosphere is really friendly with the other contestants and the judges were very helpful. Monica was particularly nice to me when she saw how nervous I was," he says.

Though disappointed at not making it to the next round, Alex says the experience was "amazing" and has given him a real confidence boost.

He first developed an interest in cooking as a young child, watching his mother and grandmother and he recalls watching Delia Smith on television when he was growing up.

Good food is his "passion" and he spends his spare time and money eating in restaurants and watching how other chefs work. He says he is lucky to have been inspired and mentored by really good chefs, including the team at his first job in the Merewood Country House hotel where he learned basic skills, and Greg Martin who was head chef at Charlotte's in Ealing when Alex initially worked there.

"I love using seasonal produce and I admire the chefs who are promoting British food. It's fantastic being in the city and part of the London food culture"

Daniel Clifford at Midsummer House in Cambridge is an inspiration and Alex also fondly recalled a recent visit to Paris where he dined in an upcoming brasserie called La Mijon, where the open kitchen and friendly attitude made it an inclusive dining experience. The staff were very keen to get feedback on the food from the diners and the quirky atmosphere included the waiter placing a large bowl of rice pudding on the table and telling people to help themselves.

His overall ambition is to have his own restaurant one day, and Alex has created his own signature dish of pork belly with buttermilk puree, with caramalised burnt apple and and a pork and sage sauce, which can be sampled in Charlotte's W4 or you can even try it at home yourself.

January 6, 2016

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