A DAD-OF-TWO from County Durham said it was "really gutting" to narrowly miss out on a place in the MasterChef quarter finals.

Cafe manager Mike Bartley cooked up three stunning dishes in the first episode of the cookery competition's 17th series, which started on BBC One on Monday.

He impressed judges Gregg Wallace and John Torode with his take on scampi and chips in the opening round, followed by a two course meal of venison with celeriac gratin and an Earl Gray panna cotta with baked peaches.

The Northern Echo:

The Northern Echo:

Sending him home, Gregg Wallace told Mr Bartley: "It was a such a tight call, you cooked really well."

The Northern Echo:

The Northern Echo:

The Northern Echo:

The 34-year-old, from Bishop Auckland, said: "I had kind of braced myself for it but to know I have got so close is really gutting, heartbreaking."

The show was recorded at the MasterChef studios in London, and Mr Bartley said he found the experience enjoyable and fascinating.

He plans to keep working on his culinary skills and experimenting with ingredients, including those he forages with the eldest of his two sons.

In a message to supporters, he said: "Firstly, thank you so much for all of your support and kind messages. It’s going to take me a while to get back to everyone, but I promise I will! What a gut wrenching way to go, eh?!

"So close to a QF place - if it was any other year I would got through (damn you Covid)!

"I honestly had the best time of my life though and I’m so grateful to have been a part of MasterChef.

"I think I knew deep down at the time that my dish choices weren’t good enough but I felt like going back to the drawing board at the last minute would have been too much of a gamble.

"In the build up I tweaked my venison dish and lost the essence of it, and in the end the dish just wasn’t ‘me’ and I think that showed.

"I’m proud to say that I gave it my best shot on the day, but I was beaten by two better cooks.

"After I left the show I thought I’d want to take a break from cooking, but it has been the total opposite.

"MasterChef is the beginning of my food journey, not the peak, and I can’t wait to get started on what happens next.

"Good luck to Tom and Madeeha for the rest of the competition. I’ll be rooting for you both!

"Once I left the show I’m out of the loop so I genuinely have no idea how they got on. But I will say this - Tom is a phenomenal cook and a great guy, and I firmly believe he can go on to win the whole thing.

"Finally, thank you to Tammy [his fiancee] and my boys, who have been so immensely supportive through the highs and lows. They were forced to eat the same (often cold) food for days on end and never complained once!"