Ahh, MasterChef 2014: the one in which one man clawed his way to the final with only parcel-shaped food (mostly ravioli, but sometimes samosas or gyoza) and Gregg fell in love with the champion, Ping, so entirely that he may as well have spent the final three episodes lying at her feet and weeping grateful nothings into her shoes. And there was Jack: consistent, smiley, unfazed, and at twenty-one quietly churning out dishes well beyond his years. Beautiful bold creations in rich autumnal hues, classy yet hearty; his only MasterChef ‘mistake’ a gorgonzola ice-cream that he still stands by.
On Sunday, Jack will be at the second in a series of free family events hosted by Solihull’s Mell Square. The theme of this weekend’s ‘Sunnyhull’ is food and drink: there will be a Man vs Food eating challenge (sign up here); a pop-up children’s cookery school; free tastings; afternoon tea; alfresco dining and a traders’ cook-off – for which Jack will be crossing the chef’s pass to judge. Plus, one lucky Brum Notes reader (and their plus one) will get to hang out with Jack afterwards – retweet this tweet for the chance to win. Let’s hope cooking talent spreads by osmosis.
Jack – as a huge fan of MasterChef 2014 it was so exciting to learn that you’re a local boy! Do you draw any food inspiration from the West Midlands?
It would be hard not to take inspiration from the West Midlands as we have such diverse and incredible cuisine! There’s no doubt that we have some fantastic restaurants constantly opening that are really starting to put Birmingham on the culinary map.
I used to be massively inspired by the Birmingham markets where I will always try to source my products when I’m home. I think the choice and freshness is fantastic and I’d often go with an open mind and come back with whatever was plentiful that day. I’d encourage cooks to do that more; let the key ingredients that are seasonal, local and fresh dictate your style and the food you cook.
Where do you go out to eat in the West Midlands? Anywhere on the more affordable end?
If I’m honest, when I’m home from London I do love going to a good gastro-pub with a nice beer garden! Sadly we don’t get too many of those down here in the urban jungle but one of my good mates from school is the manager at The Boot in Lapworth, so I tend to head there when I’m back.
Where did your cooking journey start?
It really all started at home where I learnt to cook from my Mum and Gran. They’re both fantastic cooks and taught me the basics, but it wasn’t really until University where I took it further! Being a student meant I had plenty of spare time (in between my studies, of course!) and I found myself reading cook books, watching tutorials on YouTube and experimenting with ingredients. I think this is really where my passion took off and inspired me to apply for MasterChef!
How have you come on as a chef since MasterChef?
I think I probably learnt the most I’ve ever learnt as I progressed throughout the different stages of the show. We had exposure to some of the best chefs in the world and had the opportunity to cook in professional kitchens, which was something I’d never done. I picked up so many techniques and started to really understand different flavour combinations, which meant I improved at a real pace. Post MasterChef, I spent 6 months travelling the world where I experienced new cultures and cuisines, so I’ve focused recently on trying to re-create dishes that reflect those experiences.. Sometimes this works well, and I cook things I wished I could have produced on the show, but on the flip side, some things just tasted better on a beach in Thailand cooked by a local!
And on that note – we have to ask: did you ever take any of Gregg’s advice?
Of course! Whilst Gregg may not necessarily have the cheffy background that John does, he sure knows what tastes good and what doesn’t. He’s been the judge on MasterChef for some time, and I’m pretty sure he’s tried the best and the worst that people have to offer! I for one, found his advice and feedback truly invaluable.
What are you cooking lots of at the moment? What are your staple ingredients? Food obsessions?
I have a weird obsession with ginger! It’s definitely because I spent so long in Asia and fell in love with the food but I will literally use ginger as much as I can. Be that in stir frys, curries or even in juices – if I think ginger will work, it will go in! Stemmed ginger ice cream is a particular favourite. It just adds an amazing zing that you don’t get with so many of the more ‘traditional’ ingredients, but I think my girlfriends getting a little tired of it! I’m also really enjoying BBQ food and smoking meats over wood for hours – the flavours are amazing and meat literally falls apart. Delicious!
What’s the best thing you’ve eaten this year? The worst?
Very, very difficult question.. I think the best would be when I was in Greece and we were in a restaurant where they prepared some wonderful fried squid and squid ink aioli. The aioli was jet black and stained your teeth and tongue but tasted so good! It was so fresh as well, which makes such a difference. I think I’m probably quite lucky in that I don’t think I’ve eaten anything this year that was bad enough to remember it!
I can almost taste that aioli! Tell us what to expect at Sunnyhull on Sunday.
Hopefully the sun will shine and we’ll have a great day! There will be local producers selling wonderful produce from their stools and even a cooking competition! I have the amazing job of picking the winner, so I’m looking forward to what people rustle up.. I promise I will be nice! There’s also a kids cookery course going on which I think is fantastic – for me, if we can get more kids cooking from a young age and appreciating proper food then we’ll grow up more knowledgeable, healthy and happy. I think it will be a really nice afternoon, so I’d encourage everyone to come along if they’re around.
Sunnyhull at Solihull’s Mell Square runs every Sunday until 2nd August, each week themed around an aspect of Solihull life. Follow Mell Square on Twitter or visit their website for details of each event.