Sheffield star of BBC’s MasterChef: The Professionals to appear in semi-finals TONIGHT

Sheffield’s Luke Rhodes has opened up about balancing being a new dad with competing on MasterChef: The Professionals.

Tuesday, 8th December 2020, 8:26 am

The 26-year-old from Woodhouse, whose daughter Dolly was born just four days before he first donned his apron in the heats of the hit BBC One show, describes becoming a father and competing in the show as the two biggest challenges he has ever faced.

And that’s from a man who’s used to putting his body on the line in front of hundreds of baying fans as a professional wrestler when he’s not in the kitchen!

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MasterChef: The Professionals contestant Luke Rhodes with his daughter Dolly, who was born just four days before he competed in the heats and who is now aged six months (pic: Plank PR)

Luke has shone so far in the competition, with his dishes earning rave reviews from judges Marcus Wareing, Monica Galetti and Gregg Wallace.

Sheffield will be rooting for him as he once again tries to do the city proud in the semi finals, the first episode of which will air on Tuesday, December 8 at 9pm.

Luke told how the combination of sleepless nights familiar to any new parent and the pressure of competing on TV had been draining but that Dolly’s arrival had proved a huge motivation for him to push himself to the limits.

“It’s been a slog but it’s probably one of the most enjoyable and most rewarding things I’ve ever done, trying to balance being a dad and cook on MasterChef: The Professionals. It’s been a rollercoaster,” he says.

MasterChef: The Professionals contestant Luke Rhodes (wearing his mask), from Sheffield, in the wrestling ring (pic: Plank PR)

“Being a dad is the best thing in the world, and every time I step into the kitchen I’m doing it for Dolly. She’s my motivation to push on because every dad or mum wants their kids to be proud of them.”

When he’s not busy working as a senior sous chef at the University of Sheffield’s Halifax Hall hotel, Luke transforms into The Watcher, a popular character in British Elite Wrestling, whose daring moves are regularly cheered on by crowds of up to 200.

“A lot of people don’t realise how physically demanding it is and how much it’s hurt but you get used to the pain and it’s something I’m passionate about and really enjoy doing,” he explains.

With his new found exposure on national TV, he is keen to come out from behind the mask he has donned so far in the ring and develop a new persona, which he jokes could be a ‘psychotic chef’.

Luke was secretly entered into the competition by his wife Jess, who is an accomplished pastry chef but now works as an outdoor pursuits instructor at Underbank Activity Centre in Stocksbridge, and he describes her as a huge inspiration.

She was the one who tasted the dishes he practised making for the show and he says they would ‘bounce ideas off each other’, with her input proving instrumental in dishes like the mouthwatering panna cotta which helped him reach the semi-finals.

One of his standout moments so far has been the beef jus which he elevated to the next level using Sheffield staple Henderson’s Relish – an addition which instantly endeared him to viewers across the city.

He’s unable to reveal whether Sheffield’s black gold will feature again in the show but is proud to have showcased ‘probably one of the first liquids I ever drank’.

"I wanted to show people what we’re about as a city and using Henderson’s was part of that,” he says.

"It’s important to prove that people in the north aren’t just hefty blokes who make hearty sauces. We can be a bit more refined, without sacrificing the flavour, and there are a lot of fine dining restaurants in this neck of the woods.

"I’ve had lots of messages from strangers saying they’re rooting for me because I’m from Sheffield. It makes you feel quite humble.”

Luke, who trained at The Sheffield College, hopes to showcase some dishes inspired by his time on MasterChef once he can return to the kitchen at Halifax Hall, and he has big ambitions for the future.

"I want a Michelin Star by the time I’m 32. My target was 30 but having a little one I want to balance work and home more,” he says.

"I’d like to think I’d be able to do that here in Sheffield if we can find the right location. We’ve already got some cracking restaurants here, like Rafters and Jöro, which are both in the Michelin Guide.

"We’ve got an excellent college with a professional chefs programme and we’ve had places like Fischer’s at Baslow Hall and the Old Vicarage at Ridgeway which have received stars, but they’ve always been just outside the city.”

Since appearing on TV, Luke says he has had loads of offers from people he’s never met before who have suggested collaborating on pop-ups or other ventures, though it has been hard to plan his next move in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

He describes celebrity chefs Tom Kerridge and Paul Ainsworth as two of his biggest culinary inspirations for the way they have managed to collect such accolades while staying true to a philosophy of producing ‘hearty, homely food that’s packed with flavour’.

But he’s also a big fan of MasterChef judges Monica and Marcus, who he says were ‘absolutely amazing’ and gave the contestants so much support during recording to help them get over their nerves and make them ‘feel at home’.

Looking ahead to the rest of the competition, he says: “I’m in there with nine other absolutely cracking chefs so it won’t be easy but hopefully I can do it for Sheffield.”