MasterChef presenter Gregg Wallace says the current show – complete with its dance music soundtrack, emotional contestant journeys and mantra “cooking doesn’t get tougher than this” – is still more about the food than Loyd Grossman’s sedate, cogitative predecessor.
“It was hugely popular – we all watched it,” says Wallace of the original show, which ran from 1990 to 2001, “but as a competition I think it was flawed.
“If you say to people: ‘All right, you’re coming on the television in three months’ time and cooking two dishes’, who couldn’t do that? You could pretty much train next door’s hamster to do it.
“A previous winner under the Loyd regime once said: ‘Well, in my day it was about the food,’” Wallace tells RadioTimes.com. “I thought: ‘How dare you – it was probably less about the food then than it is now. Would you have survived the invention test, madam? No, I don’t think you would.’
“I liked the show but all it proved was that you could host a dinner party.”
Nevertheless, Wallace says MasterChef’s producers took a chance when they completely revamped a popular format and drafted in himself and John Torode to present.
“[Producer] Karen Ross was very, very brave in picking two blue collar boys for what had otherwise been a Sunday-afternoon, very Mrs-Corby-Trouser-press, doing a dish with a very long name – probably French – sort of show,” admits Wallace.
But the gamble paid off – now into their eighth series together, Gregg and John are one of the most recognisable double acts on British TV. Yet despite having been friends for over 20 years, it seems they were paired together by chance.
“We’ve done MasterChef for eight years but we knew each other for 15 years before that,” says Wallace. “I’ve always sold fruit and veg to [chef] John. I owned the company that supplied him.
“When I started I was just a little bloke in a van and I used to turn up at the kitchen door when he worked in Chelsea and that’s where I met him.
“Karen Ross interviewed us separately, liked both of us but had no idea we knew each other.”
It’s been a long and fruitful relationship but the two seem like quite different personalities – are there things on which they don’t see eye to eye?
“I’m neat, tidy and methodical,” says Gregg. “John’s a complete surfer-dude, laid-back, hairy-chested Aussie.
“In the dressing room, he just throws his clothes all over the place… One day I came in to find his shoes on my rack – if we were a couple, that would be grounds for divorce, but I have to soldier on under this provocation…”
They’re still together, though, and on tonight’s edition of MasterChef are overseeing a big test for last week’s losing team. Wallace is relishing it.
“We take them off to a tractor factory,” he says. “I like the big industrial catering tasks because they’re always one of the hardest tests the contestants have to do.
“We will always finish on fine dining but we always have these mass challenges along the way, too, and I love ’em – I love ’em! – cos it’s pure graft.”
MasterChef is tonight at 9pm on BBC1/BBC1 HD
Gregg Wallace and John Torode appear on The Magicians on Saturday 4 February at 7:15pm on BBC1/BBC1 HD