Ray D'Arcy caught up with broadcaster, author and now Celebrity Masterchef winner Riyadh Khalaf the day after the Bray native scooped the top prize on the super-competitive TV cooking show.
Melting from the 39-degree heat in his London base, Riyadh says he was stunned by the win: "I honestly thought that I was just a placeholder there at the end, because the other two were that good. So when they said my name, it was just like, 'Are you sure? Do you want to go back into the room and have another little think?’"
Ray reeled off the mouth-watering menu presented by Riyadh, including fillet of beef, port shallots, celeriac cream and a parmesan tuile.
After picking up on Ray’s pronunciation of the cheese garnish as "tool" (it’s more like "tweel" apparently), Riyadh says he was up against fierce competition so, if he wanted to hang on, he needed to go from zero to hero pretty quickly:
"I think about a week or two into the competition I realised: OK, I’ve gotta really step up and up my game if I truly want to stay. Because the others, Matt and Sam; I mean, she was making hand-made fortune cookies, for God’s sake!"
Having chatted to Riyadh before, Ray was aware of the importance of Riyadh’s dad in his life and specifically as an inspiration for his cooking. The broadcaster says his family’s relationship with food is intimately connected with his dad’s origins in Iraq, the country he fled as a young man:
"When he left Iraq, he left behind memories, family, food. And it was that food that was the missing piece: the connection to home. I remember my mum learning to make these koftas and other Iraqi foods and surprising him, going ‘Look what I made!’ and he would be deeply emotional eating this food because it brought him back. So this wasn’t just food, this was a connection to his past"
Riyadh says his relationship with his father has developed through his coming out to him, his dad’s initial reaction to finding out his son was gay and what’s been happening in the years that followed:
"When your child comes out to you, you don’t have the four or five years that I had to come to terms with myself, the parent has 10 seconds or less. But he has shown how much of an amazing parent he is by learning and becoming an ally and fighting for queer rights all over the place."
On the night the Celebrity Masterchef final was broadcast, the Khalaf family came together in one of those technology-enabled gatherings we’ve all become used to. The physical distance melted as the emotions welled up, as a public moment unfolded in a deeply personal way:
"Last night when we had the show on, I made sure I had a Zoom to my left in the apartment in London and the telly in front of me. And when I started cooking those kofta kebabs, I looked over and he was bawling. He was in bits. And then I started going and then my mum was gone and it was just, it was a really, really lovely moment."
Ray acknowledged the speed of Riyadh’s progress in the media business and the fact that the 29-year old secured a place on the high-profile cooking show, only four years after his move to London. What is Riyadh’s secret sauce, Ray wanted to know?
"Just being a cheeky hoor, you know, as we say. Just using charm to get in there and just begging people to give you a chance!"
You can hear more about Riyadh’s ambitions in food broadcasting and the secrets of his media success in the full interview with Ray D'Arcy here.
Riyadh Khalaf’s 2019 book for young people Yay! You’re Gay! Now what? published by Frances Lincoln is widely available.