British born Chinese Larkin Cen has made it to the final on BBC One’s prestigious cooking show, MasterChef . His parents own a Chinese take away in Cardiff where he was born and he works as a solicitor in Bristol. With his good looks and fine cooking skills, he is fast gaining a reputation as the housewives’ favourite amongst the British Chinese community.
Nee Hao Magazine asks Larkin a few questions before he goes off filming for the show.
What does it feel like cooking on TV compared with at home?
Cooking on TV is a lot different to when you are at home. At home it’s all about convenience but on the show you need to strike a balance between timings, techniques and flavour. Obviously there are cameras and John and Gregg talking to you whilst you are cooking as well!
How do you balance your day job with cooking practice?
I have always been interested in cooking. As a kid I used to watch cooking programmes back to back for hours on end and cooked when I could, however, when you are in a full time job the hours you work mean that cooking isn’t on your list of priorities. I applied for Masterchef one day after work and when I got the call up, I had a few weeks to get myself up to competition standard. It was tough. I used to finish work and dash straight home and cook until the early hours.
Still though, in terms of prepartion, I was hopelessly under prepared. I was relying on a certain sense of natural ability and my mentality of not being afraid of making mistakes. Things don’t always go your way and you will always have set backs. The most important thing is you get straight back on your bike after each fall and that you learn from your mistakes each time. Obviously in a competition you can’t have too many mistakes though!
What’s your cooking background?
I’ve been told that my late grandfather was a very good chef in China. He emigrated over to the UK and, after a few stints in different Chinese restaurants in the UK, he set up his own takeaway in Cardiff in 1982 called the Man Sang. My mother is a very good cook. I would say a complete natural at it. My parents, however, tried to keep me away from cooking so that I could focus on my studies. I can understand this, because my parents know how hard catering is, and they didn’t want that life for my brother and myself.
What’s your earliest memory of cooking?
I remember the first time I ever cooked as a youngster, it was a Ramen, but I used frankfurters as the meat as they were the only things in the fridge – absolutely delicious! Cooking wasn’t something nurtured in me, but I always seemed to gravitate towards it.
As a nipper, I remember watching my mum and granddad cook from a distance. I knew I had a passion for cooking from a very early age. Instead of studying or revising for exams, I would much rather watch cooking programmes everyday back to back for hours on end. I taught myself how to cook via the TV. I almost quit law school in my second year, as I wanted to become a chef.
What are your cooking influences and where does your inspiration come from?
I love cooking all sorts of food, but I especially love the traditional Chinese dishes that I grew up on. The mainstream view of Chinese food is far different from the way I see Chinese food. I just wish people could experience more of it, because the flavours, textures and skill of dishes really need to be showcased.
I have many ideas cooking wise, but I do struggle to balance it with my working hours. In fact, I hardly ever cook. Saying that, whenever there is a reason to cook, I will always volunteer myself to do it. I will never shy away from any cooking task, in fact I find myself completely focused when I am cooking.
What made you enter the competition?
I sort of knew I had a natural ability in cooking, but I didn’t know for sure as I never had any chance to use that ability. The way you cook at home is far different from the way you cook in the competition. I wanted to be judged by people who knew what they were talking about, to see if I was any good or not.
I also wanted to have the opportunity to go to Michelin starred restaurants, to see how the top professionals worked and to learn from them. Prior to the competition, I had never eaten at a Michelin starred restaurant before, I had only seen pictures of Michelin standard food.
What are your cooking ambitions?
I do want a career in food, whether it is as a chef or owning my own catering business, I’m not sure yet. I have got ideas and plans in the making. I also want to be able to showcase Asian food, as it is something that I am really passionate about.
You have gained a following from the Chinese community since you first appeared on the programme. Apparently you have become the housewives’ favourite. Is there anything you would like to say to your new fans?
I have been overwhelmed by the support and it’s very humbling and I do really appreciate it. Haven’t really heard the housewives’ favourite bit before but that’s funny! Just a big thank you to everyone! Keep cooking!
Catch Larkin Cen on MasterChef tonight on BBC One at 9pm