As if being a mother of four and managing a luxury travel business was not enough, Emma Spitzer is also a contestant on the new series of MasterChef. Suzanne Baum chats to the 40-year-old about juggling family life and work with competing on Britain’s much-loved cookery show…
The ultimate goal, I presume, of anyone entering MasterChef is a career in cooking. So should current contestant Emma Spitzer take the trophy, I have every confidence that despite having a lot on her plate she would somehow make it work.
I have been a client of her Tots Too company and had the pleasure of seeing her in mummy-mode, and her calm and attentive manner is second to none.
Managing four daughters under the age of nine no doubt needs military precision, yet when I bumped into Spitzer on holiday there were smiles instead of tantrums and order instead of mess. It is these qualities that, no doubt, help her cope under the spotlight of MasterChef.
Dealing with kids can leave the best of us frazzled, so the fact Spitzer’s brood all seemed so chilled is no doubt down to her calmness and patience. “I have always coped well under pressure and the business has certainly taught me that you need to stay focused on the end goal to make sure you achieve it,” Spitzer, who lives in Muswell Hill, explains. If you have a real passion for something, which I do in my job, then making it work feels much easier.”
Although her career is in the travel industry – Spitzer runs the luxury travel business Tots Too, recognised as one of the best family tour operators – she has always had a love of cooking.
However, lack of confidence and time (with kids aged nine, seven, three and two), meant there have been not enough hours in the day to focus on it. “I’ve loved cooking since I was about 14 and would use my mum’s cookbooks by Evelyn Rose and Claudia Roden to get ideas for Middle Eastern and eastern European classics,” she recalls. “You can’t beat a bit of Nigella too.”
Although she has such a busy lifestyle, Spitzer ensures Friday nights are focused around the family. “My mother in law grew up in Israel but her mother was from Algeria and left a legacy of really good dishes which I like to create for Friday nights and high holidays.”
It is not the cooking on MasterChef that Spitzer has found difficult but more the presentation of the food that she says has been her biggest challenge. “Elegance is not my style when it comes to cooking, so making food look good is my main concern and one of the things that has stopped me from applying for the show in previous years.
“Every year I found another excuse not to apply and as the kids were also very young I didn’t think I could give it the full commitment. I love cooking more than anything else but because it means so much I suffer from a lack of confidence with it. I watched 10 series avidly before finally having the guts to apply.”
After going through the lengthy application process, Spitzer was shocked when she heard she had made it on to the show that sees 40 amateur chefs battle it out in the spotlight of the MasterChef kitchen.
“Being a part of the show has been both terrifying and exciting at the same time,” she says. As the programme is filmed in advance, Spitzer has been unable to talk about it, under producer’s orders. So it comes as no surprise to hear she is relieved that her first appearance is finally being aired on tonight’s episode. There’s been so much to take in throughout the whole filming process and not being able to talk about it has been difficult,” she explains.
So, I ask, just how stressful is MasterChef in reality? Is it as fast-paced and nerve-wracking as we are led to believe? “It is so much worse,” Spitzer explains. “I have never known time to go so fast. In addition to dealing with the pressure of getting your dish out on time, you are also trying to get familiar with all the different cooking equipment, the hobs, the ovens and so on. I can’t imagine ever feeling nerves again the way I did filming the show.”
As well as paying credit to her husband, grandparents and nanny for helping out with the kids, Spitzer can’t praise the MasterChef team enough for their attempts at keeping her nerves at bay.
“The production team, directors, sound guys, camera crew and everyone involved behind the scenes are incredible. They do everything they can to make you feel at home.”
I can’t leave our interview without asking timidly whether she serves her kids fish fingers and chips like I do for supper or actually makes them home made food.
“Both,” Spitzer replies, much to my relief.
“More often than not they eat my home-cooked food. I haven’t got time to cook separate meals for them and for my husband and me, so they have had to get used to more adventurous food which fortunately they have. “My kids will ask regularly for shakshuka, which is pretty fiery!”
As I head home to look up the ingredients for shakshuka, I am feeling impressed – whatever stage Spitzer reaches on MasterChef, I have no doubt she already has a recipe for success.
• Emma Spitzer makes her first TV appearance in MasterChef on BBC1 Thursday 2 April at 8pm
For more details on Tots Too visit www.totstoo.com