Everything you need to know about MasterChef: The Professionals 2019

From skills tests to cooking up a storm in Michelin kitchens across the UK, the contestants are in for a real challenge this year

Updated on 20 December 2019 • Written By Rosie Conroy

Everything you need to know about MasterChef: The Professionals 2019

You know what they say, when one door closes another one opens; and the same can be said of MasterChef. After Celebrity MasterChef finished, MasterChef: The Professionals graced our television screens once more to see us through the dark winter months.

The hit programme, which is in its 12th year, follows a similar format to previous series with 12 professional chefs faced with various challenges. Managing success in the various culinary tasks helps one champion to win the coveted crown (not to mention the kudos the award brings). Previous MasterChef: The Professionals winners include Steve Groves who was crowned National Chef of the Year in 2019 and is the head chef for Roux at Parliament Square, and Laurence Henry who won the 2018 competition. Henry came to the challenge with a wealth of existing experience, having worked as a sous chef for top British chef Sat Bains who holds two Michelin Stars, and now plans to open his own venture in Nottingham in 2020.

The team behind the hit show are famously secretive about contestants and specific tasks about the programme, but here's everything we know from previous years.

When is MasterChef: The Professionals on?

MasterChef: The Professionals usually runs for seven weeks and episodes are typically are billed to be on at 8pm on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays each week, with the final around the end of December.

Who are the MasterChef: The Professionals contestants?

As the prominence of the show increases year on year, we expected big things from this year’s applicants. There was a real mix of levels competing on MasterChef: The Professionals 2019, and each week we learnt a little more about their culinary backgrounds and where they come from. 

The line-up of the 48 chefs ranged vastly in skills and backgrounds, from self-taught chefs to armed force caterers. One contestant from Norfolk, Yasmin Godfrey, who was axed from the show after making tobacco ice cream, used to work at The Royal Oak in Marylebone, and has since accepted a positon at Watered & Fed as head chef. While Birmingham native, Stuart Deeley, head chef at Wilderness, made it through to the finals, having survived week after week of challenges.

Who are the judges on MasterChef: The Professionals?

The Judges on MasterChef: The Professionals 2019 are the same as previous years. Michelin Star chef Marcus Wareing holds court with high-end chef Monica Galetti, who runs Mere in London, while Gregg Wallace is on hand to offer an outsider’s perspective on the cooking. So what are they looking for in their champion? 

Monica Galetti says: “This series is going to be fierce. The chefs are going to have to pull out all the stops and keep us on our toes. I cannot wait to discover who is going to emerge on top.”

While Marcus Wareing comments: “I want bold, I want brilliant and I want beautifully-cooked food. That’s what will get my attention and really help a chef stand out.” Not much then... 

Who are the Critics on MasterChef: The Professionals?

Each year a line up of the country’s top-end food critics judge some of the rounds of MasterChef: The Professionals. This year sees William Sitwell, Grace Dent, Jimi Famurewa, Tom Parker Bowles, Tracey MacLeod, Amol Rajan and Jay Rayner enter the MasterChef kitchen to judge the contestant’s food at various stages.

What are the challenges on MasterChef: The Professionals?

The challenges on MasterChef: The Professionals differ slightly from the regular series, with more complex tasks given to contestants, as might be expected. From having to come up with high-end dining concepts on the spot to stripping techniques back and making a meal without any fancy cheffy equipment, the cooks are really put through their paces. Below are details on the most common challenges, so you know what to expect from MasterChef: The Professionals this year.

Skills test: For many this is the most stressful round to watch as chefs are given a classic dish or technique to tackle under the watchful eye of the judges. Marcus Wareing and Monica Galetti take it in turns to demonstrate for viewers how they would like each challenge completed, before contestants are called in to have a go themselves with minimal instructions. There’s always a pastry chef who is horrified by having to debone an animal and always someone who has never made pasta. Enjoy.

In episode one on the 2019 series Marcus set the first challenge, asking the chefs to make poached guinea fowl breast with a sauce Robert to display their butchery and sauce prowess in just 20 minutes. The second half of the MasterChef hopefuls then had to make hand-cut tagliatelle with lamb ragu without any fully-formed instructions from Monica.

Episode two saw Marcus ask the chefs to come up with a crab omelette Arnold Bennett in 20 mins, and Monica ask for a puff pastry and vanilla mousseline layered dessert.

Signature dish: The signature dish challenge is played out each and every year and requires the team of hopefuls to showcase their cooking style in just one plate of food. There are bound to be ups and downs, with some triumphing and others seeing their dreams shatter on the unveiling of a solid chocolate fondant or an overcooked piece of meat.

Invention test: The invention test really sorts the wheat from the chaff, where chefs are given one humble ingredient and are tasked with creating something beautiful from it, with the choice of just a few other larder ingredients. In episode three Marcus will give everyone rice to cook with, to see what they can make from this everyday product. Other invention tests will take place throughout the competition, with the format usually allowing the chefs to choose from a limited range of ingredients in order to produce a specific sweet or savoury task set by the judges. One such run in the 2019 series will see the team required to make a plant-based dish.

Pop-up challenge: This year the contestants will have to take on a pop-up food stand at Pergola London food market. This Masterchef challenge will be aired over two episodes and will see street food at the centre of the chefs’ offerings. There will be an audience of the MasterChef judges as well as invited foodie royalty, who will all vote on their favourite dishes to crown a winner.

A Personal Dish: Another stalwart of the MasterChef lineup, the personal dish round challenges the contestants to produce one plate of food that evokes a memory, reminds them of a favourite person or holds sentimental value to them for some reason. The stories here are usually as good as the cooking, with everyone putting their all into making their friends and family proud after having name checked them as the inspiration.

Pop-up restaurant: During knockout week, the contestants will be given the chance to concoct their own dishes for a MasterChef: The Professionals pop-up restaurant in London at Pergola Olympia, a first for the show. The chefs will have only three hours, with limited equipment and facilities, to show off their talents and creativity with the dish. Special guests from the UK’s street food and pop-up scene will be voting on their favourite dishes. The chef with the most votes will go straight through to the semis.   

The Chef’s Table: Arguably the most important challenge of all the rounds, The Chef’s Table is an annual event held in central London. High profile industry professionals are invited along, including Michelin Star chefs (holding an intimidating 20 between them), to try the dishes of the MasterChef: The Professionals hopefuls. Monica and Marcus are on hand in the kitchen to oversee things, while Gregg works the dining room.

MasterChef: The Professionals restaurants

The restaurants on MasterChef: The Professionals are a step up from the regular competition, with it not being unheard of for Michelin Star venues to feature. In semi-final weeks in 2019 the chefs were split into two groups and headed to two of the UK’s top restaurants. Three of the keen chefs headed to Michelin Star Ynyshir in Wales, which is run by chef Gareth Ward, while the remaining three were sent to London’s Hide, which obtained a Michelin Star within six months of opening and is headed up by chef Ollie Dabbous who is lauded for his creativity and innovation.

The penultimate task saw the contestants prove their worth in a restaurant again, but this time things took an international swerve. The final three chefs were flown out to Portugal to work under the guidance of Jose Avillez, at his flagship two Michelin-starred Lisbon restaurant, Belcanto

MasterChef: The Professionals 2019 finalists

Four chefs are taken through to the finals every year on MasterChef: The Professionals and this year, in 2019, three male contestants have been taken through, with one female being the only girl left in the competition. Across the last three days of challenges one hopeful will be voted off before the remaining chefs have to cook three courses for the judges, after which one finalist was chosen as the 2019 winner. Here’s a little more on each MasterChef: The Professionals finalist below, including where they work.

Exose Grant Lopo-Ndinga

Exose specialised in pastry and impressed throughout the competition with his intricate dessert plates which showcase a range of skills, techniques and flavours. At 22 he was the youngest competitor left on the show for finals week. Exose owns his own cake business and currently works as a chef de partie at James Martin, the celebrity chef's casino restaurant, which is a modern British eatery in Manchester. Throughout the series Exose revealed that he hadn’t told his friends and family he was entering and has routinely expressed his surprise at still being in the running to win the trophy, saying, “I can’t believe I made it to finals, it has been a great experience so far and just one more push to try and win that trophy.”

Olivia Burt

Olivia wass the only woman left and like her male counterparts was hoping to go home with the coveted MasterChef winner’s trophy. Having worked as a Sous Chef for Michelin-level restaurants like Claridge’s, Olivia was well used to the volume of work expected from her in order to produce top-quality plates of food. As well as her flavour combinations being a strong suit throughout the competition, she also had immaculate presentation which consistently impressed the judges. Olivia has worked with top chefs before, having been a finalist on the famous Roux Scholarship programme in 2019, which is a cooking competition started by Michel and Albert Roux, and now run by their sons Alain Roux and Michel Roux Jr, who was previously a MasterChef judge.

Stu Deeley

Stu is a Birmingham-based chef who cleverly combines traditional British flavours with references from his city’s ever-developing food scene. This often resulted in the competitor combining Indian and British flavours for tasty, moreish plates. Currently a Sous Chef, Stu was 27 at the time of filming but is now 28 and has one son with partner Natasha. The chef has described his journey on MasterChef as a “whirlwind” and promised “more amazing stuff to come”. Stu currently works at glitzy modern British restaurant, The Wilderness in Birmingham but has promised to open his own restaurant in 2020.

Yann Florio

Frenchman Yann is a private chef, so had less experience working in busy service-based kitchens compared to his contemporaries. This didn't seem to slow him down though as throughout the competition he produced beautiful plates of French-inspired dishes. At 30 he was the oldest competitor left in the race to win MasterChef: The Professionals and previously said that the competition had been “tough” but that he’s “getting ready for the next challenge”.

What is the MasterChef: The Professionals prize?

Surprisingly, after weeks of intense competition, contestants receive no prize other than the prestige of winning. Everything is at stake when you are being judged on your livelihood though. The real prize is the new connections and opportunities that come with the publicity from the show. In fact, many winners go on to open their own restaurants or write cookbooks, and become celebrities in their own right.

MasterChef: The Professionals 2019 winner

Stu Deeley was crowned the 2019 MasterChef: The Professionals winner. His win saw him beat contestants Olivia and Exose to win the coveted trophy. The final challenge saw Stu cook up a three-course meal for the judges. Stu seemed surprised to have won, saying: "There’s no one more shocked than me. This is unreal. I’ve never won anything in my life so this is such an unreal feeling and I’m so happy." His starter was soy and mirin-smoked salmon ballotine, with crispy salmon skin, cherry tomatoes marinated in dashi vinegar, chilli-flavoured taramasalata, smoked almonds and sorrel, served with a dashi-infused tomato essence while his main was lovage and rosemary-brined guinea fowl, topped with a yeast hazelnut crumb, soy glazed guinea fowl thigh, hen of the wood mushrooms, celeriac purée, celeriac barigoule, lovage emulsion and a spiced guinea fowl sauce. Finally, his dessert was a cep and milk chocolate cookie, dusted in coffee cep powder, a milk chocolate and yoghurt cream, a cookie tuille, cep caramel, coffee gel, salted milk ice cream and a coffee and milk and foam. Stu received plenty of praise from the judges, with Marcus describing his food as "absolutely outstanding".

What have previous winners of MasterChef been up to?

After winning the first MasterChef: The Professionals way back in 2008, Derek Johnstone was given a job by Michel Roux Jr. at Le Gavroche. The first ever joint winners, Anton Piotrowski and Keri Moss, went their separate ways, with the former winning a Michelin star while Moss became executive chef at The Patch Pub and has since opened Keri's Kitchen. Craig Johnston, the series’ youngest ever winner (he was just 21 at the time) has been working at MARCUS for the past two years. Claire Lara, who won in 2010, found out she had been pregnant during the entire competition, a shocking twist for the winner of the finale. Lara works for The Oystercatcher these days.

Like to keep up with celebrity chef news? Have you heard that Heston Blumenthal’s former pastry chef is suing him for £200,000?