A woman from Croydon who uses cooking to express herself has reached the semi-finals of MasterChef - which will be airing on BBC One tonight.

Over eight weeks, MasterChef judges John Torode and Gregg Wallace are on the hunt for the UK’s best amateur cook – whittling down 45 hopefuls to just one winner on the BBC One cooking competition reality show.

Vanessa, 36, lives in Croydon with her fiancé James and works as an Anti-Piracy Manager in Sport and has made it to the final eight contestants.

When asked why she decided to enter MasterChef, she said: “I’m an everyday girl from Croydon that wants take my kitchen creativity and turn it into something so much bigger!

“Food is the thing that unknowingly truly grounds me – wherever I am in the world. Cooking gives me confidence and is where I am at my most comfortable expressing my real self.”

When asked what inspired her dishes she responded: “My dishes are classic recipes with a burst of flavour inspiration from my Portuguese-Indian heritage, my East-African born and raised parents, my travels to 60 countries, as well as my neurodiversity. It’s quite an eclectic mix.

“The kitchen has always been a place for me to express myself.

“I’m really in my comfort zone when I’m creating food pairings with sensory elements and experimenting with alternative presentations.”

Vanessa explained how her experience with autism ties in with her experience in the kitchen.

She added: “Receiving a late diagnosis of autism was a real game changer for me. I almost breathed a sigh of relief as it explained why I feel so at home in the kitchen.

“After years of masking my autism and trying to fit into society, I wanted to do something that honours and expresses being the real me – cooking does exactly this.

“So I thought why not go on national TV and let John and Gregg see what they think?

Tonight (May 23) the Semi Finals kick off with a visit to the Fire Service College in Gloucestershire, a training facility which each year trains more than 15,000 firefighters and emergency responders.

The Semi Finalists will “honour their work with a celebratory lunch” and be cooking in teams for the first time.

They must take on the challenge of mass catering, but at fine dining level.

Each team will have just three and a half hours to serve 120 of the emergency responders and trainers.

One will be sent home leaving seven to in the race for the 2023 title.

MasterChef will air tonight at 9pm on BBC One.