MasterChef: The Professionals returns to BBC2 on Tuesday – and, according to show judge Gregg Wallace, cooking really doesn’t get tougher than this. Here's why…
Are your expectations always higher for this series than they are for the amateur and celebrity versions of MasterChef?
"Absolutely! My expectations are higher in terms of standard and skill set and I know I'm going to eat some sublime food of a much higher standard than the other two shows."
As the series begins this week, we certainly see some nerves among the professional chefs. Why do you think that is?
"The contestants' nerves are always worse on this series compared to the amateur or celebrity versions, but that's because there's so much more at stake for the pro chefs as it's their industry. If you're already a professional chef and you know the whole world is watching you, the pressure must be immense!"
Your co-judges – Marcus Wareing and Monica Galetti – start the chefs off with a skills test, giving them just 15 minutes to prepare a classic meal. What advice would you give the chefs for this round?
“You can't wing it. Don't pretend you know what you're doing because Marcus and Monica will be watching and they'll get angry – you're better off admitting you've never done it before. The skills test very quickly sorts the thoroughbreds from the also-rans."
How does judging alongside Monica and Marcus compare to judging with John Torode?
“I have a bigger voice with John than I do with Monica and Marcus; this is very much their gig. I think I'm there to just make it easier for the chefs – to give them a kind face to look at! I do think it's important that I’m there because I tend to look at things from a customers' point of view."
Is there one thing you all agree on?
"Yes – do not argue with Marcus if he's in a bad mood. And Monica, for that matter. All of the chefs coming into the MasterChef kitchen should respect the ingredients, respect the industry and respect where they are. If Monica and Marcus get a disrespectful chef they go nuts – I mean REALLY angry."
Do you think a lot of the chefs you see try too hard to put all of their skills on one plate?
“Yes! If you get a really talented cook, they’re keen to show lots and lots of different processes, without really having any idea of how that's going to impact on the finished dish. They just need to remember two things: it's got to result in a wonderful dish and it needs to be served on time!"
In the first episode we meet, among others, Essex boy Bobby. How important is it to have 'personalities' on MasterChef: The Professionals?
"I don’t think it's important at all – if it was a personality contest, you probably wouldn't pick two thirds of the chefs we've got. I think the personalities of these chefs will come through as they progress in the competition."
Speaking of the later stages, we hear this series has a new Knockout Week…?
"I love that round. Basically, we take all the expensive kit like water baths away, so it's really going back to basics and making the chefs rely on their touch, smell and on their own senses. Another round I like is where we give them cast-off ingredients. It's easy to cook the most beautiful dish with a lobster, a big pile of caviar and some sweetbreads. But here the chefs might have to make something with half a cabbage and a loaf of bread!”
What style of cooking are we likely to see a lot of this series?
"It's going back 60 years to the simple skill of a chef and moving away from bells, whistles and spinning lights. It's taking the central piece of a meal, which could be a piece of fish or some meat, and doing nothing on that plate at all that doesn't elevate that piece of fish or meat. No smoke, no frills, just absolute refined quality cooking."
How do you think this series of MasterChef: The Professionals compares to previous series?
"We're getting a better calibre of chef coming onto the show now because they've watched it and have looked on in envy at the access the contestants get to some of the best chefs in Europe. I know chefs that would rip their right arm off to get this kind of coaching from true masters of their industry – it's like being a cyclist and suddenly getting to spend a week with Bradley Wiggins!"
MasterChef: The Professionals returns on Tuesday, November 10 at 8pm on BBC2.
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