MasterChef's Ping Coombes: 'In five years time I want an empire like Jamie Oliver!'

As the search for the next MasterChef champion begins, 2014 winner Ping Coombes tells TV Times about her ‘whirlwind year’ (BBC1, Tues, Weds & Thurs).

Has winning MasterChef changed you at all?

“It was a complete whirlwind. After learning from the best chefs in the world I went from having zero confidence to feeling I had no culinary boundaries. It threw my whole life into the air and I feel like I’ve started again."

Twelve months ago it was you walking through those kitchen doors, are you sad it’s over?

“I know, I honestly can’t believe a year has passed, so much has happened. I won’t lie – I’ll be sad not to be the MasterChef champion any more as I’ve really enjoyed it, especially as it was the show’s 10th anniversary last year. But I’m really excited for the next winner - they’re in for an amazing experience."

Do you recognise the fear on the new contestants’ faces?

“Oh god, I know exactly how they’re feeling – pure terror! When I first walked into the kitchen I was scared, cold, didn’t have a clue what to expect – they’ll just be hoping not to be kicked off first. But they’re in for the ride of their lives.”

What advice would you give them?

“Believe in the food you cook. Show who you truly are in your cooking and cook what you love to eat – not what you think John and Gregg will like.”

Talking of the judges, what was it like cooking for them the first time?

“Terrifying. I’d been watching them on TV for years so thought it would be OK, but they were like stern teachers from school! It takes them a while to warm up.”

When did you first fall in love with food?

“As a child in the small town of Ipoh, in Malaysia, where I grew up. It’s known for its food and I remember my mum taking me to a street stall every Sunday for bowls of chicken noodles. I got very fat! I took my daughter to the exact same stall last year and welled up seeing her devour them. History repeating itself.”

Who inspired you to cook?

“My mum, although she never let me cook with her when I was little. She was precious about her kitchen and still is – even after winning MasterChef she won’t let me in when I visit! I only began cooking when I came to study at Oxford when I was 21 and started calling her for recipes.”

How did it feel to win?

“I just felt relieved it was over! I’d done all I could and had nothing left to give. I was ecstatic and couldn’t stop crying – the same elation as when my daughter was born. In fact, It was a bit like becoming a parent – joy mixed with trepidation about what would happen next!”

And what have you done since?

“Well, after my Congratulations tweet from the Malaysian Prime Minister – surreal! – I’ve done lots of festivals and demonstrations and am writing my first cookbook full of stories about what inspires my recipes.

"I’m also hoping to open my own restaurant in Bath by the end of the year. I’m aiming for casual Malaysian food with a twist, my trademark. In five years time I want an empire of restaurants like Jamie Oliver!”