Essex chef Alex Webb on winning MasterChef the Professionals
- Credit: Richard Barker
Essex chef Alex Webb was named the MasterChef the Professionals champion of 2020 while serving up dishes at the Dunmow restaurant where he started out. So what's on the menu next?
Alex Webb, head chef at Square 1 in Great Dunmow, brought pride to the county of Essex when he became only the 14th professional chef to win the much-coveted title of MasterChef the Professionals winner in 2020.
It was no easy task for the 25-year-old who found himself cooking against 31 other professional chefs over six weeks of intensive culinary challenges. All of which were conducted under the watchful eye of MasterChef judges Monica Galetti, Gregg Wallace and Michelin-starred Marcus Wareing.
Alex had turned down the chance to work with Marcus during his early career, so did it make for an interesting re-introduction when Alex met up with Marcus on the show for the first time? ‘I had the chance to work at Marcus Belgravia, the restaurant for the Berkley. At that time, I had loads of different trials. Instead, I chose the Connaught because it was more French for me.
I did however get a picture of me with Marcus a few years earlier when I attended a Taste of London event. I showed him the picture when I met him again, but he didn’t remember me. It was really good to go back to meet him again though.’
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So with a successful career taking shape, why did Alex put himself under such intense pressure by entering the hardest culinary competition in the world?
‘I’ve always wanted to apply. I knew couldn’t do Britain’s Got Talent but I thought, I can do this. I applied for it in November 2019 and then I heard in January that I had an interview. It was just before the first lockdown that I had a final interview and there was some uncertainty about whether it would go ahead.
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'Eventually we managed to start filming in the middle of July 2020 and finished in August, so it was about a month’s worth of filming altogether. I was still furloughed at the time, so it worked really well. I would come into work to practice during the week.'
The semi-final saw Alex cook a duck and blackberry dish inspired by his grandfather. The idea was to cook a dish which evoked a long-held memory. ‘I remember visiting my grandfather and going to his allotment in Dunmow and picking berries together.’
When it came to the final, Alex was called a genius by Marcus as he tasted his menu of a scallop ceviche starter with an artichoke and pickled pear tartare, yoghurt foam, parsley powder and crispy capers finished with a watercress oil.
Alex loves to cook with fish so chose a main course of pan-seared trout, with parsnip crisps, parsnip coleslaw, roasted parsnip, parsley gel and a parsnip puree, finished with a mussel and caviar cream sauce, served with a mini potato fish pie topped with caviar and parsley powder.
Dessert sealed the deal with a white chocolate and passionfruit dome, with passionfruit pearls, a Prosecco sorbet on a feuilletine and dark chocolate base served with a passionfruit cocktail and passionfruit powder party poppers.
Alex’s interest in Essex food began when he worked as a front-of-house waiter at the Green Man in Lindsell, before he worked as a pot washer and kitchen porter at just 15 at Square 1 in Dunmow.
He took a year out to go cooking in Australia at just 16, before studying at Westminster Kingsway College in London, graduating as its Apprentice Chef of the Year: ‘That was really, really cool. I’d like to go back there one day to do a cook off,’ adds Alex.
One day a week at London’s Savoy followed and then he left to learn French haute cuisine from two-Michelin star chef Hélène Darroze at the Connaught.
‘Working for a restaurant with two Michelin stars was tough, as everything had to be perfect and you are working long, long hours, but my friends that I worked alongside got me through.’
Next, he worked at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal. ‘I was working alongside 50 chefs and it was quite extreme,’ adds Alex. For the next two years Alex worked at Roux at Parliament Square, Michel Roux Jr’s second London restaurant.
‘It was amazing, I learnt a lot from head chef Steve Groves. I wouldn’t be here now without him.'
Alex then moved to become sous chef at Frog by Adam Handling in Hoxton, before a flat move found him back in Essex where Spencer Hewitt - head chef and owner at Square 1 restaurant - offered him the opportunity to be head chef there, mentoring him throughout his MasterChef experience.
Since being crowned MasterChef the Professionals Winner 2020, the restaurant on Dunmow’s High Street has been more popular than ever.
‘Since I won, we’ve been rammed with people, doing 50 covers for lunch and dinner every day of the week. People keep coming into the restaurant asking for autographs and selfies too.’
In 2021, Alex would have celebrated two years as Square 1’s head chef, but opportunity came knocking and he has since moved on to embrace a new challenge. The details are currently under wraps, but Chef Alex Webb was last spotted on Clapham Common, so it looks like London's calling in the not-too-distant future.
In the meantime, Webb is hosting a one-off summer feast with The Gladwin Brothers - one a farmer, the other a chef and the third a restaurateur - on Wednesday 23 June at Sussex Restaurant in Soho.
Square 1, 15 High Street, Great Dunmow CM6 1AB; 01371 859922; square1restaurant.co.uk
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