Master Minds - John Torode and Gregg Wallace
The dish-tasting-duo, who present and judge the MasterChef show, brought their expert tasting skills to Meadowhall shopping centre, to find Yorkshire's best new culinary talent.
Eight junior chefs competed in the challenge, but it was Chorn Boonchert Sangpurad, junior chef at Thai restaurant ChaoBaby who was declared the winner, after wowing the TV judges with his lamb shank.
JESSICA FOGARTY speaks to John and Gregg to find out more about tasting food to earn a living...
Q When did you discover your passion for food?
John: My grandmother and aunties taught me to cook from a young age. By the time I was 11 or 12 years old I was cooking a lot, and by the time I was 16, I knew that this was my passion and it was what I wanted to do as a career.
Gregg: I’m a poor boy from South East London who never got the opportunity to dine out as a child, so when started work in a veg van, earning myself a bit of money, I started going out to trendy wine bars and restaurants and I thought wow, this is brilliant. At one point I was eating out five or six nights a week just so I could sample all of the different dishes on the menus.
It was a whole new world of nice people and nice food, and I never looked back.
Q Were you surprised at how successful MasterChef became in such a short time?
Gregg: When I was first approached for the show eight years ago, I was given a job description that was pretty much taste food and talk about food — I thought why not, it’s what I love to do. This was the start of something I never even imagined could become so big, who knew what would happen.
John: It’s been an amazing experience, it’s not only one of the most watched show’s in the UK, it’s now world-wide. Israel MasterChef is the most watched programme in the history of television and in Australia they cancelled the pre-election political speeches because it clashed with the final of MasterChef.
Gregg: I do think that the food industry has always been of interest for people, but I think the media’s portrayal and exposure of chefs like Gordon Ramsey and Jamie Oliver have changed peoples perceptions of food and more and more people are now choosing a career in food as a direct result of this.
Q What qualities make a MasterChef?
John: Skill, an understanding of what people like to eat, a good palette, a good memory and a small amount of arrogance.
Gregg: What people don’t realise is you don’t necessarily need to do a stand out from the crowd dish, because classic combinations often work better together. People want to eat food, it’s not just for looking at, and that's where people often go wrong. The focus needs to be on the flavours, then worry about the presentation later. You also need to be able to push yourself hard, but not so hard that you trip yourself up.
Q What is your most memorable moment from MasterChef?
John: For me I’m always blown away with the MasterChef amateur shows. Me and Gregg work on four series’ of MasterChef—pro, celebrity, amateur and junior, but there's something about that first moment when an amateur chef steps into the kitchen; watching their enthusiasm and passion, then following their journey through to working with Michelin star chefs, winning the show, and opening their own restaurants — they get to live the dream and we help to make it happen.
Gregg: My favourite moment was when some of our amateur chefs cooked for a group of Michelin star chefs, and they all came back for seconds — it was such a brilliant and proud moment for me.
John: Some of our chefs cooked for the Prime Minister and cooked at Buckingham Palace as well — what a privilege.
Q Rotherham was once branded the capital of obesity and a number of initiatives have been put in place to educate people about food and nutrition. Do you think MasterChef sets a good example?
Gregg: We do take this issue seriously — We try and cut down on using butter and you’ll never ever hear me and John telling a contestant to add more salt. We can’t stop people coming on the show and cooking what they love, but we have made a conscious effort to keep them away from the fattier foods and we try to keep on top of portion control.
Q Is it difficult to keep your weight controlled, having to sample so many dishes in one day when your filming the show?
Gregg: My wife looks after me now and I've lost a bit of weight more recently, but there were times when I could just eat and eat massive portions, to the point where I couldn't possibly eat anything else, and I became fat — it’s so easy to get caught up in a love for food. I adore the restaurant experience and I have to fight to stop eating. I could make it into a TV series — The man that made himself explode.
Q Do you have a favourite restaurant?
John: For me, I think it’s difficult because I think your favourite restaurant is the one you feel most comfortable in. I go out to eat because it puts a smile on my face — I'm not necessarily going to critique the food.
Gregg: I agree, my local curry house is my favourite place to eat, but that’s just my personal opinion, It’s where I go the most but I wouldn't want to nominate it for best restaurant because everyone's taste is different. We pick different restaurants for different occasions — for romance, with friends, or just to try somewhere new, but the best compliment you can pay any eatery is you’ve gone there because you’re hungry, and very few of us actually pick a restaurant for that reason.
John: If you ask a diner five weeks after they've eaten at a restaurant if they liked it or not, they’ll be able to tell you, but ask them what they had to eat and most people won’t be able to remember. It’s all about the service and experience, it doesn’t matter what comes out of the kitchen.
John: If you think you have a favourite meal in a restaurant, then go there with the most boring person you know and order that same meal — I bet it doesn’t taste as good.
Q You get to sample some amazing dishes, but what has been the most unusual dish you’ve tried?
Gregg: There have been some weird dishes over the years, but the one that always sticks in my mind is a chocolate cake topped with quail eggs — can you imagine having to eat that combination? Yuck — don’t try that one at home.