Few things are more northern than Masterchef contestant Anthony O’Shaughnessy – we’ve never had someone delay their video interview before, just so they can set up a tripod and keep both hands free to enjoy their cup of tea while chatting…
But the budding chef from Gateshead (that’s south of the Tyne and a whole different place to Newcastle, Southerners) has made waves on the hit show that brought us Wahaca and the most softly spoken voiceover artist ever. He’s been giving the feels of North East takeaway comfort food, pushing the boundaries with tarts on pie week, and grabbing us by the socials, trending #Parmo at No.1 on Twitter for his homeland.
Why are the press and viewers going so mad for Anthony? We wanted to know more about the man behind the Parmo ahead of his return to our screens Thursday night, and here’s what he had to say:
Let’s start with the ‘Parmo’ – why did you choose to cook it on telly?
I thought I’d do something North East inspired – to be honest, I’d always thought my style was more foreign food, but then I thought ‘actually we have really good food up here’, and I realised there are actually things up here that people don’t eat anywhere else. So I was putting my menu together and I wanted to do something wild and crazy but I wanted to cook something quite contemporary, not like suet pudding or something really old fashioned, and parmo was the first thing that sprang to mind – it looks like total trash, but it does taste really, really good! I put it on my menu, but I wanted to dress it up and play with it a little bit, which is risky, as people are really protective of it in Teesside – beetroot ketchup is not really a thing there!
You say in your Instagram that the food we love the most invokes a memory of when we ate it – is there a memory we should know about with the Parmo?
Well I don’t really eat it on nights out as it’s too much, I normally just get chips! If I’ve finished work late, and I’m walking home in the rain (probably having forgotten my umbrella) it’s exactly the kind of food I crave – just trash! So that’s my memory of it, getting home soaking wet in an absolute state, and just have this lovely hot box of sleaze… it’s a treat, and I never feel guilty when I have it!
People seem to have really warmed to your down-to-earth approach and what my mum calls ‘hearty food’ on Masterchef – do you think people are moving back towards comfort food and away from extravagant and posh food?
I think people associate fine foods with having money and being well off, but I’ve never been to a tasting menu place in my life – at the end of the day, people want to be fed. No matter what trends come and go, people always want to have hearty food, especially in this climate in the UK – it’s not often we have sunny weather that makes us want to get up and go, we often want to hide away from it and hearty food suits that best!
Lots of people travel like you and lots of people fancy themselves budding chefs – what drove you to start vlogging on Instagram stories the way you do?
Really the only reason I chose Instagram because I was making videos on Snapchat but I only had about 10 followers so nobody was watching! It wasn’t until Instagram stories came out that I could make videos and be really lazy about it too – I used to have a YouTube channel ages ago but I hate the idea of sitting down editing clips and pasting things together, staring at screens. And to be honest a lot of people who make videos like that for YouTube, they tend to be very deliberate… their kitchen’s spotless, they’ve got loads of props and state of the art equipment – I don’t have all that. Although I haven’t actually asked anyone if they like that about my Instagram videos, I just go off viewership – Instagram is good like that because you can see how many people drop off viewing each clip – although I don’t help myself, I upload my videos as I’m cooking, so sometimes there are two hour gaps because the dish I’m making is in the oven!
Also, I think it sounds mad, but I’m a bit superstitious – I have a theory every time I record something for Instragram stories, it always turns out perfect, but sometimes when I don’t record it, something bad will happen. Maybe it’s like a curse?
You travel an awful lot – you call yourself a “badass Geordie cook munching his way around the world” – does your stomach choose where you go abroad or do you just discover food you like by chance?
It’s kind of a bit of both really, although I would say I don’t really go anywhere where the food isn’t nice… I went to Finland just for the snow and the forests, but the food was actually amazing and really took me by surprise, I’ve got loads of new recipes for my repertoire. If I go somewhere and the food is amazing, it kind of leads me to go somewhere else related. I’m going to Egypt this year off the back of my trip to Lebanon, because I feel the food will be similar but with their own touch. I’ll always try something new though, nothing really phases me.
You’re repping the North East with your cooking (and you said Southerners laugh in your face when you say the North has the best food)- what’s your top three Northern dishes that will shut up any Southerner?
First of all: mince and dumplings. It sounds simple but you can make it really pow-pow-pow. You boil the mince which freaks people out, but you can make great gravy from it – my mam adds gravy granules because she’s lazy *laughs*. Northumbrians make something called leek pudding which I put in the middle of my dumplings, so it’s a mix of two traditions and I think it shows off the North East really well.
Pudding-wise (it’s not really a classic thing), it has to be Newcastle Brown Ale chocolate fudge cake. The fondants which I did on Masterchef are based on this recipe, although I forgot to shake the gas out of the ale, so they went a bit wrong. It’s a lovely smokey cake.
For a snack, saveloy dip – it’s a south Tyneside thing. It sounds horrendous – it’s a sandwich, but they dip both buns in gravy. Then they put pease pudding on the bottom bun, sage and onion stuffing on the top, and a saveloy in the middle, and mustard in there too.
Whilst we’ve got a Northerner on the line we wanted you to settle an age old southern debate too. Scones: jam then cream, or cream then jam?
Erm, I don’t know! They both have pros and cons. I’d say cream first, then jam on top. Because when you put the jam on and then the cream, it kind of glides over and doesn’t stick, it doesn’t have any traction – there’s a lot of physics in scones actually!
You make food from all over the world – how do you manage to get all these exotic ingredients in the north east?
It’s surprising how easily you can get them. I use a good spice supplier online called Seasoned Pioneers. If you don’t know where to get a spice, they’ll usually have it. It’s taken me a long time to get all my spices, as they’re expensive to get all in one go, and I think that puts a lot of people off. When I came back from Latin America, I was really skint and on the dole, but I used to buy a new spice every week, and took a slow approach.
What’s the best thing you’ve ever made?
Queso Fundido (from my time in Mexico) – it means ‘melted cheese’ – it’s a layered dish: chorizo, peppers, onions and cheese stacked up and put in a dish in the oven. You dip tortillas and bread in it – super stringy and gooey. I remember my friend and I making it after drinking half-tequila-margaritas, we were sloshed! Cheese always goes down well when you’re drunk, and we scoffed the whole lot, it was on our faces, in our hair, down our clothes…
And the worst?
I was cooking for my ex boyfriend’s parents to try and impress them, and I made a pineapple upside-down cake. It’s quite a simple cake (I wouldn’t cook it now, it seems really tacky now), and I don’t know if I should say this, but I got a recipe off Delia online and followed it down to the letter and every time it was raw in the middle. This was my third attempt… and it was raw! I covered it in custard to cover it up, but they noticed anyway – it was a really awkward weekend!
As a chef, we need to know your thoughts on Bake Off – do you still like it now it’s on Channel 4?
I actually prefer it! I think it’s really good – I love Mary Berry, but I do think Prue Leith is better because I think she’s more like Paul Hollywood. I think Paul and Mary had two different ends of the stick – some people argue that’s good because Mary was the more sympathetic one, but I think Prue’s quite serious about it, and more like a judge than Mary. Some people might not prefer that but I think they’re more of a team, I don’t think Paul and Mary had much chemistry.
And are you glad that you didn’t make it onto Bake Off now that you’re on Masterchef?
I think so, yeah. At the time I really wasn’t sure, I thought ‘is Masterchef really for me? Is Bake Off better? Is it worth waiting?’ When I heard back from Masterchef I was really shocked, but I didn’t say yes straight away; I really wanted to think it over. The advert for Bake Off came out the day I got the call from Masterchef and I remember thinking ‘I wonder what it would have been like on that show…’ but I thought about it over the weekend, and I thought it had to be a sign that I should go for it. Besides, Masterchef seems more relaxed and about the cooking, whereas Bake Off is more competitive and they really put you through the ringer. The tabloid press kind of jump on Bake Off too and I don’t think that would be my kind of thing.
What’s next for Anthony after the bright lights of TV and Masterchef?
I have no idea to be honest! Don’t get me wrong, I’ve thought about it, but I’m totally open to things – I’ve realised now I want to do something in food. I don’t know if I want to be a chef – it’s exhilarating, but I don’t find cooking the same food every day enticing personally. I like being around people; I don’t think I suit being stuck in the kitchen not seeing the people I’m feeding – I don’t have to eat with them, but it would be great if I could be a chef and a waiter at the same time! *laughs* What would suit me is a food van, but there’s so many now I don’t know if that’s feasible.
Most importantly: Who’s your favourite Spice Girl?
Erm, it used to be Posh, because she didn’t talk much and was a bit mysterious and stand offish, and I like that because I thought it was quite brave, I think she looked at the other Spice Girls and thought ‘get a grip!’ and I like that, it’s a bit more cynical. As I get older though, I kind of appreciate Baby Spice more, I think she’s just a bit friendlier and more happy, and it’s nice to be outwardly friendly to people and make them feel welcome – you don’t see that enough nowadays and I think it’s important. We’ve all got issues and things and might not want to feel that way, but you have to push through because being nice to someone could change their whole day!
Catch Anthony’s cooking tutorials on Instagram – @anthonyshock, and catch him on Masterchef on BBC One Thursday evening.