From tiny acorns do Great Oak’s grow

At the age of 21, Craig Johnston was the youngest ever winner of MasterChef: The Professionals. The talented sous chef was the eleventh winner to be awarded the coveted title, after taking on 47 other professionals over seven weeks. We caught up with Craig to find out what life is like post-MasterChef…

“It’s been crazy since the final of the show was aired!” he admits. “Everyone who comes to eat at the pub wants to know if I’m in the kitchen and they all want a selfie with me. Some have even said they know I’m here because they’ve spotted my bike outside! I was so wrapped up in competing in the show that I hadn’t actually considered what the impact of winning might be.”

The phone rang off the hook as soon as Craig was announced as the champion, says Nick Parkinson, owner of the Michelin-starred Royal Oak Paley Street pub near Maidenhead. “We received over 300 booking enquiries between 9pm and 11pm, and the following morning we had 32 phone messages and 115 email enquiries. It was absolutely crazy! We had record revenue between Christmas and New Year and it was all down to Craig winning. Financially it has been very important for us. That’s the power of TV.”

The talented chef entered himself into the competition – and managed to keep his win from his boss. “I suspected he’d done pretty well because he kept asking for more and more time off work!” continues Nick. “I would’ve put money on him winning – he’s a very talented lad. He’s been with us for two years, and he’s had a rapid rise through the ranks.” Craig is the youngest in the kitchen, but also one of the most senior. Two weeks after his 16th birthday, he was working in a kitchen full-time, whilst completing NVQ Levels 2 and 3 in Professional Cookery from Henley College.

He continues: “I love the creativity involved, and getting to work with great ingredients day to day. The pastry section is where I see myself being the most creative and adventurous with my dishes. “As the next step in my career, I’d love to focus more on fine dining and push myself to learn more whilst I can. When the time is right in years to come I’d like to step up to my own head chef role.”

Applications for MasterChef: The Professionals 2018 are now open. For more information visit www.masterchef.com/professionals/.

Craig’s winning menu

STARTER Torched Mackerel and Mackerel Tartare, with Salt-Baked Beetroot, Horseradish Milk Gel, Beetroot Pickled Onions, garnished with Beet leaves and a Sorrell and Dill Iced Granita

MAIN Roasted Squab Pigeon with Thyme-Infused Pomme Anna, a Ras El Hanout-Spiced Pigeon Leg Pastilla, Charred and roasted Thyme Onions with a Nasturtium Oil, Radicchio Leaves and a Red Pepper and Tomato Ketchup, finished with Pigeon Sauce

DESSERT Sauterne and Yoghurt Mousse, Basil Marshmallow, Bergamot Curd and Olive Oil Crumble, topped with frozen Lemon Cells and Verbena Frozen Rocks

What the judges said:

“You don’t come across cooks like this very often. We’ve just found a star of the future. What a fabulous talent. Twenty one years old, amazing.” – Marcus Wareing

“For me, Craig ticks every box. His dishes are elegant, smart, but more than anything else, that man knows how to produce flavour.” – Gregg Wallace

“Not only is he good in the savoury section, but he’s produced some out of this world desserts as well.” – Monica Galetti

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