A DUO of disastrous chefs known for burning salads and evacuating buildings with their haphazard cooking skills are hoping to pick up some tips for success in the kitchen after getting through to the finals of a nationwide competition.

Gemma Blake, 34, and 24-year-old Kirsty Pulsakowska, both from Earley, are among the 12 finalists selected to improve their cooking skills over 12 weeks as part of the Disaster Chef competition, in a bid to be crowned Kenwood Chef 2012 and clinch �4,000 worth of prizes.

Gemma, from Lower Earley, said: "I came across the competition online and I'm an awful cook, so I thought it would be good for me.

"I just never learned when I was younger and I was brought up on the 1980s diet of fish fingers and chips and things out of the freezer, but I don't want my six-year-old son Jack to follow in my footsteps.

"I think the worst thing I ever did was set the smoke alarms off while cooking sausage sandwiches in a residential accommodation block when I was living in London.

"The whole building had to be evacuated and I became very unpopular with the people doing shift work who were trying to sleep!"

The finalists are sent weekly food hampers with a recipe, as well as a Kenwood Chef, a food mixer with multiple functions. They must follow video tutorials and blog about their experiences before a judging panel, including Kenwood's development chef Martin Johns, choose a winner during the grand final at the Kenwood Academy in Havant on Saturday, September 29.

Kirsty, from Elm Road, said: "My family entered me because I even burnt a salad once - we were having a barbecue and I placed the bowl in the oven because there was no surface space left in the kitchen, but I forgot the oven was on!"

The competitors have cooked two meals so far and Kirsty added: "The sausage plait has been the hardest because I have a phobia of touching raw meat, but I'm determined to put my all into it.

"I stayed up most of the night making the quiche and it's really building up my confidence. I want to do everything in my power to do well in the final."

Mr Johns added: "We hope that, throughout this competition, we can help our finalists learn new skills and find the confidence to create winning dishes in the kitchen."