Spare a thought for this year's MasterChef judges: John Torode moans that the final, screened in three parts from tonight, is the toughest yet; while Gregg Wallace says that previous winner and Wahaca founder Thomasina Miers wouldn’t stand a chance against the current crop. Judging MasterChef doesn't get much tougher than this.
The three amateur cooks who made it through to the final are all under 30. And for the first time in the show's history there are two Welsh MasterChef finalists. Cardiff lads Dale Williams and Larkin Cen will battle it out against Natalie Coleman from East London.
During the competition the trio have cooked for Bond girls at the Savoy, served up gastronomic delights to Michelin-starred chef Marcus Wareing and watched as a three course meal was consumed by some of the UK’s most formidable food critics.
But will it be charming Larkin, humble Natalie or focussed Dale who takes the title on Thursday night? They didn’t give much away, although they did reveal which judge they prefer…
How has your cooking changed on the programme?
Larkin: Before the show I had never cooked a dessert before so it was a steep learning curve. At home I usually do one-pot-wonders like ramen or stir fry packed full of flavour, but on the show it’s more like a balancing act because you’ve got to show technique.
Natalie: It’s changed it dramatically. You need to teach yourself a lot of stuff to stand out from the others, but sometimes John would come round and give us tips while we were cooking. I’ve also started using a lot more game since being on the show.
Dale: The main change in cooking is just really concentrating on the flavour. When I came on the show I pretty much had presentation wrapped up, the bit I needed to improve was depth of flavour.
Who are your favourite TV chefs?
Larkin: Gordon Ramsay, but I quite like Jamie Oliver because his food is so accessible.
Natalie: Gordon Ramsay, Nigella Lawson- there are lots.
Dale: Michel Roux, and I’m a Jamie Oliver fan for my sins.
Where did your passion for food come from?
Larkin: My late granddad was an amazing chef back in the day and my parents run a Chinese takeaway, but they always tried to keep me away from food so I would concentrate on my studies. I almost quit law school in my second year though because I wanted to become a chef.
Natalie: Most of my happy memories from being a kid involve mountains of food cooked by my Nan or Mum. I moved out when I was 18 so I cooked more to survive, but then I started getting into food by watching cooking programmes.
Dale: My mum is the inspiration behind home cooked family food. I like getting large groups of people together and cooking for family and friends.
What was your most embarrassing moment of the show?
Larkin: The whole Marcus Wareing thing. I was the last person to get feedback that day and I could see this train coming towards me and I just couldn’t get out of the way of it.
Natalie: The big stir fry I did on the palate test. I started one thing and then threw it in the bin halfway through. I thought I was going to go home after that.
Dale: Disappointing Marcus Wareing and getting emotional.
Whose opinion do you value more, Gregg or John?
Larkin: Both to be honest because Gregg is the diner- that’s what he’s there for- and John has all the technical knowledge. So both for different reasons.
Natalie: Gregg’s the punter, I normally see John as the one who’s always right. He puts things from a chef’s angle and cooking professionally is something that I definitely want to get into.
Dale: Professionally, John’s. From a personality point of view, Gregg’s, because you’re looking to cook food that people want to love.
If you were stranded on a desert island would you prefer John or Gregg for company?
Larkin: I would prefer to have John because Gregg might eat everything.
Natalie: I’d say Gregg because he is the funny one. He’s a south cockney and I’m an east cockney, we’d have a right laugh.
Dale: John. Gregg’s jokes are ok for five minutes, but if you’r e stuck on a desert island with him you’d want to swim for shore.
Who is your favourite MasterChef winner from previous series?
Larkin: I’ve always loved Dhruv Baker. I think he’s fantastic in terms of technical skill and flavour balances.
Natalie: Mat Follas. He came across friendly and it was at a time that I was getting into my cooking- I loved his rabbit with nettles.
What would you like to do after MasterChef?
Larkin: I have ideas for a catering business, but watch this space. I would jump at the opportunity to talk on TV and radio about changing the reputation of Chinese food in the UK.
Natalie: I would like to get a job in a kitchen ideally. All I want to do is go and cook in a kitchen every day. That would be my dream.
Dale: I will be involved in food in a business sense, rather than a chef’s sense. I’ve got countless respect for chefs but it’s never been my plan to be in the kitchen.
MasterChef: The Final Three – starts tonight Tuesday 30 April at 9pm, and continues Wednesday and Thursday, 9pm, on BBC One