Ketton’s Simon Spooner says he’ll never look back on his MasterChef journey as “anything but a positive and phenomenal experience”.
Viewers saw the stay-at-home dad leave the BBC One competition during Easter Monday’s episode, falling just short of making the eight semi-final places.
But it was a close call with judges John Torode and Greg Wallace saying that Simon and another contestant Nisha’s dishes were “good in a room surrounded by brilliance”.
Simon served an orange, rosemary and polenta cake with a Campari and orange gelato, an orange jelly, caramelised oranges and rosemary flowers to the judges and renowned chef Theo Randall.
This week, Simon told the Mercury that he was “pleased with the dish” he served and felt he went out on a high.
“It was an amazing room of food and there were very small things in it,” Simon said.
“What you didn’t see on screen was that three of my cakes failed but I still managed to get a dish up that I was pleased with.
“At the end of the day it’s a competition and someone had to go. It was just amazing to be a part of it.”
Viewers saw Simon sail through during last Thursday’s episode, where he cooked for the first time in a professional kitchen at Sartoria in Mayfair. There he was tasked with cooking the main course during a busy lunchtime service of a south Italian version of rabbit stew using all parts of the rabbit, including bones.
Simon has always had a “passion for cooking” and had decided he had nothing to lose by entering the competition.
He said the highlight of his MasterChef journey was cooking in the professional kitchen.
“That will be something I will remember. It was exhausting but exhilarating and just an amazing experience.
“I’ve always been passionate about cooking but that experience showed me that it was definitely something I wanted to take forward.”
It was the dish that he cooked in the professional kitchen that inspired his own that he went on to cook for Michelin-starred chef Nathan Outlaw.
He was tasked with showcasing one of Nathan’s favourite ingredients and he chose rabbit, serving a dish of rabbit loin and leg stuffed with offal, capers, olives and anchovies served on a black olive puree with heritage carrots, chicory and a rabbit jus.
Nathan Outlaw, who holds two Michelin stars, was impressed, saying: “It’s nice to see you’ve used the leg, the offal and the loin and the sauce you made that with the bones as well? Brilliant,” Nathan Outlaw said.
“The most important thing for me was the rabbit, the loin, the leg and the sauce and I love all of it.”
Simon described the round as “strange”.
“My first round in MasterChef was a similar market-style challenge and it was definitely my poorest so to come back in the Nathan Outlaw round and produce that dish was great.
“It showed my development throughout the competition and I want to continue developing.”
Simon said to get the experience of cooking for chefs like Outlaw and Randall was “amazing”.
“These are money can’t buy experiences,” he said.
“Theo and Nathan gave me some really positive comments.”
In the episode screened on Good Friday, Simon missed out on one of three guaranteed semi-final places after cooking a lobster and langoustine ravioli with pickled fennel, fennel fronds, salmon roe and langoustine bisque.
Despite criticism from Torode and Wallace on the dish, Simon said they were always supportive - and the only pressure he felt cooking in the MasterChef kitchen came from himself.
“John and Gregg were also incredibly supportive. They want you to do well, they’re not there to trip you up.
“In the first round, it all felt very alien to me and I was trying to figure out how everything worked but the only pressure from my point of view came from myself - from wanting to do well.
“I will only ever look back on MasterChef with positive thoughts. It was something I always thought about doing so to get the chance and to get so far is just phenomenal.”
Simon has been keeping in daily contact with the other contestants, saying: “I’ve made some friends for life.”
But he refused to tip a winner for the series - which he’ll continue watching from the comfort of his Ketton home.“It all depends on what kind of day you’re having in the kitchen. They are all capable of fantastic food, they’re all amazing chefs and any one of them could win it.”
The series was filmed before Christmas so Simon, 34, has had to keep the outcome a secret while viewers watched with baited breath.
“I told my wife but the rest of the family were in the dark,” Simon, a dad of two, said. “They’re all really proud of me though.”
And he’s also been supported locally with many people following him on his social media channels and recognising him locally.
Simon added: “I had a lovely lady come up to me in Waitrose when I was doing my shopping, who said she loved me on the show and wanted me to open a restaurant in Stamford. It’s things like that that spur you on.
“Stamford and Rutland is such a tight-knit community anyway and it’s great to know I’ve got that local support from people.”
It is that support he is hoping to build on as he moves forward from his MasterChef journey.
Looking to the future, he is hoping to gain more experience in professional kitchens and is already looking into pop-up restaurants and supper clubs.
“It is great to learn from other people but I want to start showcasing my own food and see if I can get a bit of a following.
“I’m really excited to see what the future holds.”