Kiwi cook is Britain's master chef
06 Mar 2009
Mat Follas, a Kiwi cook inspired by the fresh, simple approach of New Zealand chefs, has been crowned winner of MasterChef 2009 - one of Britain’s most sought after culinary titles.
The 42-year-old IT engineer, who moved from New Zealand to Dorset, England 12 years ago, served up his winning entry on BBC’s MasterChef Goes Large in front of six million viewers.
As part of his perfectly prepared three-course meal using nettles, wild garlic, rabbit, spider crab and lavender, he topped off his winning menu with New Zealand’s very own hokey pokey icecream.
New Zealand inspiration
Follas was born in Britain but went to live in New Zealand when he was six months old.
The Auckland University graduate said he was inspired by the "fresh, simple" approach of New Zealand chefs before he moved back to Britain about 12 years ago.
"New Zealand chefs then were doing what British chefs are doing now," he said.
Mat's winning menu was a trio of wild rabbit as a starter, a main of spider crab with hand-cut chips and sea vegetables, and lavender mousse with hokey pokey and blackberry sauce for dessert.
Big-hearted Follas had won the hearts of viewers with his approach.
As well as welling-up with emotion himself at the final, fans of the show wrote emotional comments online including Neil Bradley-Dye of Leicester who said: "Follas is awesome, talented and so inspiring to us all. I cried every time he did, I howled when he won, I just want to meet the guy, shake his hand and break bread with him."
Judges praised Follas’ sophisticated palate during the series, but his presentation was a struggle at times - a dish involving an oyster on top of a steak was described as looking like a "really giant bogey".
Happily, Follas - who gathered the wild garlic used in the triumphant menu from the path behind his Dorset home - overcame the presentation problem.
The champion said he had not been thinking in terms of winning the whole competition when he first appeared.
"What I wanted was a validation that my food was good," he said. "At the end of the semi-finals the only thing I wanted to do was to get to the finals."
Pushed for time
Follas, who is married with three children, beat fellow finalists Andy Oliver and Chris Gates to the title.
He said that until the final he had not managed to complete the three courses in the required time frame.
"I literally finished the moment they said: 'Stop working'," he said.
"I'm humbled and proud that my dishes won such an amazing competition. It's been a fantastic experience and I've learnt an enormous amount. Although, at times, I have never worked so hard in all my life, it's been great fun."
Follas, who has a passion for seafood, wild and local ingredients, described his style as most like that of top British chef Rick Stein.
Delighted with his win, Follas has a long term plan to become a full-time chef with a restaurant, serving the type of wild ingredients he cooked up in the final.
He was seeking finance to open his own restaurant, and had planned to return to New Zealand, though the MasterChef win could change that.
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