Masterchef winner Simon Wood on his dream job at Oldham Athletic FC
PUBLISHED: 00:00 14 January 2016
Simon Wood stole the show as the winner of MasterChef. Now he is cooking up a storm in Lancashire. Emma Mayoh reports
While many talented chefs dream of working in the world’s top restaurants, Chadderton’s Simon Wood, who won MasterChef in 2014, is delighted with his role as executive chef at his beloved Oldham Athletic Football Club.
He said: ‘It’s phenomenal. If you can combine your love of football with another thing you love, especially in your home town, then there couldn’t be anything better.
‘I’m producing good quality food and really enjoying the experience. It’s a dream come true for me.’
Simon’s interest in cooking was first piqued when he used to spend time making meals with his grandma, Bertha. They spent hours baking as well as creating traditional dinners including rabbit stew.
His first taste of culinary competitions came when he was just eight-years-old when he won a competition to spend the day in a hotel kitchen. The self-taught chef has also pored over books and YouTube videos to learn his craft. But with the responsibility of having a family – he has four children Liam, 20, Alex, 19, Cameron, 16 and Charlotte, seven – the 39-year-old opted for a career in IT. He continued to enjoy cooking at home but when the opportunity to apply to MasterChef came along, he couldn’t resist.
‘I had a bad Monday morning at work. It was unusual because I loved my job,’ said Simon. ‘I can’t even remember why it was. I’d always wanted to go on MasterChef. I’ve watched it religiously throughout my life. So I just applied.
‘It was strange. When I applied, I almost knew I was going to make it through to the programme. I’d seen people like Thomasina Miers do really well and I wanted the same thing.’
While he was the series golden boy – Simon admitted he never really had a terrible week – it was one of the most challenging things he has ever endured. For months he could not tell anyone he was taking part. Eventually he had to confess to his boss and swear him to secrecy and a few family members knew. He was also the only northern contestant. This meant he rarely had the opportunity to return home between filming which gave him no chance to practice.
‘That was a hard bit of it, as well as the pressure of the programme,’ he said. ‘I was staying in the Holiday Inn. There just wasn’t the chance for me to do as much practice as I needed.
‘But I loved the challenge. I was ambitious and I wanted to do well.’
As well as his role at Oldham Football Club, Simon also has a private dining business, Simon Wood Cooks, as well as personal appearances at events including Bolton Food Festival where he teamed up with MasterChef judge John Torode. He is writing a cookery book and has been training with some of the best chefs in the business. They have included fellow Lancastrian Marcus Wareing, originally from Southport but now based in London. He has also trained with Theo Randall and at Simon Rimmer’s Greens vegetarian restaurant in Cheshire.
While winning the television competition has opened up some doors and created opportunities, it has also brought a few unexpected downsides.
‘I can’t go out running without someone spotting me,’ said Simon. ‘I got in from my run one night and someone had posted on Twitter that they had seen me in Chadderton. I get things like that quite a lot and it’s surreal and strange. I’m still getting used to it.’
Simon dreams of eventually having his own restaurant in Italy, cooking fresh fish and classic dishes at a lakeside location.
‘I went into the MasterChef kitchen with enormous ambition,’ he added. ‘I wanted to cook like and try to become a professional chef. Now, I am one. I want to keep working hard and stay determined and I know I can do good things and enjoy myself a lot too.
‘My final words in the MasterChef kitchen when asked what I was going to do next were “get better”. Training with incredible chefs and with help from many others that is what I plan to do.
‘The most important thing to me is to put smiles on the faces of the people who eat my food. I get an enormous pleasure out of that so I want to continue to do this.’