MASTERchef star Derek Johnstone is used to rubbing shoulders with the best in the culinary business and there is little he doesn’t know about putting the right ingredients together.

However, his love affair with all things delicious didn’t follow the typical recipe for success.

Erskine’s answer to Jamie Oliver found fame when he lined up as a contestant on hit BBC TV show Masterchef: The Professionals a decade ago.

Since then, Derek has worked in restaurants in the likes of London and Milan.

READ MORE: Derek Johnstone cooks up storm to reach National Chef of the Year finals

He now plies his trade at Borthwick Castle, one of the largest and best-preserved surviving medieval Scottish fortifications, cooking up intimate meals at £115 a pop.

Not bad for a boy from Erskine who left school at the age of 16 with a few standard grades and whose first memories of cooking involve being force-fed tripe by his gran.

“I just loved being in the kitchen,” Derek told The Gazette. “It was something that always felt natural.

“The only really good cook I remember in the family was my gran May.

“I had an idea to become a cook but my family tried to warn me off it, telling me it was long hours and little pay.

“I can remember watching programmes like Ready Steady Cook on television and was obsessed by all of it.

“I then learned to cook some humble dishes with my gran, like Scotch broth or even tripe, which she loved but I hated.”

Born in Paisley, Derek spent the first two years of his life there before his parents, Scott and Lorna, decided to move to Erskine.

Growing up with siblings Scott junior, David, Matthew, Jade and Jenna had its own challenges but the family remains close.

Derek attended Park Mains High, in Erskine, where he recalls being the only boy in his year group to be bitten by the cooking bug.

“Mrs Higgins was my home economics teacher and she was a huge help,” he said. “I was the only boy in the class but she always made me feel welcome.

“It was, of course, quite strange that I was doing things like cooking fishcakes while my pals were going to metalwork class.

The Gazette: Getting the chance to work with Michel Roux Jr in London was a dream come true for DerekGetting the chance to work with Michel Roux Jr in London was a dream come true for Derek

“Some things were said in the playground and there was the odd laugh but I would always just say to them that I wanted to be a chef, so going to the class was how I would achieve my dream.”

Derek went on to study at the Glasgow College of Food Technology before picking up work at the Normandy Hotel, in Renfrew, and then Lodge on Loch Lomond.

But it was his time spent learning the tricks of the trade from Joe Queen at Macdonald Crutherland House, in East Kilbride, that he credits with transforming his career.

“He said he would help me become a better chef,” Derek said. “He delivered on everything he promised.”

It was Joe who entered Derek in the first series of Masterchef: The Professionals and, after claiming the title, he hasn’t looked back.

Derek very quickly went from being just another young up-and-coming cook to an impressive new force on the UK restaurant scene and was given the opportunity to work with Michel Roux Jr in his two-Michelin-starred restaurant La Gavroche, in London.

“Masterchef changed my whole career,” said Derek. “I went from being some cook no-one had ever heard of to someone who was in demand.

The Gazette: Derek (centre) with his runner-up prize at the National Chef of the Year contestDerek (centre) with his runner-up prize at the National Chef of the Year contest

“It was the kind of opportunity I never thought I would get. It was quite daunting to move down to London when I was so young. I had to give up my flat, my car and even my girlfriend of the time.”

Derek also made an impression on Michel’s father Albert during his time in London and, after deciding he would like to return home to Scotland, was able to take up another post with the famous Roux clan.

That led him to the highly-acclaimed Albert Roux at Greywalls, in East Lothian.

Derek added: “When I told Michel that I wanted to leave, the very next day he said to me that his dad was looking to open a place in Scotland and he offered me the chance to work with him.

“It was a milestone in my career and something I never thought I could achieve – being head chef in a five-star restaurant.

The Gazette: Albert Roux was impressed by DerekAlbert Roux was impressed by Derek

“I had always set out to be a head chef by the age of 30 and here was me achieving that by 27.”

At 31, Derek moved on to open his own place as he became head chef and manager of the Golf Inn, in Gullane, East Lothian, which had previously been somewhere he used to visit “to chill with mates.”

Last week, he secured runner-up spot in the Craft Guild of Chefs’ National Chef of the Year competition.

Derek, who was the only Scottish chef to reach the finals of the highly-respected industry competition, took part in an intense cook-off at London’s Olympia Exhibition Centre, wowing the judges with his three-course menu of pan-fried fillet of sea bream, roasted saddle of pork and vanilla-poached William pears with clementine and Valrhona dark chocolate.

READ MORE: Former burger flipper clinched Masterchef title

Derek is now 36 and lives with his wife Elise – a former law student from Dorset – in the countryside, where she runs her own business looking after horses.

It’s safe to say he’s living his dream and is looking forward to whatever the future brings.

Derek said: “My wife loves horses and has this idea that we could open up a little bed-and-breakfast, which would have at most 12 customers – something really intimate.”

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