Simon Hopkinson: Competitive shows like MasterChef can take the soul out of cooking

The star of More4’s latest culinary series would rather see roast beef and Yorkshire pudding than “smears and dribbles”

“I often think when I watch MasterChef ‘Do people really want to cook that food at home?’” says Simon Hopkinson. “I think that’s restaurant food and so it’s slightly odd.

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“I would love to see one of them cook the most perfect fish and chips or just roast beef and Yorkshire pudding, but that doesn’t seem to happen. I’m not being critical but I think it’s a shame that they don’t ask them to roast a piece of beef for four people and make fresh horseradish sauce, and show someone who can make great Yorkshire puddings and roast potatoes.

“I think the more complicated it gets and the more visual the importance might seem… well, I’m not into smears and dribbles.”

It should come as no great surprise that a chef whose latest programme is called simply Simon Hopkinson Cooks – and whose best-selling cook book was entitled Roast Chicken and Other Stories – is not a proponent of complicated dishes or fussy presentation.

Not that the star of More4’s latest culinary offering doesn’t know his way round a restaurant kitchen – he visits numerous of them during the series, and in a 40-year career has been head chef at acclaimed London restaurant Bibendum, of which he is still co-owner. But Hopkinson gave up cheffing in 1994 following what he calls “a mini break-down” – which perhaps goes some way to explaining why he doesn’t like cooking to be competitive any more than he likes it to be unncessarily complicated.

“[You see] this competitive thing more and more and more in all kinds of programmes, but cooking and eating – I don’t think it is competitive,” says Hopkinson.

“Either [food] is good or it’s not good – I think competition sometimes takes the soul out of cooking. Who wants to try and be better than somebody else? There’s ambition in life but actually rating it, one against the other…

“I sometimes say to myself ‘Is this programme about winning or is it about losing?’ Is it that somebody wants to win or are they all thinking ‘They’ll lose’ in the same breath? Which I find a bit soul destroying.”

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Simon Hopkinson Cooks is on Mondays at 9pm on More4