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Serving up a feast

FOOD FOR THOUGHT: Paul Bogle

BEING A fussy eater as a child inspired this year’s MasterChef finalist Paul Bogle’s love of cooking.

Earlier this year, viewers watched the 45-year-old battle it out against competitors to impress judges Gregg Wallace and John Torode with his culinary skills, in the hope of being crowned the 11th winner of the popular BBC cooking show.

“Being on MasterChef was an accelerated learning curve,” Bogle tells Life & Style. “If you love food, then it’s just everything. Being with people that are obsessed with food like you is very liberating. Sometimes, you can feel guilty that you might be boring people, so being in a room with like-minded people was really refreshing.”

He adds: “In that sense you could relax, but at the same time it was a competition and you were there to go as far as you possibly could.”

Though he didn’t nab the coveted title of MasterChef 2015, the experience he garnered on the show gave him the confidence boost he needed to kick-start a career in food.

Bogle says that he’s always loved cooking, with memories of helping his mother prepare meals from the age of three. By the time he was eight, him and his two siblings had to start cooking some of the family’s dinners.

“We were latch key kids,” he explains. “My mum relied on us to do the cooking before she got home from work. I had a greater love for it, so I ended up doing it much more than my brother and sister.”

The chef, who was brought up in east London and now lives in Wimbledon, then started to prepare his own dinners because he was such a fussy eater and his mother refused to cook separately for him.

“Mum refused to cook two meals,” he recalls. “So she would buy some extra things for me with the condition that I was the one that cooked it. We used to cook side by side.”

But despite having culinary skills and a passion for food, Bogle, who is a head policy and research manager at the National Federation of Builders, decided to pursue an alternative career path.

“When I was younger, I wanted to be a chef. But when I was 17, I became seriously ill and I didn’t think it was something I could pursue, because I didn’t have the energy or the strength to handle the gruelling hours.

“Physically I wouldn’t have been able to withstand the pressure of staying in the kitchen for the hours that the job demands. So that’s why cooking has just been a hobby.”

Bogle’s revelation may come as a surprise to viewers who followed his MasterChef journey, as he chose not to mention his illness on the programme.


MOUTH WATERING MENU: Paul’s dishes include jerk chicken with rice and peas

“It’s not something I really put out there. I deliberately didn’t mention it on the show because I didn’t want to be ‘the guy in the reality show with a sob story’. I wanted it all to be about the cooking and the food.”

As a keen amateur chef, often cooking meals for family and friends, Bogle always wanted to apply for MasterChef. But a lack of confidence and job commitments always held him back.

“This has been years in the making, but I just didn’t have the confidence. I watched pretty much every series thinking that it would be great to be there.”

Then, three years ago, the cook took on the challenge of hosting a whopping surprise nine-course birthday meal for a friend. “After that, I thought: ‘If I’m not ready to do it now, then I never will be’.”

Another element that inspired him to finally take the plunge was his ancestor, 19th century Jamaican icon, Paul Bogle, who famously led the island’s Morant Bay rebellion – the massive 1865 uprising that saw hundreds of black men and women rebel against Jamaica’s colonial oppressors.

Admitting that he didn’t always embrace his history, Bogle says: “When I was growing up, I resisted the link because you want to develop your identity at that age. Having that shadow looming over me, it was a bit intimidating.


TASTY: Roast duck breast

“The older I’ve got, the more I appreciate what happened; the sacrifices that were made and what it means to people to have someone like Paul Bogle as part of their national history. I think that came to a head when I applied for MasterChef. I thought: ‘If I’m going to be on TV, carrying this name, it’s important to carry a positive image’.”

As he got further into the competition, the chef became more confident and by the time he reached the finals, he had already started planning what he would do next.

Knowing it still wouldn’t be physically “practical” to run a restaurant, the foodie began researching other options. Through word of mouth, Bogle discovered an almost-underground cooking world where chefs take over cafés and delis after hours.

“I thought that was the way to go, because I’d get to work in a proper kitchen in a restaurant environment and serve my own food, the way I want to.”

Since the summer, Bogle has been hosting a pop-up restaurant, FEAST with Paul, in Covent Garden once a month.

“Cooking for people you’ve never met before and now people paying to eat your food – it’s just a thrill that never gets old.”

With a focus of serving Fresh, EAsy, Satisfying and Tasty (FEAST) food, Bogle adds: “It’s the most gratifying feeling to pull a menu together that reflects you and have people saying that they really enjoy it.”

For more information and to book tickets for the next FEAST with Paul, visit: www.feastwithpaul.com

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