Ballinasloe food blogger has celebrity chefs licking their lips

Barry Johnston impressing Nigella Lawson, Anthony Bourdain and Ludo Lefebvre on Channel Four’s ‘The Taste’

Barry Johnston from Ballinasloe, now living in London: “I’m not one of those people who goes on a reality show to do the job you would have to go to training college to do.”

Barry Johnston from Ballinasloe, now living in London: “I’m not one of those people who goes on a reality show to do the job you would have to go to training college to do.”

Tue, Jan 14, 2014, 18:14


All eyes may be on Nigella Lawson in her new reality TV show but Irish contestant Barry Johnston and his friends play “Quote Bingo” during episodes of The Taste.

Points are won when contestants utter the words “my journey” or “I really want this” or the classic “I want it 110 per cent”.

The London-based Ballinasloe native, who turns 28 today, wowed Lawson and fellow celebrity judges Anthony Bourdain and Ludo Lefebvre in the first episode of the Channel Four show broadcast last week.

Contestants are judged on an anonymous spoonful of food. His mackerel, pickled beet, tempura samphire and wasabi mayo dish got him into the last 12.

In colourful behind-the-scenes blog posts, Johnston has been describing the experience – one of long periods of “dead waiting time punctuated by moments of intense activity”.

The filming was done over a month last October at Pinewood Studios outside London and Barry is sworn to secrecy about how his “journey” ends.

One possible kiss of death to his chances was Ludo Lefebvre’s declaration that whoever cooked the mackerel “is going to win this competition with a dish like that”. First rule of reality television? The top contestant must crash and burn.

Johnston, who originally blogged about the “secret eating habits of the young Irish male” under the name Cathal Johnston, has no formal culinary training.

He says he came to love cooking from watching Ready Steady Cook after school.

He was offered a place on the first MasterChef Ireland competition, but it came alongside a job offer from the international relations department of the British Houses of Parliament.

“It was a case of deciding between the fun or the sensible option and I listened to my mammy,” he tells The Irish Times.

He now works with Christian Aid in London and spent much of last year working on the Enough Food IF campaign to highlight hunger at the G8 Summit.

Friends encouraged him to try out for The Taste.

Would he like to be a chef? “I’m not one of those people who goes on a reality show to do the job you would have to go to training college to do.”

He was impressed by the “calibre and skills” of the real chefs on the show, he says, “but it’s not for me”.

Did his hero Anthony Bourdain live up to his expectations? “He’s so exactly what you see with that New York forget-about-it laid-back approach.”

Despite Bourdain’s admission that he is “paid to eat and drink now”, Johnston says the American celebrity chef hasn’t lost his kitchen skills.

London-based Irish chef Richard Corrigan is due to appear on the show this evening.

Meanwhile, Johnston’s immediate priority is a move to Peckham where he is swapping a tiny galley space for a “big gorgeous kitchen”.