Gregg Wallace reveals the secret ingredients that make Celebrity MasterChef an ongoing success – star contestants and hard work!
Celebrity MasterChef is a rare thing among reality shows – an annual success and consistent ratings winner. Unlike many of it’s counterparts, Celebrity MasterChef sticks firmly to its original format, rarely resorting to spicing up the delicious recipe of experts John Torode and Gregg Wallace judging stars’ cooking skills and eliminating them one by one…
We talked to seasoned judge Gregg Wallace, who reveals the secret to Celebrity MasterChef’s success – handle the stars with care and also put them to work!
What makes it so special to work on? "Many of the celebrities have experienced the limelight or worked on telly before so rarely are they as scared as amateur contestants when they first come on. Some amateurs get frozen to the spot or their hands shake uncontrollably. All you want from the celebrities in the early rounds is to show some decent, basic cookery skills!"
Why do you think the format continues to be such a hit? "I’ve been doing MasterChef for a long time now and Celebrity MasterChef is a favourite. It’s great fun and also has a good reputation in the industry for looking after contestants – we never humiliate anyone. We don’t create drama for ratings, it’s honest, real and supportive. There’s a decency about the show, I think."
What else gives the celebrity version an extra kick? "Two things always surprise me with Celebrity MasterChef – some of these guys can really cook, and some of them can’t cook at all. I don’t know why this still surprises me, but it does! Everybody realises very quickly MasterChef is about cooking, they can’t ‘celeb their way out of it’ as I call it! There’s no singing, joking or dancing out of the situation – although they always try!"
Celebrity MasterChef attracts an amazing array of talented people. Are you ever star-struck? "I’m a massive rugby fan so when big Phil Vickery came on in 2011 and won it, I was delighted. I was also like a little girl meeting the Spice Girls when Paul Young came on in 2006 – I’m a big fan of his early band Q-Tips. Over the years John and I have become more well-known so I feel more of an equal to them now. I don’t think they’re particularly star-struck with me, they’re more in awe of the competition. They’ve all seen the quality food the finalists produce!"
As ever, it’s a mixed batch of personalities. What makes for a winner? " It’s impossible to know when they walk through the door who can cook and who can’t. Initially all you want is simple, homely food. You can build on that. Age doesn’t always equal experience. Some people come to cookery very late and there’s also the ‘old dogs, new tricks’ phenomenon. Sometimes it’s easier to teach people who haven’t picked up bad habits or preconceptions.
"I maintain the winner of Celebrity MasterChef is rarely the best cook at the start. It’s the person with the ability to learn very fast."
Do you have a favourite round? "My favourite is when they cook their own food. It’s invariably better than the muck we’ve eaten previously! I like that they go into a restaurant after the mystery box round, too. It’s the ultimate baptism of fire. They always come out with a new respect for chefs."
Do you ever feel mischievous when it comes to mystery box ingredients? "John and I don’t choose the mystery box ingredients, but the producers ask us what we think of them before the contestants come in. You don’t want to be too mischievous and throw them completely. Don’t worry, they’ll make enough mistakes of their own! Give someone a loaf, a saucepan and a tin of beans and they can mess it up or invent something crazy!"
Taking part in heat one are reporter Julia Somerville, snooker legend Stephen Hendry, presenter Angellica Bell, comedian Jim Moir and tennis champion Henri Leconte. Famous faces taking part later in the series include Olympic champion Becky Adlington, presenter Debbie McGee, Outnumbered’s Tyger Drew Honey, presenter Ulrika Jonsson and Gogglebox’s Reverend Kate Bottley. Who will follow in the footsteps of last year’s champion, Alexis Conran?
The new series of Celebrity MasterChef kicks off on BBC1 on Wednesday, August 16 at 8pm and continues on Friday, August 18 at 8.30pm.
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