Hugs and high dining
Five years ago, Jack Layer was graduating from his Critical Fine Art Practice course at the University of Brighton. This spring, he kept over five million culinary fans on tenterhooks as he cooked his way to the MasterChef UK finals.
From the first round, Jack had the judges impressed with his maverick and mouthwatering dishes, including an unlikely dessert based on coriander.
Can you walk us briefly through the process from auditioning to appearing on the shows?
It takes a long time! I filled out the application form in May last year. There are a few phone interviews and a face-to-face if you’re lucky enough, then before you know it, you’re face-to-face with John and Gregg.
There was a lot of hugging going on. Can you describe what you were going through during the cook-offs and judging announcements?
There was a lot of hugging! You become very close to the other competitors because you’re going through a very unique experience and simply put, they are the only ones who can empathise with you. Especially when it comes to saying goodbye to someone: it’s really sad because even though you’ve only known them for a short time they become good friends.
What was a particular highlight of the experience?
Standing in the Mexican market was a real ‘pinch me’ moment.The whole trip was completely bonkers and a real highlight because you just knew nothing like this would ever happen again.
What was the worst moment for you?
What you don’t see on TV is all the stress and heartbreak at home when things go wrong. I generally practised all of my dishes a number of times after work, till the early hours. You get very tired and very stressed very quickly!
Were there any ingredients you dreaded having to use?
Not so much specific ingredients, but the invention test and not knowing what the ingredients were beforehand was tough.
What is the weirdest thing you have ever eaten?
It’s not really weird, so much as unusual, but live sea urchins in Vietnam were a little different, but lovely!
What were John Torode and Gregg Wallace really like?
They are both top guys.Their TV personality can be quite strict, but off camera they are really funny and supportive of your growth.
What was the highlight of your MasterChef experience?
My coriander cheesecake will live with me for a long time… A lot of people have said it was the dish of the series which is pretty special!
How good a cook were you when you were at university?
Pretty good I’d like to think. Obviously had some questionable meals… I remember a burger with six types of meat that was especially memorable!
Did you manage to eat like a gourmet when you were a student?
I balanced my meals, often just eating pasta or frozen pizza, but then when I had the time and money, splashing out on some really lovely meat and ingredients.
Have you any cooking tips on a student budget?
Great food doesn’t have to be expensive! Often the cheapest cuts are the best, oxtail and belly pork are really reasonable and with long slow cooking, are delicious.
What was your most nerve-wracking moment?
Cooking to get into the final three. I knew I wanted to see the show all the way to the end and I would have been bitterly disappointed had I gone at that point.
Who is your favourite celebrity chef and why?
I love Keith Floyd. If you haven’t seen him, look up his old TV show online. It’s old, classic, slightly inebriated cooking at its best.
What’s next for you?
Myself and Billy are working on some ideas, so look for #jilly trending soon… You can keep up to date on Twitter @jack_layer.