A PRIVATE chef from Northumberland is through to the finals of prestigious BBC2 cooking show MasterChef: The Professionals.
Millions tuned in last night to see forager James Burton, who lives near the village of Wall, battle it out in a heated semi-finals challenge.
The 33-year-old was ecstatic at making it to the final three of the competition.
“It’s fantastic. I’m over the moon, really excited. It’s given me the belief that I can cook,” he said last night.
“It’s been a long journey and there’s more to go. Part of me said I might get this far but you never really know. It might have gone completely pear shaped.”
Viewers have seen eight semi-finalists whittled down to six this week and the remaining three pairs are competing head-to-head for a place in the finals, to be screened next week.
James and fellow semi-finalist Ross Marshall, from Scotland, were last night thrown into the white heat of service at Midsummer House restaurant in Cambridge.
Working under chef patron, Daniel Clifford, they competed to reach the exacting standards of two-Michelin star cuisine.
The bar was raised even higher as the two chefs recreated one of Daniel’s signature lamb dishes.
James said of the experience: “It was more than daunting, it was terrifying.”
In a daunting final test, the pair cooked a main and dessert inspired by their Michelin experience for judges Michel Roux Jr and Gregg Wallace.
James, who works as a private chef and forager, has his own business Vallum Cooking, making preserves, cordials and chutneys, which he sells at Hexham farmers’ market, of which he is a director.
He has been shooting since he was young, cultivates a vegetable garden and forages for everything from wild mushrooms, sorrel, yarrow and bog myrtle to flavour his dishes.
James has already come through the ingredients test and the skills test, where he was challenged to make honeycomb garnishes and also the challenge set by Michel of creating two classic dishes to Michelin-star level.
Contestants then faced the scrutiny of harsh restaurant critics to prove they were worthy of a semi-final place.
He said: “I just cook British food. It’s not modern. There’s no gimmicks. A lot of my food is very simple, but a lot of my food takes days to cook and prepare.”
James applied for the MasterChef show after seeing adverts in the back of the Caterer and Hotelkeeper magazine.
Fans of the show will recall North East chefs John Calton and Dave Coulson also made it to the finals in 2010 which was won by Claire Lara.
Next week the chefs face the toughest challenges of their career, including preparing a three-course menu for 30 of the world’s leading Michelin chefs with 40 stars between them, at Pearl in London.
Lastly, there is one final cook-off at the MasterChef Kitchen to decide who will be this year’s champion. The chefs must cook the best three courses of their lives for one final judgment from Michel and Gregg.