Nikita Pathakji was crowned MasterChef: The Professionals Champion 2022 during Sunday’s nail-biting final.
The 25-year-old chef cooked her way to the top and beat off stiff competition from 31 other professionals, impressing judges Marcus Wareing, Anna Haugh and Gregg Wallace, with her innovative dishes inspired by her travels around Asia.
A shocked Nikita said following her win: ‘This is incredible and I can’t put it into words. It surpasses every achievement of my life’.
‘I don’t know how I’m going to top this. This is the peak, I think I’ve reached it!’.
Winner! Nikita Pathakji was crowned MasterChef: The Professionals Champion 2022 during Sunday’s nail-biting final
Critics and leading chefs also raved about Nikita, with William Sitwell describing her as ‘a force to be reckoned with’.
While Michelin-starred Jun Tanaka said of her octopus starter at Chef’s Table: ‘You absolutely nailed it. It really took me back to when I was a child in Japan.’
And Marcus Wareing agreed: ‘She’s a chef that has grown right in front of our eyes. Her food has been sublime and she’s always come up with an amazing twist.’
Fellow judge Anna Haugh was equally impressed saying: ‘Nikita is on the road to creating a very unique cuisine. And that is why she’s our champion. As soon as Nikita walked into the kitchen I could see she had class.’
Well-deserved: Critics and leading chefs also raved about Nikita, with William Sitwell describing her as ‘a force to be reckoned with’
Gregg Wallace added: ‘Nikita is using food that she fell in love with from her own travels around Asia’.
‘That chef is completely and utterly in love with the food she’s producing. She opened up the larder of the world and brought us stunning dish after stunning dish.’
MailOnline takes a deep dive into the young chef, who is the first female champion of the show in 10 years.
Nikita was brought up in Derby, by her Indian-born parents, mother Rima, 48, and her father, Sona, alongside an elder sister, Isha.
Her parents’ careers are in marked contrast to her own, with her mother working in financial services while her father is a retired engineer for Rolls-Royce.
However, Sona’s job allowed the family to move to Bangalore when Nikita was nine, first sparking her love of travel.
Growing up: Nikita was brought up in Derby, by her Indian-born parents, mother Rima, 48, and her father, Sona, alongside an elder sister, Isha
Nikita recalled the two years abroad as being ‘basically a holiday’, before they returned to the UK so that her and Isha could be settled for school.
Her parents then divorced, with Rima moving to London while Nikita and Isha remained with their dad in Derby.
However, Nikita says the split was ‘amicable’ and says the decision was for the best for both her parents.
She credits her mum living in London as opening several ‘incredible’ doors for her that wouldn’t have been open before.
LOVE OF FOOD
Nikita recalls her first memory of food was with her mother, cooking Indian food together.
She told The Times, cooking was in her blood, as ‘food is complete obsession in our family.’
Speaking to Derbyshire Live, she said: ‘I guess my earliest memory would be with my mum, we cooked together when I was a kid.
‘With my Indian background, I rolled chapatis – she would give me one to roll on the floor. We’d never end up using it, but it was always something we’d do in the kitchen together.’
It was also her mum who took Nikita to her first Michelin-starred restaurant, when she was 14, that happened to be owned by Marcus Wareing, Masterchef judge.
Nikita commented that she’d ‘come full circle’ in being crowned the winner by Marcus 11 years later.
She later credited her mum as ‘the reason I got into fine dining scene.’
Nikita revealed she had not had any intention to become a chef at first, as her family were very ‘academic’.
But she admitted that she ‘loved cooking’ alongside her dad and her sister and loved to see the chefs.
She said: ‘It was a career that I hadn’t considered until right at the end of school, and it’s not something people in this country think about. People consider cooking as a career more in Europe, but people here must consider it – it’s very rewarding.’
She realised that food was her path in life while studying for her A-levels towards a degree in chemistry, and after a ‘hard conversation’ with her parents left school.
Change in plans: She realised that food was her path in life while studying for her A-levels towards a degree in chemistry, and after a ‘hard conversation’ with her parents left school
She moved to London to live with her sister, mother and stepfather where she began a culinary apprenticeship at Westminster Kingsway College.
Nikita also began working at the Lanesborough Hotel four days a week, making afternoon-tea sandwiches.
After three months, she ‘weaselled’ her way into the Michelin-starred restaurant at the hotel called Celeste.
Through her nine-month trip to southeast Asia in 2019, she discovered many new flavours and inspirations for her dishes.
Family affair: She told The Times cooking was in her blood, as ‘food is complete obsession in our family.’
She then began working at Claude Bosi at Bibendum, mainly on the pastry section, where she said: ‘I certainly got to make my fair share of soufflés.’
After Bibendum, she went to Core by Clare Smyth (3*s), with her telling The Staff Canteen: ‘This is where tweezers were made to be a part of my hand.’
Now she works as Junior Sous Chef at Kitchen W8 in Kensington, saying: ‘I really found my home in this restaurant and I’ve learnt so much from the head chef, Mark Kempson.’
Nikita met her boyfriend at the London restaurant last year, who she calls her ‘big cheerleader’.
Encouragement: Speaking before her series aired, Nikita’s sister Isha told Derbyshire Live : ‘Ever since Niki first became a chef, we’ve been waiting for the moment that she plucked up the courage’
It was her boyfriend who also encouraged Nikita to do MasterChef – forwarding her an email encouraging staff to apply.
Speaking before her series aired, Nikita’s sister Isha told Derbyshire Live: ‘Ever since Niki first became a chef, we’ve been waiting for the moment that she plucked up the courage. We’re so incredibly proud, we can’t wait to watch her.
‘We’ve all been fans of the show for years and we’ve always talked about it as a dream scenario. Now it’s happened – she got texts from work saying she should go for it, and she couldn’t resist applying. We’re collectively all really excited.’
Talking about her time in the competition, Nikita said: ‘MasterChef is always something I’ve thought about, but never felt ready for. My family always wanted me to do it, especially mum’.
Application: It was her boyfriend who also encouraged Nikita to do MasterChef – forwarding her an email encouraging staff to apply
‘So I entered partly just to get her off my case! I decided this was the year because I’m now in a restaurant environment where I’m very comfortable and confident… but that’s dangerous! It was time to push myself that much further. The Chef’s Table was the most intimidating moment of the competition’.
‘Cooking for that room of people was such an immense challenge. I felt like I needed a shot of something strong before going out there to receive their feedback. Equally though, it was an amazing experience, and for it to be hosted in the hotel where I first joined this industry was utterly incredible’.
‘I didn’t let myself dream of getting to this point when I entered. I’ve given everything to this. Sleepless nights is an understatement!’
Nikita’s winning menu started with Sea Bass cured in a Citrus Dressing, Smoked Aubergine Purée, Spicy Red Pepper Purée with Pomegranate, Preserved Lemon, Parsley Oil and a side of Aubergine Crisps.
Dream: Talking about her time in the competition, Nikita said: ‘MasterChef is always something I’ve thought about, but never felt ready for’
On tasting the dish, Marcus said: ‘This sings what you’re all about.’
Inspired by her favourite dish from her time in Thailand – Khao Soi – Nikita’s main course was Crispy Chicken Thighs, Tortellini filled with Chicken, Mushrooms and Coriander and Coriander Oil, topped with handmade Sev, finished with a Coconut Curry Sauce and a side of Crispy Chicken Skin dusted with Chilli Powder, topped with a Mango, Cumin and Onion Purée.
Judge Anna told Nikita: ‘When I’m eating this, I’m excited and delighted. To see you developing a dish like this is remarkable.’
To finish, Nikita served Cardamom and Custard Tart, Apricot poached in Honey Syrup, topped with a Honey Tuile and an Apricot, Honey and Lemon Sorbet, to which Gregg reacted with: ‘The whole thing is delightful.’
High praise: To finish, Nikita served Cardamom and Custard Tart, Apricot poached in Honey Syrup, topped with a Honey Tuile and an Apricot, Honey and Lemon Sorbet, to which Gregg reacted with: ‘The whole thing is delightful’
Anna added: ‘You have changed so much since the beginning of the competition. Now what we see before us is a stronger and incredibly capable chef. I’m incredibly proud of you.’
Nikita proudly revealed that her mum tried every single one of her dishes on the show except her pigeon, calling her ‘my harshest critic’.
After her win, Nikita said she called her mum straight away and that ‘we were on the phone for four minutes and it was just her running around the house shouting, “She won! she won!”.
With her win, Nikita has become the first winner to win The Professional since Keri Ross and Anton Piotrowski were crowned joint winners in 2012.
She’s aware of the responsibility she has, as the only woman in her present job’s kitchen as well.
Speaking to The Times, she said: ‘It’s a massive responsibility, but it feels amazing. I would love to have more women in my kitchen but they’re not applying. I hope I can encourage them.
‘It’s just the landscape of the industry. I think women tend to go to restaurants with women head chefs . . . it’s about work-life balance and that is something that is slowly changing. It just needs to speed up.’
Champion: With her win, Nikita has become the first winner to win The Professional since Keri Ross and Anton Piotrowski were crowned joint winners in 2012
While she has not experienced any discrimination based on her skin colour, Nikita admits she’s faced questioning about her heritage.
She recounted: ‘I like to take things with intent. People are clumsy about it and say things like, “Where are you really from?” But, for me, I think you can always see what their intention is, and mostly they are curious about your heritage. In my experience, they’re just struggling to phrase it in the correct way.
‘I take it case by case. And if they’re just wanting to know more about me, then I just answer them in that way. Usually it’s coming from a place of curiosity and love. Though there are instances where that’s not the case.’
Nikita now lives in Clapham, London, with her mum, step-dad, sister and Dexter the dog.
She admits she won’t stay much longer at Kitchen W8, where she was recently promoted, but wants to get some more experience before opening her own restaurant.
She’s planning a series of pop-ups, several including her fellow contestants, who share a group WhatsApp together.
To the future: Nikita now lives in Clapham, London, with her mum, step-dad, sister and Dexter the dog
Looking ahead she said: ‘Next, I’d love to do pop-ups and festivals to cook for as many people as physically possible.
‘It would be brilliant to work alongside the other MasterChef finalists to do bespoke menus and events. My long-term goal is to be a chef-owner of a successful restaurant where I get to cook my own food every day’.
‘I’d want to foster a great working environment, much like my current workplace. Championing women in the industry, as well as creating a good work life balance, is so important to me.’
Speaking the The Staff Canteen about being a chef, Nikita said: ‘The worst thing about being a chef is that it’s physically exhausting, harsh environments with antisocial hours. But the feeling when people enjoy food you’ve created, it’s the best feeling.’
Plans: She’s planning a series of pop-ups, several including her fellow contestants, who share a group WhatsApp together
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