John Torode: two recipes and his life story
Two gorgeous suppers from the Masterchef celebrity chef
John Torode recipes...
John Torode had a turbulent upbringing. He was born in Maitland - a riverside town around 100 miles from Sydney. In 1969, the family moved to the Melbourne suburb of East Bentleigh and after ten months in their new home, John’s mother, Anne Torode, died suddenly as a result of a heart condition called viral myocarditis. She left a husband and three sons. John Torode was just four years old at the time, and was the youngest son.
His father, Douglas, travelled around looking for work, and the family had a hand-to-mouth existence. ‘My dad did lots of stuff, from orange juice factories to real estate and advertising,’ John says.
John was eventually brought up by his grandmother in Maitland. She encouraged his love of cooking. ‘She made simple food such as crumbed lamb chops and boiled potatoes and peas. Her caramel slice was legendary,’ says John.
At the age of 17 he left school and started an apprenticeship at a restaurant in the town of Beaumaris. The restaurant was described as BYO (Bring Your Own) implying that it served budget food and didn’t have a liquor license. He later moved to the more upmarket Tsindos Bistrot - an influential Italian-style restaurant, and soon after that he undertook formal chef training. ‘I did my apprenticeship through the William Anglis College in Melbourne. In Australia you work in a day job in the week and once a week you go to college and that’s where I went to college and was there for four years.’
He eventually opened his own retaurant in East Bentleigh. It was called Pasta Connection, and by the time he was 21, the restaurant had gone bust.
By his own admission he ‘wandered aimlessly’, working as a bartender in Brisbane and Surfers Paradise (the plush Queensland seaside resort), and was given the job of overseeing the catering contract for the Sydney Cricket ground. He explained: ‘It was the hardest thing I ever did. I got pneumonia twice.’
At the age of 25 he says: ‘I came to England as a stop-off on the way to Italy, where I wanted to live and to cook Italian food - but I ran out of money and I never left.’
He got a poorly-paid job in a London restaurant, and survived ‘by nicking food from the fridge at work’.
John's big break... was meeting up with Terence Conran. Soon after he started working at top restuarants owned by Conran. These included Quaglino’s, Pont de la Tour and Mezzo, where he was head chef.
In 1996 he started doing television work, and he was on ITV’s This Morning until 2000. In 1997 he co-wrote the best-selling Mezzo Cookbook and in 2000 he opened the successful Smiths of Smithfield restaurant, specialising in simple but classy meat dishes. In 2005, he started hosting MasterChef, which was a huge hit and which encouraged ordinary people to try cooking haute cuisine.
And now... MasterChef, which John co-hosts, continues to grow in popularity. It is a hit in 25 countries, spawning TV shows such as Junior MasterChef and Celebrity MasterChef, a huge number of spin-off books and regular MasterChef live shows. John Torode has written at least ten cookbooks. In 2010 he helped set up a restauant called Luxe in East London. His love life has been eventful - he has been married twice and has four children but left his wife to go out with actress Lisa Faulkner, who he met when she won Celebrity MasterChef.