Ginny Sanderson caught up with the only Scot left in MasterChef UK ahead of the penultimate episode to talk about competing during a pandemic, the parallels of jazz and food, and what John and Gregg are really like.
Laura Michael has made it to the final four of the biggest cooking competition on TV.
The jazz musician from Carluke, Lanarkshire is in the running to be crowned champion of MasterChef UK – with just two more challenges to go.
“To get to the finals is absolutely beyond what I could have ever imagined,” says Laura, 46, "It’s been really exciting, the whole experience has been so positive.”
Did she think she would get this far? “Absolutely 100 per cent not, no. I didn’t even think about it, if I did it might have stopped me entering.
"I just wanted to learn how to cook and be under a bit of pressure."
The first episode of finals week saw Laura serve a delicious-looking duck dish to Covid culinary heroes, inspired by her children’s love of Chinese takeaway in lockdown.
Then, she made a decadent apple and custard tart with meringue for judges John Torode and Gregg Wallace which won her a spot in the final four.
Her passion for food was stirred by travelling all over the world as a musician and sampling all kinds of cuisines.
She says: "I think I have always been really into trying to recreate things that I have tasted. I felt like I was always very experimental and hardly ever did the same recipe twice.
"I really pushed myself in my own kitchen and felt like I needed a bit of guidance.”
Glasgow-born Laura has been championing Scottish food on the show, with an earlier dish of fillet steak drizzled with whisky cream and a haggis bon bon.
"I’m very into using local produce,” she says, “Scotland has an abundance of a food larder to pick from.
"I absolutely love the quality of the fish we have in this country. Our fish is getting imported to Spain!
"We visit the Isle of Islay quite a lot and I’m always amazed by the quality of the scallops, Langoustines.”
But how did she go from being a saxophonist and music instructor to creating restaurant-style food?
It turns out the jazz community in Scotland is full of foodies. Laura says: “There are numerous people I know who are jazz musicians who are really good cooks. So I’m starting to think there's a correlation between improvised music and learning to cook!
"There are parallels between creative music and creative cooking. You get that buzz.”
Her experience performing live also helped her not be so nervous with all eyes on her on set, she says.
But what about being under the beady eye of presenters John and Gregg? “They were fab, I love them. Gregg kept us all boosted up and has lots of energy and is very funny.
"But I absolutely love John Torode. I thought he was so calm and had such wisdom about food, just being around him he was so knowledgeable.”
MasterChef was filmed in autumn last year, before Scotland’s second lockdown but with Covid restrictions still in place.
"It was a bit mental, I’ve got to be honest,” says Laura, “I think it would be hard anyway leaving my children, but leaving in the middle of a pandemic when there was an anxiety about coronavirus – that was the most difficult part for me.
"I really struggled. I was away for a period of time. My son is only nine and really struggled with that. That was really hard for me.
"I think there were quite a few contestants who were mothers who felt the same."
But she says the crew were ‘on it 100 per cent’ with safety and were reassuring and supportive.
Laura’s children, who are 11 and nine, kept their mum’s secret, which has paid off as they are allowed to stay up late to watch the show each week.
Her favourite dishes she has made included her roasted bone marrow with a side of fillet steak which she served to food critics for a place in the finals.
"It was so decadent and naughty and also I was really happy with the way it looked,” says Laura.
Her other favourite was her ‘crumble sandwich’, which she says people are constantly sending her pictures of their own versions of.
The public’s response has been “the most overwhelming thing about it all” Laura says.
Each time the show is on air she gets thousands of messages from people in her local area, and from around the UK, willing her on.
"The thing that touched me most at the beginning, it gave so many people hope that they had so much to look forward to. Everybody loves food. It’s the best programme.”
MasterChef finalists have gone on to do great things, from opening restaurants to releasing cookbooks.
Whether she wins the crown or not, Laura says she has a lot of ideas of what she wants to do.
"The food industry’s in a challenging position at the moment because of coronavirus,” she says, “but I haven’t gone through this not to do something with food.”
The finals of MasterChef continue on Thursday at 9pm on BBC One.