Inside the mind of a MasterChef champion: Ping Coombes

We talked to the winner of MasterChef 2014, Ping Coombes, about her the filming, the flavours and her future in food.

Ping Masterchef

Ever sat shouting instructions at the TV screen as culinary hopefuls sauté themselves silly trying for that MasterChef crown? We have. But while anyone can direct fine dining from the armchair it’s a different matter when that kitchen heat is real. We caught up with TV’s newest claimant to the MasterChef title to chat food and family… and find out who’s really the scariest – John or Gregg

CookingThe MasterChef experience

You don’t get to lift that hard-fought trophy without a bit of forward thinking and hard work. To prepare for each MasterChef episode, Ping would plan each dish meticulously and practise endlessly beforehand. But different hobs and slightly different ingredients can easily throw a spanner in the works: “You can practise all you like but it’s what happens on the day that counts,” says Ping.

Despite her successes throughout the competition - even a MasterChef champion has a weakness, and according to Ping, hers is very much dessert. She believes a good dessert (especially if you’re baking) requires exact measurements as you have to get it right from the start.

So was she intimated by judges, John Torode and Gregg Wallace? Ping doesn’t hesitate. "No."

“MasterChef was more daunting as an experience in general because no one knew what to expect,” she says. “The most intimidating person to cook for was definitely Marcus Wareing – just talking about him now gives me goosebumps!”

SeabassFamily and home life

Cooking great food for her family every day is really important to Ping.

“I always try to make fresh food for my daughter, whether it’s a cheese and ham omelette or something more complicated”, adding that her 18-month-old daughter Alexa’s favourite food is a sophisticated a sea bass, either pan fried with a fresh garlicky sauce, or in a broth with noodles and pork meatballs.

Ping tries to encourage Alexa to eat the same meals as her and her husband as much as possible, and as a result she’s not fussy at all – except for the fact that she doesn’t like bland food.

And it’s Ping’s mother in turn that she holds as a role model when it comes to food. “My goal when cooking is for my mother to enjoy my food”, she confesses.

Healthy eating is also important but she is quick to point out that ‘healthy’ means different things to different people – and when it comes to the crunch, flavour wins every time.

TapasFood likes, dislikes & inspiration

When searching for her next recipe ideas, Ping has multiple sources of inspiration: “I watch cookery shows, read cookery books and take inspiration from websites as well as other cuisines – not just Malaysian food.” Indian food, Chinese food and French food are amongst Ping’s favourite cuisines, not to mention tapas after the incredible MasterChef episode in Barcelona. “Barcelona was ten hundred times better than they showed on TV”, she gushes.

It was hard for Ping to narrow down her favourite chef for us because there are so many great chefs she admires. However, John Campbell and Ferran Adrià are at the top of her list - Campbell for his truly classical approach to cooking and Adrià for his endless creativity.

As for foods she doesn’t like, she isn’t fussy, however deep fried squirrel is at the top of her no-no list and she draws the line at eating insects: “I have a massive worm phobia so I won’t be eating worms any time soon!”

Malaysian cuisineNext steps for Ping…

It’s all a whirlwind for Ping at the moment and she’s not sure about her big future plans (apart from her holiday to Italy, which she was on her way to as we chatted), but she definitely wants to pursue a career in food. “I want to bring Malaysian flavours to the UK”, she says, listing her top five Malaysian ingredients as coconut milk, lemongrass, shrimp paste, chillies and galangal.

One exciting thing in the pipeline is the MasterChef Restaurant & Bar. This is a one-off pop-up restaurant, which opens in London this September, with Ping joining a host of previous MasterChef champions and finalists showcasing dishes inspired by the past ten years of the popular and much-loved television series. Tickets go on general sale on May 26th 2014.

As parting words of encouragement to budding chefs, Ping says...

 “Cook from your heart. You have to love it if you want other people to love it. Let yourself go, follow your instincts and trust your palette!”

Are you a budding master chef? Were you rooting for Ping to win? Let us know in the comments below…

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