Worthing’s Kenny Tutt on where his love for food came from, handling pressure and winning MasterChef
- Credit: Jim Holden
A lifelong obsession with food led Worthing’s Kenny Tutt to apply for BBC’s MasterChef. And he only went and won it…
Lucy Tutt had a slightly more selfish reason for wanting her husband Kenny to apply for MasterChef – she might get her television back.
“My thought was if he didn’t get through I could watch a bit of EastEnders again,” she laughs. “I was missing out on my TV because of his cookery programmes. He won the show and now I’ve got more cookery programmes and my kitchen has been taken over!”
From his Worthing home 36-year-old Kenny describes himself as an armchair warrior when it came to MasterChef. “I would be shouting at the TV: ‘Why are you putting that jus with that?’ My Sky planner was full of cookery shows – anything cookery based. Lucy said I should just apply for it. She literally put the laptop on my lap.”
It wasn’t the first time Lucy, 32, had tried to get him on a television cookery competition – although the first attempt backfired. “I was on a lunchbreak in Hove when I got a call saying they wanted me to go on Come Dine With Me,” remembers Kenny. “I thought it was a mate winding me up, and basically said ‘Yeah, **** off mate’. And it was them! I didn’t know Lucy had applied for me.”
Every cloud has a silver lining though. Had Kenny gone on the Channel Four snarkfest, he wouldn’t now be the owner of the 14th MasterChef winner’s trophy which sits pride of place in his dining room sideboard. “You’re not allowed to have any professional cooking experience, to have ever earned money from cooking or ever been on any other cooking programme,” he says. “In some ways it was the best thing that happened.”
Kenny credits his initial love of food to his mother. He has always enjoyed experimenting in the kitchen too. “I would go down to the shops and come back with truffle oil, lychees, ham and special cheeses, but forget the black bags, nappies and milk having spent the weekly budget on store cupboard ingredients. There were a lot of experiments – I nearly blew my wife’s head off with certain Asian cooking.”
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Kenny, who is branch director of Santander’s Brighton branch near Churchill Square, only told his regional manager that he was taking part in the competition. The MasterChef process began with a long application form accompanied by photos and an X Factor-style video. Then there were phone interviews before he was invited to Camden to present a plate of food on camera. “I went for a chocolate millefeuille with raspberry custard and jelly with chocolate soil,” he says. “I thought I wouldn’t have to worry about getting it warm. I travelled up with a backpack containing about 30 Tupperware pots!”
After four weeks he assumed he’d not been selected – until he spotted a missed call after a flight back from Tenerife. Before he knew it he was on set, taking part in his first Market Challenge, where the contestants pick ingredients from a marketplace set. “Those were the hardest challenges,” he says. “You’ve got to think on your feet. The first time I put too much on my plate. The main element was quail, but I kept changing the elements around it.”
With Gregg Wallace and John Torode as alpha male presenters barking at contestants throughout the show, MasterChef seems a world away from the cosiness of the Great British Bake Off. Kenny says a good mix of men and women taking part kept everything grounded.
“When they said ‘Start cooking’ the environment changed,” he says. “Before that you were slapping each other on the back and giving each other high fives like a football team in the tunnel. Then – bang! – and literally every second counted. You were in your own zone, you forgot everything around you.”
He thanks working with Santander and juggling home duties with two preschool children for helping him handle the pressure. But another sadder element also provided a motivation. Only a few years ago Kenny lost his father at the age of 65. “It was really sudden,” he says. “My dad was my best friend. It changed me – I became less of a teenager worrying about myself and more strong. Nothing could be as bad as losing your best friend – what was the worst that was going to happen on MasterChef? Nothing prepares you for having a camera in your face while you’re cooking, but life does get you ready for anything.”
The challenges came thick and fast – and away from the camera he had to meet deadlines to create briefs for each dish he wanted to do, buy ingredients and practice. “You can’t just wing it,” he says. “You have to put some effort in.”
“He wasn’t here for four months,” adds Lucy, who looked after their four-month-old second baby Grace, now one, and four-year-old Emily, while Kenny used up all of his 27 days of annual leave to compete. The pressure almost got too much as he prepared his final winning three-course meal. “I was up to 3am putting it all together and practising it,” he says. “I had this Japanese-inspired scallop dish which I hated – it didn’t reflect me. I threw a bit of a strop – I thought can I do this show? They were going to have to make that announcement: ‘Kenny has left for personal reasons’.”
It was Lucy who saved the day once more. “She sat me down and said forget about it,” says Kenny. “She gave me a pad and pen and said to just start again how I wanted to do it.” Kenny’s ultimate decision was inspired. He created dishes which reflected his time on the show. “I took little bits of what I had learned in the competition on each plate of food to doff the cap and say thank you,” he says. “It paid homage to people like Ashley Palmer-Watts, Tommy Banks, Nathan Outlaw, Theo Randall, Virgilio Martinez in Peru, they are all amazing chefs.”
Once the filming was over Kenny was left in limbo until the show was aired – especially when it came to what he was going to do next. At present he has no plans to leave Santander. “I love working for the bank – I’m helping people with their first home, their first business or saving for the future.”
This summer he has made appearances at food festivals – including the Brighton Foodies Festival in May, as he considers his future. “You almost create your own pressure,” he says. “If you want to be the next Wahaca [the Mexican chain opened by inaugural MasterChef winner Thomasina Miers] it takes time, effort and money. But at the same time you don’t want the opportunity to run away. I’ve gone from having 300 followers on Instagram and Twitter to more than 14,000. I get messages coming from everywhere. My advice to myself was to enjoy it and live in the moment.”
He feels his relationship with food has changed. “Back in the day I would make a plate of food, put it on the table and just eat it, quite quickly,” he says.
“Now I’m thinking about how the plate looks, taking photographs and putting it on Instagram to share with people. I’ve got a following of people now and I want to keep them interested in what I’m doing.”
He has taken advice from others who have been through MasterChef, including 2015 champion Simon Wood who is opening his second restaurant in Manchester, series six winner Dhruv Baker who lives near Gatwick, and 2016 champ Jane Devonshire. “It’s like a family,” says Kenny, who is also keeping in touch with many of his fellow contestants through the show.
He has started to write a book, which combines his MasterChef experience with some of his favourite recipes – ranging from those created by his mum and his grandparents in Ireland, to a simple but “amazing” curry from an Indian greengrocer who is based around the corner from his home. “I don’t want it to be too high end where it becomes like a picture book,” says Kenny. “It will be quite family-orientated. There will be a range of different recipes from really easy to those which challenge you a bit.”
In July he is spending a week in Tommy Banks’ kitchen to get a taste of how professional restaurants work. Eventually he wants to open his own gastropub: “Somewhere that people can go to with really good food, but that’s comfortable,” he says.
“It sounds easy to do, but there are not a lot of places that can do it, especially locally.”
He is enjoying meeting some of his fans. “I’m embracing it totally,” he laughs. “People want to have a photo with little old me?! It’s surreal – I’ve had people saying I’m their hero which is mind-blowing.” He sees it as part of MasterChef’s message. “It’s inspirational more than educational,” he says, pointing to the fact people can see a dish on the show and then search out a recipe. He has created his own recipe cards for Santander staff to make home-cooked healthy meals, and is working with the bank on a scheme to uncover his staff’s hidden skills. “You fall into a career and don’t always know what other skills you have,” he says. “I never thought I was an amazing cook – but it’s so subjective. One of the nicest things I’ve done was go into a school and talk about the experience. Coming out of school you need to know about how tax works and how to cook yourself a decent meal. It’s a life skill. I remember I made a French lemon tart at school. When I took it home my mum and dad loved it. That was probably the moment when I fell in love with cooking.”
My Worthing life
• Best pub: “The Egremont in Brighton Road is a good pub – the food is decent, it’s comfortable, tasty and not overpriced.”
• Best pizza: “Fiordilatte in Stanford Square does good Neapolitan pizza. I’m a big pizza fan, I’ve had them in Florence and Bologna and I’d easily put theirs against any of those.”
• Best seafood: “I like the CrabShack in Marine Parade but my wife is allergic to shellfish so it would kill her if she ate there!”
• Best burger: “The Woods in Portland Road.”
• Best breakfast: “The Perch on Lancing seafront is the best breakfast place around.”
• Best fish and chips: “Chipwick in Brighton Road by Splashpoint. A lot of the chains haven’t come to Worthing yet but I think there’s still room for more independent places and vegetarian places. I’ve been here for 25 years and in quite a short space of time the scene is blooming – we have never had little pubs on the seafront like The Wandering Goose and Rockinghorse Cocktail bar before. It would be amazing if we could get into that cosmopolitan vibe where there’s more of a café culture.”
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