Oxfordshire circus performer reaches grand final of Masterchef

Chris Willoughby, who was born in Chipping Norton and lives in Henley, has beaten 54 contestants to secure his spot competing against Louise, Abi and Brin.

The talented theatrical cook has continually wowed judges John Torode and Gregg Wallace with his skilful flavour combinations and presentation.

Chris, 44, has been part of cabaret, circus and theatre communities for years and has been part of the cast at The Box Soho since 2011 when it first opened in London’s West End.

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He said: “I’m a firm believer in travelling and have been so lucky with my career to go to far-off places and explore food while I’m there.

Oxford Mail: l - r Chris, Louise, Abi and Brin

“Naturally, I go find the best food and enjoy it – it’s more than a hobby, it’s an obsession. Growing up we reared our own pigs for meat, and we had chickens for eggs.

“Being mindful of where good food comes from is something I learnt at a young age. The people around me as a child, and now, have been a huge influence on me.

“I’ve always been fascinated by cooking. It probably started from watching my grandma cook a great Sunday roast pork and being fascinated by how she would do it and make things taste so nice.”

Chris lives with his partner of seven years Kim, an interior designer.

“He does a lot of the washing up when I’ve been cooking,” he joked, adding: “My older sister is also super supportive”.

His passion for cooking blossomed after he discovered Asian ingredients and during lockdown he became very focused on food.

“All of my performing work was cancelled and I was left with time to think and eat,” he said.

“I entered MasterChef because I have always loved the series and the competition. I felt my cooking had gotten to a good level and I was ready to be tested and learn new things along the way.”

Chris said getting through to the finals “feels out of this world”.

“The further you get in the competition, the more driven you become to get to the title. With each challenge you learn so much.

“I’m most passionate about presentation and flavours. As an artist and performer. I can’t get enough of cooking on flames and open fires.

“I have always been inspired by classics and chefs like Mary Berry, Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver.

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“I’m also inspired by the places I’ve visited, restaurants in Japan, Spain, Thailand – the food always speaks to me.” 

If Chris does lift the trophy it will be just the start of fulfilling his cooking ambitions.

“I would love to write some cookbooks based on food and its concepts, theatre and home entertaining,” he said.

“I have loved being part of MasterChef and would like to make more TV, like food documentaries exploring remote cultures and food around the world.

“I’d also like to  curate and direct my own immersive dinner theatre experience.”

Masterchef grand final airs on BBC1 on Wednesday May 22 at 8pm. All episodes so far are available on BBC iPlayer.

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