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'Being pregnant helped me win MasterChef'

MasterChef: The Professionals has crowned its first female winner -- a pregnant 30-year-old who said her heightened sense of smell helped her triumph.

Claire Lara, who was brought up on an oven chip-heavy diet, clinched the title despite being sick while competing against fellow finalists David Coulson (25) and John Calton (29).

She did not realise she was pregnant and put her symptoms down to nerves. Lara said following her win: "I think being pregnant gave me an advantage. It heightened my sense of smell and taste.

"I felt so sick and was vomiting each day but I put it down to stress on the show as David was feeling the same. But obviously, he wasn't pregnant!"

Lara, who is expecting a boy with her French husband Marc, said it was "about time" a woman won the show, judged by Michelin-starred chef Michel Roux Jr and food writer Gregg Wallace.

She said: "It feels brilliant, but at the time I didn't know I was the first female winner. Men have definitely dominated. I feel quite proud. Hopefully other young female chefs will be inspired to go on."

She added: "It's a really tough industry and not female-friendly. You've got to be very thick-skinned."

Lara, from Birkenhead, Merseyside, said: "Mum and dad are definitely not foodies. When mum found oven chips, there was no going back."

Lara worked as a pastry chef for five years but left her job to teach catering part-time at Liverpool Community College in order to find the time to go on MasterChef. She said she now dreams of opening her own restaurant with her husband, who is also a chef.

Roux Jr has offered her a job.