Brin’s Big Win

Bristol-based Veterinary surgeon Brin Pirathapan won the judges’ and the nation’s hearts recently when he claimed the prestigious title of MasterChef Champion 2024. But has he swapped his vet scrubs for chef whites since his win?

Well, well, well. Hasn’t Bristol done… very well when it comes to televised cooking competitions? The dust had only just settled on local chefs Tommy Thorn and Kasae Fraser making their triumphant journey to the final three on MasterChef: The Professionals earlier this year when Bristol-based vet Brin Pirathapan stormed onto our screens, hot on their tails for sister series MasterChef.

Cooking his way past 57 other culinary competitors after eight weeks of increasingly tough challenges, Pirathapan gave judges John Torode and Gregg Wallace what Torode claimed was “the best final we’ve ever done” in the show’s 20-series history. Pirathapan’s unique, creative ingredient combinations helped him ultimately claim the title of champion, making him one of the hottest new chef talents to watch in the UK. We spoke to him a few days after his win was televised…

Has winning MasterChef finally sunk in now that the world knows about it?
It was nearly six months between filming my win and it being announced. Obviously, that’s a long time, but we had a lot going on. We’ve been doing a lot of fun stuff away from MasterChef. So it was quite nice that no one knew just yet. I had some time to enjoy it within my family and with my fiancé. Since then, it’s all been busy, but in a really good way. I’m just trying to figure out the kind of projects I want to take on and figure out where I want to go with it all. I’m very tired, though!

Did you have a favourite moment from the show?
I think probably the 20th anniversary banquet was up there with one of the best things I’ve ever done. It was the first huge service we’d done on the show. Then to finish by going into this room and getting a standing ovation from all of our heroes was unbelievable. I was on cloud nine for a long time after. Even looking back at it now, it just doesn’t seem real.

What was the toughest challenge for you?
It was all tough in that I always gave myself lots to do, and I would just be grinding away constantly. But the one that really sticks in my mind is the second challenge, when I had to cook for three of the past contestants, and I just gave myself way too much to do. You only get one hour and 15 minutes to produce a plate. I just didn’t execute it as well as I could have, or would have liked to.

Was there a stand-out dish that really epitomises your current approach to cooking?
The octopus and grapefruit is the pinnacle of the way my mind works. I didn’t know I had the ability to think like that until I was just doing it, and then it just turned out that octopus, grapefruit and rosé are an incredible combination. But I don’t know where it came from. I don’t know how I came up with it, and I wasn’t expecting to get the feedback I did. I really felt like that dish was me saying to the judges, ‘This is me, and this is what I can do. So from now on, you’re going to get kind of this level or higher.

What are some of your favourite Tamil Sri Lankan meals and flavours from growing up?
A classic dish my parents used to make was a Sri Lankan mutton curry. It’s full of depth and uses a cut of meat that generally isn’t used often. I took that for granted as a kid, but growing up and now knowing more about the culinary world, I realised they took a cut of meat that is not seen as fancy or as nice – as it can be tough – and cooked it in a way that helps it take on great flavours and makes it delicious to eat. It would be eaten with their fried aubergine curry, which is just next level. They would bring that to every party. And then there’s a really simple tomato and red onion salad that my dad always makes.
I think the reason I like that is because all three of those dishes with their different flavours balance so well eaten with really sticky plain rice. It is that balancing of multiple flavours which taught me to be the chef I am today.

Where is your favourite place to dine out in Bristol?
I think top for me at the moment, is Sonny Stores in Southville. I remember going in, and the vibe was just so relaxed, but still bustling for a Wednesday lunchtime. The food sang for itself, and the produce they used was clearly of the best quality. It felt like a place where the food was the priority, and you wanted more of everything.

You’ve said you want to do another Chef’s Table from the show – if you could only have three chefs there who would it be?
I was in that era of growing up with Gordon Ramsey constantly on screen. So, I couldn’t not have Gordon there. Then Nathan Outlaw, because I learned a lot of my fish skills and cookery from him. And Monica Galetti. I’ve already cooked for her twice, but she’s such a formidable force pushing women to the forefront of cooking, and I think that’s super important. What she’s done has been incredible for women in in the culinary world.

What’s the future looking like for you?
Veterinary practice is always going to be there. But for now, I’d like to really pursue food. A restaurant is probably more of a long-term goal. At the moment, I think I would like to do quite a lot of private dining and supper clubs around Bristol, which I’m trying to sort out. So you’ll have to watch out for them, because they’re definitely coming. There’s also potentially a book and some other exciting adventures. If I were to eventually have a restaurant, I would go down the fine dining route, but with a lot more of the bold flavours that you saw from me on the show – being able to balance multiple elements in each dish, and it working even though it might not look like it would on paper.

What would you say to other budding Bristol chefs who might want to enter MasterChef but are unsure?
If you’ve allowed yourself to even consider applying, it’s probably time to apply. There is never, ever going to be a time where you think, ‘I’m good enough to win this’, because who knows who you’re going to be up against. I honestly didn’t think I was going to get on the show when I got on it; I didn’t think I was going to make it to the quarter finals or anything. So you need to believe in yourself, but there’s an aspect of just having to take the leap. I learned so much during the show, I became 100 times better than I was when I started – unlocking techniques and flavour development skills that I didn’t know I had. And it honestly was the best few months of my life.

Catch up with MasterChef on BBC iPlayer;; Follow @brin.pirathapan on Instagram