“Cooking doesn’t get tougher than this!” bellows Gregg Wallace at the start of each episode of MasterChef. But Marco Pierre White begs to differ. “Kitchen Wars makes MasterChef look like a walk in the park!” he tells me, “this is the toughest cooking show on Earth!”
And if White appears to have adapted that last phrase from Wallace, then his new Channel 5 show - Marco Pierre White’s Kitchen Wars - sounds like a tasty melange of Gordon Ramsay’s search for Britain’s best local eatery on Channel 4’s The F Word and Raymond Blanc’s BBC2 series The Restaurant.
Not that Marco doesn’t have some gimmicks of his own. The early rounds see him driving his “Battle Truck” around the country seeking out culinary couples to put to the test.
“I went to Cardiff, I went to Leeds, I went to Liverpool, I went to London - and then I went in my Range Rover to other places I couldn’t reach with the truck to find couples who run restaurants who may not have been given the spotlight they deserve.
“One of the restaurants was an old hen house. In another, I discovered the best fish and chips in Britain. There are lots of very, very good chefs in this country who have decided to run chippies or cafes and now they’ve stepped back into the ring.”
The ring in these initial stages is a stainless steel kitchen in the back of Marco's HGV, where chefs are challenged to prepare their best dish in 30 minutes.
But unlike MasterChef it’s not just cooking against the clock that provides the pressure – Marco spends much of his time standing in the background, stroking a big knife in a sinister fashion, like a culinary Blofeld.
Should couples make it through this round without being sliced and diced they’ll find themselves competing against two other pairs in a vast restaurant (sorry, “Battle Kitchen”) where they’ll be asked to serve 75 diners a three course meal.
“It’s about service, it’s about quality of food, it’s about showing me who they are," says Marco. “What the great British public will see is how tough it is to run a restaurant.
"They’ll see tears, they’ll see sweat, they’ll see smiles, they’ll see laughter." Sounds like cooking doesn't get more emotional than this...
Marco Pierre White's Kitchen Wars starts tonight at 9pm on Channel 5