We are delighted to welcome MasterChef finalist Chris Willoughby to The Marlo Meets blog ahead of tonight’s final.

Chris, a great friend of the Marlo team, is a circus performer from Oxfordshire, where he lives with his partner Kim. He is also a cabaret performer and has been part of the cast at The Box Soho since it first opened in London's West End in 2011.

Chris has always had a passion for food, and his job has allowed him to travel widely and sample culinary delights from around the world, further inspiring his love of food and spices. Throughout the series, he has wowed judges John and Gregg with his fantastic array of flavour combinations and theatrical delivery. We wish him every luck in the final and hope you enjoy reading a little bit more about him.

You can follow Chris on Instagram by clicking here.

1. You competed in the last series and fantastically got called back, what have you done differently to give you the edge in this series?

For my comeback I decided that I would just be myself and try to cook from the heart and the artist perspective within me. I learnt to trust my instincts and push for new and exciting things, just like I would if I was making a new piece of theatre or cabaret. I never lost focus of my food passion since the first time I was on MasterChef - it grew everyday and I hoped I’d get a chance to give it a second shot. Getting asked back made me think to myself: “this is the time, make it count and if you do go out - go out with a bang!” There’s a huge part of me which also realised this is what I want to do, I’m a firm believer in not fighting what your heart tells you, go with it and experience new things.

2. Can you share a behind-the-scenes moment from the show that viewers may not have seen on TV?

A really unique moment that always stands out for me, is when we line up outside the doors of the MasterChef kitchen waiting to walk in for the results. That one moment of time stands very still, you are left questioning – ‘did I do enough? What could I have changed? What will the outcome be?’ It’s a magical part of the day where we all stand in a line feeling exactly the same thing as each other. We also comfort each other with words of encouragement and acceptance of any one of our fates ahead! We reminded ourselves we’d made great friends for life and the shared experience binds us together and it really made a difference.

3. Your calm demeanour in high-pressure situations stands out on the show. Do you believe your background as a performer has contributed to your ability to handle the intensity of competing in Masterchef UK?

I think yes and no! On one hand, practicing a circus skill that is highly dangerous requires me to be very precise on stage and under pressure. After so many years performing I can switch into this mode very easily and once there movements and emotions are very controlled. Then on the other hand anything new comes nerves, you have to realise you are good at something so the element of doubt is always there which makes nerves appear quickly. I do feel in comparison with my first series, my stress and nerves got more under control. I was able to manage better and when I watch the last few episodes back can see that I look more at ease during the challenges. I now feel that I might have cooked so many times in the MasterChef kitchen that it is no longer a scary place but one I’m very happy in!

4. How much practice do you do between shows and where on earth do you come up with your amazing culinary creations?

I think it feels like practice time gets shorter the further you get as the stakes get higher and the tasks harder! At points I was writing recipes that I didn’t know were going to work and just having to make them work. But that could be the true test of a great cook, whatever happens – they make something that tastes great regardless. This time back in the kitchen I applied the same creation techniques I would use to make theatre work, visualisations, images, questioning and things like that. These techniques make you change the way you think and can lead to some wonderful culinary ideas.

5. Do you think you naturally have a palate that understands flavour combinations or is this something that you’ve developed?

My palate continued to evolve, even in Singapore I was tasting new and exciting flavours. A good example is if you like lemon - then try find a real Yuzu - you might never go back, because you get a taste for the complexity and depth that is totally unique. Its these flavours that can ignite a diner’s tastebuds to new things. Then for me comes pairings. We all know lemon is great in a desert but if you add a green herb then what do you get? A huge explosion of another world in your mouth. Herbs and fruit are great ways to experiment with fusions of flavours. Try strawberry and mint! We can also go right back to simple and well sourced ingredients like meats from the butchers. If you can cook it to perfection and the correct way you can get the best flavours.

6. What’s been your absolute highlight?

For me it’s the Final and that Final cook! As you will see to get this far has taken a huge amount of focus. I could not have done it without my partner Kim’s support at home. From me crying over recipes, too him supporting me at all times – to just simply telling me everything is going to be ok. Having someone at home who believes in you and can listen to all your concerns and worries is really important.

7. What’s your dream career after the finals?

After the finals I would like to make more TV – things like travel documentaries - looking at rare and unique ingredients and food cultures in remote places of the world. The world is a huge place and I believe everyone should be able to see and learn what people do in places we do not hear about. So far I have my eye set on the Amazon and food from Ecuador - leaves, nuts and insects - who knows.

I would also like to tackle writing of a cookbook dedicated to Theatrical Dining and food. How to entertain guests with a bit of food theatre at home by everyone who wants to impress at a dinner party. I would like to also produce and direct my own immersive food and theatre event. Working with exciting chefs and artists to create a truly immersive dinner experience for people.


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