Cooking does not have to be expensive and complicated to be delicious, according to a former TV Masterchef champion whose home is in East Sussex.
Peter Bayless from Heathfield turned his back on a 40-year career in advertising after becoming a popular winner of series two of the BBC TV series in 2006 and is now an independent chef and food writer. He has worked as a chef in France and the UK, including a spell at the famous Michelin-starred Le Gavroche, one of London’s most prestigious restaurants, and alongside some of the world’s most respected chefs.
He not only won the BBC’s prestigious cooking competition in 2006, but he also holds the accolade for having served up Gregg Wallace’s favourite dessert in all 12 years of the programme. And anyone who has ever watched the programme will know how much presenter Gregg loves his puddings.
The sweet-toothed star described Peter’s Paris-Brest, a circle of choux pastries with coffee cream and almonds, as “simply stunning”. In a recent interview, Gregg said it was his favourite Masterchef dessert ever.
Keep it simple
But speaking to Your East Sussex from his home in Heathfield, the unassuming and modest cooking star insisted food does not need to be expensive, complex, or lavish, to be delicious. He knows it’s tough for ordinary families to afford expensive cuts of meat and ingredients.
“I understand how difficult it can be for families, and the reality is many can’t afford to buy organic, or don’t have the space to grow their own veg. But it doesn’t have to be complicated to be good. I could feed a family of four for two or three days with one £2.75 supermarket chicken and basic ingredients. It’s just knowing what to do with it that makes the difference.”
Peter, who developed his passion for food and learned the basics from his mother in bombed out London in the aftermath of the second world war, is a passionate advocate of the basics. “One of Auguste Escoffier’s favourite sayings was ‘keep it simple’, and I think that’s the secret. Good, simple ingredients and understanding the basics.”
Teaching young people
And he spreads that message in local schools too. “I’ve been into Heathfield Community College several times and it’s great to help teach young people make their own pasta, make their own dough. It really is very cheap to do so and, especially with pasta, you have the starting point for a meal.”
The East Sussex chef who consistently wowed John and Gregg with his culinary passion, knowledge and his cooking on the way to becoming Masterchef champion, now teaches at various cookery schools. He regularly gives demonstrations at food fairs and stages special cooking events at local venues. Masterchef also invite him back each year to judge the efforts of other contestants.
In his book My Father Could Only Boil Cornflakes, Peter tells his fascinating story. Moving to Sussex aged 8, it was a family trip to a small village in southern France that gave him his “epiphany” moment. A culture that celebrates flavour and food opened his eyes.
Art school or cooking?
But as a naturally gifted artist Peter was persuaded a career beckoned outside of the kitchen. “I was told that, as I had a real talent for art, that’s where my future lay. But I have always cooked and always loved cooking.”
While Peter enjoyed a successful career in art, design and advertising, including running his own agency, he also built an impressive library of books about food, chefs, and recipes. It’s to these books that he attributes his broad knowledge of food.
But he was only a reluctant Masterchef entry – his wife, Jacqueline persuaded him to apply. It began a journey, though, which saw him cooking in studios, on the QE2, on a frozen lake for the Royal Marines, and alongside Raymond Blanc at his famous Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons restaurant.
“I was approaching my 60th birthday. At the first heat I looked around me and I was twice as old as everyone else. I genuinely thought I had no hope of getting through. I just considered myself lucky to be there.” But each round brought fresh success and then Peter found himself in the final. “It was ridiculous, totally unreal.”
Food poisoning struck Peter down during the filming of the final and prevented him from doing one of the challenges. “I told myself that was it, so for the final cooking I was pretty relaxed. I had missed one of the challenges so thought there was no way I could win. When John announced me as winner I was absolutely bowled over, I couldn’t believe it.”
He had to keep the victory secret for three months. When the final programme finally aired he was home, which was then in Chalvington. “What we didn’t know was the village pub had got a big screen in and everyone was crowded round it to watch. When the winner was announced there was a huge cheer. The next thing we knew there was hammering on the door and people with bottles of champagne. It felt like the whole village came in to celebrate!”
Home is East Sussex
But while Peter became a household name and face, his feet remain firmly on the ground in East Sussex. “My wife and I love our Sunday strolls along Eastbourne seafront, and I really don’t mind people approaching me. In fact, I must say it’s really rather nice to be recognised after all this time.”
And he clearly loves to be part of the East Sussex Community. I first met him when he produced an astonishingly tasty pasta dish with the simplest of ingredients at the Crowborough Food Fair.
“I really love East Sussex. If it wasn’t by the sea I would call it the heart of England. There’s nothing quite like the South Downs, and I love being near to the sea. We’ve got some great local produce too – Sussex lamb is terrific.”
Peter’s book not only tells his story but also gives readers a fascinating behind the scenes glimpse of the Masterchef programme. It also includes the recipes for the food he made during the show. He has just completed a second book “It’s not all Greek to me” which he hopes will be published soon.
He insists with a back to basics approach anyone can produce delicious food. “Learn the basics and give it a go. You don’t have to go to a shop and buy something expensive in a plastic box full of preservatives.” He said.
For more information on Peter and his work locally at shows, demonstrations, and cookery events visit Peter Bayless website