Everything you need to know about MasterChef: The Professionals 2021

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 • Written By Rosie Conroy

Everything you need to know about MasterChef: The Professionals 2021

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

The hit programme, which is in its 14th year, follows a similar format to previous series with a group of professional chefs faced with various challenges. Managing success in the numerous culinary tasks helps one champion to win the coveted crown (not to mention the kudos the award brings). Previous MasterChef: The Professionals winners include Alex Webb last year, who now works as a private chef, 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 has just been announced as the head chef for Canal Turn in Nottingham which is due to open later next year. 

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Last year you might have noticed that the format had to be updated due to Coronavirus. In the first episode this meant fewer contestants and tweaks on the usual formats for the varying rounds. We’re intrigued to see whether it will be the same for 2021, and whether chefs will be cooking in restaurants as usual, or whether filming during various restrictions will have meant the production team will have had to get inventive with different isolated challenges.

While we get to know this year’s cohort of hopefuls, we’re also taking the time to look back at some of our favourite previous contestants. If you’d like to reminisce with us then you can find details on where they are now at the bottom of the page.

Back in 2021 and the team behind the hit show are famously secretive about contestants and specific tasks about the programme, but here's everything we know so far.

When is MasterChef: The Professionals 2021 on?

This series of MasterChef: The Professionals began on Monday the 8th November, and is usually billed to run every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday for 18 episodes at 9pm on BBC1 following the start point. MasterChef: The Professionals usually runs for six weeks. The final typically falls around mid December and this year ends on 16 December.

When is MasterChef: The Professionals 2021 final on?

MasterChef: The Professionals finals week is naturally the biggest moment of the competition and the episodes we’ve all been waiting for. Tuesday (14 December at 9pm) kicks things off when the last six contenders compete for a place on the Chef’s Table round – it’s at this stage that two will leave the competition. Next up, the remaining four chefs are whittled down to three on Wednesday (15 December at 9pm), with the final trio given the opportunity to cook at The Dorchester.

The MasterChef: The Professionals final takes place at 9pm on Thursday the 16 December and will follow a similar format to previous years. Each chef will be tasked with creating a three-course menu for judges Marcus, Monica and Gregg.

What's new on MasterChef: The Professionals 2021?

Thanks to the presence of Coronavirus during filming, we're guessing notice a few differences in the format of MasterChef: The Professionals this year. Last year during the skills tests, for instance, only one chef and Gregg remained in the kitchen to observe, while the other chef retreated to a different room to watch the contestant via TV link. There were also fewer chefs in each round, to allow for better social distancing. This year, in round one restrictions mean just four chefs will compete against each other.  

Who are the MasterChef: The Professionals contestants 2021?

Because the prominence of the show increases year on year the contestants seem to only ever get better, and this year’s applicants are a pretty experienced lot. There is a real mix of levels competing on MasterChef: The Professionals 2021, and each week we'll learn a little more about each chef's culinary backgrounds and where they come from. MasterChef used to list where each contestant worked, but recently have only given viewers the chefs' names. Not satisfied with that, we've done some digging into their background to bring you where they work, the positions they hold and what kind of cookery style they champion. 

The line-up of 32 chefs ranges vastly in skills and backgrounds, from private caterers through to positions in Michelin starred kitchens. Here's everything you need to know about them. 

John Simpson-Clements - left

Although currently freelance, John is set to soon take up the baton of Sous Chef at The Tinamba Hotel in Australia. Having previously been a sous chef at business focused Burleigh Court Hotel in Loughborough, john’s passion for foraging and preserving felt slightly at odds with his experience. His new position as the Australian gastropub feels more fitting. A dish of John’s that impressed the judges was his Lamb Neck with potato rosti, parsley, black garlic, Roscoff onions, hog weed and blackcurrant leaf.
Competition status:
Restaurant: The Tinamba Hotel, Australia
Instagram handle: @chef_johnsclements

Daniel Lee - finalist

Daniel, or Dan as he’s known on the show, loves fine-dining fare and currently works as a high-end private chef. The 28-year-old specialises in fusing modern European cooking with Asian flavours, a style which has impressed the judges. Throughout the competition Dan has been repeatedly courteous, thanking his fellow contestants multiple times for their support while he works alongside them.
Restaurant: Private chef
Instagram handle: @daniel.jb.lee

Lauren Loudon - left 

Lauren returned from working on yachts to open her own café in Surrey, The Deli. The accomplished chef wanted more autonomy over the menu, and says running her own hospitality venture allows her to keep building on her own style. Despite being the first to leave the competition, Lauren said it was an ‘absolute honour’ to cook for the judges and left with her head held high.
Restaurant: The Deli
Instagram handle: @sailingfooddiaries

Nico Fitzgerald - left

Nico is originally from Gibralter but currently works as the head chef of London Stock in Wandsworth and made his way through the competition to the quarter-finals, missing out on a semi-finals place to Dan and John in his round. His hearty British food impressed the judges, as did his inclusion of lesser-used used ingredients like offal.
Restaurant: London Stock, Wandsworth
Instagram handle: @nicofitzgerald

Dario Carvalho - left

Dario boasts an impressive CV with experience including time at both sky-high Duck and Waffle and ‘posh Nando’s’ Casa do Frango. He currently works in Manchester as a senior sous chef at 20 Stories which is famous for its rooftop views of the city as well as its modern British menu and high-end cocktails.
Restaurant: 20 Stories, Manchester
Instagram handle: @chefdarios

Budiono - left

There’s very little known about Budiono, other than that he is from Indonesia and loves to showcase the flavours of his native country. Sadly, Budiono was an early casualty of the competition and left after just a couple of rounds. If his Instagram is anything to go by he has since set up a catering company that specialises in Balinese food.
Restaurant: Bali Eats catering company
Instagram handle: @budiono_sukim

Rhodri Davies - left

Welsh Rhodri is passionate about using the very best local ingredients, as is evident in his menu at The Heathcock where he works under head chef David Killick. Unfortunately, Rhodri didn’t get as far as he would have liked to but said he was ‘incredibly grateful for the experience.’
Restaurant: The Heathcock, Cardiff
Instagram handle: @rhodri_d

Aaron Middleton - finalist

Of the school of thought that ‘if it grows together it goes together’ Aaron is another chef passionate about using the bounty of the Great British isles. Previously head chef at Richard Branson's Necker Island, Aeron now runs his own private catering company. His plates are robustly flavoured and include concoctions like bonito butter poached lobster tail, with Autumn tomatoes and shiso leaf, as well as monkfish with leeks, fennel, onions, nasturtium and flavours of coriander spice and saffron.
Restaurant: Works for himself
Instagram handle: @chefaaronmiddleton

Daniel Marreiros - finalist

The proud owner of a Michelin Bib Gourmand, Daniel Marreiros works at Covent Garden’s Volta do Mar. This Portuguese restaurant specialises in seafood and piri piri chicken and is split over two levels, offering respite from the chaos of central London. Some dishes have African and Brazilian influences and the restaurant often uses live-fire cooking for grilled fish.
Restaurant: Volta do Mar
Instagram handle: @danieldmarreiros

Ryan Michael Baker - finalist

Hungry for success, Ryan is no stranger to cookery competitions, having been a national finalist in both the 2019 and 2021 Roux Scholarship series (we wonder, did Marcus put in a good word for him?). Currently, Ryan works as a sous chef at Maison Francois, cooking classic French dishes with a modern twist, like their famous poisson du jour and a flat-bread croque madame.
Restaurant: Maison Francois, London
Instagram handle: @ryan_baker94

Liam Rogers - finalist

Holding a godo amount of clout, Liam has previously worked at two Michelin starred Andrew Fairlie at the Gleneagles Hotel and until recently held a position at Restaurant Sat Bains (which also has two stars from the Michelin guide). He has since announced that he will be competing in the World Young Chef awards in Dubai before making his return to Gleneagles. Watch this space, we suppose.
Restaurant: Restauarnt Andrew Fairlie, Scotland
Instagram handle: @chef_liam_rogersss

Jamie Holme - left

Jamie currently works for himself, but until recently was the head chef at events company Bubble Food in London which prides itself in ‘couture’ food. Jamie’s cooking is luxurious and classic. Think dishes like a gold-leaf-covered baked duck egg with white truffle emulsion, smoked duck crumb and asparagus.
Restaurant: Works for himself
Instagram handle: @chefjholme

Enrique Garcia de Olalla - left

Sous chef at Adam Handling’s flagship Restaurant Frog by Adam Handling, Enrique experience is very much in the world of fine-dining. Favourite dishes of his include roast hake, BBQ cucumber, crispy kaffir lime leaves and yellow curry sauce as well as January King Cabbage with vegan XO sauce and a XO crumb. Scottish chef Adam, who Enrique works for, is passionate about zero waste, so we’re expecting a similar ethos from the MasterChef contestant.
Restaurant: Frog by Adam Handling, London
Instagram handle: @enrique.garciadeolalla

Ollie - left

Describing himself as ‘English boy cooking France’, Ollie holds a position at high-end resort Cha^teau de Berne where the restaurant has earned a Michelin star. On his Instagram he also details time at Aulis in London, Simon Rogan’s eight seater development kitchen in Soho.
Restaurant: Chateau de Berne, France
Instagram handle: @ollieae_97

Matt Willdigg - finalist

Matt previously worked in Hipping Hall, the restaurant and rooms by Peter Howarth in Yorkshire. Passionate about foraging, Matt now runs his own catering company, Foray Catering in partnership with chef Oli Martin. Dishes the pair create include a Biscoff crème brulee with hogweed shortbread and winter spiced apple.
Restaurant: Owns Foray Catering
Instagram handle: @chef_mattwilldigg

Yasmine Celiene - left

Yasmine owns her own company where she works as a private performance chef. She also produces wholesale Jamaican patties, will whip you up an occasion cream cake, a special afternoon tea, cater for a dinner party of throw together a wedding banquet. Basically, Yasmine does it all.
Restaurant: Personal chef
Instagram handle: @chef_yasmineceliene

Eddie (not pictured) - left

We can't find out much on Eddie, but know what we do know is that he struggled in the skills test when he was asked to cook a piece of liver. Failing to allow it to rest resulted in a plate covered in blood which left the judges unimpressed. 
Restaurant: Unknown
Instagram handle: Unknown

Kirsty (not pictured) - left

As far as we can tell, Kirsty works as the head chef of a cosy pub, the Narrow Boat at Weedon. Kirsty is another contestant who has limited info about them out there on the world wide web, but if we find anything else out, we'll let you know.  
Restaurant: Narrow Boat at Weedon, Northampton
Instagram handle: Unknown but Twitter is @kellencollins

Who are the judges on MasterChef: The Professionals 2021?

The Judges on MasterChef: The Professionals 2021 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 will likely see the same line-up as before, with William Sitwell, Grace Dent, Jimi Famurewa, Tom Parker Bowles, Tracey MacLeod, Amol Rajan and Jay Rayner possibly entering 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 2021 series Monica set the first challenge, asking the chefs to make monkfish with a pea and bacon ragout in order to display their fish and sauce prowess. The second half of the MasterChef hopefuls then had to make bangers and mash, without any fully-formed instructions from Marcus.

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 (although interestingly, this year the chefs have been asked to do two from the looks of it). 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 previous shows Marcus has given everyone rice to cook with, to see what they can make from such an 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 2020 series saw the team required to make a plant-based dish.

Pop-up challenge: In 2019 the contestants had to take on a pop-up food stand at Pergola London food market. This MasterChef challenge was aired over two episodes and saw street food at the centre of the chefs’ offerings. There was an audience of the MasterChef judges as well as invited foodie royalty, who all voted on their favourite dishes to crown a winner. With Coronavirus guidelines we think something similar could be unlikely in 2021. 

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 might be given the chance to concoct their own dishes for a MasterChef: The Professionals pop-up restaurant in London (last year these were at Pergola Olympia and were a first for the show). The chefs only had 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 voted on their favourite dishes. The chef with the most votes went 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 stars between them typically), to try the dishes of the MasterChef: The Professionals hopefuls. Usually Monica and Marcus are on hand in the kitchen to oversee things, while Gregg works the dining room - we're looking forward to seeing what format this round will take in 2021.

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

Who are the MasterChef: The Professionals 2021 finalists?

It's been a long road to get here, but finally we have our six MasterChef finalists for 2021. This year it's an all-male line-up with chefs who come to the table with everything from Michelin experience through to international compeition prizes. Here's who's made the final:

Aaron Middleton

Aaron’s playful approach to cooking has made him a popular contender for the crown. Think pina colada puddings with cocktail umbrellas sticking out of them and doughnut sandwiches stuffed with spicy pulled pork. Well-used to competing, Aaron has previously won second place at the Young National Chef of the Year Awards.

Daniel Lee

Private chef Daniel has impressed the judges from the start with his fine-dining approach. He carefully brings together the flavours of Asia while using classic European techniques for a high-end fusion style and regularly shares recipes on his Instagram account to allow his followers to be able to cook some of his top dishes themselves.

Daniel Marreiros

With Portuguese heritage, Daniel has previously showcased his love of his native cuisine at London’s Volta Do Mar restaurant where he received a Bib Gourmand from the Michelin guide. Throughout the competition he’s shown off lesser-known dishes like Alimado, a recipe from the Algarve region which combines fish, garlic, olive oil, vinegar, and parsley.

Ryan Baker

Another ambitious chef, Ryan has a previous connection with MasterChef judge Michel Roux Junior (who judges the regular competition) having been a finalist at the Roux Scholarship in both 2019 and 2021. His work includes time spent at D&D’s Plateau in Canary Wharf which serves a French menu in modern surrounds.

Matt Willdigg

Matt’s dream of working for himself has recently become a reality after he launched Foray Catering with his business partner. The venture sees the duo create seasonal menus with local (and often foraged) ingredients for private parties and events. His decedent dishes have also impressed the judges in the MasterChef kitchen. Think lobster tail cooked in brown butter with a Thermidor potato skin and a cep and lobster bisque.

Liam Rogers

One of the favourites to the win from the start, Liam has had a strong competition from the get-go. With experience at both Restaurant Andrew Fairlie and Restaurant Sat Bains (both of which hold two Michelin stars each), Liam is now back at Gleneagles cooking up a storm. His clean-cut flavours and immaculate presentation have both earned him praise throughout.

Want to know who won MasterChef The Professionals 2020? Here are all the details.

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.

Who won MasterChef: The Professionals last year? 

Last year Alex Webb took the winner's medal while 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. 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, and she works for The Oystercatcher these days. Below is a little more in-depth look at what the 2019 finalists have been up to. 

Alex Webb: 2020 winner

Having started as a kitchen porter at 14, Alex’s keenness to be a chef saw him quickly progress to a critically acclaimed cook by the time he was 25. With experience at top London restaurants like Helene Darroze at the Connaught, The Savoy and, Roux at Parliament Square, Webb has previously revealed to NationalWorld that his goal is to earn his own Michelin star one day. While he is currently working as a private chef, Webb has talked openly of opening his own restaurant where top-class food isn’t prohibitively expensive and doesn't come with any stuffiness or enforced dress codes.

Stu Deeley: 2019 winner

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. Stu was 27 at the time of filming but is now 28 and has one son with partner Natasha. The chef described his journey on MasterChef as a “whirlwind” and promised “more amazing stuff to come” after he won the trophy in 2019. Stu currently works in partnership with Simpsons Restaurant to creat Michelin-level dining at gome, but has promised to open his own restaurant in the future.

Exose Grant Lopo-Ndinga: 2019 finalist

Exose specialised in pastry and impressed throughout the competition with his intricate dessert plates which showcased 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 at this as well as running an at home dining service and doing modelling with IMG Models. Throughout the 2019 series Exose revealed that he hadn’t told his friends and family he was entering and 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: 2019 finalist

Olivia wass the only woman left in the final in 2019, 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. Olivia now heads up the kitchen at Chelsea restaurant Stanley's where you can try some of her signature dishes from the competition. 

Yann Florio: 2019 finalist

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 for the final, and previously said that the competition had been “tough” but that that he’s “getting ready for the next challenge”. Watch this space. 

Like to keep up with celebrity chef news? Have you heard that there's a special new series of The Great British Menu this year?