MasterChef will return for a 17th series on 1st March, with John Torode and Gregg Wallace once again stepping into their roles as judges on the BBC One show.
It will see a new batch of amateur chefs battling it out to be crowned 2021 MasterChef winner in the final, taking over from last year’s champ Thomas Frake.
And we’re told that despite being filmed in the middle of the pandemic, the format fans have come to know and love over the past 16 years will remain pretty much the same.
“There’s not a great deal of difference,” Wallace tells me when we sit down for a virtual chat ahead of the new series.
“It doesn’t look a lot different in the studio because cooking does not offer the group activity anyway and they all have their own stations.”
What has changed, Wallace says, is the number of outside visits to restaurants and sites, where contestants are usually sent to test out their cooking skills in the real world, usually under the watchful eye of an expert chef.
But this doesn’t mean we won’t be seeing this on the series. Instead, the chefs will be coming to the contestants, and will apply the pressure right from the MasterChef studio.
“We can’t do the big foreign trips, and usually there’re many outside locations. We can’t do that, but we can bring great chefs into the studio. The difference for me, isn’t so much a filming thing as a social thing. I couldn’t shake hands or put my arm around people that I’ve been working with for nearly 20 years so the camera guys you can’t pat them on the shoulder,” he says.
Over the years, we’ve watched many chefs rise to the top, from series one winner Thomasina Miers – who is now the co-founder of Mexican street food chain Wahaca – to 2007 star Steven Wallis and Irini Tzortzoglou who is one of the more recent champs, winning in 2019.
Despite the variety of MasterChef winners, this year, Gregg would like to see a more traditional cook take the trophy – something he says he and John don’t necessarily agree on.
“This is where John and I come at it from different angles,” he explains. “John loves Asian food, and I love European. I really would like to see more classic traits, but I think John thinks it is a bit boring.”
He continues: “It’s interesting! I think this is what make it such a good judging, as we’ve both got different tastes. However, we would never judge somebody harshly for cooking food which isn’t our favourite, like my favourite is the food of Italy but I do love classic European. You know somebody who is really searching to try and copy and do the same food as a Michelin star chef, I really, really like. John on the other hand thinks it’s a little old hat and he loves Asian fusion.”
As usual we’ll get to see some of the previous MasterChef winners return to the show, including Simon Wood, who Gregg admits is his “favourite” champ of all time.
Speaking of the 2015 winner, who now owns a series of Woods restaurants in Manchester and Cheltenham, he gushes: “Simon – we adore him. He would be one of my favourite ever winners. A lot of people have a dream of working in the food industry but they want to be a writer, or they want to travel and have a book, but Simon always wanted to be a chef.
“And of course now he is with a celebrated restaurant, which he mentioned before and he’s actually gone on and done it, and completely changed his life. He is a tattooed rock and roll chef – essentially living the dream! Absolutely amazing. Really great story!”
It’s these great stories that makes this particular MasterChef iteration Gregg’s “favourite” in comparison to say MasterChef: The Professionals – which sees professional working chefs battling it out in the kitchen or Celebrity MasterChef, where the stars step up to the plate and show off their cooking skills.
He adds: “I feel incredibly proud that we’ve lent a hand in fulfilling someone’s dream! And this is probably why out of the three hugely popular, MasterChef types out there, this continues to be my favourite because it’s such a life changing experience for the people that take part.”