Dr Nawamin Pinpathomrat is one of Wolfson’s PhD students, who finished as a finalist on MasterChef UK 2018 while researching a cure for Tuberculosis at the University of Oxford. We recently interviewed him about his MasterChef experience and his research
What led you to enter into MasterChef?
When I came to the UK, MasterChef was my favourite programme. I applied in August 2017 after a friend suggested I should. I didn’t expect to get in and never expected to get to the final! My passion for cooking was inspired by my Grandmother, I lived with her when I was five years old, and she had a big garden. We would determine what to eat for dinner by buying some meat and she would let me choose the other ingredients from her garden. How did you find the whole experience?
Incredible, it was one of the best things to ever happen to me. I didn’t realise I could cook at that level and it changed my perception of cooking. For the entire show, I didn’t change my style of cooking at all but I tried to improve my skills and to challenge myself, which is why I made some crazy dishes such as ‘Crab-anatomy’, ‘Swan Lake’ or ‘Wolfson Harbour’. The whole MasterChef experience has been a dream come true. Can you describe your style of cooking?
I find cooking relaxing; it gives me the chance to let my imagination run wild. I try to be adventurous and experimental with my flavours, but it has to be Thai! I’m a big fan of using local produce, for example when I make Thai food I would find a similar alternative ingredient that I can get fresh here. As I have grown up cooking I know what flavour combinations work well together and I know what alternative I can use if I don’t have an ingredient. The presentation is very important to me and has to be crazy or theatrical, something that you would never think of. What are your next steps for the culinary world?
My ultimate goal is to open a restaurant where the proceeds go towards charities in Thailand but I have to finish my PhD first. Then I’ll start thinking about writing a cookbook and maybe eventually open my own restaurant. As cooking is my passion I don’t want to make money from the restaurant. The money will go towards people suffering from infectious diseases in Thailand. Did your skills as a Doctor help you in the MasterChef experience?
Being a scientist did help me throughout the show, especially with one challenge where I had to follow a 20-page recipe from a two-star Michelin chef. When I received the recipe I was scared as I hadn’t made this type of food before, but I treated it like an experiment and did it step-by-step and weight-by-weight and made sure I followed every single step. For me cooking isn’t about precision, it’s about flavour. You are also researching a cure for Tuberculosis, can you tell us about what led you to your research and more about it?
I chose Tuberculosis (TB) because in Thailand it is a big problem like many other infectious diseases. People think that TB has been eradicated but actually, it is one of the deadliest infectious diseases in the world – 1/3 of people are affected by it and 10 million people are newly infected every year. As TB is something that has been around for so long we aren’t going to win. The problem with TB is that the body can’t see it as a disease, so only when you get an infection will it start to show up. We are working on an approach to boost the immune system using a type of virus, so that the body can see the virus. We’ve had a good result so far and we are pushing to trials now. How did you manage to balance MasterChef with your research?
Whilst I was doing MasterChef I was also studying, I had a very supportive supervisor and realised it was a once in a lifetime opportunity and encouraged me to go for it. People ask me ‘do you want to do Medicine or do you want to be a Chef?’ I want to do both, that’s where I came up with the idea to open the restaurant and donate the money to charity whilst working, which would be a sustainable long-term plan. How was your final main course inspired by Wolfson?
I was inspired by Wolfson and wanted to represent my time here for my final main course with a classic Thai dish – red duck curry. When thinking up my final courses I was sitting with my friend looking at the Wolfson Harbour and we came up with the idea of using duck. I also wanted to use the Wolfson colours and the Pear and Rose symbols that are on the shield. The dish represents my time in Wolfson. I also wanted to tell a story of myself in Thailand with my brothers, at my time at Wolfson and my time at MasterChef with Greg and John. Finally, do you have any recommendations for restaurants in Oxford?
My favourite British pub is the Magdalen pub, it’s one of my favourites as it’s very homely. I love to explore and I love to try new food.