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A local chef and restaurateur has been speaking about her experience starring on the hit BBC One television series Masterchef: The Professionals.
Carla Lamont, from the Isle of Mull, bowed out in episode 12 on Thursday night.
Despite having no classical training and rubbing shoulders with a Michelin-star master, she reached the quarter finals of this year’s competition to find the next superstar chef from a starting field of 32.
Carla, 56, said: ‘It’s impossible to prepare yourself for it – it’s the pressure you put on yourself and I wasn’t alone in that. I deal with stress everyday and chefing is one of the most stressful jobs in the world.
She added: ‘The time constraints on the programme are insane. The idea is it’s supposed to challenge you. Your brain just freezes and any thoughts you have go out of the window and thank god I have years of experience.
‘I can now say I did it and lived to tell the tale.’
Given her time on the show again, Carla said she would have practiced more in advance and would have learned how to operate an induction oven – which she had no previous experience of using until the show and which ultimately led to her exit.
Originally from Victoria, Canada, she and husband Johnny, a fisherman, co-own and run the 18-seater Ninth Wave Restaurant on the Isle of Mull.
Built 12 years ago at Fionnphort from ‘nothing but their imagination’ it has put the island firmly on the UK culinary map by becoming a major dining destination and winning several major ‘restaurant of the year’ awards and food and drink accolades.
Despite being a fan of the series, which is now in its 13th season, there is no way that Carla could have taken part in any other year because she would have been too busy in the restaurant.
Yet for her, the pandemic created space for a ‘magical opportunity’ to try out for the series and the tough challenge helped bring a ‘silver lining’ to a turbulent 2020.
Despite scores of applications, gutsy Carla impressed programme makers with her natural verve and unconventional CV, and she believes she is the oldest contestant to ever appear on the show.
As she puts it, she started her kitchen career ‘slinging pizza at the age of 14 as a weekend job’ before turning to full-time restaurant work in Victoria, British Columbia.
Twenty six years ago she moved from Canada to the Isle of Iona to take up a job as third chef – rising up the ranks to head chef, and meeting her future husband in the beer garden of a local pub.
As well as surviving in what was then a male-dominated kitchen environment, Carla said it made her ‘twice as tough’ and she credits that to having three older brothers.
It all gave her a worldly experience like few other applicants and despite admitting to having ‘shouted at the television’ during previous series, she now fully appreciates the pressure cooker atmosphere the contestants face.
Filming took place at a secret location in London at the end of the first lockdown, with Carla saying it was ‘a culture shock’ going from tranquil Mull to England’s capital during a global pandemic.
Asked to name her favourite part, she praised ‘the whole experience’ and said she loved the opportunity of working alongside professional chefs and said everyone was so kind.
Judges Marcus Wareing and Monica Galetti, alongside presenter Gregg Wallace were ‘amazing,’ she added. She cooked for the UK’s toughest restaurant critics Jay Rayner and Grace Dent, creating a pigeon benedict and Isle of Mull crab cheesecake.
‘Of course their job is to criticise you and they are tough cookies but they all want you to succeed, everyone involved in the show from the producers to the cameramen,’ said Carla.
Ever since, she has been inundated with well wishes, some of them so kind and supportive that they nearly moved her to tears by praising the fact she was different.
Her tip for the final on December 17 is Bart Van Der Lee who she described as ‘quality, 100 per cent quality.’