AN OXFORDSHIRE MasterChef contestant who astounded the judges with his cooking has said he has been watching his TV appearance through his hands this week.

Dave Wells, who used to run the Fat Frog restaurant in Aston Tirrold near Didcot, blew chef Marcus Wareing away in his first round, which aired on BBC One on Wednesday night, by not only nailing his skills test, but producing two versions of the difficult dish.

The 39-year-old, who was sworn to secrecy about how he fared in the competition, was able to say that he had loved his experience competing on the show.

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He told this paper this afternoon: “I did watch it – reluctantly – it was just me and the missus.

“I was nervous because you don’t know how you come across, and I was knackered when I was doing it because it was just after lockdown, so it was hard and stressful – but it was rewarding.”

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Mr Wells, who grew up in Surrey and has worked in kitchens around the country, moved to Aston Tirrold in the summer of 2018 with his partner Becky and their baby son Fred to start running the Fat Frog restaurant in the village’s Chequers pub.

His experimental food was an instant hit, winning him a five-star rating on the Trip-Advsior website and a winning review from this paper, among others.

However, when he coronavirus pandemic hit it decimated his business.

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Even when he reopened after lockdown, he was forced to cut his covers from 50 to 15 a night to allow social distancing, which wiped out profits.

Then, as if he wasn’t under enough pressure, he started filming for MasterChef in August.

In his very first challenge for the show, judge Monica Galetti asked him to cook a sabayon dessert.

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Mr Wells' former pub, the Chequers in Aston Tirrold.

When he produced not one but two different versions of the dish, with minutes still left on the clock, an astonished Marcus Wareing said it was the first time he had ever seen that happen on Masterchef.

Mr Wells told the Oxford Mail: “When she said it was a sabayon I was doing backflips inside.

“I know so many recipes, but there are always some you just don’t know.”

Both judges praised Mr Wells for the dish and for his lamb main course and chocolate dessert in the next challenge, but they also warned him that he was in danger of taking on too much.

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He told this paper: “Looking at my presentation I could’ve done better, but I wanted to prove I could do everything and I could do it perfectly.”

On the subject of having to speak to judge Gregg Wallace while trying to cook, he said: “It is hard because you could be in the middle of something and you have got to chat.

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“My missus said to me ‘how are you going to talk in the kitchen?’ because normally I like to work in silence, but you just have to do it.”

He said his ‘one regret’ was not closing down his restaurant to focus on the competition.

He revealed: “I was surviving on two or three hours sleep.”

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As it was, on October 7 Mr Wells announced that he would be closing the Fat Frog for good, thanking all of his customers for their support over the past year.

However, he is already cooking up new business plans.

One of the stars of his main course on Masterchef was a ‘split tomato sauce’, which Marcus Wareing declared a triumph, and Mr Wells revealed to this paper today that he now plans to mass-market his secret sauce, selling it through a new website.

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Although he was not allowed to say how his TV appearance had affected his career, he did pledge that he and his family would be staying in the county, and he was hoping to start running a new kitchen soon.

He said: “We’re settled in the village now, and I’ve got a following here.

“The restaurant was doing well - we had support from the village and a very big fan club.”

Read our review of the Fat Frog again here

Asked if foodies in Oxfordshire could look forward to another Dave Wells restaurant in the area in the future, he said ‘100 per cent’.

However he also revealed that, having exhausted the challenges of trying to run an entire kitchen single-handed, next time he ran a kitchen he planned to recruit a team of staff to help.

He said: “All I want now is a team of chefs behind me – there’s only so far you can go on your own.”