Young MasterChef judge on how the show will be ‘inspirational’ for young people

A judge of the new Young MasterChef has said she feels it will be “inspirational” for young people to see others their own age being interested in cooking in a world where food delivery and takeaways are becoming more dominant.

The BBC show, a spin-off of the hit cooking competition MasterChef, will see 15 amateur contestants aged between 18 and 25 set challenges to test their cooking abilities in a bid to be crowned the programme’s first champion.

Launching on January 2, it will be fronted by judges Poppy O’Toole, who trained as a chef in a Michelin-starred kitchen and rose to fame on TikTok, and professional chef and Great British Menu finalist Kerth Gumbs, with features from famous foodie guests throughout the series.

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Reflecting on how she feels the show could impact the future of the food industry, O’Toole said: “It’s going to do a lot, I really do think that it is.

“We are in a position where not that many people are interested in creating food anymore; we’ve got so many things, takeaways and delivery apps, food boxes, and it’s all incredible, but we still need people to be interested in cooking at home.

“Being able to see people of your own age, whether you’re gen Z or millennial, enjoying food, cooking food, taking time to get into food, then it’s inspirational.”

In 2005 MasterChef was relaunched with John Torode and Gregg Wallace as hosts and it went on to become a worldwide success, spawning popular spin-offs across the globe as well as Celebrity MasterChef, Junior MasterChef and MasterChef: The Professionals.

O’Toole said it was “genuinely exciting” joining the MasterChef franchise but admitted it was also “a bit nerve-wracking”.

She added: “MasterChef is the one of the most iconic food brands in the world, let alone the UK, so it’s been an internal challenge to step up to the plate a little bit – I want to make everyone proud – the whole brand, as well as myself.

“Overall, it’s been incredibly exciting and thrilling, and a joy to be working with such great people.”

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O’Toole had worked in restaurant kitchens since she was 18 but lost her job when Covid kicked in and restaurants locked down.

However, she later gained a following after posting videos on TikTok of her cooking, becoming known for her viral potato recipes.

The chef feels social media platforms can provide a “really great way to get inspiration”.

“We can see so much of the world through these platforms – plus if you can be inspired by some delicious ideas as well, it’s really useful,” she said.

“It broadens the repertoire of recipes in your mind and helps you think of things you otherwise might not have.

“There’s so many things you can do, so it’s a very, very useful tool.”

Fellow judge Gumbs, who is the head chef at Fenchurch restaurant at Sky Garden in London, does not want anyone who is interested in entering into the food industry to feel like they are trespassing.

He said: “I always say ‘strength is an accident caused by the weaknesses of those around you’, and right now what is around us is a level playing field, no one is at a disadvantage because they’re young, neither is anyone overly advantaged because their older.

“I think this idea, as it’s been seen throughout every (MasterChef) series, is that you can always still learn no matter your age – as long as there’s a real depth of hunger and dedication there.

“I’m always going to encourage anyone, especially young cooks, to not just go knocking on the door and expect someone to let them in, but rather ask themselves: if it’s something you really want to do, how are you going to achieve it?

“It’s by gaining understanding, applying themselves, embracing the pressure, having patience and making sacrifices because that’s where they’re going to learn.”

Young MasterChef airs on BBC Three and iPlayer from Monday January 2.