Chris faces MasterChef final

CHRIS Gates' passion for food started when he helped his mother in the kitchen as a child.

CHRIS Gates' passion for food started when he helped his mother in the kitchen as a child.

But now the amateur cook is just a few recipes away from winning one of the nation's most popular cookery competitions.

The 25-year-old has reached the semi-final stage of BBC2's MasterChef and will use his cookery skills to battle against five other hopefuls tonight.

Mr Gates, who lives in Halesworth and works in Lowestoft, has made it through to the last six in the competition and will compete to make the perfect chicken dish on tonight's show.

If he manages to impress the programme's judges - Australian chef John Torode and ingredients expert Gregg Wallace - he could be one of four cooks given the chance to fight for a place in the grand final.

Mr Gates, who works at Jobcentre Plus in Lowestoft, said: “When I lived at home, my mum was a really good cook and I would help her out, but it wasn't until a few years ago that I took a big interest in food. People bought me cookery books for Christmas and I became a bit obsessed by it.

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“I decided to apply in December 2007 for filming in 2008. I was one of those people who used to watch it and say 'If I was there, I would have done this,' so I thought I'd put my money where my mouth is.

“As part of the audition in London I had to make and take something with me. I had a bit of a panic and went on a shopping trip to Tesco. I spent all the night before making pastry and made a dark chocolate and amaretto tart, which I took in a Tupperware box on the Underground with me.”

In spring last year Mr Gates, who studied engineering at Lowestoft College, was told he had made it onto the programme. “I couldn't believe it. I wondered what I had let myself in for, and fear set in. The first time I met John and Gregg and was told what was going to happen it was like having your driving test and GCSE exams all rolled into one,” he said.

Viewers have already seen Mr Gates show that he can stand his own against other amateur cooks and he impressed the judges in the quarter final by cooking liver and pancetta, served with crispy sage and horseradish mash, followed by a chocolate fondant.

He said: “I've always liked cooking Italian food, but on MasterChef it was more modern British. I buy my food locally, I haven't got a massive budget, so I sometimes buy cheaper cuts of meat and jazz them up by putting some more exciting ingredients with them.

“The people I was cooking against in the quarter final were really, really good and I was genuinely shocked to get through. It was exhausting physically and mentally, but I was absolutely chuffed to bits. The whole experience was amazing.”

The first of the MasterChef semi-finals is on tonight at 8.30pm on BBC2.