Yann Florio: Hackney-based cook reaches MasterChef: The Professionals semi-finals
PUBLISHED: 13:58 09 December 2019 | UPDATED: 14:33 09 December 2019
Yann Florio has always been a cooking prodigy. He began his training at the age of 14, was working in Luxembourg's Michelin-starred La Pomme Canelle by 18 and was appointed head pastry chef at Corrigans, in Mayfair, when he was just 23. This journey started with some harsh words from his school teacher.
"I was a school drop-out," says the 30-year-old, who hails from Lorraine in north-east France. "I was 14 and at that turning point where you have to choose your passion - literature, history, math - I chose cooking and all my teachers told me: 'dude, this is not going to happen for you. You're too much of a mess.' [It was] a very cruel thing to say!"
Sixteen years later and the decisions Florio made at such a tender age have been justified. Now the co-founder of his own private dining company - Far Out Food - the Homerton resident is also through to the semi-finals of MasterChef: The Professionals, which are airing on BBC Two this week.
"It's been absolutely amazing so far," adds Florio, commenting on his time on the show. "It's been a little bit of a bumpy road for me - I've been hit and miss on some occasions - [but] overall I think I've had a pretty strong competition so far. I've been showing my style and I think the judges really get it.
"On some occasions there has been incredible feedback, even from the critics. There is one comment that will stay with me from Grace Dent, [she said] 'Yann will either never cook again after this competition, or will have three Michelin stars, and we'll no longer be able to get in to his restaurant!"
How has Florio adjusted to cooking on camera, in one of the UK's most popular food programmes?
"There is a lot of pressure. I can say that there is nothing that can prepare you! Being under pressure to make a dish is [part of] your everyday life, but it's all about the context of the show. They know where the drama is, they know where to push you, they play their cards very well - they have it nailed down.
"For the skill test they keep you in the room for a while, not saying what's next, and then push you in front of ten cameras and three angry looking judges!"
Florio has become a familiar face for MasterChef's regular viewers, progressing through the heat and quarter-final stages in recent weeks. He's cooked dishes including Poached guinea fowl breast with Sauce Robert and Hispi cabbage; Veal sweetbread in a toasted hazelnut crumb, celeriac and apple puree; and Macha and coconut rice pudding with packed pear, lemon and vanilla. In the second of his appearances, his food was analysed by critics William Sitwell, Grace Dent and Jimi Famurewa.
Florio says the programme has given his personal profile a boost - "today for example, three or four people have recognised me on the street" - but in terms of actually seeing himself on screen: "I don't think I've watched myself yet. Every time I'm on screen I am cringing and covering my eyes!"
When he's not on prime time TV, you'll likely find Florio drumming in a band - music is another of his passions - or running Far Out Food, the catering company he set-up with Graham Brittain in Dalston three years ago.
"Our food is rooted in a concept that we call sustainable decadence," Florio says. "I strongly believe that the sky is falling on our head. You can't not see that there is a climate change crisis. Even the most wasteful of industries are taking a stand and making these little changes that are so important. That should be part of how a catering company is organised.
"[Companies are] starting to head towards sustainability, to manage their wastage or give it to charity. It has to be done [because] in 50 years time, if there are still fish in the sea, all these chefs are going to want to cook them."
Far Out Food offer fully personalised menus for private dining, corporate events and pop-ups, but they're also striving to create an enjoyable working environment for staff. For Florio, this is a direct response to his highly stressful experience working in a restaurant industry beset with problems of bullying.
"There's just such a massive world of bullies, they ruin it a lot," he explains. "I've seen some chefs giving up on their whole career because they thought they weren't good enough, [when really] they just weren't for that set up of restaurant. That doesn't mean their dream of being a chef should be over.
"We're trying to make it a nice environment [at Far Out Food]. We try to develop friendships with people that we work with, rather than seeing them as staff."
MasterChef: The Professionals, continues tomorrow, Wednesday and Thursday from 8pm on BBC Two. More information on Far Out Food here.