Masterchef The Professionals winner, Claire Lara on food and her ambitions

She was the first woman to win Masterchef: The Professionals and now she wants <br/>her own restaurant. Emma Mayoh speaks to Claire Lara, the chef owes it all to her nan. <br/>PHOTOGRAPHY BY KIRSTY THOMPSON

Forget judges Michel Roux Junior, his sous chef Monica ‘Rottweiler’ Galetti and restaurateur Gregg Wallace. Never mind the competition that came from fellow contestants either. MasterChef: The Professionals winner Claire Lara faced her toughest critic when she was just 12-years-old.

The youngster watched with anticipation while her nan and the cook of the family, Melva Carvis, took a bite of her granddaughter’s first chocolate orange cake.

‘I was really nervous because I wanted her to like it,’ remembered Claire, originally from Moreton on the Wirral. ‘She said to me ‘‘no 12-year-old makes cakes like this’’. She loved it and I thought if my nan can say that, then I must be good. She even asked me for the recipe.

‘My nan had always done a lot of cooking, she grew rhubarb in her garden and her house always smelled of the gorgeous pies she made. At that moment I thought this is for me, this is what I need to do.’

Female role models have played a big part in Claire’s success. It was another woman, Maggie Rimmer, a tutor on Claire’s Youth Training Scheme, who pushed her to reach for her dreams. She encouraged her to go for a job in one of the best restaurants in Paris.

Claire, then 19, filed the application on Thursday and by the Monday she was working as a commis chef at Hotel Baltimore, once the kitchen headed by celebrated chef Albert Roux. Although she was left red-faced when she didn’t know the difference between her mash and mache - that’s lamb’s lettuce to you and me - during Claire’s five year stint there she was part of the team to earn the restaurant a Michelin star, got promotions and met her French husband, Marc, also a chef.

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‘It was an incredible time,’ she said. ‘And to know that you helped somewhere get a Michelin star is an amazing experience.’

The couple came home and worked in the London Carriageworks and Panoramic restaurants in Liverpool, Claire spent some time in the kitchen at Manchester’s Marble Arch and became a tutor at Liverpool Community College, where her fine dining courses are now fully booked.

Last year was a big year for Claire who pitted her skills against some of the best chefs across the country on MasterChef and survived the ordeal with a much cooler head than her counterparts to become the first female winner of the series.

She put spells of sickness and dizziness down to the stress of the competition but eventually discovered she was pregnant. Her son George was born the day after she appeared at MasterChef Live in November.

‘It was an absolutely bonkers year,’ she said. ‘Things were crazy and I just didn’t stop. You know when you see something on television and you think it can’t be as difficult as it looks. Well it is, it’s much more difficult.’

Since the show Claire has done a short stint at Le Gavroche with judge Michel Roux Junior. But Claire and Marc, who currently works at London Carriageworks, are looking to open their own restaurant in Cheshire.  

Claire, who now lives in Liverpool, said: ‘It’s got to be somewhere between the Wirral and North Wales. We’d love to have a restaurant around here. I don’t think the north gets the reputation it deserves for food but we want to stay around here. Hopefully one day George will join us in the kitchens, if he wants to, of course.’

And the former Wallasey School pupil is working with another generation, too - her mum Julie Bartley, a self-confessed kitchen novice.

‘She seems really excited by it all and has asked me to show her how to do canap�s and to make different things,’ Claire said. ‘I didn’t spend much time in the kitchen with my mum when I was younger. It’s lovely to do it now.’ 

Pan roasted loin of venison

with carrot pur�e, chestnuts, sprouts and smoked pork belly with red wine jus

Ingredients

250g venison loin50g smoked pork belly75g butter50g sprouts50g chestnuts2 large carrots Rapeseed oilSalt and pepper

Method

1. Peel the carrots and boil in salted water. Remove outer leaves of sprouts and cook in boiling salted water. Once cooked cool and cut in half.

2. Cut the pork belly into small cubes and fry until crispy, add pre-cooked chestnuts and sprouts. Add red wine and leave to one side.

3. Drain carrots and blend until smooth, season and leave to one side.

4. Season loin of venison with salt and pepper and place in a hot pan. Cook enough to colour all sides.

5. Place in a medium heated oven for eight minutes once cooked. Allow meat to rest.

6. Warm the garnish, present and enjoy.

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