A Northern Ireland woman cooking up a storm on a top TV culinary show has said she owes her success to her inspirational late mother.
Suzie Arbuthnot has reached the grand final of BBC One's Best Home Cook. The 36-year-old accountant from Lisburn is the only Northern Ireland contestant this series and her culinary abilities have earned her a place in next week's all-female finale.
The mother-of-two will compete in a battle of kitchen skills to be crowned the winner alongside Georgia Salama (24), a professional model from South West London, and 42-year-old pharmaceutical recruitment partner Sarah Woods, from Cheshire.
Suzie described her mother as her cooking role model.
"I got my passion from my mum who we sadly lost when I was doing my GCSEs," she said. "She was the life and soul of our household and an amazing self-taught cook who was the chef in our takeaway.
"She taught me all the basics and I had filled in my application forms for two cookery schools in London for after my GCSEs. My mum passed away on February 8, 2000 and my life was turned upside down so my dreams of cookery school never took flight."
A former student of Wallace High School in Lisburn, Suzie is married to Steven, a psychology teacher at Omagh Academy. The couple have two young children - Zander (5) and Odelia (2).
Suzie, who juggles looking after her children with running her accountancy firm from home and exercising in her spare time, is no stranger to fine food as her family run the popular Man Lee Chinese takeaway in Lisburn.
Nicknamed the 'Tasmanian Devil' by her friends, she does everything at 100 miles an hour and packs as much as possible into every day.
The Queen's University graduate, who also plays hockey for Lisnagarvey Hockey Club and sings with Lisburn Harmony Ladies Choir, said she is happiest when cooking up "hearty family food served in very generous portions".
"I love being immersed in cooking and being challenged every day," she said.
Her love for cooking and baking means she is never far from the kitchen, much to the delight of her family and friends - one of whom encouraged her to put her passion to the test on the show.
"My friend Gillian tagged me in a post on social media on the very last day for applications and so I completed the form that evening," she said.
Suzie's success in making it through the paper application, phone interview, face-to-face meeting in Northern Ireland and live real-time cooking demonstration in London came two years after she almost made it onto The Great British Bake Off.
She has certainly been making an impact on the small screen as she joined the nine other contestants, who all live together in a house during filming.
The series so far has been a delicious recipe of store-cupboard mastery, ingenious creations, unique family recipes, tempting sweet treats, comfort food at its finest and dishes fit for special family occasions. Suzie will be among the final three put to the test in whipping up a frenzy - starting with Chris Bavin's Rustle Up challenge, Angela Hartnett's Eliminator and culminating with Mary Berry's Ultimate challenge.
She said her most daunting task to date came in week five when her dishes were not the judges' favourites.
"The curry Ultimate challenge, it was a very short time to make two vegetable curries, one bread and one fried snack," she explained. "I tried to replicate my mum's recipe for our takeaway curry but I was unsuccessful and devastated."
Suzie said there was a lot of emotion unearthed while filming that particular episode as her late mum was her cooking role model.
But she was back on top form a week later when the focus was on making the ultimate family pie, which earned her a hat trick of votes from the judges.
"It was completely surreal but also really gave me a confidence boost after my bad week previously in curry week."
Suzie is hugely grateful for the support of her family and friends, adding: "They have been amazing through the whole process and I am forever indebted to them."
Why is it that you're most easily distracted when you're at your busiest? Over the last week I haven't had a moment to spare, theoretically at least. I've been up to my eyes with work and travelling around the country.
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