IF THERE’S one show we can rely on for a taste of the familiar, it’s MasterChef; and hot on the heels of its 2020 finale, comes its much-loved celebrity spin-off.
Set across five weeks, the BBC One prime-time staple, filmed before lockdown took hold, will once again offer up a who’s who drama, music, sport and showbusiness, as 20 famous faces compete to impress judges John Torode and Gregg Wallace in their pursuit for culinary victory.
But just who is set to battle their way to the top of its 15th season?
Among those vying for this year’s Celebrity MasterChef title are actors Shyko Amos, Phil Daniels and Felicity Montagu; actor and comedian Crissy Rock; comedian Judi Love; recording artist Myles Stephenson and musician Lady Leshurr.
Joining them in the kitchen are conductor for the Kingdom Choir, Karen Gibson; TV presenters Gethin Jones and Dom Littlewood; travel presenter Amar Latif; TV and radio presenter Jeff Brazier; broadcaster and internet personality Riyadh Khalaf and RuPaul UK finalist and drag artist Baga Chipz.
Olympic gold medallists and sports presenters Sam Quek and Sir Matthew Pinsent will also star, as will reality personality Pete Wicks; Apprentice star and entrepreneur Thomas Skinner; tennis coach Judy Murray and football great John Barnes.
That’s quite a line-up. But forget the day job – for there’s no room for big egos here, says 55-year-old Wallace.
“They act like celebrities when they first walk in but I promise you, after round one, they’re no longer celebrities, they’re contestants,” he says. “They think they can ‘showbiz’ their way through it and then they realise they’re seriously going to succeed or fail by the quality of their cookery – and so the glamour just falls away.
“What you’re left with is hardworking MasterChef contestants, and I like that metamorphosis in them.”
Torode (54) notes: “You end up with a level playing field, regardless of who you are. MasterChef, it’s a kitchen and everybody is the same, whether you’re a DJ rapper, whether you’re a footballer, a rower, a YouTuber or an actor, you’re exactly the same as everybody else. You’ve just got to cook your food to get through it.”
How does their own experience compare to that of the amateur format, then?
“There’s something very different. The amateur one is very intense; there’s a lot of responsibility, lots of great food and it’s very interesting,” Aussie chef Torode says. “And then you go to the celeb [one] and really you have no idea what you’re going to encounter.
“It’s like jumping into a river and hoping that it’s not moving too fast, that there’s not too much mud at the bottom of it.”
“I look forward to the celeb version because I expect it to be more relaxed, more fun, at times,” Londoner Wallace confesses. “Most certainly the one I’ve had the most laughs on has been Celebrity MasterChef.”
Yet they don’t actually know who’s set to take part until filming begins, Torode says.
“We get a brief sheet as we’re about to walk downstairs,” he reveals. “But that’s the joy of it in a way, because you don’t have any preconceptions, you just let it roll. One of the great joys of MasterChef has always been that we’re not scripted; Gregg and I say what we want, but we respect each other’s opinions, and always have, and that makes for a great show.”
It helps, too, that the show has devised a winning format. As in previous years, viewers will see five names put through their paces in the Celebrity MasterChef heats each week.
The first challenge is The MasterChef Market, where they will stock up on produce, before inventing and cooking a dish for the judges. The second is the task of cooking in a restaurant kitchen – for paying customers; while the third sees the contestants back in the studio, preparing a dish of their own design.
As for sending someone home at the end of each heat, “Of course we disagree”, Wallace says. “You do because you’re always looking at potential – and that’s a gut feeling, isn’t it?
“I like to say that John, as a chef, pays special attention to their skill set, and I don’t care as much; I just want it to be delicious.”
“At the end of the day if it tastes like a bag of muck, then you don’t want the person to go through,” reasons Torode, who has worked alongside his co-star since 2005. “What you want to do is find the potential and hope they can get better – and the great thing about MasterChef is it’s positive.”
“It’s gauging how much your mate disagrees,” Wallace interjects. “Does he disagree a little bit or is he absolutely adamant and putting his foot down? And that’s just a subtle thing that works between us.”
As for what’s next for the duo – “We don’t really know!” says Torode, who’s kept busy during the lockdown period filming Instagram cook-alongs at home with wife Lisa Faulkner, as well as their Saturday morning ITV show, John & Lisa’s Weekend Kitchen.
Similarly, Wallace has been posting recipes for fans, as well as workout videos – he recently announced the launch of his own fitness website and fitness brand, ShowMe.Fit.
But have the ever-busy pair enjoyed a change of pace?
“Personally, I’ve had the time of my life,” says Wallace, who lives with his fourth wife Anna and one-year-old son, Sid. “Once I got over the shock of not working, and once I realised I was going to be OK, I’ve had a wonderful time at home.
“It’s really made me consider what it is I do and how I live,” he adds. “I don’t think I’ll get this opportunity again, to spend this much time with my family.”
“There’s a lesson to be learnt of how much do you really need to do?” adds Torode.
“I think what’s going to happen now, off the back of this, is when people say, ‘Can you do this?’ a lot of us are going to turn around and say, ‘No, actually, I’m going home tonight, I’m going to mow the lawn, I’m going to sit outside in the garden and have a glass of wine with my wife, spend time with the kids and chill out. Thanks very much indeed’.
“I’m very lucky to be able to have that, [though],” he adds. “There’s a lot of people out there, I’m aware, who do not have that choice and it’s been a really tough time for a lot of people.”
Celebrity MasterChef returns to BBC One on Wednesday July 1.