AS a former semi-finalist on Masterchef: the Professionals chef Andi Walker knows a thing or two about pressure.

But being solely responsible for almost every aspect of his weekly pop-up restaurant in the heart of Essex is getting close to those levels of responsibility.

He researches all the ingredients and sources them himself, creates a bespoke menu which changes on a weekly basis and then cooks it and even serves it up himself - he even does the clearing up and cleaning up afterwards.

“That is what I have just been doing actually, doing all the wiping down and cleaning.

“I pretty much do it all myself, even taking the dishes to the table.

“Customers really love that - they like to talk about the dishes and give you feedback, which is invaluable, and also to talk about what I have done in the past.

“Of course, Masterchef comes up a lot !” he laughs.

Andi, who is from Harlow where he now lives once again, says he had always wanted to cook from a young age and once he was old enough he began studying to do just that, working on a day release college scheme and then travelling to Chelmsford to learn the paperwork side of things.

He says he has come full circle with his role as executive chef with the Blue Group, which runs four restaurants across mid and north Essex, including the William B in Hatfield Peverel, the Blue Anchor in Kelvedon and Chelmsford’s Riverside Inn where his pop-up restaurant currently takes up residence in the upstairs room every Thursday, Friday and Saturday until November.

After that there are exciting plans in the offing to open up a permanent restaurant, which Andi hints will most likely also be in Chelmsford, which will continue the pop-up ethos.

“Nowhere else is really doing anything like that around here.

“What is special about, and different about it, is there is a set menu which I create and serve.

“Having the taster menu, which is changing all the time means I have to be very creative because I set myself a challenge within that not to repeat myself and so far I haven’t.”

Andi also always uses seasonal produce and is very hands-on in the choosing of the ingredients.

“I suppose I am quite romantic in that way, I like to have a good relationship with whoever is producing the meats and the vegetables.

“For example the pork comes from Great Garnetts in Dunmow and I know them really well, I have been down there and seen the pigs and I know they are well looked after and I then want to give it the same respect.”

And he says it is a question of suppliers telling him what they have for him to buy rather than him ringing up to request them.

Now the seasons are changing he says diners can expect a more autumnal feel to the ingredients and dishes he is using.

“It is all a bit heavier, comforting so we are using a lot of apples and blackberries as those are all ripe to be picked now.

“We actually have some lovely blackberry bushes near to the Riverside Inn so I have been known to send out some of the guys downstairs to get some for me to cook in the dishes,” says Andi.

The tasting menu can also be a chance for people to try something they might not otherwise have done - and to be a bit more adventurous.

“The response has been absolutely brilliant and we have really built up quite a following of dedicated diners who are coming back time again.

“One couple have been 16 times alone and there has been a real word of mouth thing going on too, people bringing back friends and relatives.

“Even if people have said they might not have ordered something I have served up, they have pretty much always said they really liked it once they had eaten it.

“I really love hearing what people have to say about the food - that is the beauty of doing something on a slightly smaller scale.”

And he says he really doesn’t mind those questions about Masterchef - his appearance on which was undoubtedly a boost to his career.

“I do think pretty much all the people who appear on that show would go on to huge success anyway but there is no doubt it helps give you a platform to start from.

“I made really good friends on there and I have stayed in touch with those of us who made it to the last 10 on the series I was on and done some fundraising events together for dementia charities.

“There is no doubt getting the validation of Marcus Wareing and Monica, the judges on there was a big deal but you are putting a lot on the line when you go on thee professional Masterchef because it is your livelihood.

“The contestants on Masterchef have other jobs to go back to but this is what we do, day to day so the risk is a bit higher I suppose,” explains Andi.

Salted Baked Celeriac 

Try your hand at one of Andi’s recipes which he recently served up for a sold-out pop-up restaurant evening.

1 Celeriac 
Pickled onions
1 Granny smith apple
1 Bramley apple
Celery cress
Truffle oil

1. Wash the celeriac, roll it in salt and bake it at 180 degrees until it is tender, which should take around two hours. 
2. Once baked, crack the salt surrounding the celeriac and peel it.
3. Spoon a small amount of mustard onto the plate and add pickled onions, fresh apple slices, celery cress and drizzle with truffle 
4. Using half the Bramley apples and half Granny smith apples, burn them until black and blend them to make a puree. 
5. Put all of the components together for a fusion of sweet, sour and spice. Enjoy!