Interview: Matei Baran | Living North

Interview: Matei Baran

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Matei Baran and son Armin
A quarter-finalist on MasterChef in 2016, Matei Baran has worked in a number of fine establishments in the North East since then, and recently made headlines when he was forced to change the name of his charity cookbook

Congratulations on your new move to The Grand – how’s that going for you?
It’s been good. I just need to find my fit, see how people are working and what they want from me. There are nice people who have been working here for a long time, which is important.

Tell us about your new charity book and its reception.
We had a very good launch two weeks ago at Seven Stories – almost 90 people attended, which they said was a fabulous audience. People were very excited to see the final product, as the design and the inside of the book is very cool. I tried to present it so that kids could see how food is presented in restaurants and maybe encourage them to get into the chef business themselves one day. But it’s a book for adults as well, with recommended dishes for cooking with their kids. 

Do you often cook with your son?
Not as often as I’d like! I’m working a lot. But he does a lot of cooking at home with his mum when they have the time.

Did your passion for cooking start when you were young?
You could say that, because everyone in my family was cooking – my grandmothers, my father, I think it’s in my blood. I remember cooking my first meal when I was six and a half; I waited for my father to come home from work, then I just cooked chips and eggs, but it was a start.

What would you say is the most challenging part of being a chef?
If you don’t have passion then it’s difficult to work so many hours – it’s a very stressful environment. In my case, I try to find different things to challenge me – competitions, changing the menu – to always keep me active in the kitchen.

What was your MasterChef experience like?
It was amazing. It was a big achievement for me – out of 6,000 applications they chose 48 participants, including myself, and I made it to the quarter finals, so that was very good. I had an incident the day before going to London for filming – the firm I worked for at the time was holding a charity event where there was a football match. I played the chef goalkeeper, and ended up breaking three fingers the day before! It was very painful – I had a couple of pictures taken for MasterChef and I look really grumpy, but I was just in a lot of pain!

When you’re creating new dishes, where do you draw your inspiration from?
I like to be inventive and I draw ideas from different people – for example, if I like an element of a dish from, say, Gordon Ramsey, I will fuse that with my own creativity.

Can you describe your culinary style?
I like to play with a lot of flavour, and I like to mix a bit of craziness into the presentation.

What’s your favourite dish to make?
I actually have a couple. One was for MasterChef: pork with smoked hickory, wrapped in spinach and Parma ham, served with black pudding and baby vegetables. The other is monkfish marinated in tandoori, chargrilled and served with onion bhaji, pickled vegetables and Bombay potatoes.

What piece of equipment can’t you live without in the kitchen?
A frying pan.

If you could only eat breakfast, lunch or dinner for the rest of your life, which one would it be?
Usually I don’t have time for breakfast or lunch, so when I go home it’s just dinner. I like a very good breakfast though when I do have the time, so that’s the one I’d pick. 

Matei’s book Big Chef Mini Chef can be purchased at Seven Stories and all proceeds go to the Cystic Fibrosis Trust.

Published in: February 2019

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