A MAJOR new chapter has begun for former Professional Master Chef contestant Andi Walker.

Fresh from a hugely successful year which has seen him head to Paris for an exclusive pop-up event Andi has officially taken over the entirety of the restaurant at the Riverside Inn in Chelmsford.

Andi, a semi-finalist in 2015 on Masterchef: the Professionals, had been executive chef for the Blue Group in Essex, recently focusing on his pop-up dining experience in the upstairs area of the Riverside Inn.

Using seasonal produce and challenging himself to never repeat his menu which was changing on an almost weekly basis, Andi quickly established a loyal group of diners who kept coming back for second, and third helpings.

And crucially bringing their friends and relatives with them.

Having held an exciting launch event last month with cocktails and canapes he is also now in charge of the dining room in the main area of the 17th Century Mill building which has been refurbished in preparation for the new direction.

The Blue Group is owned by Steve Andrews, under whom Andi has taken full control of the restaurant’s with what he describes as a brand-new, bistro-inspired approach.

Gazette: Dining - the upstairs area at the Riverside Inn will remain the same.

The Blue group also owns the William B in Hatfield Peverel, the Blue Anchor in Kelvedon and the Blue Crown in Brentwood.

Andi says his philosophy of using only the finest locally-sourced, seasonal produce has been transferred to the entire restaurant, which will be split into three distinct parts.

He explains : “The bar area will be for those wanting lighter refreshments, while the main gastro pub will continue to run downstairs.

“As for the upstairs of the restaurant, the fine dining cuisine will continue to be served.

“This will consist of a seven-course tasting menu which will change in line with the availability of local and seasonal produce.”

He is also planning to launch a brunch menu in March. Andi, who is from Harlow where he lives with his five-year-old son, has had a busy year.

In September he hosted the Noise of Strangers Pop-up event in Leeds and created and served an exclusive autumn menu at a sold-out two-night event at Cafe Otto in Central Paris.

And last month he reached the finals in a regional Chef of the Year competition.

Gazette: Skill - pork tenderloin dish prepared by Andi Walker.

As well as working a number of high-profile kitchens including being head chef at the Woodford and King’s College Cambridge, he has also worked at the three AA Rosette Tuddenham Mill in Suffolk and trained under work-renowned chef Anton Edelmann.

He admits he is hugely excited to get his teeth stuck into his latest project at the Chelmsford restaurant.

“Following the continued success of my pop-up restaurant on the top floor, it seems natural to make this a permanent fixture.

“I’m also delighted to take over of the rest of The Riverside Inn and can’t wait to start serving amazing dishes in the pub downstairs.

“We hope as an independent restaurant with local suppliers, the people in Chelmsford and the surrounding areas will get behind us and really enjoy what we are about to do.”

Andi says the fine dining pop-up restaurant had given people the opportunity to try dishes they might not have ordered otherwise because the menu was set.

Gazette: A dessert from one of Andi's pop-up events.

“They will often say they probably would not have thought of ordering it but when they had it they were converted and it would give them the confidence to choose it another time.

“That is the beauty of it and it has really taken off,” adds Andi.

Passionate about supporting local businesses, goodie bags were given to all guests at the launch event containing products developed by Essex-based companies, from Fairfields Farm Crisps and Retrocorn to Boutique Brownies.

The Riverside Inn has now been split into three distinct areas: the bar, suitable for those wanting a lighter option; the main gastro pub in the downstairs area where crispy chilli beef salad, monkfish scampi, crispy confit duck leg and chocolate fondant with peanut butter ice cream are all on the menu and then the fine-dining restaurant upstairs.

This will continue to be a six-course tasting menu changing in accordance with the availability of local and seasonal produce.

Andi says: “Following the continued success of the pop-up restaurant I ran on the top floor, it seemed natural to make it a permanent fixture.

"I am delighted with the launch and thrilled with the response we received from the first weekend of the official take over at The Riverside Inn.

"I am now simply excited to serve my own creations week on week."