MasterChef’s Chris Hale: “A large number of captive customers is not an excuse to serve overcooked chicken.”

Masterchef. Chris Hale made it into the 2016 quarter-finals.
Masterchef. Chris Hale made it into the 2016 quarter-finals.

2016 MasterChef quarter-finalist Chris Hale is the new executive chef at The Hepworth gallery Wakefield Café following a collaboration deal struck with Leeds-based House of Koko. The team have launched a new menu combining British classics made from local Yorkshire produce, alongside brunch and lunch options from the existing House of Koko menu. blogger belly dancer and vegan Sophie Hale shares Chris’s story with Eatnorth, in her own words.

WHEN a Wakefield entrepreneur found his way into the MasterChef kitchen, little did he know a new business venture was looming. Not only had Chris Hale (30), made it through to the 2016 quarter-finals of the hit BBC cooking show.

But the father-of-two had produced the most talked about dish of the first episode – impressing judges John Torode and Gregg Wallace with his Indian Sushi fusion.

The Turmeric Prawn Tempura, Tuna and Cumin Nori rolls, Tandoori Chicken Nori rolls, Squid stuffed with mushroom Biryani, Date and Tamarind chutney and South Indian Pepper water received an “ace” from John Torode and trended on Twitter – leading to widespread coverage in the national press.

But it was Chris’s “signature dessert of chocolate soil, banana ice-cream, tempered chocolate with a warm caramel sauce that led him to the quarter-finals and his passion to want to pursue a new career as a chef.

The son of a baker, Chris says: “I’ve always loved cooking but in the past few years I’ve started to take it seriously.

“I’m self-taught so I saw MasterChef as the perfect place to learn some skills.”

Off the back of Chris’ MasterChef success he set up Pop Up North catering company – offering contemporary fine dining and food for events, weddings, parties and private dining. Chris’s experience of creating and delivering one-off event menus will enable The Hepworth Wakefield to further develop its wedding and special events offer within the gallery and adjacent converted mill The Calder.

“It’s always astounding to me how poor food can be at events. Having a large number of captive customers is not an excuse to serve some overcooked chicken,” he says.

“I see good food as an integral and important part of any event; it breaks down barriers and can make a good event into an unforgettable event!”

Sophie and Chris Hale at The Hepworth Cafe
Sophie and Chris Hale at The Hepworth Cafe

Chris honed his cheffing style and skills by working around the UK including London and in France.

“I’d well and truly got the chef bug, and working with and learning from talented chefs across the country has helped take my food to another level.

“I just love surprising people with my creations.”

His talent was quickly spotted and he was offered work in restaurants “left, right and centre.”

But Chris, who also runs an altitude training company was determined to continue his pop ups as he didn’t want the learning curve to end.

“I love the creativity of being a chef and running pop up restaurants forces me to constantly create new ideas, menus and concepts.

Some of his creations have included  designing ‘A Taste of Yorkshire’: Yorkshire Gravlax: Salmon Gravlax, Mason’s Gin & Tonic Jelly, Pickled Cucumber, Dill cream and Tarragon Aioli, Herb crusted lamb, liquorice confit lamb neck, caramelized fennel & pomme puree  and liquorice pannacotta with Yorkshire rhubarb & parkin crumb.

“All I think about is food and all the different combinations,” he explains.

A family man at heart, he could not resist the opportunity to tender for the catering contract at respected gallery The Hepworth Wakefield.

“Not only is it the most iconic place in Wakefield, its growth in stature and positive impact of bringing people and money into Wakefield really aligned with my passion for the city,” he says.

Hepworth gallery café launch
Hepworth Wakefield café launch

Chris partnered coffee and tea shop House of Koko to tender and after a lengthy process of pitches and talks – they were announced as the new owners in summer and set about redesigning the dining space with playful fitted furniture by Plæy Workshop.

Within weeks the team (Chris Hale and myself – alongside  Shanshan Zhu and husband Chris Ball set about transforming The Hepworth Cafe.

House of Koko husband and wife team Shanshan Zhu and Chris Ball.
House of Koko husband and wife team Shanshan Zhu and Chris Ball.

The cafe has been given an exciting and refreshing facelift and is promising to make three key offerings….good food, good coffee and good service.

So what does the future hold for Chris?

“I’m loving being an executive chef at The Hepworth, and we have some really exciting plans within the cafe, but also creating fantastic foodie events.

“We are looking to grow the cafe so it becomes a foodie destination in its own right. Meanwhile, I have an exciting run of events across the country in 2018…..

Meanwhile, pop along to the café to discover the delights of Steak and ale pie using locally sourced beef, slowly braised in Ossett brewery ales and served with pickled carrots & skinny fries; the full vegan: homemade baked beans ,sweetcorn fritters, half an avocado, tomato & chilli jam, crispy red onions, salad and toast or figs and Wild Mushroom Ragu on sourdough.

Explore the work of Barbara Hepworth and Henry Moore – both born in the Wakefield district – alongside other modern British masters, including Eileen Agar, Jacob Epstein, Patrick Heron, Ben Nicholson, John Piper, Lucie Rie and Graham Sutherland at the art gallery:

Picture of Barbara Hepworth
Picture courtesty of Hepworth Gallery

The Hepworth Wakefield
Gallery Walk
West Yorkshire

+44 (0)1924 247360


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