It’s Never Too Late To Believe In Yourself: One Woman’s Story Of Going From Retired Banker To ...

Irini Tzortzoglou was bored of retired life, so at the age of 60 she decided to enter the famous cooking competition MasterChef, which she ended up winning. Now, Tzortzoglou is living her best life as a chef, writer, and public speaker.

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Irini Tzortzoglou lived a relatively relaxed life after retiring from being a banker at the age of 60, however, without something on her schedule every day, she found herself yearning for a new chapter in her life to begin. She grew up with food being a major part of her life, but as she grew older her passion for food and cooking took a back seat.

Born in Crete, Tzortzoglou recalled how her grandparents always had an “open door policy,” as her grandfather was a priest and her grandmother would often be found cooking for dozens of people. 

 “I loved the smells, I loved the processes. After [my] parents moved the family to Athens, I didn’t really cook again, until I got married and moved to London. I thought: ‘I better be a good housewife and feed my husband.’ I bought recipe books, and started cooking three-course meals every day because I was bored,” she told The Guardian

It wasn’t until her retirement that she would get back into cooking as passionately.

“I decided to enter MasterChef out of boredom after retiring. It was out of not feeling challenged and driving my husband crazy, that one day he said: ‘Why don’t you try, because you always love watching it.’”

While Tzortzoglou still had a passion for cooking, she didn’t know if she had the skills to compete in a major competition like MasterChef. She ended up training herself for one year before she deemed herself ready to actually compete. 

“I put in the time, effort and money, I went to Athens, I ate at Michelin-star restaurants, I wanted to see what was happening with Greek food today. I watched a little bit of Greek MasterChef to see what the young chefs were doing. And then I started practicing” she explained

Beyond just practicing her skills as a chef, Tzortzoglou also began physically training after seeing how much the chefs on the show were standing and running around the kitchen while filming. “What worried me was that I was going to have a heart attack in the studio. I’d had an office job all my life. So I started running, joined a gym, and took hill walks around my home. I treated it like my life’s work.”

Tzortzoglou competed and won MasterChef in 2019 at the age of 60, and now she claims it was one of the best decisions she’s ever made.

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“I don’t have any free time but I love it. I feel like a child let loose in a sweetshop. Seeing how alive I feel and how much energy I have, the alternative is unthinkable – to think that, at 60, you go ‘Oh now I sit in a corner and read books and one day I die.”

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Since winning MasterChef Tzortzoglou, now 64, has become a major figure for Greek cuisine, and has even written a cookbook, Under The Olive Tree. More recently she’s been completing a residency at a London restaurant, catering events, devising/cooking menus for awards lunches, and launched her own Greek meal for a recipe box company. 

Tzortzoglou explained how she suffered from low self-esteem her entire life, but competing on MasterChef showed her that it’s never too late to start fresh and start living your life for yourself. 

 “I always felt a fraud in banking. I had a father who was incredibly demanding, for whom nothing was ever quite good enough; there was always room for improvement. I thought I had dealt with all that, but clearly I hadn’t because MasterChef showed me that I still did not believe enough in myself.” 

She recalled that even during competition she had very little confidence in her ability to perform well, let alone progress throughout each round. Even when the judges would compliment her she would be left in a state of disbelief: “I would say to [co-host and chef] John Torode, ‘What’s wrong with your taste buds? This is rubbish,’ referring to the food I made. He would say: ‘Stop it, this is my job.’”

Now, Tzortzoglou is living life with confidence and determination. “The other weekend, I did a catering job, cooking for 20, when I walked into the dining room, I received a huge round of applause. A few years ago, I would be like, ‘No, no, it wasn’t good enough.’ Now I’m thinking, actually, that was a bloody good dinner.” Tzortzoglou plans on continuing to live her life to the fullest, and hopes that her story will inspire other individuals who feel like they may be lost or stuck in life.