Chariya Khattiyot has claimed the coveted MasterChef title, after bowling over judges Gregg Wallace and John Torode with flavours from northern Thailand.
The master coffee roaster (40) competed against accountant Anurag Aggarwal (41) and toy developer Omar Foster (31) in the final cook-off before being crowned champion of the BBC One competition on Thursday.
After many weeks of competition against 44 ambitious contestants, Chariya said of her win: “This is unbelievable. It means the world, the sun, the moon and everything to me. I don’t think anything can top this. I’m so happy.
“This just proves that if you dream something and you work really hard and you never give up, you can get it. That’s what my grandad said to me – never give up. He would be so proud of me.”
Her winning menu started with a Thai lotus tuille, filled with coconut jelly and fried king prawns which Wallace, 58, described as a “delicate little morsel packing a very big punch”.
Her main course was a traditional Northern Thai “khantoke” sharing platter which included a Wagyu sirloin steak in hung lay curry sauce and minced lamb in a spicy tomato and shrimp paste.
Chariya, who was born in Thailand but lives in Basingstoke in England, finished the menu with her take on strawberries and cream in a nod to the UK and her childhood, when she looked forward to eating strawberries once a year with her grandad.
After the tasting, Wallace said: “Since the first time you walked into this kitchen, it’s been dish upon dish of exciting, beautiful food.
“What I really admire about you is just how hard you work in pursuit of perfection to really uncover new technique, to find bigger and bigger flavour.
“Do you know who else has those qualities? Top professional chefs. You are the real deal. You’re an amazing cook.”
The episode saw both judges shed a tear after crowning Chariya, who previously said that lifting the trophy would inspire girls who have a hard life to achieve their dreams.
Torode (57) said: “Chariya’s food has always been honest and from the heart. It’s always exciting, it’s always unusual and it’s always been beautiful and addictive.
“And not just punchy, exciting Thai flavours that we saw at the start, but also exceptional, innovative and exciting technique all the way through. A proper master.”
From the start of the competition, Chariya was passionate about bringing Northern Thai cuisine to the UK, while making use of local ingredients.
She said: “Thai food is not just tom yam and pad thai. It has so many flavours, layers and textures and that is phenomenal.
“In many ways, my dishes are a fusion between South East Asian and western food. I spend hours and hours in the kitchen perfecting my recipes, but I also love to have fun with them.
“I’ve loved watching MasterChef for many years and decided to enter the competition so I could showcase Northern Thai cuisine. In some ways I’ve been mentally preparing for this for a while.
“I was initially nervous to cook for John and Gregg, but they were so supportive and they made me want to be the best. I’m also very competitive by nature and I think that’s helped with my mindset in the competition.”
The amateur chef said she is excited about the future “turning this love of cooking into a profession”.
She added: “Long term, my dream is to open a restaurant, and eventually multiple restaurants, where I can showcase the food of my homeland in Northern Thailand, and hopefully work towards earning a Michelin star.
“I want to show the world that Northern Thai food is amazing, because it really is. I just love to see people’s faces light up when they eat my food.”
The final week saw the contestants travel to Istanbul, Turkey, for a set of challenges which included working at two-star Michelin restaurant Turk, and the penultimate Chef’s Table challenge hosted at Core, the three Michelin starred restaurant run by renowned chef Clare Smyth.
Applications for MasterChef 2024 are now open on masterchef.tv.