Lytham's Oli Martin reflects on his run to the Masterchef: The Professionals final
PUBLISHED: 00:00 08 February 2019
Hipping Hall's Oli Martin tells Emma Mayoh about his amazing journey on one of television's toughest cooking challenges
It’s a year Oli Martin will never forget. In the last six months of 2018 he and his partner Julia welcomed their first child, India, into the world and took on one of the biggest challenges of his professional career as a finalist on MasterChef: The Professionals.
‘It was definitely a busy time,’ said Oli, head chef at the multi-award winning Hipping Hall in north Lancashire. ‘Filming was full on, I was still running Hipping and I had a baby on the way. India was born ten days after we filmed the final. It was lucky really... she knew she had to wait!
‘I didn’t have a day off for two and a half months. But it was a fantastic time and to get to the final with such a brilliant bunch of people was the best.’
It was Hipping Hall’s owner, Andrew Wildsmith, who encouraged Oli to go for the competition. The 30-year-old, who also worked at Gilpin in the Lake District, Northcote and closer to home at Chicory in Lytham, had applied for Great British Menu three times without success. But boss Andrew managed to convince Oli to have another go.
Oli earned himself the reputation as the competition’s nice guy as well as an innovative chef. He was adopted as the show’s culinary “wizard” who likes to take risks – his apple crackling got viewers and Southport’s Marcus Wareing raving about his innovative style.
When he’s at Hipping he loves to push boundaries and spends time foraging in the county for unusual ingredients. It’s an approach that didn’t work every time on MasterChef and he had a few near misses with the judges. But the gambles also brought huge benefits. He received praise from some of the country’s best kitchen talents including former Fat Duck developmental chef Jocky Petrie and Michelin star chef Kenny Atkinson.
One of his dishes – a dessert version of spaghetti bolognese – not only raised the eyebrows of Marcus and fellow judges Monica Galetti and Gregg Wallace, it also brought him some of the best comments. He was called a genius by Gregg and a nutter by Monica and it became one of the series’ most memorable moments.
‘That was a real highlight for me,’ said Oli. ‘You don’t see it on the programme but Marcus takes his time critiquing your dishes without saying whether he likes it or not. I was desperate to hear what he had to say as I knew it had been a big risk to take. Turns out he liked it.
‘There were so many brilliant times for me. The Chef’s Table was just phenomenal, not just because we were cooking for so many amazing chefs but also working as a team. We just all got on with it and had a really fun time doing it. Then for me to get brilliant feedback was wonderful.’
Oli is the picture of happiness at home in Lytham. India, now six months old, watches her dad adoringly while fiancee Julia beams with pride at Oli’s achievements. ‘He’ll have India chewing on sea buckthorn,’ she jokes.
The friendships the finalists formed weren’t just for the cameras – all four will be attending baby India’s christening this month. The group are also hosting a series of supper clubs across the country. Oli will be doing a solo event in his home town at The Deacon, Lytham, on March 11th and has jointly hosted an evening with Tom Parker, head chef at Fence’s Michelin star White Swan.
‘The supper clubs were selling out in 12 hours, that’s faster than a Take That ticket,’ said Oli. ‘I’m so lucky to have met such a nice bunch of lads. They are just brilliant.
‘When I saw what those guys could do, I just didn’t think I’d make it past the first step. But there we all were as finalists, I couldn’t ask for more.’
Oli is rightly proud of his Masterchef experience but he is also pragmatic about his future. ‘I want to move on from this,’ he said.
‘I loved my experience, but I don’t want to only be remembered for this.
‘I’ve fine tuned as a chef through the experience and now I want to focus on Hipping and the great team we have there.
‘My sous Matt Willdigg kept the kitchen going while I was on the programme and I want to work with him and the team to progress.
‘We’d been thinking about going to just a taster menu at evening service. My Masterchef experience gave me the confidence to take that final step.
‘It’s been really well received. We had a seven and nine-year-old in having it recently, they loved it. That’s what it’s all about, making diners happy.’