In a triumphant comeback, BBC Three welcomes back Young MasterChef for its eagerly awaited second series. Nine of the nation’s most talented young cooks are hitting the pause button on their everyday lives to showcase their culinary prowess in a high-stakes competition. Leading the charge in scrutinizing their every move is the renowned Michelin-trained social media sensation, Poppy O’Toole, who will be accompanied by a fresh face on the judging panel – none other than chef, author, and YouTube food star, Big Has.

Amidst the backdrop of Britain’s red-hot food revolution, a wave of ambitious young food enthusiasts is making waves with innovative street food ventures, pop-ups, and a burgeoning fan base on social media platforms.

The culinary trailblazers, who are rewriting the gastronomic rulebook and reshaping the industry, are poised to take on the MasterChef kitchen once again. The burning question remains – who possesses the skills and determination to make it to the grand finale? The stage is set for the ultimate kitchen battle as Young MasterChef returns to shake up the culinary scene in 2024.

Catch the sizzling action of Young MasterChef on BBC Three and iPlayer, premiering on Monday 8 January at 8 pm.

Get ready to meet the discerning palates behind the judging table – Poppy O’Toole and Big Has, as they guide and critique the aspiring young chefs on their quest for culinary excellence.

Q&A with Big Has

Big Has in the MasterChef kitchen smiling and pointing to the camera
Big Has (Image: BBC/Shine TV)

Welcome to the MasterChef family Big Has! How does it feel being a judge now after appearing as a guest last series?

It’s a major honour to be involved in a show as prestigious as MasterChef. Seeing the contestants’ eagerness to learn and show off their backgrounds through food is something that I’m all about.  I really enjoyed being a guest on the last series. Like food, you’ve got to leave people with a good taste of who you are and luckily the producers bought what I was “cooking”!

What is it like filming the series?        

I was super nervous on day one – big up to Poppy though! She was super warm and welcoming and the entire team looked after me. It’s a bit like the first day of school – having to suss people out and see the way the show works from behind the scenes. There’s such a good vibe in the studio. The team is like a family and I can see why they’ve worked on it together for so long. They really are the unsung heroes of the show and they’re all such great people. 

What has it been like to work alongside Poppy as a co-judge?

Poppy is honestly one of the nicest people I’ve ever worked with. We got on really well from the beginning by sharing war stories of kitchens we’ve worked in and having a little gossip. I couldn’t have asked for a better co-host. She took me under her wing, showed me the ropes and we just got it cracking. Poppy is the real deal. 

Would you say you’re the strict or easy-going judge between yourself and Poppy?

I was aiming to be the fun uncle! I didn’t want to tear anyone apart or be the reason why one of the contestants stopped cooking. At the end of the day, it’s a competition and someone has got to take home the trophy.

Did you resonate at all with the contestants as someone who also got into cooking at a young age?

A lot of the contestants are actually younger than I was when I started cooking. So it’s good to see the new generation of cooks understand and appreciate ingredients, tell their stories through food and share cherished family moments with us on TV. I actually learnt a lot of new things from the contestants. 

How important do you believe competitions like Young MasterChef and training programmes within the culinary industry are to young people?

I hope shows like Young MasterChef push the younger generation into actually giving cooking a go. It’s a tough industry and I wish sometimes that I found cooking earlier in life so I had a little more time travelling and working in other kitchens. That being said, I do feel like “food technology” in secondary schools could be something to revisit.  It would be great to give kids the tools they need in terms of real life skills. We should be teaching kids at that age the fundamentals and the things that will come in handy when no-one is home to cook or when they spread their wings later in life.

What advice would you give young and aspiring chefs who may want to get into the culinary industry?

If you’re willing to sacrifice, anything is possible. I gave up my twenties to learn my skills. It was a laugh at the time but I’d say if really want it, expect to put food and work first over everything. Also, go to college, look for apprenticeships and do work experience in restaurants you aspire to work in. You can’t just rely on a viral video to carry you. It’s all about the fundamentals. You can’t build a house without a roof first. 

What qualities do you look for in a winner?

For me, it’s about finding that person with drive, ambition and an ability to bounce back. I also feel that being able to understand your mistakes being able to rectify them without feeling like the world is against you is very important too.

What can viewers expect when they tune in on BBC Three?

They can expect laughs, a couple shockers, good food (or scran depending where you’re from), big energy from our contestants, a couple famous faces and an amazing final. 

Q&A with Poppy O’Toole

Poppy O'Toole in the MasterChef kitchen pointing to the MasterChef logo with an expression of disbelief
Poppy O’Toole (Image: BBC/Shine TV)

Welcome back to another series of Young MasterChef, Poppy! How does it feel to be back?

My answer is wow! I can’t believe they’ve let me back in the MasterChef kitchen to actually judge and host again. It’s an amazing feeling and I’m so excited to be back and working with Big Has on this series. I’ve been looking for an excuse to get back in the kitchen with him. I also love to see all the young talent come through and I can’t wait for everyone to see it.

Social media has seen an incredible rise in showcasing new recipes and new cuisines to a mainstream audience. With your background in social media, do you believe it’s important for budding chefs or even established chefs to have a presence on social media?

I think there is a place for everyone to have a social media presence. I mean it’s not a necessity but it’s a really good way to keep up to date with trends, showcase your skills and build up your confidence in cooking. You also get exposed to cuisines from around the world so it can be quite an inspirational tool. For me it’s not just a hobby anymore, it’s a whole career. So if you are considering a social media presence, just do it!

How has it been to have Big Has join you as co-judge this series?

It has been amazing to have Big Has join the team as he’s genuinely hilarious and super easy to get along with. He inspires all the contestants so everyone really values his opinion and takes it all on board. It also helps that he’s an incredible chef, so I’ve been taught a few new things too!

What’s it been like filming this series following last year?

It’s just been wild! We’ve had a few different challenges this year, although I don’t want to give away too much. Let’s just say that you’ll see us work in different habitats outside the MasterChef kitchen, which is really exciting.

How important do you believe it is to highlight the new and upcoming talent in the food industry through competitions like Young MasterChef?

It’s so important in the hospitality industry to keep on bringing new people in. We need spaces for people to come in and show us their talent and their passion. Young MasterChef is a great platform to get that exposure and discover what they want in a future career.

It might be that they want to do social media, or that they want to be a chef in a professional kitchen or even release food products such as sauces and spices, which is exactly what we saw happen from the previous year. I also think it’s so necessary that we do these competitions to showcase talent to other people who are already in the industry. It gets their name out there and hopefully pushes them toward a very long and successful career.

What qualities do you look for in a winner?

I look for someone who can develop and grow throughout the competition. I think growth is a massive one, as you need to be constantly learning and changing and adapting, whilst maintaining that passion. Obviously, I also want great tasting food too! I need to see someone who can be brave with different cuisines and food pairings. Confidence is also essential as it’s tough going, so I love to see contestants really believe in themselves.

Would you say you’re the strict or easy-going judge between yourself and Big Has?

We’re both pretty easy going to be honest, but we know what we’re looking for and what we’re talking about! The last thing we want to do is knock someone’s confidence, so we’re there to build people up. Even when it comes down to the horrible stuff like sending someone home, which always gets me! If it was up to me, no-one would leave but hopefully anyone that left felt like they received constructive feedback that will only enhance their game.

What advice would you give young and aspiring chefs who may want to get into the culinary industry?

It’s gotta be to go for it! Realistically, you need to be prepared for long, unsociable hours and a high pressure environment but if you love it, it can be so rewarding. I’m a people pleaser so I absolutely loved seeing a happy customer, knowing that I’d delivered a meal that made their day or added a little bit of sparkle to their week. That’s what you’ve got to remember and enjoy, because you’re there for the people, not just the food.

What can viewers expect when they tune in on BBC Three?

You can expect some right laughs, some delicious food, some strange food (in a good way) and just a whole lot of wholesome energy. I can’t wait for everyone to see this series because it’s really fun! The contestants are so deserving to be there and I think they’ve had about as wild a ride as me.