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Louise Minchin - I didn’t know how to cook before Masterchef

PUBLISHED: 00:00 17 October 2016

Louise Minchin in the kitchen in her Chester home

Louise Minchin in the kitchen in her Chester home

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BBC Breakfast presenter Louise Minchin’s Celebrity MasterChef experience was a revelation - to herself. The TV journalist, who lives near Chester, admits she could hardly cook before taking up the challenge, writes Mairead Mahon.

Louise Minchin recreates the cheesecake she made on Celebrity MasterchefLouise Minchin recreates the cheesecake she made on Celebrity Masterchef

It’s well-known that the outfits worn by Louise Minchin, when presenting the BBC’s Breakfast Show, quickly sell out - snapped up by fans who admire her style. However, these days when Louise hits the shops near her Chester home, she is more likely to be browsing kitchen emporiums for the latest gadgets than fashion shops. That’s because, a couple of months ago, she was named runner-up of the BBC’s Celebrity MasterChef.

‘I can’t keep out of kitchen shops now. I’d ever entered one before Celebrity MasterChef. At the moment, I’m on the lookout for the perfect pasta machine. Before MasterChef, a tin opener was the only kitchen equipment I needed. I’ve also discovered the joy of aprons! From never having worn one at all, I’m now the proud owner of a collection: ten, in fact,’ laughs Louise.

To be fair, as Louise cheerfully admits that she couldn’t cook until she appeared on the programme, she didn’t really have any need of an apron, let alone a selection of them. So what on earth prompted her to take part in a cooking programme watched by millions?

‘I had a couple of reasons and one of them was that I enjoyed watching the programme. Another was the sad fact that I was that person who hesitated over which end of a spring onion to chop. So, when it was suggested that I take part, I thought it might be as good a way as any to learn to cook,’ says Louise.

Louise Minchin's cheesecakeLouise Minchin's cheesecake

The decision brought a few reactions from friends and family, none of them overwhelmingly positive.

‘My husband, David, daughters, Mia, 15, and Scarlett 12, as well as my parents, kept asking me if I was sure and, as for friends, well they kept asking me if I was mad,’ says Louise.

Luckily, in the three months before filming began, she was able to practise at home and that was something the whole family joined in with.

‘My daughters enjoy baking and so we would often sit down and sample what I had made. They would make positive comments about how my efforts could be improved. Something that I had to really keep in mind was timing: an hour to make something which tastes good and looks attractive is not very long. Sometimes, my dishes wouldn’t look appetising but, we like food and if it tasted good, we ate it anyway. Well, all of us that is, except poor Waffle the Labrador who had just been put on a diet.’

Louise’s kitchen is gorgeous, in traditional country house style with an AGA; something which caused a bit of a problem when she walked onto the Celebrity MasterChef set for the very first time.

‘Alas, there are no AGAs in MasterChef - it’s all shiny work stations- and an AGA was what I was used to. I was incredibly nervous but I was saved by noticing, of all things, a mincer. I’d seen a similar one in my local butcher’s and was pretty sure that I had identified it correctly. Anyway, when we were told to make a dish using the theme, An American Diner, I was the only one who used that mincer to make hamburgers. Luckily, I can think on my feet and it saved me,’ said Louise.

It certainly did, as she went on to become runner-up, a real feat for a lady whose ambition was to simply make it through to the end of the first episode. One of her dishes, which wowed both the critics and the judges, was her Passionfruit and White Chocolate Cheesecake. At first, the critics were bored with the idea of yet another cheesecake but when they tried Louise’s version, they changed their minds.

‘I love chocolate and passionfruit is a favourite: I was born in Hong Kong and I think it was one of the first fruits I tasted. I did make life a little tricky though by making a passionfruit jelly which needs time to set. But it got me through to the final,’ smiles Louise.

It’s now a firm favourite in the Minchin household - as well as with BBC Breakfast colleagues- but Louise is constantly trying ways to perfect it and, with the help of her daughters, she is just about there.

‘I love cooking now and even my language has changed: I can say ‘jus’ with no hesitation, in the same way that I used to talk about tomato sauce! I also collect recipes, including one from my grandmother for kedgeree- a great way, incidentally, for getting the children to eat fish’ says Louise.

As well as scouring magazines for recipes, she also has a collection of 100 cookbooks. So, any plans to write her own?

‘I’d love to. In my job - and I’m also a tri-athlete - I need food which sets me up for the day. I suppose you could call it “endurance food” and although that doesn’t make it sound particularly palatable, it can be scrumptious. I make myself a really tasty porridge, soaked overnight in hazelnut milk and served with blueberries. I eat it before I leave for work and it keeps me going for ages. That’s the sort of food we all need from time to time, so yes, I would love to put together those sorts of recipes into a cookbook.’

Who better to write it than Louise and, as a stylish cook, maybe she could give some thought to developing a range of aprons too!

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