“I wouldn’t necessarily promote anyone who cooks a pudding,” John Torode, the Australian half of the current MasterChef judging duo, comes clean about his own tastes. But lest any prospective contestant think they’ve found a way round this most poker-faced of referees, he’s a step ahead:
“But neither would I reject anybody who uses coriander, even though I don’t like it,” he adds. “You can’t let your own favourite foods impact on your impartiality - you’ve got to judge it on the balance of the foods they use. You cannot let your own private prejudices get in the way.
“Saying that, I went into this without any really strong prejudices against any food stuffs. I’ve always been okay, there’s never been anything that I’ve baulked at, right across the globe.”
Torode and his co-presenter Gregg Wallace both agree that the best thing about MasterChef is watching their contestants flourish in the kitchen. As Wallace says, “it’s a celebration of success. We want them to cook good food, because Gregg and I have to eat the bloody stuff.”
Somebody who caught them by surprise is the recent Celebrity MasterChef champion, England rugby player Phil Vickery.
“Here was someone eating sausage and mash by the kilo,” enthuses Torode. “How do these great big fat fingers used to pumping the life out of prop forwards turn out as something as his sublime salad?”
Can anybody become a good chef with such expert supervision?
“I think you can teach the skill of cookery,” he explains. “But you can only enhance the palate. Some people have blank palates, like some people are tone deaf. If someone is actually happy with grapes and marmite on a piece of corn, and really cannot taste properly, there’s not much you can do.”
MasterChef Live, at Olympia in London this weekend, allows us non-telly types the chance to be our own masterchefs, go up on stage and be judged and also watch demonstrations from Torode, Wallace and former show champions. So do this pair ever tire of sampling culinary fare, and just hanker for a bacon butty?
“Not at all,” says Torode. “What does constantly surprise me is people’s snobby towards food. If I put on Twitter that I’d like a takeaway, or I’m off to a Harvester, there are people who have real issue with that – it amazes me.”
Torode has come up with his own solution, a four-storey restaurant in the heart of London where one’s palate may never be sated.
“My relationship with food is one that changes,” he explains, “so here you can indulge in all that, a bacon butty, then some oysters and champagne, with cheese and chutney in between if you fancy. I’m not at all precious about food; I think you should be allowed to eat whatever you want, whenever you want.”
So, if they were only allowed one meal, what would our happy tasters choose?
For Torode it’s easy: “Roast shoulder of lamb stuffed with garlic and rosemary.”
Wallace takes more time to digest. “Well, right now I’d like lasagne, but at lunchtime today, it’d be a massive hump of steak with some French mustard. And then tonight, perhaps some Spanish tapas with chickpeas and spices, maybe some ham, aioli and a big bottle of red...
Spoken like a true gourmet.
MasterChef LIVE, London Olympia 11-13 Nov.
Get 2 tickets for £30 by quoting MC30 when booking (2 tickets for £32 on Sat). Book now at MasterChefLIVE.com or call 0844 581 1361
MasterChef: The Professionals is on Mondays at 8.30pm BBC Two