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  • Kate Haskell

Rising to Stardom

Photo: Steve Haywood

They think they know it all, don’t know they’re born and want it all for nothing; these are just some of the criticisms thrown at the ‘younger generation’.

Well, there is one young woman proving those stereotypes completely wrong. Focused, hard-working and determined to succeed are just some of the words that could describe 25-year-old Elly Wentworth, or as you might know her, BBC Two MasterChef: The Professionals runner-up 2016.

From starting out as a pot washer in a local pub to now working in Michelin star restaurants and earning her place in the MasterChef final, the last seven years for Elly have been non-stop hard graft and now she is deservedly enjoying the fruits of her labour.

I meet her at Torquay’s Michelin star restaurant, The Elephant, where just a couple of years ago she was a trainee chef. But tonight she will be hosting her own guest dinner, where diners will enjoy a five course tasting menu, designed and created by Elly.

It sounds like a meteoric rise but Elly is very conscious of how she got here: “I started out washing pots to earn money at weekends and after school. One night it was really busy and they were a chef short so I was dragged in to help! I didn’t have a clue what I was doing and suddenly I was being asked to cook mussels in a garlic sauce! After that I started to help more and more and then most days after school, that’s when I realised how much I enjoyed it.”

Elly decided to hone her skills at the City College in Plymouth and not long after found herself working for celebrity chefs, The Tanner Brothers at just 18 years old. Chris Tanner remembers her fondly: “Elly was a much-loved part of the Tanners Group and Barbican Kitchen family, and it is fantastic to see just how far she has come since starting her professional culinary career with us as an apprentice. She has always been a star in the kitchen and it has been great to see her showcasing her skills on TV.”

Elly fully appreciates the great training and mentoring she has had over the years: “Working with the Tanners was my first insight into fine dining. It was a huge pressure and long hours but I was able to prove myself and Chris and James gave me a good grounding. Simon Hulstone from The Elephant is another amazing mentor; I’ve learnt so much from him and I’m so lucky to have a great bond with him.”

For some the thought of leaping from this to appearing on TV cooking in front of millions could be daunting but Elly clearly took it all in her stride: “The whole experience was amazing, not only do you get to work in some of the best restaurants, you meet great people and make new friends. The crew and presenters were all great and I learnt so much from everyone but it all happened quite quickly. A friend tagged me in on Facebook about entering the competition and I managed to get my application in two days before the closing date. The next day the BBC are in contact wanting to interview me and a week later I was doing the skills test!”

There is always the risk when you achieve success so young that there is nowhere left to go but Elly is very aware of the long road ahead: “I still have so much to learn and I am so lucky to now be working under Hywel Jones at Lucknam Park in Wiltshire. I’ve always dreamed I would have my own restaurant by the time I was 28 years old but you just don’t know what will happen, do you?”

The whole MasterChef experience has given Elly the confidence boost she needed in the kitchen which can be a male-dominated industry but she is also very clear that it is not all about being famous: “People seem to want to just be famous rather than do it the hard way and start at the bottom and work their way up. My advice to anyone is do your basic training and go to college. You have to peel a lot of potatoes before you get anywhere - I did!”

I am interested though as to what Elly cooks herself when she gets home and I’m not at all surprised to learn it’s pesto and pasta. Sometimes the simple things are the best!

Elly’s favourite places to eat in Devon are:

The Cornish Arms in Tavistock

The Barbican Kitchen in Plymouth (of course!)

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