"If you apply yourself fully in whatever you do, it does not have to be just cooking, you will thrive. You need to believe in yourself and you will grow."
Irini Tzortzoglou - MasterChef Champion
One of the first things MasterChef champion Irini Tzortzoglou did on hearing of her win was offer to share the trophy with the two runners-up. This captured the hearts of the audience of the first female finale of the popular cooking show and led co-founder of Women In the Food Industry, Mecca Ibrahim, to catch up with Irini. She interviewed her not long after Irini had returned to her home in Cartmel, Cumbria after a holiday to Crete, the place of her birth.
Irnini said that things had been a bit of a whirlwind since winning the title of Masterchef Champion late March 2019. "A big publisher has approached me to discuss a book and I’m also doing a number of food festivals this summer." She clearly has a busy summer ahead. From Foodies Festivals including Syon Park West London to Cumbrian festivals – Westmorland Country Fest and the Westmorland County Show right through to cooking with her fellow finalists Jilly McCord and Delia-Maria Asser at the Women of the Year Awards lunch.
Irini's grandparents were landowners in Crete and and cooked large meals for their many guests. She has fond memories of those meals where she used to help in the kitchen. "I remember that environment of a warm kitchen, where all the women would gather together, swap stories, solve problems, bring their issues together." she said "Food was so connected to life, and living and sharing."
However, when Irini moved to London to take up banking, she found that she had little time to cook and it was only when she moved up to Cartmel 10 years ago that things changed. "Living here in Cumbria with all of the abundance of ingredients, I have a greater connection with food. I can buy eggs from the farmer up the road. There are allotments all over the place and people give me fruit and vegetables they’ve grown." she said "my interest in food was re-kindled. Cumbria is a foodie county, within an hour there are so many great restaurants. So I cooked a lot more in Cumbria and threw more dinner parties and my husband said why don’t you go on MasterChef."
When asked about some of her favourite experiences, she really enjoyed the invention tests and making dishes out of scraps of leftovers to avoid food waste. But her favourite moment was cooking with Raymond Blanc and Gary Jones from Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat'Saisons. She recalls their passion which was infectious: "That day in the studio of cooking with them both was amazing. Everyone loved it – the crew, the presenters, the contestants. Everybody had a fantastic day. Raymond and Gary spoke a lot about the physicality of food and had a big respect for all ingredients."
But it was the relationship with the other finalists that will result in a life long friendship "We are all such different ages. Delia is 28, Jilly is 44, I am 61 but somehow that love, common respect and passion for food brought us together so it felt there was no age gap." When asked if it was competitive she said "I think none of us was that competitive with each other but competitive with ourselves. Even though it was a TV competition and we knew that someone would win, we took things one day at a time, all of us were nervous but winning wasn’t the be all and end all."
You can read the full interview with IriniTzortzoglou on the Women in the Food Industry website.