It was the moment a friendship suddenly seemed as if it may have the potential to be something so much more. The gesture that made Lisa Faulkner look at MasterChef presenter John Torode in a whole new light.
John went on to propose on Christmas Day last year, but Lisa has told P.S. how it was a bit of old-fashioned courting that originally won her over.
Although the pair first met when Lisa won MasterChef back in 2010, romance didn’t blossom until a few years later.
“It’ll be 10 years in November since we filmed it but I think I probably said about eight words to him in the whole competition,” said Lisa, 47, who has just started her own ITV cookery show with John, 53.
“You see him and Gregg Wallace, you cook for them, they judge it and then you go. It’s a very separate thing. They’re the judges and it’s not like you’re hanging out, all chummy-chummy – I was terrified of them.”
Lisa was married to actor Chris Coghill at the time but they divorced in 2011 and she kept bumping into Aussie chef John at food shows and other events.
“We’d chatted and had a nice time, but then he wrote me a note asking me to dinner,” recalled Lisa.
“I thought it was just the loveliest, most gentlemanly thing anybody had ever done. I thought then that maybe this might work.”
Lisa had been known as an actress before she wowed with her skills on the BBC’s perennially popular cookery show. Holby City, Spooks and Murder in Suburbia were just a few of her roles.
However, the newfound second career in the culinary world almost never happened for Lisa, who had just adopted daughter Billie.
“I actually turned it down the year before,” explained Lisa. “When they asked me again, I’d had a year out because of my daughter and I was thinking I should take anything, as I was scared I wasn’t going to get any work.
“I ended up doing about five jobs at the same time, which is just typical.
“I didn’t see it as any kind of new opportunity until I was really embedded in the competition and I realised how much I was enjoying it.”
After she won, Lisa was so hooked she asked the show’s producers to help her find work in real restaurant kitchens to get experience and brush up on her culinary skills.
She did shifts in posh London restaurants, including Michel Roux Jr’s, picking herbs, doing basic preparation and working her way up. Cookbooks and food show appearances followed.
“It made my heart beat again,” said Lisa. “I was going up for acting jobs that just weren’t that exciting. I felt like I’d just be playing myself and I wanted to do something different.
“It was lovely to go into an environment where nobody cared what I did, they just wanted me to cook. I felt excited to get up again in the morning, even if it was dragging a stock pot around or writing a whole load of recipes. I took little bits of acting work that came along but then it became mostly about food.”
John and Lisa’s Weekend Kitchen, which started last week, sees the couple cook simple yet delicious dishes on Sunday mornings, sharing tips and advice. Working and living together can be a recipe for disaster for some but Lisa is adamant that’s not an issue.
“We’ve worked together for This Morning so this really is a dream job because we actually really like each other. We prop each other up when we get a bit tired and look after one another.
“It just mirrors what we do at home, where we cook together all the time.”
So, what’s the real John like, the man behind the sometimes-stern judge we see on MasterChef?
“He’s funny, sensitive, kind,” said Lisa. “He cares so much about people and he puts 100% into every job he does. And I think he’s pretty handsome, too!”
She says the festive proposal came totally out of the blue. “I had no idea. It was lovely.”
EastEnders was the job that really got Lisa back into acting, hitting screens in 2017 as businesswoman Fi Browning.
“I didn’t know if it was something I wanted to do at first but I just loved it,” said Lisa. “Within minutes I knew it was right. I did my first scene and felt my heart soar. I remember looking up at the sky and feeling so blessed.”
Lisa is in the upcoming ITV drama Confession, starring Martin Freeman, but her attention at the moment is very much on her cookery shows with John.
And while Lisa’s MasterChef’s days are the best part of a decade ago, it’s an obsession she can’t shake off. She still tunes in religiously with John. “It’s my favourite thing to watch,” she says.
Lisa has a book out in June, one that’s very different from her foodie books, The Way I Cook and Tea & Cake.
She and Chris adopted Billie, now 13, when she was 15 months old, but only after years of trying to have a baby.
She spent tens of thousands of pounds on IVF treatment and wanted to share her experiences with others in Meant To Be.
“I went through quite an ordeal to have my daughter,” confides Lisa. “Trying to become a mother was difficult.
“I went through so much with IVF and ectopic pregnancies. I didn’t feel like there was anyone out there and no books that said it was okay and that there was another path.
“I wanted to write a book that was like a hand to hold for anyone going through those times when the road to motherhood isn’t particularly smooth.
“It can be really tough for women and there were dark times. There were days when I just wanted to curl up under the covers, read a book or watch a boxset and not see anyone.
“But you can’t. You just put your game face on and go for it. I feel lucky that I do what I do and I’d tell myself to shut up and get on with it.”
However, Lisa insists the book is far from a misery-fest.
“It’s funny, too, when I look back, but it took some time to write this. I needed to step away from it.”
Billie is, understandably, the centre of Lisa’s world.“She’s fantastic – a teenager, but fantastic,” she laughs. “She cooks a bit – she’d rather make a dinner than a cake. If only there was a way to get her cooking with a phone attached to her. At the moment I can still say, ‘you’ve got half an hour and I’m taking it away’ but I don’t know how much longer that will last.”
Sausage rolls and family life
John and Lisa’s Weekend Kitchen is the latest cookery show for John Torode, who started presenting MasterChef in 2005.
He says keeping it simple is key to happy home cooking. “I think you should go back to basics, first and foremost,” he said.
“Cooking takes a long time to learn so learn how to roast a chicken, how to make a good stew, a really nice curry, some flatbread – from those you can make anything you like. I want people to be relaxed about food and not think they have to make a three-course meal for it to be something fantastic and delicious.”
While fine dining may be the aspiration of many, John says his top taste is a lot simpler. “The dish I’ve eaten most in my life has probably been a sausage roll because it is convenient and there are so many different varieties.”
Although the new show is filmed in a studio, it has homely touches and John insists it’s really much like domestic life for himself and Lisa.
“At home, the only difference is, we would take a bit more time,” he adds. “We’d probably have a bottle of wine, maybe a radio station playing and a child coming in, making conversation.
“And it’s important to compromise. We make a decision about who is going to do the main bit and who is going to help out, and that’s fine.”
John and Lisa’s Weekend Kitchen, Sundays, 11.30am on ITV
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