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Jackie Kearney ('MasterChef')

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The Masterchef 2011 Final Four
She's battled through more tears and drama than anyone else and has even managed to impress notorious meat lovers John & Gregg with her vegetarian delights, but Jackie Kearney's MasterChef journey came to a dramatic end in this evening's semi-final. Reality Bites caught up with the 40-year-old mother-of-two to find out what the future holds for her and discover who she's tipping for victory.

How difficult was it to leave in the semi-final?
"It's so difficult. It's such a tough decision for the judges. Annie had that experience of it going wrong when you are a strong contender, but when you are all so good in that final round it comes down to being flawless. It's about being flawless in that moment and I wasn't flawless. That's a very hard thing to take because you know it's a great dish and it works, but it's a competition and on one day one person runs faster than another person. I have so much respect for the other three and absolute respect to them. Especially now I've had time to deal with it, I don't feel bad about it. I did for a while, but now when I look at how talented they are and what they've achieved, maybe it was my time to go."

Would you have done things differently if you could go back again?
"I think I would have stuck with the dish and changed some small things. I've grown so much in my skills since the show and I've got so much calmer. Where I'm at now, I know I would make the dish a little differently and I would have made it better. I would have made John cry."

How tough were all the scientific challenges this week?
"Scientific techniques and the molecular gastronomy were very much outside my comfort zone. On a theoretical level I do understand it because it's about the deconstruction of food and I'm a social scientist, so I understand deconstructing things. But doing that for food was quite a challenge and they make it look so easy. People like Heston, they make it look like the easiest thing and it really isn't. Trying to bring that to your own food was really challenging for me and Sara because our food is more traditional. The science approach is hard to bring to our kinds of dishes. But at the same time it was so much fun and I can't believe how much I learned. It was phenomenal."

We saw plenty of tears from you in the show. Is that what you are like normally?
"I am an emotional person in my everyday life, but I'm not that emotional. I wouldn't be able to function in my job or be a parent if I was like that all the time. But I am passionate and driven and emotionally honest. I don't think I'm a flake, I'm just emotionally honest as a person and because of that there was a lot of material that could be used to show me as this emotional person. Obviously that has then had a mixed response to it from viewers. But apart from Annie everyone felt that stress and pressure and it did affect people. It generated really strained emotions from everyone at some points and I think for some people it's been shown more than others."

John & Gregg are meat lovers. You must be proud to have reached the semi-final as a veggie...
"I'm incredibly proud of that. I have a much more limited range of ingredients and I'm a lot more novice when it comes to using meat and fish. Tonight's show proved that I have a lot more to learn in that area. But I always believed that John would love my food because of his passion for Asian food. I knew if I could cook good food for him, he would love it. My audition was proof of that and it was the greatest feeling knowing that I wasn't wrong. The great revelation came halfway through when Gregg revealed that he didn't like coriander. I'd been putting that on everything and I felt like I had to win him over all the time, but in the end, I think I did."

Who is your tip for victory?
"I think it will depend on the final round, because I know the programme and I know it's only ever about the food. But if they are all flawless and it looks pretty even, I do feel sorry for John & Gregg. Who I want to win and who I think they will choose is not the same thing. I think John & Gregg may choose Tom because there is something about his food, he's an offal geek and his British focus sets a little fire inside Gregg & John. My husband wants Tim to win and I think it would be amazing for him because he's so young and has so much more growth. And then Sara is my very best friend and we're best buddies. The problem for Sara is keeping it cool. We haven't always seen that side, but Sara does feel the pressure. Tom and Tim have more of a coolness and you really need that in the studio. When you enter that kitchen you are shaking so hard and there's nothing like it. I didn't feel like that when I went into labour with my twins."

I cooked for John & Gregg once and it was the scariest experience of my life...
"They make you shake don't they? Normally I have much steadier hands. And I ended up sweating all the time. I don't normally sweat! But as soon as John would walk in the room, I'd start sweating. He'd come into the room and ask to shake my hand and I'd have to say, 'Sorry John I can't, my hand is really sweaty'."

Do you guys ever get to taste each other's food?
"Oh yes we do. Not always, but sometimes, and on the occasions that we have it's been a glorious experience. There were a few memorable moments for me, Tim's campfire sorbet was one of the most mindblowing things I've ever tasted. It did taste of campfires, but it was really nice. I also tasted some of Tom's food from the semi-final and if you don't recognise what a good chef he is, it's because you haven't tasted his food. Even with his rock hard chocolate parfait, it tasted mighty fine. Sara's puddings, and I don't even like puddings that much, they are gorgeous. I also tasted an awful lot of Alice's food as we had flats next door to each other and she's an incredibly talented cook."

Is it not intimidating eating amazing food from your competition?
"Yeah, funny you should say that. James came around to my flat for a drink one night and I'd been practising some bread - this was before the Peckham Rye incident - and these were beautiful. James tried one of them and said, 'You know what, I'm not making Indian food in this competition. This is the best bread I've ever tasted'. So it could have that negative effect on you. James made mighty fine curries, but he was put off because he thought I would have the spice edge. I think he had other arrows he didn't show. I also ruined one of Sara's blouses with turmeric. I spilt it down her and she still texts me saying, 'It's still there, spice queen!'"

Will you be moving into a career in food now?
"Oh definitely. I will be making that move in my career now. There are two main steps for me now. I need more professional kitchen experience and I will grab any opportunity like that after the programme. The other thing I'm working on is a business plan for my restaurant, which will be a street food inspired restaurant in Manchester. Maybe it will be next year, maybe it will be a little longer. But that is definitely what I'm doing. I've got my business plan, I'll get the experience and I'll just need to go to the bank then and borrow some money! Honestly, I'm good! Michel Roux Jr said I had a good palette!'"

The MasterChef final airs next Wednesday at 9pm on BBC One.

> Read our interview with MasterChef judge Gregg Wallace

Who are you tipping to win this year's MasterChef?

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