Posted 25th Sep 2014
To continue our celebration of British Food Fortnight we spoke with winner of MasterChef 2013, Natalie Coleman, to find out more about her experience on the show and her latest project creating an East London-inspired menu, in collaboration with East Village, using ingredients from her favourite suppliers from across the East End to encourage residents and locals to support their favourite independents
First of all, congratulations on winning Masterchef last year, how did you find the experience?
Thank you very much. It was probably one of the best experiences of my life. However it was one of my toughest too…there were lots of tears shed through stress, nerves, burns and nearly lost thumbs but if I could do it all again I would in the blink of an eye. I still have flashbacks and laugh at some of the things in the competition. I met people that in the normal world I probably would never have mixed with but now they’ve become friends for life.
Any main highlights from the show?
There were so many…every round taught you something about yourself. I learnt so much in such a small space of time. From the start until finish (24th Oct – 10th Dec) we were thrown into tasks and situations that we would never have dreamed of. I just kept thinking about making it through to the next round, which I always thought I wouldn’t. The further I got the more I learnt and the more amazing the tasks became.
The day Marcus Wareing popped in to be a surprise judge was unreal. I was so excited he was in the room, and then didn’t think about what he might say. I was first to be judged and got the most unbelievable feedback from him, I remember having to retake introducing my dishes about five times as I kept stuttering and getting my words mixed up because I was so nervous. To hear his feedback was one of the proudest moments of my life. Up until that point and even afterwards I had no confidence. The others always, in my view, had much better feedback and I thought they were way ahead of me, I felt I was lagging behind and on that day I felt that I really stood out against them. It was a real game changer for me looking back, but even with the feedback I knew I needed to push myself to be even better.
Cooking under chef Simon Rogan’s watchful eye was pretty amazing. I loved him on Great British Menu, and to then be in a kitchen, cooking his food, was surreal. Not only that, we also fed four of the country’s best chefs who all held three Michelin stars each. That was a moment that most chefs dream of, let alone experience, and to have the chance as a home cook was amazing. It was the last challenge before the final, and it went really well. It was the longest we spent in a kitchen cooking without breaks. I had 4½ hours for my task and I remember thinking it was so long, why have I got that much time, and within a flash it was time to plate up and then it was all over. Winning was the perfect end to the perfect dream, but even if I hadn’t won, the competition as a whole and the things we learnt and experienced were something that money couldn't buy.
How has it changed your life and the way you cook since?
Life since hasn’t been the same. I had to go back to my office job until the series had finished airing but as soon as it did, I left my office job and entered a new career in food. I didn’t know what to expect and I don’t think anyone does who has won the competition. I thought you would just leave your job and start a new one in a kitchen, but I’ve had the most amazing rollercoaster ride since last May. I’ve done things that I’d never dream of and feel very privileged to have done so.
Karen Ross (brains behind the MasterChef revamp) was and is the most supportive person ever. She arranged for me to visit some of the best restaurants in the country for 'stages' which is the posh French word for work experience. I have visited some of my idols such as Tom Kerridge, Daniel Clifford, Nuno Mendes, Simon Rogan, Tom Kitchin, and Michel Roux Jr. to name a few. I have also taken part in many food festivals such as BBC Good Food Show, Foodies Festival, Jimmy’s Farm and Jamie’s Big Feastival. I have been involved in several projects which involve teaching young children and teenagers how to cook which is a cause close to my heart.
Life 18 months ago is like a whole different universe compared to my life today. I have discovered so many things along the way and everyday continue to see and learn. The great thing about cookery is you never stop learning and chefs and cooks I meet who have been doing it a lifetime say they still learn new things everyday.
Why is championing your local producers so important to you?
I think it’s important to support local businesses and producers because these days we live in a world where big corporate companies dominate everything. Years ago, you went to the fishmongers to buy your fish, the butchers to get your meat and slowly our high streets changed and independents started to close and be replaced by bigger companies. Even though they are bigger it doesn’t mean they give us the best available produce. Strawberries may be available 352 days a year, however the air miles they rack up to get onto our shelves are crazy and it has a massive effect on our carbon footprint.
I’m a very proud Brit and I believe we have some of the best produce in the world, which is why I wanted to create a menu which celebrated my favourite independents and suppliers with East Village, the former athletes’ village during the Olympics. I wanted to show people to eat within our seasons and not be so lazy and give into the bigger supermarket chains that have everything available all year round. I’m not saying that supermarkets are a bad thing, however in terms of meat and fish to get the best produce we need to buy from our local fishmongers and butchers as the quality is much higher. In East London especially, and from growing up around there, I wanted to champion local shops in and around East Village to its residents, as well as showing other locals they can do the same. It's about respect of the ingredients and knowing that the animals have had a good life beforehand. It makes me feel better and respect what I’m cooking and eating much more. I have built up lots of relationships with local shops such as Fin and Flounder, Ginger Pig, Hill and Szrok, and the service I get from these guys is superior to a supermarket. They go that extra mile.
Any favourite dishes you like to cook using local produce?
Most things I cook use ingredients I’ve bought locally, but my favourite dinner to cook and eat has to be the best dinner of the week, the traditional Sunday roast…you cannot beat it! I made my own slow roast pork for East Village, which is also a favourite recipe of mine.
We're celebrating British Food Fortnight with our readers and I'm sure they'd love to know some of your favourite British producers and places to eat around the UK?
We have so many amazing places to eat on our doorstep and beyond. It's hard to pick as we are spoilt for choice but some of my most memorable places would include Brawn in Columbia Road, the duck heart must be one of the best things I’ve ever eaten. The Hand and Flowers in Marlow, you have to have the crispy pigs head. Dinner by Heston Blumenthal is amazing for special occasions and it was there that I had pigeon for the first time. I love Yum Bun in Old Street too, it’s cheap, cheerful and very, very tasty.
What have you got coming up in the future that our readers can look out for?
I have another week of the MasterChef pop-up, as well as my own supper clubs and pop-ups. I’m also working alongside Whole Foods and School Food Matters going into schools to get kids cooking. I have my own kids cookery school in a few weeks time, as well as my book launch and food shows.
Any tips or advice for budding chefs looking to take a leap into the kitchen as you did?
Go for it. If you don’t give it a shot you’ll never know and will probably regret never knowing whether it was for you. If you try and it doesn’t work out, at least you tried.
Natalie's menu in collaboration with East Village, the former athletes' village, includes high quality ingredients sourced from around East London and is an easy yet impressive menu to create for any occasion. Here are her three star dishes...
East London Liquor Company Gin Cured Salmon
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 tablespoon juniper berries
300g rock salt
100ml dry gin (preferably East London Liquor Company)
250g caster sugar
35g dill, roughly chopped
Zest of 2 lemons
Zest of 2 limes
1 side of salmon fillet (1kg), skin on and pin boned
Crusty sour dough bread
250ml crème fraîche
Small jar cornichons (small pickled gherkins)
1 tablespoon fresh dill, finely chopped
1. Toast the peppercorns and juniper berries in a dry pan for 1-2 minutes. Once toasted crush them in a pestle and mortar. You don’t want to grind them to a powder, only lightly crush them.
2. Then, in a large mixing bowl, place all of the ingredients (except the salmon) and mix so everything is well incorporated.
3. On a clean work surface lay down cling film for the salmon to sit on. It’s best to use two lengths and overlap so they make one sheet. I like to let the cling film overhang the work surface so it's easy to roll up, and you want to roll around 50cm in length.
4. Place the salmon fillet onto the cling film and pat dry using kitchen paper, then spread the curing mixture over the fillet evenly. Carefully wrap the fillet up. Once wrapped, re-wrap in 3 more layers.
5. Place the salmon into a roasting tin then place another roasting tin on top of the salmon to weigh it down. You can use tins/jars for added weight.
6. Put in the fridge and leave for 2-3 days. After this time remove the salmon from the fridge and unwrap. Discard the cling film and rinse under a cold tap to remove the rest of the cure. Pat dry using kitchen paper.
7. To serve, slice the salmon thinly and serve on toasted sour dough with crème fraîche, cornichons and fresh dill sprinkled over.
Slow Roasted Pork from Hill & Szrok with Salsa Verde & Lentils
2kg pork shoulder (preferably from Hill & Szrok), skin scored
For the herby lentils:
1 medium white onion, finely diced
1 carrot, peeled and finely diced
1 celery stick, peeled and finely diced
200g Puy lentils, rinsed and drained
300ml chicken stock
4 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
4 tablespoons finely chopped mint
Zest of ½ lemon
Juice of 1 lemon
For the salsa verde:
2 sprigs basil
Juice of 1 lemon
10 tablespoons olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
½ red onion, finely diced
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon capers
1. Pre-heat the oven to 200ºC. Rinse and pat dry the pork shoulder then drizzle with a good glug of olive oil and sprinkle with a good pinch of salt. Rub into the pork skin.
2. Place into a large roasting tin and roast for 20 minutes to start cooking the crackling. Then, reduce the oven to 160ºC and add the cider to the roasting tin. Cover with tin foil and cook for 4 hours. Every 45 minutes baste the pork with the juices and, if needed, add a splash of water in case the sauce evaporates during the cooking process.
3. After 4 hours, uncover the pork and cook for a further hour, removing the foil. When cooked leave to rest for 15-20 minutes (covered loosely with foil), then carve and serve straight away.
4. To make the lentils, soften the onion, carrot, celery with a little olive oil in a saucepan. This should take 3-4 minutes on a medium heat.
5. Add the lentils and cook for another 2 minutes. Cover with the stock and add half the parsley. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer until the lentils are tender. This will take about 25-30 minutes.
6. When the lentils are cooked, add the remaining chopped herbs, lemon zest and juice and season with salt, pepper and dress with a little olive oil.
7. To make the salsa verde, roughly chop the herbs and place all the ingredients into a food processor and blend into a fine purée. Season with salt and pepper and serve with the pork.
Vanilla Panna Cotta with Berry Compote from New Spitalfields Market
For the panna cotta:
250ml double cream
250ml whole milk
50g caster sugar
1 vanilla pod
3 gelatine leaves
For the berry compote:
150g raspberries (preferably from New Spitalfields Market)
2 tablespoons golden caster sugar
1. To make the panna cotta, combine the cream, milk, caster sugar and vanilla seeds and pod in a saucepan and heat until the mixture starts to boil. Remove from the heat and allow to infuse for 30 minutes.
2. Strain through a fine sieve and return to the saucepan and reheat until warm.
3. Soak the gelatine leaves in cold water for about 10 minutes to soften. Squeeze out the excess water and whisk into the cream mixture until melted. Set the pan in a bowl of iced water to cool this quickly.
4. Divide the mixture amongst four medium-sized dariole moulds (small, cylindrical moulds). Place in the fridge and leave to set – this will take just over 2 hours.
5. To make the berry compote, put all the ingredients into a saucepan on a medium heat. Cook for 3-5 minutes and, when the berries start to break down, remove from the heat and serve.
By Natalie Crofts