Cliff Parisi is best known as Call the Midwife’s dependable odd-job man Fred Buckle, who can always be relied upon to fix all manner of leaky pipes and broken tellies for the nuns and midwives of Nonnatus House. But, this week, he’s turning his hand to a different challenge as he attempts to show off his culinary skills on BBC One’s Celebrity MasterChef 2022.
In this second heat, Cliff is joined in the kitchen by TV choirmaster Gareth Malone, former World Boxing champion Chris Eubank, All Saints singer Melanie Blatt and reality star Queen MoJo, all hoping to impress judges John Torode and Gregg Wallace with some mouth-watering meals.
In an exclusive interview, Cliff talks about delicious dishes, dinner parties, and his dream of appearing on a certain popular TV dance show…
What made you want to take part in Celebrity MasterChef?
"I've always cooked but my wife Tara is a better cook than me and, since I've been married [Cliff and Tara tied the knot in 2010], I haven't really cooked that much. She says I make too much mess but I've missed being in the kitchen and creating stuff. So I thought I could get in the MasterChef kitchen and make as much mess as I like!"
How would you describe your cooking style?
"I would say I'm a BIG cook. My food is big, bad and filling - I like bold flavours, and really earthy, homely meals. That's me. I don't like particularly healthy foods - but if you want a tasty curry, come and see me!"
Do you have a signature dish?
"I have a couple of signature dishes. I do a very mean shepherd's pie and I'm fabulous with a Sunday roast and a cooked breakfast."
How did you find your first MasterChef challenge, Under the Cloche?
"Under the Cloche is a bizarre challenge because there could be anything under there. It could be a pig's trotter, a potato, or a squash. I got plums. Then you’ve got about half an hour to come up with a dish based around that one ingredient and put it on a plate. I used my imagination and tried something fairly new for me and it worked! Sort of…"
Were you really nervous about having your food judged by John and Gregg?
"Yeah, of course. Taking your food up to be critiqued is like surrendering your newborn baby to someone to see whether they think it’s cute or ugly! John and Gregg are like mummy and daddy; after you've cooked for them a couple of times, you really want their approval. It's quite nerve-racking watching them eat your food. They don't say anything for a long time but then their criticism is always constructive."
What did you find the most challenging thing about MasterChef?
"I’d say the timings are really difficult. Sometimes you just don’t have enough time, so you miss things. You've got a lot to do in one hour AND you’ve got to make it look beautiful as well. I could make a boiled egg and soldiers look beautiful if that's all I had to do in an hour!"
Another challenge is to prepare a dinner party dish. Who would your dream dinner party guests be?
"I’d say boxing champ Muhammad Ali, singer Bob Dylan, former US president Barack Obama and screen icon Marylin Monroe. Perry Fenwick, who plays Billy Mitchell in EastEnders [Cliff played mechanic Minty Peterson in the soap from 2002 to 2010] would also be there, he's always good value."
What dish would you make?
"I’d make a big pot of food that gets plonked down in the middle of the table with a big ladle or tongs to serve, like a massive pot of pasta with seafood or Greek lamb chops and potatoes. I always like to add little surprises to my dishes, too. For example, if I make a shepherd's pie I'll put Brussels sprouts in it. Actually, I wouldn't invite Perry around for that one - he hates Brussels sprouts!"
Have you ever had any major kitchen disasters?
"I had an absolute disaster on MasterChef. Luckily, in the time between me taking the dish out of the oven and John and Gregg tasting it, it had recovered on its own. It was a miracle!"
How would you sum up your MasterChef experience?
"It’s the toughest thing I've done in television, for sure. It's tougher than the jungle in terms of the effort you have to put into it [Cliff appeared on I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here in 2019]. But I’m so glad I did it because I felt really pleased with what I achieved. I surprised myself in some areas… and disappointed myself in others. But I learned a lot and it was fun."
Have you ever cooked for your Call the Midwife co-stars? What do you tend to eat after a day’s filming?
"I haven’t but I'm arranging something for this month. I'm hoping they're all gonna come over to mine and I’ll do a nice barbeque. We have great caterers on Call the Midwife, so I tend to eat at work. We do long 12-hour days and I live quite far away from where we film so, if I’m really hungry when I get home, I might just have a cold baked bean sandwich and go to bed."
What’s your guilty pleasure food wise?
"Ooh, a doner kebab after a few pints has gotta be done. I also love an apple crumble and, at Christmas, a sherry trifle. With LOTS of sherry."
Finally, you've done I'm a Celebrity, now MasterChef. What's next, Strictly perhaps?
"I’ve always loved dancing. When I was younger, I performed on roller skates at a disco in Spain! In 2009, I did Let's Dance for Comic Relief with EastEnders’ John Partridge, who actually won Celebrity MasterChef [in 2018]. So I'd love to do Strictly - I just don't want to be seen as ‘that fat bloke’ who can't dance!"
Celebrity MasterChef continues Tuesday at 9pm on BBC One.
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With over 20 years’ experience writing about TV and film, Vicky currently writes features for What’s on TV, TV Times, TV & Satellite Week magazines plus news and watching guides for WhatToWatch.com, a job which involves chatting to a whole host of famous faces. Our Vicky LOVES light entertainment, with Strictly Come Dancing, Britain’s Got Talent and The Voice UK among her fave shows. Basically, if it’s got a shiny floor, she’s all over it! When she’s not watching TV, you might find Vicky in therapy… retail therapy that is!