Claire trained at the College of Food (now UCB), whilst working at Simpson’s Restaurant. She was the runner-up on BBC Masterchef: The Professionals 2011 and had her recipe for chocolate sorbet pinched by foodie legend Michel Roux Jr – it really is that good. Claire is currently running a selection of unique pop-up restaurants across Birmingham and beyond.
My first experience in the kitchen was at home with my family, helping with Sunday dinners and cooking for my brother. I used to try out my first food experiments on my brother – breakfast, lunch, anything really – especially curries, all different curries. Sometimes I would cook for him after a night-out, when he craved for a kebab, but then I would charge him for the privilege! It was good, I enjoyed it, it was experimental – these were the early stages so it was never anything too wacky, but it was always playing with combinations.
On being a chef
My first job was at The Rainbow pub in Digbeth, Birmingham. I used to work in their kitchen making homemade burgers. On a Friday night they would put me in their garden flipping burgers for all the drinkers. I was only 16, so it was quite funny really, trying to sell burgers to people trying to get drunk – but it was a great first experience — and at least the burgers were homemade!
I attended Cadbury Sixth Form College to start my A-Levels but I hated it. I ended up dropping all my courses except one: home-economics. So I applied to the College of Food and Tourism to complete NVQ’s Level 1,2 & 3 and I loved it from day one. As part of my course I completed work experience at Simpson’s restaurant in Edgbaston. Simpson’s were so impressed with what I’d done in my two weeks there they offered me a job. I was still only 16 but this chef position inspired me and got my creativity going – it was great – and I ended up working there part-time for three years whilst completing my Degree in Culinary Arts Management.
I’ve grown up in Birmingham and I love living here. I did live in London for one year but came back to finish my degree. I always say I ‘m going to move away again but things are good for me here right now. It’s really good for me to show Birmingham what I’ve done, what I’ve achieved and to give something back for all the support the city’s given me. We do things here our own way and sometimes people don’t like it, but that’s just tough. Brummies are becoming more passionate about food, more and more independent eateries are popping up and I think food is evolving here. It’s a place you can eat great food, and be proud to say you’re from Birmingham.
I was ‘doing’ my dissertation at the same time as watching the last series of Master Chef. I saw on the subtitles that they were recruiting for contestants for Masterchef the Professionals and so I filled out the online application form. It was a good two months before they called me back and I had kind of forgotten about it by this point. It was one of those opportunities which you apply for knowing thousands of other people had also. The phone call took me by surprise as I thought, “Why would they call me?” That said, I’ve got no regrets at all, it’s the best thing I have ever done – and at the right time for me too — it’s excelled my career to new heights.
On Michel Roux & Gregg Wallace
I would like to do some work with Michel Roux – he’s a great mentor and I think it would really benefit me. Greg is very funny and always cracking jokes. He knows about the Masterchef ‘remix’ Single and would wander around the studio saying “Guess what? My single is no. 1!!”.
On her dishes
My food is about adding ‘freshness’: keeping everything seasonal with an element of surprise. This includes doing dish variations: never doing a dish just one-way and by always adding quirky elements. I also like to show-off my skills by taking one ingredient and doing several things with it. The presentation is also important. I want to impress my diners – to make it a moment to remember. This is what separates a great dish from a mediocre dish — you actually remember it a year later. I just love great food and the pleasure of eating great food and that’s what I want to convey to my customers.
On advice for chefs
Be confident in your cooking. I think if you’re not confident the customer can really see and taste it. You have to really believe in yourself, which I still find difficult now – it’s my personality – but I’m learning to be more confident and believe in myself and my food.