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Luxury Hospitality Magazine speaks with MasterChef: The Professionals 2021, finalist Chef Aaron Middleton!

Aaron, firstly it’s great to have you speak with us! Tell us more about your journey into the industry and your main inspirations!

Thanks for having me! – It’s definitely been a journey.. I guess I’ll start at the beginning which is usually a good idea. My love for food came from the two main women in life. – My nan & my mum, but for opposite reasons.. My nan was what you’d call a PROPER cook! She would have fresh fruit cake made on the side, dinner in the oven, and a feast of goodies in the fridge. She made the perfect roast dinner and actually had her own catering company herself. Walking into my nan’s house was always the best feeling, She really brought the family together, and it was always around food. – probably why it’s so special to me too. My mum, on the other hand, (love her to bits) knew how to cook a total of 3 dinners for us. The 1st was sausage casserole, the 2nd chicken casserole, and the 3rd was casserole surprise ..(which was sausage AND chicken casserole!) – As lovely as it was, I was keen to learn more, so ventured into the kitchens of Brooke Hall Cookery School in Winslow as an apprentice where I worked for Stephen Bulmer. – Another big inspiration of mine. I couldn’t have asked for a better start in my career.   

Have you always been passionate about food, what is it you like most about being a Chef?

I have, yeah! Food is a very powerful thing. Not just how it affects our bodies, but our emotions too. One spoonful can remind you of your most vivid memory. It’s the core of many family traditions, and celebrations around the world. It can be used as a token of love, appreciation, or gratitude. Food brings everyone together. And  I just love to have fun with it all – with developing my skills, playing with flavours, with the team, with our guests, that’s what it’s all about for me.

You have worked with acclaimed chefs including within Michelin-starred restaurants, what have you learnt most from these experiences? 

I’ve been very lucky so far to have worked with many amazing chefs. The best thing that they have passed on to me is there ethos on food, how to treat people and produce, how to conduct yourself and how to always strive for more. – And how that itself, will push you further in your passions than any text book class room ever could, and for that I am forever grateful. 

You have a really impressive portfolio; tell us more about cooking for Sir Richard Branson on his private residence, Necker Island! It sounds amazing!

Thank you! Necker Island was absolutely incredible, and Richard is nothing short of the perfect gentleman, and his family and guests resonate that fully.  –  A fantastic time in my life that I will never forget, though some nights I had forgotten by the next morning. 

You say that Nature, Love, Fun, Connection & Feeling, is what you are working to bring to every aspect of the experience you provide, tell us more about this and why is it important for you to deliver this?

There’s a lot of nice food in the world, a lot of great chefs, fantastic techniques and stunning locations. What I find important is to give my energy and my heart, A true care for the customer that is deep set in my personality, to connect people and inspire with the beauty of what nature brings more than just flavour, we are making memories not meals. 

 What was MasterChef like for you, and what was the hardest challenge for you on the show and why? 

Cooking at Alain Ducasse at The Dorchester was very tough! I haven’t been on a service like that in over a year and cooking such a hard dish on the menu, completely from memory, at the start was a bit too much for me. But I dug my heels in and got it right in the end. With a little help from Jean-Philippe Blondet, of course. 

What are you currently working on/ doing?

Myself and my partner Gabby are currently building a business together, hoping to build our social media presence on @chefaaronmiddleton and share cooking tips and recipes with people, it’s a developing concept but opportunity and growth are at the forefront of our minds. 

If you could pick anyone, who would be your dream person/people to host a dinner party for and why?

If I could pick anyone I would pick Gary Jones, Ollie Dabbous, Brett Graham and Stephen Bulmer. The four chefs that have inspired me the most and I imagine, it would be a pretty good laugh too … probably at my expense! 

What is your go-to favourite dish to make, give us some dinner inspiration…..

I love knocking up some lettuce wraps, roasted meat spiced with chipotle, cumin, coriander, smoked paprika, cinnamon. Slaw with crunchy sliced vegetables, yogurt, loads of Lime, herbs and chilly.  Simple, quick and very tasty.

How important is sustainability within the industry and what more can we do to help with this?

Sustainability of the next generation is very important.  I feel to help sustain a productive working life there needs to be balance. There have been extremely positive strides taken within the industry and a lot of things are changing for the better. A proper work life balance needs to be achieved if this industry wants to survive into the next generation. Being a chef is extremely fulfilling and rewarding, But it is a double edge sword as it also comes hand-in-hand with hard work, dedication, self work and the need for a constant willingness to learn, adapt and change for the better. It’s a fine balancing act for any manager or mentor to inspire and lead whilst ensuring the pinprick detail and standard needed to uphold the reputation and business of the restaurant industry, but we are chefs, and we love a challenge! 

 What would be your one piece of advice to anyone who wants to pursue a career in the industry?

If you’re thinking of becoming a chef, the first thing I would do is find a restaurant in your local area that you enjoy going to and love the food they serve. Then approach that restaurant and ask the Chef if he would like help in the kitchen. The first few months, and even years of becoming a chef will be gruelling hard work and mentally taxing. So in order for you to survive you need to fully respect and have a deep understanding that the changes you’re making and improvements you’re working on are pointing you in the right direction. That will only come from a belief that your chef has your best intentions at heart because nine times out of 10 they do.

What are your goals/plans for the future?

My goals for the future include getting back on the telly. I really enjoyed the experience and believe I have a lot to offer viewers at home. To help people get in the kitchen and get them connecting with food. It’s one of life’s pleasures and everyone should do it.