Chef! No pressure on this cooker
What started out as a hobby to help him deal with the illness of his son, has ended up leaving Barry Faulkner - who has very strong Meath connections - on the brink of becoming something of a celebrity, with the 38-year-old's face about to become familiar to millions of TV viewers worldwide.
Barry - or Baz as he is more widely known - grew up in west Acton in London and now lives in Redhill, Surrey but he spent much of his youth in Kildalkey (the home area of his mother Breda and father James ) and recently he was involved in the filming of an episode of the highly competitive 'MasterChef' which will be aired in the coming weeks.
Baz was one of 40 people picked out to take part is the show from at least 6,000 people who applied hoping for a place - and the chance to become famous.
While he can't give details about how well he fared out in MasterChef, or even what he cooked, there is sure to be a sizeable contingent of people on both sides of the Irish Sea tuning in and hoping the very personable, affable, married father of one will cook up a storm.
Faulkner turned to cooking as a distraction after his son Jackson was born with a serious heart problem. "Jackson was born in July 2018 with a very rare form of heart disease. He had to have open heart surgery when he was just four days old. He then had to have more heart surgery, ironically on the day I was allowed to tell everybody I was going to be on MasterChef," Baz told the Meath Chronicle from his home in Redhill.
"I got into cooking because I was struggling a lot with anxiety and stress surrounding Jackson's general health. Cooking for me just helped me deal with that whole situation, it just gave me time out, helped to take my mind away for a while from everything going on with his health. The poor boy has just had his third heart surgery, he's a true warrior."
Faulkner's debut appearance on MasterChef will be broadcast on BBC on Tuesday 23rd March at 9pm although, again, he is compelled not to reveal any details.
"The programme was filmed towards the end of last year and well wrapped up before Christmas. I am not allowed to say how I got on but at this point I know, of course, how it all plays out. I haven't even told my relatives in Kildalkey how I have fared out, so it's going to be a surprise for everyone."
Faulkner, who now works as a employment consultant after a lengthy spell in the now decimated travel industry, says he is hugely proud of his Meath roots. James Faulkner from Ballyfallon in Kildalkey and Breda Farrelly from nearby townland of Clonmore were married in Rathmore. They lived in Kildalkey for a time before emigrating to England in the early 1980s to escape a recession-hit Ireland and carve out a new life for themselves.
"I was six months old when they moved to live in London. Dad worked in construction and that's where the work was but pretty much every Christmas, Easter, summer we (Baz and his sister Jenna) would go to Ballyfallon where we would stay in my aunt Mary's house. We were always pottering about Ballyfallon."
While his accent leaves no doubt as to where he was brought up, Baz says he feels a very strong connection to Ireland generally and Meath specifically. "I remember as a kid growing up my uncle Patrick or Paudgeen as he was known to everyone, who was a massive Meath fan, would bring me up to Croke Park to watch Meath play, usually against Dublin in a Leinster semi-final or final and I'd always have my Meath jersey on. I loved those games."
While he grew up in London, Baz Faulkner moved to Redhill about 12 years ago where he is married to Suzy. When Jackson arrived Baz's odyssey into the world of cooking really kicked off. They are currently expecting their second child.
"Because Jackson was so poorly we couldn't go out a great deal, and we used to love going out, but we were nervous about using babysitters," he explained. "I just became immersed in cooking. It was a hobby that turned into an obsession and it really helped me deal with all the worry surrounding Jackson's health. When I was cooking all I could think about was the food, the techniques, the preparations, everything.
"It's interesting because my grandmother, Nora Faulkner, was a cook for the Irish Ambassador in New York when she was in her twenties, so maybe that's where it's all come from."
Baz knew he was on to something significant when he put his dishes up on Instagram and got very positive feedback from famous chefs such as Tom Kerridge and Marcus Wareing. He had to undergo a strenuous series of test before he got the call up to MasterChef; a rigorous examination that included Zoom calls and cooking exercises.
Whatever the ingredients required to make an impact in the cooking world Baz Faulkner has shown he has them - and now we'll just have to wait and see how he fares out in the highly pressurised environment of MasterChef.
Baz Faulkner's Instagram handle is: baz_faulkner