As MasterChef returns to BBC1 on Tuesday, judge Gregg Wallace is bracing himself for what some budding chefs might be serving up…
MasterChef returns for its 11th series this week. How does the standard compare to that of previous series?
“I’m a natural-born worrier, so always worry that we’re not going to find contestants as good as the year before. But I don’t know why I worry because we keep turning out these amazing amateur cooks. Certainly, if they’ve got it in them, we’ll find it and bring it out.”
Does the new Calling Card test give you an immediate idea of what the cooks are like?
“The contestants are really nervous the first time they come in. We don’t want to lose the better cooks because of nerves which is why we have the calling card challenge first so they can choose their own ingredients and feel as comfortable as they can.”
Is there a mistake that contestants continue to make?
“Timing! It really bothers me. You’ve watched the show. You know how long you are going to get. Make sure you have practised at home and know that you can finish in time. There’s no excuse for it.”
And has anyone served you up something you really haven’t wanted to eat?
“Time and time again contestants serve me food that looks wonderful, but is actually raw. I’ve had Beef Wellingtons where the cows are practically still mooing!”
We tend to see a lot of experimental cooks on MasterChef. Is that a trend that continues this series?
“I think there’s been a turnaround. There is a now a lot of reliance on old-fashioned cookery skills than there has been in previous series and I think that’s mirroring what’s happening in the restaurant scene.”
And what about food themes?
“There’s more Asian cooking than there’s ever been – I’ve a feeling we now have more woks in our kitchens that we have griddle pans. I’ve got teenage kids – teenager these days don’t go to chip shops any more, they go to noodle bars!”
In over a decade of judging alongside John Torode on MasterChef, do you find your own tastebuds have changed?
“It’s well known that I’ve got a real soft spot for puds. But as I have got healthier over the last few years, my mouthfuls have reduced in size, correspondingly beautifully with my waistline.”
What qualities does a contestant need to become MasterChef champion, like last year’s winner Ping Coombes?
“They need to be able to soak up knowledge, listen to the critique and adapt their food accordingly, then develop a style of their own and stick to it.”
Finally, do you feel safer in the kitchen than on the Strictly dance floor?
“Well, I’ve never had a panic attack in the kitchen! I’m glad I did it and I’m never going to stop dancing – I doubt the MasterChef contestants who go out in the early rounds are going to stop eating!”