Chef to Watch: Nikita Pathakji, Private Chef

The Staff Canteen

Jumping from strength to strength, Nikita Pathakji is quickly making a name for herself as one of Britain’s best young chefs through her fine dining and Asian flavour combinations, after winning MasterChef: The Professionals 2022.

Nikita began her career at the Lanesborough Hotel, as part of an apprenticeship whilst studying at Westminster Kingsway College, where she prepared afternoon tea and sandwiches for the hotel’s guests.

“As a young, very eager chef, it was a very frustrating job because it didn’t feel like I was cooking – I was making sandwiches. I wanted to move on and do something that I considered cooking,” Nikita explained.

Nikita added: “I would rush through my jobs really quickly and then go hang out in the kitchen to see if they would put me to work which they did.”

Nikita spent a year working in the main kitchen before taking up a position at the hotel’s one Michelin-starred Celeste, now known as the Lanesborough Grill.

After going for a dinner at Claude Bosi’s Bibendum and deciding this was the path she wanted to take, Nikita was offered a position to work at the legendary two Michelin-starred restaurant.

“I learnt so much from Bibendum. It’s such an iconic building and Claude’s food is incredible; he uses very classic French techniques but the flavours he incorporates are just incredible,” she explained.

After working at Bibendum, Nikita took 9 months out to go travelling around south east Asia, which she credits as a big inspiration for her cooking, before taking up a position at Core by Clare Smyth, later joining Mark Kempson’s Kitchen W8.

Revealing her inspirations within the industry, Nikita credits Phil Howard, Asma Khan, Nieves Barragán Mohacho, and Monica Galetti as some of her biggest influences.

In 2022, Nikita took part and won season 15 of MasterChef: The Professionals, after delivering consistently showstopping dishes throughout the competition, becoming the second female winner in the programme’s history.


Describing her style in more detail, Nikita explained her cooking is heavily inspired by Michelin star fine dining, as well as Asian flavours she experienced during her travels.

“I’ve always worked in fine dining, it’s what I find interesting and it keeps me inspired and stimulated as a chef, and I love Asian flavours,” she described.

She added: “I have a very classical background because of my training and I love to bring in flavours that I love from different parts of Asia. In terms of my plating and style, I think it’s actually quite simple, but it always delivers on flavour, and the flavours are always bold and strong.”

Discussing some of her favourite dishes in more detail, Nikita revealed her passion for Laksa, a Malaysian noodle soup with a strong, spicy flavour, with prawn shells, lemongrass, galangal, and turmeric.

“I’ve taken this dish and made it my own by taking pasta, making tortellini or a ravioli, filling it with a lobster and scallop mousse, and then serving it with this really intense sauce. I think that summarises what sort of dishes I do.”

Beyond her interpretations of Asian flavours, Nikita works heavily with spices, as well as Japanese ingredients, which often differ from other Asian ingredients.

“They’re very subtle but have such depth and complexity, which is incredible,” she said.

“I love cooking because I love eating, and I just want to cook, so I really just want to cook people food that I want to eat,” Nikita added.


In December 2022, Nikita was announced the winner of the MasterChef: The Professionals series 15, becoming the second woman to win the competition.

Describing her win, Nikita explained: “Winning the competition, it’s kind of indescribable! I applied mostly because my mum wanted me to, for years and years, and I was finally in a restaurant where I was still learning but I was settled and confident, and comfortable.”

“I really applied thinking that I want to cook for critics and I want them to like my food, and that’s it, that’s all I need, but obviously to get on it and you get through a round, and you get through another one, and you just want it more and more,” she added.

Answering whether her win had finally sunk in, Nikita explained that it’s a feeling which is still difficult to process.

“It still doesn’t feel real. I met with the other winners, I did an event with Dan Lee, Stu Deeley, and Laurence Henry, and I can’t believe they are now my peers. I still think there’s a bit of imposter syndrome there!” Nikita revealed.

Discussing the anxieties and pressure of taking part in the competition, Nikita said: “I was petrified for every round, that’s for sure, but I did learn a lot in between rounds. You get used to the kitchen, you learn the most efficient ways to do things in that environment, so I did get a bit more comfortable as I got through it.”

During her time on the programme, Nikita was at the mercy of the programme’s judges, which included Gregg Wallace, Marcus Wareing and Anna Haugh, who replaced Monica Galetti in the 2022 edition of the programme.

Looking back on her performance Nikita said: “I knew I was getting good feedback but there’s always that something that you naturally cling on to, even if they’ve not pointed that something out it’s always in your own head. That round for me was the invention test and the judges were very kind to me but we all know it wasn’t the one, or maybe it was worse in my head!”

Offering her advice to chefs wanting to take part in MasterChef: The Professionals, Nikita stressed that practising and putting your soul into your dishes is key to success on the show.

“Watch the previous season so you know what to expect and then develop a dish that you are really proud of. If your heart is not in what you’re cooking then it’s not going to be successful – you heart has to be in it and you have to practice with the timings,” Nikita advised.

She added: “There’s no leeway, they don’t give you an hour and twenty minutes when they say an hour and fifteen, it is as strict as they say it is, so you have to practice!”


Looking to the future, Nikita’s focus is to one day open her own restaurant where she can continue showcasing her unique creations to diners and guests.

“My dream is to open my own restaurant as it is for a lot of chefs. I think it will be exactly what I’ve been cooking, so fine dining but Asian influenced. I don’t want it to be a very formal restaurant, I want people to come again and again because I love my job and I love feeding people,” she explained.

Since winning MasterChef: The Professionals, Niktia has been hosting a number of sell out pops, which she plans to continue doing before settling down somewhere more permanent.

“The last one I did was at Nomadic, which is an outside dining experience, and that was really cool because I got to do it with Dan Lee, Stu Deeley, and Laurence Henry. It was a very different experience because there was no kitchen, it was outside over fire,” Nikita explained.

Whilst looking to future, Nikita revealed her best bit of advice for young chefs looking to make their mark on the industry.

“It is a tough industry, people shouldn’t lose themselves in it, I think it’s really important to stay true to who you are and not get sucked into some of the negatives of the industry. It’s also a really beautiful industry, there are amazing chefs that will support you and teach you so much. It’s about finding those chefs and sticking with them,” Nikita explained.

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 3rd August 2023

Chef to Watch: Nikita Pathakji, Private Chef