MasterChef finalist Tom Rennolds on his cooking ambitions

PUBLISHED: 22:02 06 August 2012 | UPDATED: 12:12 28 February 2013

MasterChef finalist Tom Rennolds on his cooking ambitions

MasterChef finalist Tom Rennolds on his cooking ambitions

Meet the dashing Yorkshire plasterer who swapped the building site for the professional kitchen to become a MasterChef finalist – and find out what's happened since the show. Annie Stirk reports

Tom Rennolds is our special guest at the Yorkshire Life Food & Drink Awards at the White Hart Hotel, Harrogate in September

Its easy to draw parallels between the art of plastering and cooking. Each takes precision, timing and skill and often a good deal of pride. And for Yorkshire plasterer-turned-chef Tom Rennolds, it was this perfectionism that saw him exchange his palette knife and trowel for pots and pans in the BBCs MasterChef early this year.

It was a brilliant and amazing experience cooking regularly with some of the top chefs in the country but I hated making mistakes. Im a real perfectionist and when my timing got the better of me on certain challenges it was a real low point, says Tom. Disappointing someone like Michel Roux Jnr was really hard and I messed up a lot on the last round, which cost me.

Tom, 26, is pretty hard on himself considering he went into the cookery show with no formal training and beat off competition from some 20 other chefs to land himself a place in the finals. But its this drive and determination to succeed that has kept Tom working, and cooking, in the eight months since filming finished.

It was horrendous to have to go back to 163the plastering, he says. For two months I cooked every day, met amazing people and visited incredible places, so you could say my enthusiasm for plastering had well and truly gone by that point. What it did reinforce, however, was that plastering wasnt what I wanted to do for the rest of my life I wanted to cook.

Toms passion for food and cookery came relatively late. Brought up in Darlington and Redcar, Cleveland, he settled in West Yorkshire with his Ilkley-born mum at the age of 12, and although she made a great Sunday roast, there were little other culinary influences.

Dad did a lot of fishing and shooting so I had the opportunity to try a lot of game from a very young age, but I didnt really start to cook properly until I was 18, says Tom. I had a girlfriend and we ate out at a lot of nice places and I used to watch a lot of cookery programmes 90 per cent of what I learned was gleaned from TV.

Programmes like Ready Steady Cook, Great British Menu and of course MasterChef have always really excited me. Tom cant recall the first dish he ever cooked, but he remembers it wasnt very good. I learned early on that cooking is all about trial and error. he says.

My love of science in school also stood me in good stead because it enabled me to know what was happening in a recipe and if something went wrong to know how to fix it and not panic.

Its this unflappable nature that carried Tom through the BBC show. People always commented on the fact I seemed laid back in the programme but apart from being worried about being kicked off, I thoroughly enjoyed the whole process, says Tom Ultimately, it was two months off work, away from the building site, and a chance to meet new people and see amazing places, it was a real buzz.

His laid back approach to technically difficult dishes and his ability to bring together flavours that shouldnt work and make them work, won him praise from both the judges and top chefs such as Michel Roux Jr, Tom Kitchin and Jocelyn Herland contacts that would allow him the chance to apprentice in some of the best kitchens in the UK.

But although Tom says hes been offered a couple of jobs, he has politely declined. The reason? Its not what I want to do. I have my own project in the pipeline and Im focusing on that. Id like to complete it this year.

The details of that project are being kept tightly under wraps for now but its always been clear that Toms ambition is to open his own restaurant It will be an eatery of some sort, probably in the North East but it depends who wants me to cook where, he says.

Toms love for Yorkshire makes it likely hell try to stay in the area if he can. Its a fantastic area to be a chef because you get your hands on such a diverse range of foods. Theres such a variety of produce in this area.

To gain more experience, hes been doing a lot of private dining in the region in fact any kind of catering I can get my hands on cooking both for individuals in their homes and parties of up to 50.

And hes also taken on more ambitious projects the latest at the Oxford Triathlon Sprint at Blenheim Palace, where he and fellow MasterChef contestant Andrew, took part in a triathlon, swiftly followed by a cook-off with Olympians Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee and Helen Jenkins.

Essentially, we did the triathlon in the morning swimming, cycling and running and then in the afternoon had to cook for them, says Tom.
The swimming was horrific because I had not prepared for it. The last time I swam was probably the 100 metres at school and this was 400 metres in a lake.

Above all, Tom is keen to keep his own sense of identity and forge ahead with his style of cooking.

I like to experiment, and the programme makers obviously pushed us to do more imaginative cooking for drama and tension, but Im not really about over complicating food, he says.

I like to make things look beautiful, yes, but I also like to cook simply too. Just because you are serving a salad or a sandwich, doesnt mean the quality cant be there.

I get disappointed with middle range food at pubs and restaurants, which charge fine dining prices but serve up second-rate food. Simple, good quality food shouldnt cost the earth.

So how is Tom going to make his restaurant succeed where so many others have failed? If youre clear in your concept, and consistent, you will be successful, he says.

During MasterChef I learned that every chef has their own opinion and particular methods but the best thing is to go your own way; you cant follow one chef religiously, you need to find your own path. So while Tom admires the likes of Marco Pierre White and Raymond Blanc, and would love to cook under them one day, he is also inspired by people closer to home. Tessa Bramley at The Old Vicarage Restaurant in Sheffield got into cooking later in life like me and has gained a Michelin Star, says Tom.

She has shown me that if you have the confidence and a love for what you do, you can achieve and that all the training in the world doesnt matter unless you believe in yourself.

Annie Stirk

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