At the age of just 22, Louisa Ellis impressed the nation when she reached the finals of MasterChef UK in 2017. Sauce caught up with Louisa for the Autumn/Winter 2018 edition of the magazine.
The eldest of four siblings, Louisa’s passion for food was sparked by cooking for her parents, brothers and sister when she was younger.
“When my mum and dad were working full-time I would help out. I really enjoyed catering at school, so I took it home and experimented with it. My mum and dad didn’t like it when I started putting chilli in the spaghetti bolognese!”
While studying for her Catering NVQ Levels 1 and 2 at college, Louisa landed a job at a hotel in Luton, where she grew up. To start with it was front of house work, but a full time opportunity came up in the kitchen when Louisa left college, so she stayed until the hotel went into administration and all of the staff were made redundant.
“It was probably good that it forced me to move on,” she muses. “I went to the two rosette restaurant at The Welcombe Hotel in Stratford-upon-Avon. We did banqueting and weddings, so it was great experience with big numbers. Having banqueting, brasserie and restaurant experience is valuable, because sometimes if you go straight into Michelin level you know that style of cooking and nothing else.”
When the head chef Louisa was working with moved to another, more ambitious, two rosette hotel restaurant in Sutton Coldfield he offered her a job on his team. It was at this stage Louisa decided her heart was set on working in a Michelin starred restaurant where she could apply her attention to detail while not having to worry about room service orders.
“From there I went on to do a year at Adam’s Restaurant in Birmingham. I’d been there for a meal and really, really enjoyed it. His food blew me away. I wanted to be able to cook that food, so I applied for a job there.
“It was hard work but it was so worth it. It felt like two years because the hours were a big step up from what I was doing before. That was definitely a shock to the system at first. The routine and discipline are a very high standard but after a few months you get used to it and it becomes natural. After moving around the sections a bit I decided meats and sauces were my passion.”
However, the long hours left Louisa with little spare time to push herself and pursue other avenues such as entering into competitions. After another move, to The Wilderness in Birmingham, she found a bit more flexibility and a better balance.
“It was nice to have time to relax but also to do things that could be productive for my career,” she explains. “When I started working there I decided to apply for MasterChef. I was hoping I would get a callback but didn’t really expect it. I got interviewed and it all went so quickly. Before I knew it I was in the skills test!”
Although none of it was easy, this was probably the most nerve-racking part of the whole competition. Louisa recalls walking into the huge room where the judges were standing surrounded by the TV production crew.
“You’ve never met any of these people before and you’re looking at the ingredients thinking ‘What are they going to ask me to do?’,” she relates. “You just forget everything – it all goes out of your head. It gets a bit easier after that when you realise the judges are just people and they’re there to see your skills as a chef. They’re there to support you, not be nasty or intimidating.”
To find out more about the private dining experiences Louisa offers, take a look at her website or follow her on social media.
To read our interview with Louisa in full, pick up your copy of Sauce from one of our stockists.