DAD-OF-TWO Mike Bartley had thought about applying to MasterChef many times over the years but it was during lockdown that he finally took the plunge and sent off the forms.

Before he knew it he’d passed the online auditions and was in the studio kitchen for the televised finals of the 17th series of BBC One’s popular cookery competition.

Despite just missing out on a quarter final place, the MasterChef experience has been a catalyst for change for the 35-year-old.

After a decade working for Starbucks in various roles, from café manager at The Bridges in Sunderland to loss prevention, whilst studying law with the Open University, he quit his job to turn fulltime foodie.

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He recently set up his business DJAM Kitchen, which will have various strands but currently focusses on private dining in people’s homes or holiday accommodation.

He has also launched his first product, Dine @ Home, for which he prepares and partially cooks a three-course meal and delivers it to customers around County Durham - with instructions on how to finish and serve their meals.

“I’ve had a really encouraging start, and am now booked up for 2021 and taking bookings for 2022.

“It’s been amazing, people have been welcoming and I’ve learnt so much already – including taking a bin and washing up liquid with me as I always clean up after cooking.

“I love sharing my food and ideas with people, sourcing as many ingredients as possible locally and that includes foraging which I’ve got really into.”

Mike’s first big event was a private dining event for 35 people at Lanchester Garden Centre – where he returns next month along with two other MasterChef stars.


Jim Parsons and Ross Gregor

Jim Parsons and Ross Gregor

He will be joined by fellow 2021 contestants Jim Parsons and Ross Gregor for a festive pop-up dinner on December 11.

They will each add their own dishes to a six or seven flash-course menu including Mike’s celeriac croquette with damson ketchup, venison loin and a sea buckthorn tart.

“It features some of my favourite ingredients including damsons from The Batts in Bishop Auckland and sea buckthorn which is abundant on the coast here.

“It will be great to cook with Jim and Ross, when we were on the show we didn’t get to cook for other people, meet up or taste each other’s food because of Covid restrictions.

“We only met the judges, Gregg Wallace and John Torode, when they walked into the studio with a fork to taste our food so it’s great to be meeting up with all these people and working together.

“I hope people will find it a really enjoyable event and enjoy our food,” he said.


Sea buckthorn tart

Sea buckthorn is one of Mike's favourite foraged ingredients, here it is turned into atart


Alongside his career change, Mike and his partner Tammy, a nurse, got married in the summer, they are parents to two young boys, Dexter and Jake, and the family recently moved from Mike’s home town Bishop Auckland to Crook.

He said: “It’s been busy but if I was going to do it I had to do it straight away.

“I launched my own business DJAM Kitchen – Dexter, Jake And Mike’s Kitchen – even though I couldn’t get Tammy’s name in there she’s very supportive.

“The boys don’t really like my food though, they just want kids’ food and Bolognese.

“I’m only two-and-a-half months in and I’m not looking back, I think it was definitely the right thing to do while the opportunities are there for me.”


Seaham Food Festival. Local chef Mike Bartley gives a demo and shows the finished dish. 7/8/21 Pic Doug Moody Photography.

Mike Bartley with his finished dish after a demo at Seaham Food Festival in AUgust 2021 PIcture: DOUG MOODY


Two big opportunities that came Mike’s way were celebrity chef appearances at Seaham and Bishop Auckland Food Festivals earlier this year.

“Bishop food festival especially was a bit of an ambition, I’d been so many times and watched the TV chefs from the other side so to be one of the guests was incredible.

“Mind, the weather was unreal at Bishop. It was lashing down and so windy, Chris Bavin was the host and he was grating Parmesan on one side of the stage and I was catching it on the other.

“I kept seeing faces in the crowd I recognised and I got really good advice from people like Rosemary Shrager.

“Once I got over the nerves whilst being miked up for the very first demo at Seaham I loved it. I really hope they have me back, but hopefully Bishop isn’t in October or at least with such bad weather next time.”

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