The final of Masterchef was a feast for the eye: the last three produced incredibly sophisticated food, one would expect to be served at a Michelin star restaurant. While the finalists’ plates looked stunning, personally, I craved something else on a Friday night: a bowl of chili with guacamole and homemade nachos another Masterchef contestant had produced on the show earlier. Sarah McCready had been highly praised for her inventive and always delicious creations, before leaving the Masterchef kitchen at semi finals. 24-year-old Sarah was one of 40 contestants on the live show, picked from a total of 4,000 applicants. She made it to the final six. Inspired by her food philosophy and success, I’ve met with her for a chat. Here is Sarah’s story.
Sarah studied History at St. Catherine’s College, Oxford and ‘fell into’ the property development industry after university. After a break-up with her boyfriend, she decided to pick herself up by applying to Masterchef.
“I am competitive, I love cooking and I tend to put myself forward for things before worrying about them later,” says Sarah, laughing.
Unlike other TV contests, Masterchef is all about testing yourself, learning new things and getting better at cooking. Sarah found herself completely consumed by the show, dreaming about food, constantly inventing new recipes and spending hours flicking through cookery books. “For about two months, Masterchef took over my life.”
If you give something a go, you are likely to come away with a valuable experience and learn something about yourself too. Sarah learned that professional kitchens aren’t really built for women: try lifting a heavy pan or grabbing a pot from a top shelf in a hot kitchen during a busy service. While some women love professional kitchens and are happy in their environment, Sarah discovered that she was most comfortable in a different ambience.
“I love party food, street food, comfort food dinners and food with a sense of humour. I like surprising my guests and making eating a fun experience.”
Her creations on Masterchef certainly had that oomph: Polish pirogi, Mexican street food, paella balls and egg raviolo were adventurous, creative and fun.
Meeting Sarah made me realise that for her Masterchef was just another challenge, an experience to test her culinary skills and boost her confidence. She has always been a high achiever: she was the first pupil to get into Oxford from her school. As a graduate, she got a job at Dorchester Living, a property development company, where she helped open a free school for a newly built community. Sarah was recently promoted to look after a new housing association, a huge challenge she is happy to take on.
A young woman who is bold and likes pushing herself makes my heart sing. She also makes me laugh: apparently, Sarah’s mum and nan finally allowed her to cook family Christmas dinner after her culinary skills had been vetted by John and Gregg (last Mastershef series were filmed in autumn). I am convinced that whatever this woman pursues next, she’ll do it well and her passion will shine through. I only hope that Sarah takes on a food-related project next: her own deli perhaps or a new product range? Let’s wish her well!
What would you advise your 15-year-old self? Stop being obsessed with things that aren’t important (looks, boys, stuff…).
What are you good at? I’m a good friend, I am good at my job and I know how to push myself. [Sadly, Sarah forgot to mention she was good at cooking so I had to remind her!]
What is your greatest achievement? Getting into Oxford is still pretty high on my list of achievements. I am also proud of setting up a new school in North Oxfordshire. And, of course, I am chuffed to have made the final six on Masterchef!
If you can do anything, knowing that you would not fail, what would you do? I’d launch my own business: something entrepreneurial and to do with food!
Who inspires you? Thomasina Miers. I still can’t believe that I cooked for her – she was the first winner of Masterchef and I love her food at Wahaca.
What’s your favourite recipe? Recipes are tricky. If a recipe tells you how much chilli or ginger you should be adding to your dish, then you aren’t really developing your own palette. When I write recipes for my blog, I try to avoid giving instructions that are too precise. My favourite ‘posh’ recipe is the desert I cooked on Masterchef: rose petal and cherry pirogi, poppy seed and cherry cake, sour cream and lemon thyme sorbet and milk skin crisps, inspired by my Polish roots. Otherwise, I really like rice. I often cook risotto, egg-fried rice or rice pudding.
Sarah McCready has a food blog where she shares her recipes. You can also follow Sarah on Twitter.