MasterChef fans are used to hearing Gregg Wallace bellow “Cooking doesn’t get tougher than this!” – so it may not come as a huge surprise that the competition will ask even more of its amateur chefs when it returns this week.
“We put the contestants through their paces a lot earlier on this time around,” Gregg’s fellow judge John Torode tells RadioTimes.com. “We give them a hard time. The challenges are tough. There’s the invention test, they get a palate test, they get to cook for other people – all sorts of things happen before they get a chance to cook their own dishes.
“They have to earn the right to cook their own food – we want to see what else they can do first.”
Gregg says it’s not just about being tougher on contestants, but also about giving them a little more time to acclimatise to the crucible of the MasterChef kitchen before decisions are made about who’s for the chop.
“We realise we lose good cooks sometimes because of nerves, so what we’ve done is let them cook one round, two rounds, before we actually dismiss anybody. Let them bed in.”
Once the contestants have settled in, though, they’ll find themselves under scrutiny not just from Gregg and John but also from those they hope to emulate.
“We’ve got previous MasterChef finalists and champions coming to critique the dishes. Also, we have some guest chefs coming,” explains Gregg.
“It’s good to do that. It freshens up the judging – because John and I have our opinions based on what we’ve seen throughout the whole competition. If you bring fresh people in who don’t know the contestants’ journeys, they critique the food in a very different way. That’s good, it’s enlightening.”
John agrees. “It pushes us a bit. And it pushes the contestants because it scares the hell out of them. They start to seem very comfortable – and then suddenly someone new walks in and it’s ‘Ahhh!'”
MasterChef returns to BBC1 on Tuesday 12 March at 9pm
The new MasterChef cookbook, MasterChef Cookery Course, is out now
Get 20% off tickets to the BBC Good Food Show Summer
John Torode, Gregg Wallace and MasterChef 2012 champion Shelina Permalloo will be cooking with this year’s winner on stage at the NEC Birmingham (12–16 June). To book, visit bbcgoodfoodshow.com or call 0844 581 1341, quoting “PRESS20” (offer ends 30 April)